Fran Ford’s Five Ways Exhibitors Can Make A Positive Impression

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I first met Fran Ford* shortly after I came into the industry as a distributor in 1990. I decided to attend the PPAI show in Dallas in 1991 to start the process of learning what I needed to know to be successful in my new career. I signed up for a number of educational classes before the exhibits opened. There was one class, in particular, that seemed interesting and appealed to me as a salesperson. It was titled the “Do’s and Don’ts When Exhibiting At A Show.” The presenter was Fran Ford. He was dressed impeccably in a three-piece suite which fit him perfectly. Although the session was directed towards suppliers, I was still drawn to the subject. I am really glad I did, as the lessons I learned that day proved to be as valuable as any I have learned during my business career. 

Fran spoke for 30 minutes and was very generous with sharing his knowledge. Although he spoke about many things that needed to be considered when setting up the booth, what I remember most were the five main points he stressed in how to conduct yourself during the show.

  1. You can’t overdress. If you dress well, it shows that you have pride in the service or product you are representing. It also makes the visitor comfortable talking to you if he or she is dressed in formal business attire.

  2. Never sit down. Sitting makes you look tired, and the visitor may think you are not very energetic or passionate about what you are selling.

  3. Never eat in the booth. Potential customers will not come in and engage with you as they feel they are interrupting your meal. If you need to take a break, leave the booth and recharge your batteries (you should be tired from standing!).

  4. Do not wait for a customer to come into the booth. You need to initiate the conversation. Stand in the front of the booth and try to gain the interest of a person walking in the aisle with a product or idea that is unique to your company.

  5. Once a visitor is in your booth, try to engage in a discussion. It is important to listen. Don’t just try to tell the visitor about the virtues of your company. Ask questions about your visitor’s business and their possible needs. If you show that you understand their challenges, they will start to trust you as a possible go-to partner with the challenges that are presented to them every day.

 *An introduction to Fran Ford, for those who did not know him, by Rich Corvalan, senior VP of sales, Zing Manufacturing. Fran Ford Jr, CAS, is a legend in the promotional products industry. To those of us who knew him personally, he was so much more. He was a legend of a man. Fran always had a smile, a hug and some great advice for people. Seeing the love Fran had for his family, his amazing wife Theresa and the industry that we are lucky enough to be a part of was truly inspiring to so many. Fran spent more than 40 years in the promotional products industry starting as a distributor and then with his own sporting goods business, Motford, Inc. He then moved to sales and leadership positions with suppliers including Jaffa Company, Martin Company, Lenox Awards, BTS Group, Eighth Floor Promotions and Vantage Apparel, and was president of J Charles Crystalworks. He also ran his own sales and consulting company, Ford-Howsmon, LLC. From 1995-2002, he was president of Castelli, and he rejoined the company as president in December 2012. Fran also spent many years volunteering at PPAI in a variety of roles, including as a member of the Awards and International Committees. He participated frequently in PPAI’s Legislative Education and Action Day (L.E.A.D) and was inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame in 2015. He also served on the Promotional Products Education Foundation Board of Trustees from 2000-2004 and was chair in 2003. Fran also launched the PPEF Glen Holt Scholarship Golf Invitational in 2014, which now is the Glen Holt and Fran Ford Memorial Golf Tournament in both memory of both great men. Fran passed away in May 2018 but left a legacy beyond most and will be remembered by so many for his simple greeting, “Hey Buddy!” 

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Michael Butler is president of Sutter’s Mill Specialties.

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Comments (2)
Scott Ward
November 12, 2021
Fran was certainly a memorable person - A great guy! Thanks for sharing his 5 tips with all of us.
Fred Parker
November 5, 2021
Fran was the best!
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