Will We Have a Booth at RootsTech Again?

There were so many things that to consider when deciding whether to have a vendor booth at RootsTech or any other conference for that matter. Are smaller conferences better because crowds are more accessible? Are super conferences better for the optics that suggest your business is serious about their plans?

Need Better Input

Information upon which to base decisions about genealogy conferences is lacking. For an engineer (Andy) and a worry-wart (me), we can dream big, but we are debt-free minded individuals. We don’t want to go into debt to build a business. We will invest money, but we wouldn’t drain our children’s college fund to get ahead.  I’d like to see some numerical expectations outlined for all service types at the various international and regional conferences. That way, we can better make stock decisions and see, compared to others, was our experience on par or substandard? Or better yet, did we have an exceptional response?

With sales information (anonymous and averaged), a vendor could decide whether a 10×10 space with electricity or a 20×20 spot without power would better achieve their tangible and intangible goals. Such information could help gauge whether one conference is better suited for our product offerings. If a state genealogy conference crowd comes prepared to shop and a regional conference has tight purse strings, vendors would know where to invest their time and energy and how to set their conference goals. Sometimes name recognition is more important to the frugal crowds.

The lack of ability to forecast sales aside, RootsTech also had some issues that cropped up unexpectedly. The first was the lack of dollies and carts for vendors to use to haul their wares into the hall. Thankfully a GBA member loaned me her dolly. Membership had its priveledges!

Caleb worked hard on Saturday as Mr. Fanatic

Better Communication about Discovery Day

The Discovery Day was a major disappointment from our perspective. We received emails that seemed to beg vendors to provide activities to families on that day. Since we’ve never been on Discovery Day, we had no idea that the families would only have to visit 10 out of 27 booths.

We soon learned we didn’t need items for 7,000 individuals! We could get away with a better prize for 100-200 in quantity. When we run out, we run out. There were plenty of other booths for the attendees to visit on Discovery Day for free swag.

Better Expo Hall Floor Plan

We were discouraged in the floor plan of the Expo Hall. RootsTech organizers place major sponsors at the front doors of the vendor area. Many other conferences outside of the genealogy arrange sponsors as anchors or hubs. In so doing, the floor plan pulls attendees into the exhibitor area and forces them to walk past smaller booths.

Think of a mall. The anchors are spread out throughout the mall and you have to pass smaller shops to get to each one. Or think of a grocery store, you have to walk past the veggies, canned goods, and paper products before you reach the eggs and milk. And don’t forget the impulse buys at the front of the store!

So Happy For Vendors That Killed It!


Many companies said they had a great first year and we’re excited for them. Some said they finally had a great year after 10-14 years of being at RootsTech (or it’s predecessor). Other veterans say they always make 50% of their annual income at RootsTech.

And yet others said they had a terrible show.

For those who are considering having a booth for the first time at RootsTech, be aware of the challenges from the Expo Hall that we experienced.  Your location is going to significantly increase or decrease how many of the 15,000+ individuals who will walk past you when you’re a startup company.

Your signage might be an issue, but the best advice we received while building our YouTube channel is to, “Start with what you’ve got, and improve as you go.” Perhaps a first year will be a poor-mediocre show in terms of actual sales. For others, they’ll knock it out of the park. You just don’t know, so pay attention to this next section.

Set Better Expectations and Goals

Despite these challenges, having a booth opened up intangible opportunities. The question is, are there ways we can achieve these same benefits without a physical presence? Or did the booth generate the opportunities?

My greatest wish is that we had a better handle on the expectations we should have set for our first RootsTech vendor experience. It was vastly different than smaller conference experiences and it’s not always a directly scalable because of a larger crowd size. We should have asked ourselves:

  • What were reasonable goals for sales?
  • What were our goals for generating content for our YouTube channel?
  • What were our goals when we teach our classes?
  • What were our networking goals?

If we had broadened the range of goals and expectations rather than have a narrow definition of success, we would have left with a very different aftertaste. In short, perhaps our head was in the wrong game, and that’s why we had so many highs and lows. But, how would we have predicted it and adjusted beforehand? I have no idea.

It’s scary to be so open

I debated for a month about whether to be this open about our expo hall experience. What finally convinced me was that many of our blog readers are some of our most loyal fans. They wanted to know what I experienced. They’ll forgive me for being negative or naive. And they’ll help me stay motivated to chase this dream.

Additionally, there are numerous solopreneurs and entrepreneurs in the genealogy space who struggle to determine whether they should have a booth at a genealogy conference. Hopefully, reading my experience helps them avoid the mistakes and prepare for the challenges. Have a better show because you can learn from our story.

RootsTech asked for post-conference feedback from vendors, attendees, and ambassadors days after the conference. I felt it was too early to unpack the experience then. I offered some suggestions for improvement, but whether they’ll make an impact, I have no idea. The trouble is, I have thought of additional positives and negatives, but the window for commenting is closed. I think in terms of improving the conference experience, I’ll have to turn to GBA and their initiatives to improve all genealogy expo halls, not only RootsTech.

How Attendees Can Help

Ever wonder why some vendors don’t return to conferences? It boils down to return on investment. The exhibit has to be profitable. If on-site sales or immediate after conference sales are low, many small businesses do not have the resources to go to conferences for exposure only.

One vendor made it clear they won’t return to RootsTech until the booth costs decrease and theft of her loose products decrease. That’s so sad about the theft. We don’t think we had that, but man. If we did. Our hearts would have broken.
As an attendee, I know it’s important to throw business my sales or my influence (which hopefully leads to more sales for them).
Otherwise, it would be better for some businesses to pay for sponsored workshops and heavily promote their services during their workshops and break-out sessions, which unfortunately leaves a bad taste in many attendees’ mouths.
Teaching, Networking, and Staffing a Booth – Whew! Talk about exhaustion.
What’s Next?

We plan on attending RootsTech 2019 if we’re selected as presenters. We’re not sure if a booth is worth purchasing at RootsTech 2019. Staffing an exhibit takes a lot emotionally, financially, and physically out of a person. Are the tangible and intangible expenses beneficial to our business? The answer is unclear.

If we chose not to have a booth, we’d want to meet up with our fans. Fan meet & greets don’t necessarily need a booth. We could organize Meet Ups, Sponsored Lunches, and other initiatives.

In the meantime, Andy and I have other conferences to submit proposals for in hopes that we’ll be selected. (If you’re on a planning committee or have influence, please help make the cut.)

We have the Southern California Jamboree that takes place in Burbank at the end of May. We don’t plan on having a booth, but we’re hoping to film a number of interviews for YouTube.

Oh, and we have another book, or two, to write!

Is a RootsTech booth right for you?
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

6 thoughts on “Will We Have a Booth at RootsTech Again?

  1. I will attempt to give helpful feedback, forgive me if I cannot write adequately what I am thinking. I saw your booth at Rootstech and walked past it a couple times a day. I saw your meet and greet guests but did not know they were available or open to talk. I also am not sure what I would have said to them. I only saw one of them present at the conference and that was when I watched the classes online after Rootstech was over. I have seen most of them before, but I am not sure how they can help me or if I can even carry on a conversation with them beyond “Hey, I have seen you before.” I purchased several books (across the aisle from you?), tee shirts, a hat, DNA kit, two of the tapestree trees, and a Pando game with extension pack. I think Pando was also on the same aisle as you but closer to the food court. Their games were out on the isle and I could look at them without “trespassing” or feeling trapped. I think the majority of what I purchased was in what you called the newby area. My wife (who was also a presenter and ambassador) and aunt also purchased from a few other booths in that area that had jewelry and items aimed at children. Five of my six kids were there on Family Discovery Day and got several take home prizes or giveaways, I am not sure if they got one from your booth. I know they did not want to fill out the card to win something. I may be unique, but at Rootstech I feel a little overwhelmed and a little intimidated while I am in the Expo Hall. This was my fifth year in a row and my experience seems the same every year. I was not sure what you were selling. I also did not feel drawn into the booth. There were usually people standing in front of (with their back to) your product table and I didn’t want to push through them or get trapped by them. I don’t know you or your family so I didn’t really want to talk to you before seeing what you were selling. Maybe if the books had been on one of the isles I would have looked at them. If your YouTube videos were more accessible maybe I would have watched them. I also think you need to simplify the messaging for your books. The papers hanging off the table were not easy to see from the aisle. I realize you know your fans and other genealogy stars but many if not most of the people at the conference do not. Before today I had never read your blog. I agree about your signage, I did not understand how you could help me or what I could gain from your products. There was also a booth with people dressed like pirates and it was decorated well but I am not sure what they were selling either; all presentation and no product. I also did not know that GBA.BUZZ existed or that there was an associated giveaway. I feel like I am pretty tech savvy. I used my phone constantly at the conference, I had to charge it during classes. I even scanned some bar codes in the innovator alley. For some reason I do not remember seeing the GBA.BUZZ signs you made. I know my kids were also on their phones using the Relatives at Rootstech app.
    My wife and I will also be at the Southern California Jamboree, she is presenting there too. I enjoyed this series and your insight about your experiences. I am sorry that your expectations were not met. I think sometimes we learn the most when we fail to meet our expectations. It sounds like you have made a positive out of the negative by learning from and reflecting on your experience. Maybe that is the biggest door prize of all.

  2. I have thoroughly enjoyed this series. I did not attend RT, am not a business, and have nothing to offer on the subject. Going behind the scenes is just always interesting to me. How people think about their business is interesting to me. Well done!

  3. A first time experience is a roller coaster and you shared many things for us to consider. We thought we'd researched ways to make the booth work the best but I think we missed a few things and succeeded in others. Looking forward to seeing you at Jamboree. We won't have a booth there but a vendor is considering selling books for us. We'll see how that goes.

  4. I am not involved with the planning or organization of the Ontario Genealogical Society's Annual Conference, scheduled this year for June 1 to June 3 in Guelph, Ontario, but this is Canada's largest annual genealogical convention. I have no statistics about the number of vendors; costs for booths or other facilities (e.g. electricity, table(s), chairs, etc.); how many vendors return regularly; or how well vendors/exhibitors do financially or through intangibles; but from personal experience in two of the last three years, I'd say that there is usually heavy attendee presence almost any time the Market Place is open. Unlike your experience with major anchor vendors at Roots Tech, as I recall, the major anchors are spread around the floor space. While it may be too late for you to plan or arrange to participate as a vendor at this year's conference, it is something you may wish to consider for the future. I believe they started accepting requests for booth space in January, and possibly have a floor plan available for potential vendors to study and perhaps request specific spots. You should be able to get more information on the web site: https://conference2018.ogs.on.ca/2018/01/20/conference-2018-handbook/. Hopefully, this will be useful information for you.

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