Replacement contractors looking for new leads often turn to the many home improvement shows that have become a staple of spring. But while research shows that home show customers are typically quality leads, savvy contractors know that all home shows aren't created equal. So, in a social media age where contractors have many lead generating opportunities, are home shows still worth the time and expense?

The answer is a definite yes—at least when considering the data, says Sue Huff, vice president of sales and marketing for Marketplace Events, which operates 40 home improvement shows nationwide.

Event surveys reveal attractive customers, Huff says. For example, 94% of attendees are homeowners, and 76% attend with a spouse, meaning both decision makers are available.

“The audience looks very similar whether it’s Cleveland or Orlando,” Huff explains. “They’re definitely serious shoppers at these home shows. They come with a product in mind.” 

Here’s what they’re looking for by percentage:

50: gardening or landscaping
34: kitchen and bathroom remodels
24: other room renovations
20: new flooring
18: exterior of their house
15: replacement windows

Despite this, not all home shows are created equal, warns Phil Isaacs, owner of California Energy Consultant Services. Isaacs, who has attended as many as 14 home shows a year, has made a science of exhibiting and believes an important element to success is the show itself.

In the post-recession economy, that consideration has become even more crucial.

“People scaled back and had to think hard about where they were going to put their marketing dollars,” says John Gorman of Save Energy Windows and Doors. “I think a lot of people left.” That included Gorman, who says he just got back into the home show market again last year.

With thousands of home shows nationwide, how do you know which ones are worth the time and money? Here are five questions to ask when considering a  home show. 

1. How much is the show spending on marketing? “I found out which shows aren’t well marketed by the show company, and I started to minimize those shows,” Isaacs says. “Then I doubled down on the ones that were working. Some shows are just elite.”  

2. Is there an admission fee? Shows that are free tend not to draw a quality demographic, warns Huff. “Free is always a red flag,” she says.

3. Does the show have a producer you can talk to? Huff says it’s not unreasonable to ask to talk to the producer and find out who comes to the show and what kinds of special offers are available, and even how much they’re spending on media buys to advertise the show. If there’s no one to talk to, that’s a bad sign, she adds.

4. Is the exhibitor list published online? A published exhibitor list is an important way to draw attendees and demonstrate the quality of the exhibitors in attendance. Without that list, customers — and exhibitors — are left in the dark.

5. Can I partner with the show? Shows need quality exhibitors and attendees to be successful. Often they will partner with exhibitors to create special offers that bring in customers. Isaacs says one show makes him special VIP tickets with his logo, and he only has to pay the printing costs. He sends those tickets to his customer base, and even includes them in holiday cards as bonuses for special customers. “One year we had more VIP tickets than every other vendor at the show,” he recalls.

In Part 2 of this series, we'll discuss expert strategies to drive home show attendees to your booth — and make the sale.