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How to exhibit at a trade show

In a recent column, I presented some tips on how to maximize your time at a trade show and how to ensure you get the most “bang” for your time.  Now, let’s go to the other side of the booth table and look at ways you can maximize your trade show presence as an exhibitor.

Trade shows are well known for being a great way to get exposure to potential clients.  They are also well known for being a black hole, sucking up your time and your money.  I like to think of trade show exhibiting as an art, rather than a science.  There are many things you can do in advance to increase your chances for a good return on the investment.

What do you expect to get out of it?  It’s important to understand why you are exhibiting at the trade show.  Are you looking only to get your name in front of a bunch of prospects?  Are you looking to build your marketing database?  Or, are you promoting something specific like a special theme cruise sailing?  Focus your efforts towards reaching this goal.  Last year, I was working with a local celebrity chef on a culinary-themed cruise.  Taste of Home , a regional culinary magazine, held a cooking school and trade show in my area around the time I was promoting the cruise.  I exhibited at the trade show in an effort to capture potential clients who liked the celebrity chef as well as people who would appreciate a culinary-themed event.

Don’t sign up for every show available.  Not every trade show will be a good fit for your goals.  Consider the market segment, location, time of year, and past trade show history.  It’s very important to make sure the trade show you select targets the right people.  I heard a story of a cruise agent who exhibited at a boat show, and did very well with obtaining new potential clients.  An agent who focuses on all-inclusive resort vacations or on honeymoons would definitely be out of place there!

Budget and stick to it!  The trade show organizers, if they do things right, will let you know all of the required and optional costs to exhibit.  Booth locations in higher traffic areas cost more, but will also provide you with better exposure.  Will you have an electrical outlet (or five) in your booth?  Will you need to provide your own table?  Some trade shows include a table, chairs, and wastebasket in the booth – others charge you for the booth and then add a fee if you want the table and chairs.  Make sure you don’t spend more than you can realistically afford without a relatively immediate return on that investment – sometimes trade show impact takes a while to be felt!

Design your booth for the show.  One thing I tend to see attending different trade shows each year in my area: the same company will be at more than one show, with the same booth design, and the same message.  At first glance, this seems like a good thing but it’s really not.  A good rule of thumb is to have a core booth design that is the same and clearly identifies your company and what you’re about.  Then, have add-ons that can help you market more specifically to the audience at that particular trade show.  Each group has different needs and wants, and that should be considered in the design for your booth.

Tell people about the trade show.  So, you’ve paid the booth rental fee, designed a kick-butt booth, made all the arrangements – now you just have to sit tight and wait for Show Day, right? Wrong!  Tell your clients you’ll be at the trade show and invite them to stop by.  Definitely send the message to your potential client list and encourage them to visit.  Put a note on your website or blog about the show.  The more people you tell about your presence, the more likely they are to attend the show in the first place.  They’ll stop by your booth, and the presence of people at your booth is a great magnet for potential clients!

In my next column, I’ll go into more detail on booth design and best practices after the show is over.  Trade show questions?  Ask away!

Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a three-year industry veteran with Sunnyland Tours & Travel in Springfield, MO.  He holds Lifestyle Specialist designations in Luxury Travel and Gay/Lesbian Travel, and is known for specializing in cruises, Western European tours, group travel, and culinary-themed travel.  He can be reached at steve@journeysbysteve.com, or through his website at http://www.JourneysBySteve.com.

  One thought on “How to exhibit at a trade show

  1. Chuck Flagg says:

    Great column Steve!

    One thing I tried this year at my Chamber’s Business EXPO was to promote it through email, Facebook and Twitter. I gave out a different “secret” phrase in each venue and gave a premium gift to anyone who came up and repeated the phrase. It worked for at least a few people and allowed me to track which manner of communication was effective.

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