How to exhibit at trade shows (national/international) – a complete 27-step guide for a successful event

FINALLY – trade shows are back and busier than ever!

Are you planning to exhibit at trade shows to grow your reach and customer base? It is a great way for businesses to showcase their offerings in an environment that allows them to interact with potential customers and get feedback on their products.

In the Home Decor Product Business Article Series, we cover how to launch, grow, and expand your physical products business. In this article, we cover

  • how to exhibit at national or international trade shows
  • what you need to do before, during, and after the shows to maximize the return on investment
  • get the complete list for preparing for national and international design, decor, and lifestyle trade shows!

Let’s dive in!

How To Exhibit At Trade Shows (National/International) – A Complete 27-Step Guide For A Successful Event
How To Exhibit At Trade Shows (National/International) – A Complete 27-Step Guide For A Successful Event

What is a trade show?

A trade show is an event where companies and organizations display their products and services to potential customers, partners, and other stakeholders.

Trade shows are also great opportunities for networking and making contacts in the industry. By attending these events, businesses can gain insights into the latest trends in their field, learn from experts, and make valuable connections with other companies.

Benefits of trade shows for businesses

Trade shows are an excellent way for businesses to establish their presence, build relationships with potential customers, and showcase their products and services. They provide a platform for entrepreneurs to interact with other industry professionals and learn about the latest trends in the market.

Trade shows also provide opportunities for businesses to network with other like-minded individuals, find potential partners and suppliers, and create new business connections. Furthermore, they allow companies to gain valuable insights into the industry by attending seminars and workshops on relevant topics.

Overall, there are many reasons why you should exhibit at trade shows, and they can be a great way for businesses to increase their visibility in the market, attract more customers, generate leads, and develop strategic partnerships.

Disadvantages of exhibiting at trade shows

Trade shows have been a popular way of marketing products and services for many years. However, there are some disadvantages to exhibiting at trade shows that businesses should consider before committing to them. These include the cost of attending, the time spent away from the office, and the difficulty of measuring ROI.

In addition, there is a risk of not meeting desired goals due to competition at the show or lack of interest in the products or services being offered. As such, businesses should weigh these potential risks against their desired results before deciding if attending a trade show is worth it for them.

To make sure your trade show participation is as great and profitable as possible, I have listed several points you should consider when planning to exhibit.

Want this as a PDF instead? Download it now and use it as your guide when planning your next show!

Trade fairs and exhibitions examples in the design industry

Here are some of the most popular trade shows in the design industry, globally:

And the list goes on… the key: find the right trade shows for your brand, and plan & manage your participation thoroughly.


BEFORE THE SHOW CHECKLIST


1. Select the right shows in advance

This should be part of your yearly strategic planning process, where you select the trade shows that work for your business. 

  • Are you looking to launch in your home country?
  • Are you selling to consumers or businesses, or maybe both? 
  • Are you launching internationally?
  • Are you looking to participate in a virtual trade show? 

2. Create a budget before you apply to exhibit at trade shows

You need to know what you can invest in trade show participation. Of course, if this is your first time, you probably don’t have a full scope of what your participation will cost, in total.

3. Decide who is responsible for the show internally

Trade shows are a big happening and require consistent planning and managing. As soon as you have appointed a project manager, you can hand this checklist over to them. Also, you most likely need to share the workload so get a team together and give everyone specific roles and responsibilities. Have your trade show project manager create a project plan with clear responsibilities, activities, deadlines, and budgets. 

4. Layout your booth

Plan how you want your booth to look. What’s the best placement for your booth? How many square meters do you need? Do you want an island or only one open side? 

5. Book your participation

Now it’s time to get in touch with the trade show and book your spot. Do this as early as possible to ensure you get the spot you want! Of course, some trade shows are selling their last spots at a discounted rate, but the spots are rarely the best ones. 

Think about your position in the show: it is as important as your store location – it needs to be somewhere where people walk by. You don’t want to have a booth in a bad location because nobody will find it by accident. And if you’re a new brand, they don’t know what to look for, either. 

Payments

Your trade show participation payment is often done in two or three parts, and you can expect to pay a downpayment shortly after you have received a confirmation. The payments are usually done by bank transfers. 

How to exhibit at trade shows
How To Exhibit At Trade Shows (National/International) – Complete 27-Step Guide

6. Mind the deadlines

When you start planning your show, you need to mind the deadlines! Some deadlines are long before the actual show date, so make sure you have added all dates to your calendar. 

7. Design & build

Who will build your booth? Are you doing it by yourself or with your staff, or do you need someone to build it in advance? Fair organizers often have this as a service, however, you need to be quick. You can also find external trade shows building companies that travel to many shows and can build your booth as well. 

Flow

What kind of flow do you need to have in the booth? Do people need to get into your booth or do they watch your products from the aisle? 

Height 

Think about the height of your booth as well – can you leverage it somehow for your logo and lighting? 

Meetings & demonstrations

Do you need to sit down for meetings? In that case, you need to plan a meeting area in your booth. 

Backroom

Where do you store all your stuff? There’s more stuff than you most likely anticipate, so you need to have a small storage room.

Fridge

Do you need a place to store water? 

Charging station & Electricity 

Do you need a laptop or a phone? Then you also need a charging station. Make sure that any electrical equipment you plan to take complies with international electrical standards.

Lighting 

In most cases, you need to add lighting to your booth as the hall lighting might not be enough to create the ambiance you want. 

Floors

What kind of floors do you want? The hall floors are often cold and ugly, you need to figure out a carpet, vinyl, or maybe a beautiful wood flooring to elevate your brand. 

Screens

Do you need to show images or videos? Then you likely need a screen.

Materials & merch

Will you share gift bags, catalogs, branded water bottles, or any other merchandise? Then you need to plan a spot to house these as well. 

Flowers & decor

What else do you need to add to your booth to make it stand out? Is it fresh flowers or decor? Do you need a vase? Remember to check how you can get them there, too. Shipping fresh flowers along with your product delivery… not the best idea!

maison et objet jpeg
Design the type of booth that works for your brand and business

After-show activities 

Will you take your customers and staff out for a dinner? Book in advance and send the invitations to your customers in advance so they can plan it too. 

Cleaning 

Don’t forget to book this, as it often needs to be booked exclusively. The trade shows often only clean the aisles, but you might need daily cleaning to keep your booth fresh. 

8. Staffing 

Who will attend the show? How many people do you need to be in the booth at the same time? Will you be booking meetings outside of the booth? Do you need extra personnel? Do you know the languages spoken at the show? If not, do you need to book local personnel or an interpreter?

What kind of people do you need? Do they need to be able to sell your services or products, or are they merely there to service the visitors? When you exhibit at trade shows, having staff in the booth with the right attitude and behavior matters. 

You should select staff that will actively engage attendees and not just passively hangs at the back. Every staff member needs to be proactive, can represent your brand in the best possible way, and help the visitors with any questions they might have. Attending a trade show training course is a great idea if this is your first time! 

9. Insurance 

Check whether your business insurance covers trade shows. If not, get additional insurance. 

10. Food & beverage

Will you offer snacks in our booth? Do you need a license to serve food and beverages? Alcohol is often prohibited to serve at trade shows unless you don’t organize it with the show’s official catering company.

11. Accommodations & travels

Your staff needs to sleep somewhere and travel to and from the show. Book hotels as soon as possible, as the best ones tend to get fully booked during the show dates. 

When you exhibit at trade shows, having a hotel next to the show location is recommended so your staff can easily access the fairground and also have access to their rooms if they need to rest. Trade show days are long and intensive, so having access to a room for a quick rest is a great idea. 

12. Marketing materials 

You need to have something that you can share with your visitors, so make sure your catalogs, cards, brochures, branded pens, and other important materials go to print in advance. You might also want to create a digital landing page with a QR code that people can access with their mobiles. 

13. Get the logistics sorted – asap

Logistics together with the booth build are often the most stressful parts of the trade show preparations – sort your logistics as soon as possible before you exhibit at trade shows, and leave some room for… eh, unexpected happenings. Those almost always happen. 

Many logistics companies offer trade shows logistics, get in touch with a few companies to get offers. Even if you have a local building firm to build the booth, they don’t often handle the logistics of your products to and from the show. 

Also, large trade shows have specific slots when your logistics firm can enter the fairground, so you need to plan accordingly. Otherwise, your truck needs to sit outside the fairground and wait, and this can take days, which is a total waste of your money!

14. Market your participation, a lot!

As soon as possible, start marketing your participation. You should share your plans with your current customers and followers, and why not take them on a journey to see what it looks like behind the scenes when you plan your trade show? 

Target potential visitors with online advertising

It’s no secret that we are big fans of digital advertising. When I’m planning to exhibit at trade shows, (or any sales & PR events), marketing starts 3-6 months in advance. 

To boost your trade show marketing, you can upload a list of potential buyers to an advertising platform and show your targeted ads to them. You can target the specific trade show name with Google AdWords to be among the first results people see when they search for the trade show on Google. You can share your plans organically on social media and in your marketing emails. And you can invite buyers (if you are in B2B) to come to your booth. 

Book meetings with buyers

What’s the goal of your trade show participation? Is it to meet new potential buyers, or deepen relationships with current buyers? Is it to build brand awareness and connect with media and influencers? Either way, when possible, try to book meetings with potential buyers in advance. 

If you sell to consumers, you can ask your leads to come by and say hello. If you sell to companies, you can schedule a demonstration or meetings in advance. 

Send press releases 

Remember to send press releases a few times before you exhibit at trade shows. You can send them 6 and 3 months in advance, and then 3-5 days before the show. Create different angles for each press release. Use tools such as Cision to send your press releases to the relevant media people. 

Explore the show’s marketing channels 

Most trade shows offer the opportunity to promote your business directly on their website, directory, newsletter, or social media. This can be a blog, a press release, a catalog, or a company biography.

Add your products to the show product directory 

If the show has a digital product catalog, then remember to update it with multiple great images and product descriptions, and your brand story. 

Speak at the event? 

If it makes sense, you can design a signature talk about something that concerns your industry, and book speaker slots when you exhibit at trade shows. Then remember to mention your products at the end of the presentation. 


AT THE SHOW CHECKLIST


It’s showtime! Your booth is done, the doors are about to open anytime, and you are ready. What now? 

15. Take your press materials to the press room

Most shows have press rooms, so make sure you will take your press materials; press release, and catalog, to the press room. Press members always start at the press rooms when they visit trade shows, so make sure they find your materials there.

16. Stay secure 

Keep your booth secure. Beware of theft and consider how you will keep your goods safe, day and night. Don’t leave your booth unattended during open hours.

17. Check your peers

Before the doors open, it’s a great time to take a little walk around the hall to meet your peers. Some of the best conversations and business opportunities occur before the hustle and bustle of a show. 

18. Stock your booth with fresh mint candy or mouth spray

You’ll talk a lot, and most likely drink coffee (or wine) a lot. Have some spearmint candy or mouth spray in your pocket to keep your breath fresh all day.

19. Scan visitors’ badges

Have an electronic visitor badge or barcode scanner available. Attendees at trade shows will often be wearing badges with a QR code. Scan them to instantly capture all their key information. This makes following up with booth visitors easier after a show.

Here’s a great tool: an electronic business card. I’d buy this and use it at every show!

20. Have your order system ready & send confirmations directly 

Have a digital order system ready for order taking, and remember to send order confirmations directly. You don’t want to give your new customers a too big possibility to regret their at-the-show purchases, even if you most likely can cancel an order if they really don’t want the goods. 

Your digital order management system needs to be easily accessible so you can fill out orders when you have conversations with your customers.

21. Collect business cards or email addresses

Even if a potential customer is not ready to order just yet, you still need to collect their contact information. If you don’t have a scanner, then have a simple notebook where you can stable their cards, alternatively, write contact details, and also add some notes to yourself so you remember after the show what you talked about. 

22. Stay until the end

Even if the evenings get quiet, someone needs to be in the booth until the closing. There’s always someone who comes in last minute and those affairs can be very good. 

23. Party, work, or relax?

Partying away after a long day at the show might sound like a good idea, but it’s most likely the opposite day after… if you want to treat your staff with a celebration, do it on the last day. You most likely have many emails to write after each day so a nourishing dinner followed by a quiet night replying to requests and sending order confirmations is most likely the best way to spend your evenings. 


AFTER THE SHOW CHECKLIST


The show is over, and so is your work, right? Not so fast. The after-show activities are actually the most profitable ones, so let’s make sure you will get the most out of your participation. 

Also, even if the show itself wasn’t a great success, you can still turn it around. 

24. Follow up on all leads within 5 workdays

Your sales team needs to follow up on all leads during the coming 5 working days. Your order confirmations are already sent, and hopefully, you also have already shipped the goods to your costumes. Now it’s time to follow up on all leads who did not yet order. 

25. Secure the next show

If the trade show has been a success, rebook it as early as possible. This will help you secure a better position at the show next time around, or at least the same position if it was great for your business. 

26. Schedule a post-show debrief with your team

Go through your participation, the results, what worked well, and what needs to be improved for the next show. Make this a normal activity after each large activity you have. 

27. Finances 

Go through your finances and calculate the profitability of each show. Your orders most likely keep arriving many weeks and months after the show but try to keep as good track of the trade show results as possible. 


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