Streetwise Advice: Tips on Trade Shows

Beware the Trade Show Dragon

If you don’t keep a careful lid on trade show costs, they can easily skyrocket out of control. Two of the easiest ways to be shocked by your trade show expenses are to participate in one without a formal budget and to go nuts and make big booth-related purchases just before the show. Know what you can afford to spend, and stick to your budget.

Emphasize Class, Not Mass

A small, well-done trade show booth can look more attractive and inviting than a larger one that appears less professional. Keep in mind that it is a lot easier and takes a lot less money to make a small booth look attractive than it does for a larger one.

Portable Exhibits Make a Lot of Sense

Most small companies that attend trade shows are best off buying a small portable exhibit. They are offered in a range of styles, from tabletop versions that cost a few hundred dollars to full-height exhibits. Professional-looking logos can be added to the top of the display and large full-color product photos can dress up the panels. Presto! A great little exhibit!

Portable exhibits are lightweight and fold down into compact shippable units. Custom-designed shipping containers are usually a purchase option and will help minimize shipping damage. Shipping costs will also be substantially reduced. Portable exhibits are, in addition, extremely easy to assemble and seldom require the services of unionized booth assembly labor.
Ads for portable trade show exhibit companies can be found in business and airline in-flight magazines. Many of these companies have representatives around the country who would be happy to visit your office to present a demonstration.

What Is a Good Booth Location?

As a new exhibitor, you probably won’t have much choice in booth selection at the larger trade shows. However, booth location can make a big difference in your floor traffic. Do whatever you can to get the best space possible. Get your application in early and be sure to request the best space available. The best space is a high-traffic location. A corner booth should be your goal because these are the most visible from all possible approach angles. The front of the hall is terrific; the center of the hall is good. Spaces near major aisle intersections, food vendors, or restrooms also see a lot of activity.

Whom to Send

Even in a small company, the matter of who will attend a trade show can quickly become a political game. If the trade show is out of town and you pay the way for everyone who wants to attend, you’ll bury your company in travel and accommodation debt. Make personnel choices and announce them early to minimize last-minute disappointments. If you attend several trade shows, try rotating the teams of booth representatives to give all of your key people a chance to attend a show. Remember, airfare and hotel accommodations are just the beginning of the expenses you will incur for each attendee.

When choosing booth staff, keep in mind personalities. Someone who interacts well with strangers, has a high energy level, is articulate, is outgoing, and knows how to dress and act professionally is going to benefit your company’s image. Send your best “people people,” not your best engineers or product managers. Although anyone staffing your booth should have adequate knowledge of your product, knowledge is of little value if your representatives won’t take the initiative and talk to visitors. The bottom line is that dress and professional appearance in your booth staffers will outshine the physical appearance of your booth any day.

If you really want to give everyone on your staff an opportunity to attend a trade show, participate in a local one.

Share Goals

Even if you have only one or two people attending a trade show, be sure to clarify your objectives. Let your representatives know why you are exhibiting—are you seeking new accounts, new distributors, or new representatives? Inform them of any “show specials” that you are offering. Give each representative specific responsibilities, such as talking to foreign distributors, setting up and dismantling the booth, or entertaining customers. Do you need to keep certain product details from falling into the hands of the competition? Communicate that, too.

Establish an Order Target

Taking orders is usually not the most important goal for attending a trade show, but if it happens to be one of your goals, it will certainly be easy to measure your success. A good target for sales goals is to at least meet the fee paid for the space in the exhibit hall.

Even if making sales is not your major trade show goal, order totals can be used as a measure for gauging the success rate of one show versus another.

Follow-up Makes the Difference

With electronic order taking, the trend continues to move away from on-the-spot order writing on trade show floors. Pay more attention to closing sales after the convention. Take contact information from every possible prospect, and note each one’s particular interests and concerns. Make follow-up calls and/or send requested information as soon after the convention as possible.

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.