Planning and hosting a stand at a dog show can be very hard work, but is a great opportunity for you to put your business in front of your target market, and can be a lot of fun. You will have memories for years to come, and can make lasting friendships and business connections. They can be a big investment for a service business, so if you decide to invest, you really need to make the absolute most out of this opportunity.
If you have never been to a fun dog show before, visit a few as soon as you can. There are groups on Facebook where you can find shows, as well as being advertised in the local media. Find out who the organiser is, and get their details to contact them later – they will probably be too busy at the show to have a chat. Check for pet services with stands, and pay particular attention to:
It takes months to organise a show, especially a large one, so be prepared to book well in advance. This gives you lots of time to plan your stand, and order any marketing materials you need.
Ensure it is part of your contract with the show that another pet service business operating in the same area is not immediately next to you. Ideally not in the same row either if possible. For a big event, you should be able to get a floor plan from the organisers in advance, with some stands already booked in, and you may be able to pick where you would like your stand to be.
Plot out your stand on paper/computer to try a few different lay outs to see what works best for what you want to promote. Load up your vehicle and take everything to a local park, or even the event ground if you can (make sure you have permission to erect a gazebo). You can rearrange things if needed once everything is up, and remember to update your plan with any changes before packing away.
Attractions will be needed to draw people to your stand - as it's a dog show, and people will have their dogs, we need to bring dog games! You can ask for a donation to a local charity to enter. If you have more than one activity, they should each have their own space, and allow more space than you think you need. If you have a small stand, some organisers won't mind you having games outside of your allotted space, and some will, so be careful not to break any rules.
Try a small toddler's ball pool, for 'hunt the treat' - just drop little pieces of smelly treats in and let the dogs find them. Have a small area fenced off so the dogs can go in one at a time. Have someone to put sausages into the pool, and someone to run the games to keep all the dogs safe. Let the owner handle the dog, and keep them on lead. Show owners what you are putting into the pit before allowing the dog into the area, and have a backup choice just in case.
Busters Dogs have also used sandpits (too heavy), water pools (too hard to keep hygienic), and cardboard box games with ripped up packaging paper (too much mess) for the dogs to hunt through. The ball pool was by far the most popular, and easiest to manage and clear up. Expect some balls may go to the great ball pit in the sky before the day is out.
You are looking for a game that is easy to play, easy to explain/understand for people walking past, and will create a small crowd at your stand. The more people you have visit your stand, the more likely you are to get solid leads from the show. It also means more people will notice you are busy and come over, as they can see your stand is fun and exciting and they will want to be involved.
If your own dog is likely to be aggressive, bark, get frustrated they can't join in games, are fearful around strange dogs and loud noises/public address systems/applause or will be unsettled with so many people around, leave them at home. Don't let your helpers bring their dogs unless you know 100% they will not do any of the above either.
Now you have a small queue for the games, you need a reason for them to give you their email addresses. We recommend a free prize draw, so contact local related businesses, and ask who would like to donate a prize. In return you could have some of their leaflets on the stand, send clients their way, and share their social media posts. Make sure you are aware of and follow any and all laws with regards collecting personal data for entry to the draw.
Do not offer your own services for free as a prize. People come to dog shows from miles around, and you will get less people entering if they can't make use of the prize, and this is about collecting email addresses. Have somewhere for visitors to sign up to just the newsletter if they don't want to enter the draw.
If you provide water for dogs visiting your stand, some illnesses such as kennel cough can be passed on through shared water bowls. We recommend you have a sign encouraging people to ask you if their dog needs water. This way you can just offer that dog some, and then clean the bowl before the next dog. Stainless steel bowls are much easier to clean and disinfect than plastic or ceramic.
You will need your own insurance to run a stand at an event - do not rely on the organiser. Some of the big shows will want a certain amount of public liability before you can book, and will want to see your certificate. Speak to your insurance company if you are not sure if you are covered. You may also need to do a risk assessment for your stand to be able to book. Even if you don't need to, it's a good idea to do one before you start.
Set your budget for the event. This should include all your marketing materials, paying staff if applicable, as well as the cost of the stand itself. Do some research on the show to see what other costs you might have.
It might be possible to get some free space, speak to the organisers about running demos or activities if you have the expertise and equipment, or even 'Ask the Expert' if you are a trainer or behaviourist. If you are just starting your business, you might find it hard to get these spaces. If you can't invest in a big show, look around for a local companion or fun dog show.
Some marketing materials such as banners can be used at future events, so are worth the investment.
YOU WILL NEED HELP. Try to avoid doing this alone, because it can be a big job to get things right. If you do not have friends or family willing to help, or staff to attend, teaming up with another similar service might be an option. You do not necessarily need one person per job listed below, but none of them should be done by the business owner if at all possible.
Hand out leaflets and encourage visitors to join the fun. Someone outgoing and happy to talk to complete strangers who can tell the difference between someone wanting to be talked into coming closer, and someone who is not interested.
Host the games. They need to be a real dog enthusiast, unafraid of any particular breed or type of dog, have some understanding of dog behaviour as they will be supervising around toys and games, ability to talk to owners in a non-judgemental and helpful way, and with bucket-loads of common sense.
Encourage visitors to sign up to your mailing list. If asking them to sign up for anything, as above, be careful to follow all laws about collecting people's personal data, and check what you can and cannot ask for with regards competition laws.
Fetch food and drinks, cover for breaks. Experience has led Busters Dogs to believe that this is the ideal job for a family member keen to help, but has no clue what you do.
Pick a winner. Never do any prize giving on the day of the event, always take it home and do at home – you can pick the winner on a live stream on social media if you want to – this should get you views on your social media. Busters Dogs recommend training your dog to do it! Always a crowd pleaser. You may have to deliver the package a fair distance, or post it, if the winner is out of your area. Bear this in mind when organising your prize. Ensure staff and their families (also your family) cannot enter.
Try to select people you know are outgoing, and happy to chat to strangers. Keep the introverts to keeping the stand tidy, fetching coffee and refreshments, taking photographs and giving your dogs a chance to toilet if you have taken them, or even just ask them to help set up and pack away the stand, and go home in between.
If you are running a weekend stand, consider asking helpers to attend both days for half a day, rather than one long day, as it is tiring, and can be very draining being in front of the public and maintaining good humour for such long days.
If you have staff, they deserve to be paid for their time, either as part of their wages, a bonus, or a day off in lieu (keep in mind minimum wage laws when deciding how to compensate staff). It’s a good idea when creating staff contracts to have a clause that includes attendance at a certain number of events per year even if outside their usual hours.
You need someone to talk about your business to your visitors. To tell them all about your services, how you are the best in town and why they should use you, rather than the competition, how you can help them, how they can sign up with you. THIS SHOULD BE YOU.
None of the other jobs should be done by you if you have people to help. No one knows your business like you do. No one else knows the message you want to give to potential clients (and the messages you DON'T want to give), and no one else will be as invested in gaining new clients are you. Ask your team in advance to interrupt conversations that seem to be going nowhere or are people just wanting free training advice for long complicated problems.
Make sure you have banners and signs, which should look professional. Everyone needs to know who you are, and it will help any current contacts or clients find you in the show ground.
Marketing materials – think about what you will give out to visitors.
Now is the time to make sure you are represented on all the social media that your target market will be using.
Before the show. People need to know it is happening. As soon as you've committed, start your pre-show online marketing. Tell all your followers, and ask them to share and invite their friends, but give them something to share. You could do an online fun competition with virtual prizes for funny dog and other pet photos if they share your link or hashtag (check the competition rules for each site you are using before you start.) Keep them updated with your plans, photos as items start to arrive, and 'teaser' photos of the prizes and games.
During the show. Encourage visitors to take photos on the stand to share on their social media, give them a hashtag to use, share as many as you can on your social media, with a small prize for the best photo shared online using the hashtag and uploaded during the event. If budget allows, you can have merchandise to give away to anyone checking in publically to your stand, and give away dog items such as fold up water bowls, dog poop bags/dispensers (either branded, or find a company that will give you samples to give away). You could even give these if visitors share your posts while on the stand.
Go live on video to show the fun people are having at your stand. Remember your hashtags! Make sure you follow back so you can share anything relevant, even if they don't use your hashtags (add them to your share).
After the show. Share more videos and photos, have more giveaways, go live with the prize draw. If your dog is picking the winner make sure you have captured all the email addresses from the entries BEFORE the dog goes in, and have some practise first with scrap paper.
As we are a service, a stand at a dog show really needs to be considered an investment. We will never make money from our stand, unless you also have retail as part of your business, and we probably won't even break even at the show. Where we make our money will be AFTER the event.
So how do you know if your stand has been successful or not? Was it really busy, with lots of visitors, and lots of dogs having a good time? Before the show you need to create some goals for your event. Here are some suggestions:
Once you are a master at hosting a stand at a dog show, your next step is to organise your own dog show! :D