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How to Make Your First Trade Show a Success

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

Trade shows offer businesses a chance to showcase their services and meet potential clients in a competitive, yet extremely beneficial environment. While it's never easy to set up shop alongside competitors, performing well at a trade show can lead to noticeable increases in sales.

Like many facets of running a business, your performance and comfort level at trade shows improves with time. Running a booth for the first time generates feelings of anxiety. Between the logistics of travel plans, setting up your booth, worrying about the look of your exhibit and interacting with potential customers, there's no shortage of stress when it comes to attending a trade show. Luckily, there are several ways first-time trade show participants can hit the ground running and turn their first experience into a successful one.

1. Understand the basics

You never want to go into a trade show blind. Learning, and understanding, the different rules of the trade show should be your first step. The rules for each venue and show vary, which means you should start with this step for every trade show you attend. A big mistake that a lot of companies make is to treat all shows the same. Thoroughly review the list of rules and regulations to ensure you don't face unwelcome and costly surprises when you arrive to the show.

As a first time exhibitor, reach out to the show organizer rep that you have to review what your booth comes with and what you have to pay extra for. Some shows will provide booth carpets or tables and at others you have to rent them or bring your own. Every show is a little different, so don't assume that your booth will come with the basics. This not only applies to your booth space, but also the timings you have to work within and the number of badges or amount of access you have to areas. Have your team and the trade show staff on the same page so there are no last-minute issues – and costs - when you arrive.

As you are starting to think about exhibiting in shows, it is a good idea to visit others as an attendee to see what happens at them that you need to consider. There is no shortage of information on line, but there is nothing like talking to others who do it and going to physically see it beforehand.

2. Consider your presence

Whether the show has 45 exhibitors or 450, the competition for attention can be overwhelming. When it comes to getting people to your booth, it's you to somehow stand out. If you are a smaller company with a limited budget, this is where you need to be creative. Handing out flyers and business cards may boost exposure of your business a little bit, but nearly every booth is doing this. Ask yourself "What can we do to get noticed? What will make us memorable?”

When you attend your first trade show, you should think about what to offer at the booth that will attract the attention of attendees and also line up with their brand (a helicopter supplier can have little helicopter key chains or bottle openers as giveaways to those qualified. (Remember that free stuff can attract a lot of suitcasers! Suitcasers are attendees that are really just there for the free stuff).

3. Authenticity Rules

Trade show attendees realize that you're hoping they use your business for its services or products, but that doesn't mean you should become an overly pushy salesperson. Focus most of your conversations on the problems of interested potential customers to see if what you have is a solution. Trade shows have a limited time and no one has time to waste. Remember that a friendly conversation and interaction can still help boost your brand's overall reputation and could lead to a word of mouth referral. There's no downside to having memorable, yet brief, conversations with trade show attendees.

Trade shows are an excellent opportunity to build brand and relationships. Don’t try and close a deal in 45 seconds, or you'll drive people away and create negative chatter. Trade shows can be a sensory overload, and potential customers are wearing their sales armor most of the time. You're more likely to stand out and be remembered when you build personal relationships. This may not lead to an immediate deal, but it could result in new sales down the road.

4. Observe the competition

This step should occur both before and during the trade show. By researching your competition before the show, you can craft a message that addresses why you're the best solution in your industry.

Know which competitors are going to be at the show. You should try and get a handle of what their messaging, branding, booth location, pre-show marketing, etc is looking like, so you can position your presence accordingly. At the show, it's important to visit the booths of your competitors. Consider what you like and don't like about their display. By observing competitors, you gain valuable insights into their marketing tactics and there is no better place to do that than at a trade show.

5. Embrace the opportunity

From budgetary restrictions to travel time, there are plenty of reasons to say that trade shows aren’t feasible. But like most business decisions, it is not about the costs, its about the return on those costs. (ROI). Despite all the logistical stressors involved, trade shows serve as an opportunity for you to build relationships with potential customers and eventually turn those leads into actual customers. With so much interaction going digital, trade shows are a key opportunity to get some face time with your customers, the media and even your competitors, as well as texturize your messaging. It is a chance to put faces to names and display your company's brand in real life. And how often do you get a chance to have so many potential clients in one place?

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