Trade Shows

In almost every industry, there is a trade show at least somewhere in the United States. These trade shows can give you a chance to meet your potential partners. program owners, and customers face to face. Whether you’re setting up at a local or regional Technology Convention or at an industry trade show, you will be presenting your company to the public. You will need to make the most of it while you are there. After all, this is an investment that you want to get maximum results from and gain exposure for your company.

Depending on the type of show you are setting up at, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $2500 or more for booth space. Now, that’s a big price range isn’t it? There are several factors you have to consider before you put down your money for the booth space.

Space Size of the Booth
Location of the booth
* Restrictions (can you sell on the trade show floor?)
* Do you get electrical service for the booth
* Do you get phone service for the booth.
* Demographically is the location for the show a good location?
* Do they provide tables or do you
And more.

These are all things you will have to know before you sign up for that booth space. In order for you to have a successful show, you have to plan for it and understand how everything works. This is where this report comes in. We will go over all of the different things you will need to know to make your experience at the show more successful. We will cover what you need to know and do before the show, during the show and what to do after the show has ended.


Keep yourself organized. Grab a notebook and start writing down everything that you will need to take. One of the first things you will need to do is start planning on which shows to attend and the estimated cost involved for setting up at each show. No matter how big or small the show is you have to be prepared if you want it to be successful.

* Will you need to travel far to setup at this show?
* Will you need lodging and food?
* What materials are you going to hand out at the show?
* How many people will you need to staff your booth?
* What is your booth size?
* What are you going to display?
* What is the average attendance? (So you know how much material to bring for handouts)
* Can you sell on the show floor?
* What about security, especially on a multi-day show?

The more prepared you are, the smoother everything will go. At least it should go smooth. Make sure you have a list of all the materials you want to hand out at the show, and make sure everything has your name on it. Never hand out anything without your name, address and phone number on it. Depending on the type of show you are setting up at, you may want to hand out a basic brochure at the show and then do a follow-up mailing to the people who stopped by your booth.

If you are going to be selling products right on the show floor, make sure you give everyone a receipt. Security at some shows can be tight and if an attendee leaves with an item they may have to show a receipt for it.

If the show charges admission to get in, make sure you have ample passes for everyone who is working the booth with you. Also, see if there is an exhibitor parking area and if you will need parking passes.


Start by asking the show promoter what the attendance was over the last few years. If they have a registration system, that should be able to provide you with fairly accurate numbers. Also, ask if they can give you a breakdown by the day for the attendance. This will show you if attendance will be heavier on certain days than others. This will also show you on which days you may need extra help in your booth. I know one 5 day show we setup at, the first three days were dead, and the next two days we were overflowing with attendees. By knowing the previous years attendance records per day, we were able to have extra help in our booth on the busiest days.

If they do not have an accurate attendance record, then be very careful of the number they give you. Generally, it’s a very high estimate of what they hoped they had. It is also a good idea to find out who had display booths at the last show and ask them how the attendance was and if it was a good show for them. This will give you some information to gauge your decision on, as far as setting up a booth.

If this is a first time show, you will have to hope that the attendance will be good. One way judge is to see how the promoter is promoting the show. Are you finding ads for the show in the newspaper, on the radio or TV? Are flyers being handed out anywhere? Are there signs or billboards advertising the show? How about ads in the trade magazines? If you are not seeing any advertising for the show, chances are, no one else is seeing it either, so attendance may not be high. If the promoter is mailing out flyers or brochures on the show, ask them how many are being mailed out and where did they get their mailing list. This will provide you with at least some information. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, they are asking you for your money, you have the right to know if you are spending it wisely.

On the other hand, if you are seeing a fair amount of advertising about the show, even though this is a first time show, then chances are the attendance will be good.

On the subject of attendance, make sure it is not including any school field trips. We had setup at a business show in Harrisburg one year. The show promoter stated that they have about 4000 attendees for the show. During the first day of the show, we started noticing all of these high school and college students showing up and handing out resumes. When I asked them where they were from, the explained that every year the show promoters invite the local high schools and colleges to bring the juniors and seniors over to the business show, this allows the students to get to meet people from the local businesses and for them to even bring resumes to hand out. I know we were handed over 250 resumes on the first day of the show alone. Needless to say, we were not the only exhibitor shocked by this. We found out later, that this is how the show promoter gets good attendance records. They bring in about 2000 students out of about 4000 total attendees!

The Cost Of The Booth

What you will pay for the show booth will vary from show to show. Prices for a booth can range for $50 to $2500 or more. It all depends on the show, the show’s location, the booth size and the booth’s location, the attendance levels and the services you receive. Don’t think that because a show only charges $50 for a booth, that it is not a good show. Check the attendance levels and check with past exhibitors. If the show is being held at a hotel’s banquet hall, you can bet the booth cost will be alot less than if it is held in a convention center in a large city like New York.

Be careful of hidden costs for your show booth. If you need electricity at your show booth, make sure the show’s promoter is aware of it before you sign the contract and see if you are going to have to pay extra for it. Depending on where your booth is located, you may not have any outlets in your booth. Make sure you know how many outlets you are going to need before the show, so they can have them installed. If you are going to be putting up accent lights, TV’s, VCR’s, computers, cash registers, etc, make sure you will have enough outlets to run everything.

Will you need a phone line run into the booth? If you are going to be taking credit card orders, you will need a phone line to get authorization for each charge. If you need a phone line, check with the show’s promoter about having one run in. You may want to use a cellular phone at the booth to call in the charges, instead of going through the expense of having a phone line put in.

Are they providing the tables for the booth or are you? What about table cloths to cover the table? Some shows will provide this for you, while others require you to provide these necessities yourself. If this show you are setting up at is out of town and they don’t provide the tables, you may want to find out about renting these items, instead of hauling them with you. Ask the show’s promoter if there is a company that is going to be handling booth equipment for them. If you do rent the equipment, be careful of any other add-on charges for delivery and setup of the tables. You can get nickeled and dimed to death with some companies.

Does the show’s promoter provide you with a sign for your booth, and if so how big is it? At some shows they provide you with a standard 10″ by 3ft sign with your name on it. You may want to consider having your own sign professionally made up for your booth, one that is a larger and fancier than what the booth comes with.

Be careful of all of the add-on costs involved with a booth. That $200 booth may end up costing you $400 by the time you are done.

Always ask the show promoter, if vendors are allowed to distribute material from anywhere other than their own booth. If they allow this, be careful, you may find your competitor hanging around your booth area during your busy times, handing out their information. Yes, this really does happen. Make sure the contract clearly states that this is not allowed to be done. Another thing that can happen is, someone gets the lowest cost booth, just to get into the show, then they start walking the show floor and hanging out in front of the more expensive booths, handing out their information. It’s not right that you paid more for better location, and someone who is not with your company is just outside your booth handing out their material to people who are trying to see your booth. This can be an annoyance to the attendees.

The Booth Location

Have the show’s promoter show you a layout of the exhibit area. Have them show you who is exhibiting at each booth. This way you can avoid being too close to a competitor. Try to determine the primary traffic patterns for the show. If they are having seminars at the show try to have your booth along the major route to get to the seminars. You will have higher traffic levels passing your booth, this will give you added exposure. In order to assure yourself of a good booth location, you will need to reserve your booth as early as possible.

Your booth location can also determine the price of the booth. With some shows the end booths may cost more, because they offer you two exposed sides, instead of just one exposed side as a regular booth has. While we are on the subject of booth location, make sure you are aware of which other exhibitors are around you. You may find you are set up right next to someone who uses a PA system to talk to the crowd of people in front of their booth. If this happens, you may find it impossible to talk to someone who is at your booth. I have been to several shows where they have someone standing there with a PA system, demonstrating the product that they are selling. While they usually generate a large crowd, it is almost impossible to talk to anyone at the other booths around them. Don’t get yourself into this position.

The size of your booth may also determine your location at the show. Some show promoters will put the smaller exhibitors (less expensive booths) on the outside edge room, and the exhibitors with the larger booths getting the center of the room. This may not be so bad, being on the outside edge, you are less likely to have someone putting on a floor show next to you.

Try to stay away from the concession area. You may find attendees leaving trash from drinks and sandwiches on your booth. If seating space is limited in the concession area, you may have them standing in front of your booth eating. Thus, blocking people from getting to your booth.

Setting Up Your Booth

See how early you can arrive to setup your booth. Make sure you are setup before the show opens. Before you start unpacking everything, check the electrical outlets and phone outlets, if you have any. If something is not working, contact the show promoter at once. Don’t start setting anything up until everything is taken care off, just in case you have to move to another booth location. If that should happen, have the shows promoter put up a sign stating that your booth has moved and give the new location.

Make sure you have a tool box with you, also have electrical tape, duct tape, safety pins, flash light (with new batteries), etc. You never know what you’re going to need at the last minute, so be prepared. If you are going to need a handcart to move your stuff in with, make sure one will be available to you. It is also advisable to find out where you should park for loading and unloading. Some hotels or convention centers will have a specific location and they may have a specific time for you to be there to unload and setup. This way they don’t have everyone trying to use the loading docks at the same time.

Take some time when setting up your booth, you want it to look as nice as possible. Walk around and see what other exhibitors have done at there booths. If this is your first time setting up at a show, you may want to visit other trade shows in your area, just to get some ideas on booth design.

When using tablecloths to cover your tables, use cloth ones, not plastic. The plastic ones look cheap and will hurt your image. You may want to check with the show’s promoter to see if they are working with anyone to provide booth display items. You can usually rent display stands, lights, tables, curtains, table covers, etc. Don’t go overboard, you may find that it will cost you a small fortune.

Don’t use hand written signs. Again, it looks bad and unprofessional. Have a printer make up some signs for you for labeling your product display.

If you are going to be setting up a TV to show a video on, have the TV about 5 feet to 6 feet off of the ground. This way it will be at or above the crowds eye level. You may want to put the TV on a box on top of the table. Just make sure it is a sturdy wood box. Don’t use a cardboard box! Drape a cloth over the box to make it look a more professional. Make sure the TV is not turned up too loud. You don’t want to offend your neighboring exhibitors. Also, you want the people who are talking to you to be able to hear you over the TV.

If your booth is big, you may want to setup two TV’s, one at each end of the booth. Also, have your brochures near the TV, since it will become the center of attention, you will want your material right there.

If you are a photographer and are hanging samples up of your work, make sure they are large enough to be seen. At least 11″ x 14″ or larger, also have a photo album with only 8″ x 10″ sample photos.

Keep your booth as neat and professional looking as you can at all times.

Meeting The Other Exhibitors

After your booth is setup, take a few minutes before the show starts and walk around and meet some of the other exhibitors. Take some time to learn about the services they offer, so you may be able to refer customers to them. In return, they may become and excellent source of referrals for your business.

NOTE: Some exhibitors may feel uncomfortable with you visiting their booth, they may feel that you’re a competitor of some sort. If that is how they feel, don’t be offended, just move on to the next exhibitor.

Working The Booth

Don’t be pushy! Don’t try to close every sale right then and there! Listen to what the people are asking you and answer their questions. Be friendly and courteous at all times, and make the person feel welcome. A lot of times people hesitate to talk to someone in a sales booth, they would rather grab the sales material and run. This is because, they feel they are going to have to listen to a long drawn out sales pitch. Just say hello and ask them if there is any questions you can answer. Strike up a conversation with them, ask them about their needs.

Always make an offer to send them your information packet or brochure. Especially, if they have bags full of information. That last thing you want to do, is have your information get lost with everything else they have picked up. Some attendees pick up so much information, that yours doesn’t have a chance to standout, especially if this is a large show. If you are having a drawing, ask everyone if they would like to register to win. Or ask them if they would like to be on your mailing list so they can receive upcoming promotions.

Don’t let one customer take up all of your time, offer to send more information to them or to have them call you, so you can talk with them in-depth at a more convenient time. Remember, you want to talk to as many people as you can during the show.

You will have slow times at your booth. This is very normal. In fact, if the show you are setup at is a multi-day show, don’t be surprised if you have some very long and slow days. Don’t panic and close up shop. My wife and I were working a show booth at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show for 10 days last year. The first 7 days were absolutely dead. In fact, the exhibitor across from us, packed up and left after 4 days. On the eighth day, the crowds came, and boy were we mobbed. You see, the big name riders started showing on day 8, and everyone came to watch. So don’t panic if the crowds are not there on the first day of the show. Remember, ask the show promoter to let you see attendance records for last year’s show. You will probably see which days are slow and which days are the busiest. This will also help you in determining how many people you will need working the booth and on which days.

Make sure you keep the booth clean. Straighten up your displays constantly. Don’t eat, drink or smoke in the booth, if at all possible. If you do have a drink, keep it hidden. You want your booth looking professional at all times, not cluttered with drink cups and sandwich wrappers. Don’t sit down in your booth especially when it is busy, it gives the people visiting your booth the impression you are not interested in them. If you want to sit down, make sure there is no one around your booth and the minute someone steps up to your booth, be back on your feet greeting them. It is also advisable to take a quick break outside of the booth during the slow periods, this will give you the chance to relax a little.

Never have more than one person on break at a time. You never know when it might get busy, and if you’re all alone in the booth, you may not be able to handle everyone.

One thing that we have done for some trade shows was to buy a small set of inexpensive walkie-talkies. This way if someone from the booth goes on break, they can take a walkie-talkie with them and if we need them to come back early, we can radio them. This has proven to be very helpful at larger shows.

Sometimes you may need to have extra help at shows. You may end up asking friends or relatives to help you staff the booth. If this happens, it’s wise to go over everything with them before the show. Make sure they know something about your products or services, so they can deal with the attendees more effectively. Another thing is to make sure they get regular breaks and keep them well fed. It will help keep them fresh and they won’t feel so run down. Don’t work them to death either, remember they are there helping you. If they start feeling tired or run down, they may not deal with the attendees too well.

For example, an incident happened to me at a trade show in New York City in September of 1994. My wife and I were attending this Video and Imaging trade show in New York City in September of 1994. At the time, I was looking for buy-out music to use in our video productions. I stopped by this one booth and asked this gentleman if he could tell me a little bit about the buy-out music his company was offering. I explained to him what I was looking for and that I needed it for our video production company and I was interested in making a purchase that day. The next thing he said to me was “Do you have a business card?” I responded yes, as he held out his hand. I explained that they were in my jacket pocket and my wife was holding my jacket across the isle as she talked to someone at another booth and I said that I would get one for him in a minute. He then said, “Well come back when you have a business card, then I will give you our brochure”, and he walked away from me. Boy, if that didn’t frost my marbles!

To make a long story short, I did purchase a library of buy-out music for about $600 from another company. As we were leaving the show, I stopped by the booth where I was treated so rudely, and I walked up to the salesman that wanted a business card before he would talk to me. And I showed him that he lost a sale, then I handed him a business card. As we were walking away, another gentleman approached me and asked me what that was all about. I explained to him what had happened and how rude the salesman was. He then apologized for what had happened and he told me he was the president of the company. It’s ashame that they had to lose a sale because of a rude sales force.

I know that this was a rare incidence, so just remember, whoever you have helping you in the show booth, make sure they are friendly, courteous, rested and not demanding. It’s your company and it’s your sales that can be affected by someone helping you at a trade show.

Don’t bring small children to your show booth. Have a friend or relative keep an eye on them at home. As cute as they are, they can be distracting and they may end up occupying more of your time than you think. Some show promoters may not allow small children there, so check with them first.

Compiling A Mailing List

If the type of show you are setting up has a registration booth, negotiate for a list of all of the attendees. By having this list, it will allow you to do a follow-up mailing to everyone who attended the show and to the people who missed your booth. Some show promoters will give you this list as part of being an exhibitor, while others will either charge you for the list of attendees or they will simply not release the list. Whatever you do, make sure you ask before signing up for the booth. If they agree to releasing the attendance list, make sure you have this in writing on the contract before you sign up for the show booth. I have heard of some show promoters not giving the list of attendees to the exhibitors after they verbally said they would. Another thing is to have them specify when you will get the list of attendees. You don’t want to be waiting four to six weeks for the list.

As attendees stop by your booth, get their name and address or a business card from them. One of the best ways to do this is to give something away. It’s always best to make the first prize something your going to give them for FREE. Such as a copy of your video tape or to give away one of the products that you are selling. Don’t give away a coupon for 10% off one of your products, you will find that most people won’t take the time to register for your drawing. You have to really entice them!

If you are setting up at a bridal show, along with obtaining the bride’s name and address, get her wedding date. This way after the show you can see which dates you have open and mail specifically to those brides. After all, you won’t need to mail to brides whose weddings are on the weekends that you are ready booked for.

You will need to make it easy for them to register. Here are a few ideas:

1. Have a fish bowl set out for them to drop their business cards into. Put a sign on the fish bowl stating that it is for business cards or entries.

2. Make up some registration forms and have them readily available to everyone who is stopping by your booth.

3. Put the registration form on a clipboard with a pen. Have a dozen or more of these clipboards ready to be handed out. Depending on the size of the show, you may want to have quite a few clipboards handy. You will find that there are certain periods of the day that you will be swamped. Remember, it is always better to have too many clipboards, than not enough. Also, make sure you have a pen that is attached by string to each clipboard. This will make it easier for the attendee to fill out, since they won’t have to go searching for a pen. By having the pen attached by string, this will prevent someone from walking off with it by accident.

4. Keep the registration form brief. If it is a long questionnaire, you won’t collect as many names and addresses. Also, if you are in a real busy period, you won’t want to tie up all of your clipboards with people filling out your long questionnaire. You will want them to free up the clipboard as fast as possible so it can be passed onto the next person.

5. If you don’t want to use the clipboard method, then make up some registration slips that are about 3″ by 5″ and have pens available for people to use to fill out the forms.

6. Have a nicely covered box or a large fish bowl for people to deposit the registration forms into. Depending upon the booth size, you may want to have more than one box or bowl. If you are using a box, use wrapping paper to cover it. If you are at a bridal show, use wedding wrapping paper to cover your box, it adds a nice touch.

7. Another option for collecting attendees names is to have a book or clipboard set out asking the attendees if they would like to receive future mailings from you. Again, keep it simple. Just ask for the name and address. Once again, make sure you have a pen attached so they can fill it out with ease.

Some people may say that the names and addresses you obtain when you have a booth setup are not really qualified people. In other words, they may not have an interest in what you have to offer, they are just there to get the free stuff and register for drawings. This may be true with a few people, but most of the people who attend a trade show really do have an interest in the field. So, it is really worth the time and effort to collect as many names as possible.

When you attend some of the larger trade shows, when you register, you are given a badge with your name and address imprinted on it or electrically coded on the card. As an exhibitor, this will help you to collect names and address alot easier. You will simply ask for the attendees card and you will take an imprint of the card, in the same way you take a credit card imprint or you will swipe it through a card reading machine, again like on a credit card terminal. This will then give you printout the attendees name and address.

There is one thing I would like to point out, it has been our experience that you collect fewer names this way. After the attendee has been to several booths, they seem to get real tried of taking that plastic badge out of the badge holder for you to swipe it through. Have another method available for them to give you their information, like taking a business card or having them sign up on your mailing list.

Security In The Booth

While most people are honest, there seems to always be someone attending a trade show that will try to rip you off. Here are a few tips that may prevent you from being ripped off.

1. Have more than one person in the booth at all times. Most rip-offs occur when there is only one person in the booth, and it doesn’t have to be a busy time either.

2. Even as you’re talking with a customer, keep an eye on everyone else at your booth. A common rip off is, one customer will walk up and start asking you to show them something and at the other end of the booth, while you are walking there or are occupied there, the accomplice is lifting something from the other end of the table. Keep glancing around to watch for anything suspicious.

3. Be careful of taking checks for large purchases. Always get a drivers license number and check the address on the license with the address on the check. Also, watch for low check numbers, like 100, 101 and 102. We have only had one bad check at all the shows we have setup at.

4. Watch for credit card fraud. Someone who is out to rip you off, will watch to see if you are getting authorizations on each charge at the time of sale or if you are doing the authorization later, because you don’t have a phone line in your booth. They may walk up to you and start up a conversation, ask you for your advise about a product that you are offering and make a small purchase based on what you have told them. They will then come back a few minutes later, telling you, that they have thought about what you have said and they would like to make that purchase of the expensive product now. All the while knowing that you’re not going to check his credit card to see if it is good. They have just ripped you off. Their credit card will come up declined or stolen and you lose.

5. If the show allows kids, keep a watchful eye on them. They may descend on your booth all at once, while two or three of them have you occupied, another one maybe lifting something from your table.

6. Never walk away from a customer who has asked to see a product and is holding it, so you can help another customer. Pretty soon, you will have several customers looking at and holding your products, that you won’t know who has what. Some scam artist will work this way. Once they have you off guard, they disappear into the crowd with your product.

Even though you may be at a professional show, don’t count on people being honest. Someone there may try to rip you off. Keep your guard up. At the shows we have attended and ones that I have helped out at, we generally had two or three people in the booth with one person on the outside of the booth, keeping an eye on everyone.

Now, if you are not selling on the show floor, keep an eye on your display merchandise. I lost a video tape that was on display at one show. Luckily, I put blank tapes in the boxes that were on display, just in case one would happen to disappear.

The Last Day Of The Show

In the last few hours of the show, it may become real slow. Especially if this is a multi-day show. Whatever you do, don’t start breaking down your booth early. In fact, with more and more contracts, it specifically states that you cannot break down early and you may be charged a penalty if you do so. Just hang in there, you will be surprised at how many people get real offended when they attend a show on the last day and everyone is starting to pack up and leave. No matter how slow, just hang in there and keep promoting your business. If you’re selling on the floor, the last day is usually the best day to reduce the price and sell it off quickly, this way you will have less to pack up and take with you.

At The End Of The Day

If you are setting up for a multi-day show, make sure you cover everything up in your booth. You can use inexpensive sheets or table clothes to cover your table tops. Don’t leave anything exposed, it’s tempting for someone to steal it. You would be surprised at how effective covering up your tables can be. Remove anything of value from the table tops and either take it with you or put it out of sight. Most shows have security, but always ask to be sure. Also, check with the show’s promoter about insurance against fire or theft. See if his policy covers it or if you may need to obtain a rider policy from your own insurance company. Also, ask your insurance agent.

If you are setting up at a show with very expensive equipment or products, you may want to retain the services of a security guard. Find out who will be exhibiting around you and see if they want to go in with you on hiring a security guard. Depending upon the area where the show is being held, this might be worth it.

Don’t ever leave money at your show booth after you have closed down for the day. If you have been doing sales at the show, you may want to have a security person walk out with you or leave with a group of people. Out of all the shows I have been to we have never had a problem personally. However, at one show an exhibitor I talked to was robbed of that days receipts when he was getting into his car. So be careful.

After The Show

Start entering in all of the names and addresses that you collected and mail out to them right away! Don’t wait a week or two before mailing to them, do it right now. Then follow-up with another mailing to them about three weeks after the show. You have to keep in mind, that alot of people need that second mailing to give them the nudge they need to respond.

If the show promoter has agreed to give you the names and addresses of the attendees, make sure they do it in a timely fashion. I have heard of one show promoter that took six weeks to get the exhibitors the attendees names and addresses! That is too long to wait.

Follow up with a phone call to people you gave demos to. You may be surprised on how many of them turn into sales. If you can’t follow up with a phone call, then at least plan on mailing more information to them right away.

If you are planning on going to another show, start making a list of everything that went wrong at the last show. This way you can be better prepared for the next show you are setting up at. You will learn from your experiences. Every show is going to be different, so don’t be discouraged if the show you were just at wasn’t as good as you were hoping it would be. You will have to tailor your show booth to the different types of shows that you will be setting up at. This means you may not be using the same material or display at every show.

We wish you success at all the trade shows you attend.

For more information on marketing your products you can always contact me.