How To Prepare For Design Trade Shows – Handy Checklist For designers

Looking to attend a design trade show? We all likely agree that design trade shows are amazing experiences but can feel overwhelming and stressful too. I’ve been exhibiting at the largest trade shows in Europe, helping multiple clients do the same, and visiting the shows as a buyer and media representative. Whichever the role you have as a visitor, here’s a checklist for how to prepare (particularly if it’s your first time!)

Are you planning to exhibit at a trade show? Here’s a comprehensive guide for you.

Why Attend Trade Shows?

Attending trade shows is a crucial aspect of professional growth and success for interior designers. Here’s why you should prioritize these events:

1. Experience Products Firsthand

Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to touch and feel materials, allowing you to assess the quality and suitability of products for your projects. This hands-on experience is invaluable, as it ensures you believe in the materials you specify to clients.

2. Build Relationships with Vendors

Establishing direct contact with vendor representatives can significantly benefit your business. These relationships provide you with insider knowledge, preferential treatment, and potentially better deals. Developing a rapport with vendors can also lead to collaborations and partnerships that enhance your professional network.

3. Gain Industry Insights

Trade shows are not just about products; they’re also about staying updated with industry trends and innovations. Engaging with professionals across the design industry allows you to learn about the latest advancements and techniques. This knowledge keeps you competitive and informed, ensuring your designs are both modern and functional.

4. Professional Development

Attending trade shows often includes access to workshops, seminars, and panel discussions led by industry leaders. These sessions provide valuable education and inspiration, helping you to refine your skills and stay ahead of the curve in a constantly evolving field.

5. Networking Opportunities

Networking is a key component of trade shows. These events gather a diverse group of professionals, from designers and architects to manufacturers and retailers. This setting is perfect for making new connections, finding potential clients, and exploring internship or job opportunities. Exchanging business cards and engaging in meaningful conversations can open doors to future collaborations.

6. Inspiration and Ideas

Walking through the various exhibits and showrooms can spark creativity and provide new ideas for your projects. Observing how different brands present their products and learning about innovative solutions can inspire you to think outside the box and apply fresh concepts to your designs.

Read: Enhance Business Connections & Opportunities by Attending Trade Shows

How To Prepare For The Show?

Preparing for an interior design trade show involves several strategic steps to ensure a productive and enjoyable experience. Here’s a summary of essential tips:

Preparation Tips: Before the Show

  • Research Exhibitors: Review the directory and create a list of must-visit places and key questions.
  • Plan Strategically: Group appointments by location and balance visits to existing and new vendors.
  • Book Early: Hotels and rentals fill up fast. Try to stay close to the location to avoid unnecessary travel times. (unless you’re in Paris for M&O. Stay in Paris centre because… Paris.)
  • Prepare a Detailed Packing List: Include comfortable shoes, a sweater, umbrella, phone charger, snacks, and business cards.
  • Set Appointments: If bringing clients, schedule appointments with showrooms in advance.
  • Pre-Visit Showrooms: Narrow down important visits beforehand if possible.
  • Book the Evening Activities: Which cocktail parties do you plan to visit? What dinner do you want to get an invitation to? Or maybe you plan to host your own rendezvous?
  • Print Business Cards: Yes, they are still in! Now more than ever with all things being digitalized, a great-looking business card will make your brand memorable. If you are looking for designs for your business cards, check out our design business suites!
  • Have Your Brand Story Ready: When meeting with peers and potential vendors, you must be able to present your business in an interesting way, in a few seconds. This might require some practise in advance! An interesting story is not “I’m an interior designer”. An interesting story could be: “I help second home owners in Southern France turn their homes into luxury retreats”. Practise. Practise. Practise.
  • Wear Comfortable Shoes: Expect extensive walking.

SHOES: Everyone, I mean EVERYONE who’s been to shows knows that high heels are not a fit, and need to be saved for the cocktail afternoons instead of strolling around the trade show compounds. You’ll be walking a marathon a day, so just weak your most comfy shoes.

During the Trade Show

  • Explore Temporary Exhibits: Prioritize these unique, time-limited displays.
  • Inspect Products: Thoroughly test furniture and products to evaluate functionality and durability.
  • Engage with Salespeople: Request a guided tour of showrooms. However, sometimes the guided tours take too long time, so you can choose to explore the booths on your own.
  • Ask Important Questions: Inquire about favorite products, best sellers, and award-winning pieces. Provide feedback on your experience and suggestions for improvement.
  • Have an iPad or Similar Tool for Notes: I personally like to take a snap at the booth name & number BEFORE entering it, so I can categorize the photos I take inside the booth later. Also, an iPad with an Apple Pencil is a great tool for notes taking. Prepare app for notes in advance, and always write the booth number/vendor when taking notes!
  • Create Stories & Posts for Your Social Media: Your clients are happy to see you staying up-to-date with the latest, and investing in learning more about your industry. And – since most trade shows are trade-only, normal folks can’t get in. That means: a lot of eyeballs watching your stories! Also, when you tag the vendors in your social postings, chances are high that they share your posts. More visibility and powerful brand associations for you!

Clever Networking Strategies

  • Network with a Buddy: It can ease the process.
  • Attend Sponsored Events: Engage with organizations of interest.

After The Show: What To Do To Maximize Your Visit?

  • Organize Your Notes and Photos
    • Review and sort through the notes and photos you took during the trade show.
    • Label photos with relevant details to remember which product or vendor they correspond to.
  • Follow Up with Contacts
    • Send thank-you emails to the vendor representatives and professionals you met.
    • Connect with new contacts on LinkedIn and other professional networks.
    • Schedule follow-up meetings or calls to discuss potential collaborations or opportunities.
  • Update Your Vendor List
    • Add new vendors and update contact information for existing ones.
    • Include notes about the products and services they offer and any special deals or agreements discussed.
  • Share Insights with Your Team
    • Present the key takeaways and new ideas to your team.
    • Discuss how these insights can be integrated into current or future projects.
  • Implement New Ideas
    • Consider incorporating the innovative solutions and trends you discovered into your designs.
    • Experiment with new materials and products you learned about during the show.
  • Document for Future Reference
    • Create a detailed report summarizing your experience and the valuable information gathered.
    • Save this report for future reference, especially for planning your next trade show visit.
  • Engage on Social Media
    • Share your trade show experience on your social media channels.
    • Highlight key products, trends, and connections made, showcasing your commitment to staying current in the industry.
  • Reflect on Your Experience
    • Assess what went well and what could be improved for future trade show visits.
    • Make a list of any additional questions or follow-ups needed with specific vendors or contacts.
  • Plan for Future Events
    • Use the insights gained to plan for your next trade show.
    • Identify new goals and strategies to make your future visits even more productive.
  • Stay Informed
    • Subscribe to newsletters and updates from the vendors and professionals you met.
    • Keep up with industry news and trends to continue building on the knowledge gained at the trade show.

FAQ – Design Trade Shows & How To Prepare Your next Visit

Design Trade Shows

Why should I attend trade shows?

Attending trade shows allows you to experience products firsthand, build relationships with vendors, gain industry insights, and network with other professionals. These events also provide inspiration and professional development opportunities through workshops and seminars.

Design Trade Shows

How can I prepare for a trade show?

Prepare by researching the exhibitors and making a list of must-visit booths and key questions. Plan your itinerary based on booth locations to save time. Wear comfortable shoes, set appointments if bringing clients, and pre-visit showrooms if possible.

Design Trade Shows

What should I do during the trade show?

During the trade show, explore temporary exhibits, engage with salespeople for guided tours, thoroughly inspect products, and ask insightful questions. Participate in workshops and panel discussions to gain new knowledge and ideas.

Design Trade Shows

How can I make the most of networking opportunities at a trade show?

Bring a buddy to network with, inquire about internship opportunities, exchange business cards, attend sponsored events, and follow up with new contacts on LinkedIn and via thank-you notes.

Design Trade Shows

What should I do after the trade show to maximize my visit?

After the trade show, organize your notes and photos, follow up with contacts, update your vendor list, share insights with your team, implement new ideas, document your experience for future reference, engage on social media, reflect on your experience, and plan for future events.

Design Trade Shows

What are the benefits of experiencing products firsthand at a trade show?

Experiencing products firsthand allows you to assess their quality, functionality, and suitability for your projects. It ensures you believe in the materials you specify and helps you make informed decisions for your designs.

Design Trade Shows

How can I stay informed about industry trends and innovations?

Attend trade shows, subscribe to industry newsletters, follow key vendors and professionals on social media, and participate in relevant workshops and seminars. Regularly engaging with the design community will keep you updated on the latest trends and innovations.

Design Trade Shows

What should I bring to a trade show?

Bring a comfortable bag, business cards, a notebook and pens, a phone charger and portable charger, a camera or smartphone for photos, snacks, hand sanitizer, and a copy of your resale license if applicable. Wear comfortable shoes and dress professionally.

Design Trade Shows

How can I document my discoveries at the trade show?

Take photos of products and booths, labeling each with relevant details. Use a digital notebook to jot down important information and observations. Organize your photos and notes each day to ensure you remember key details.

Design Trade Shows

How do I follow up with new contacts after the trade show?

Send thank-you emails to the people you met, connect with them on LinkedIn, and schedule follow-up meetings or calls to discuss potential collaborations. Maintain a contact list to keep track of your new connections.

Design Trade Shows

What are some common mistakes to avoid at a trade show?

Avoid wearing uncomfortable shoes, not planning your itinerary, failing to follow up with contacts, and not documenting your discoveries. Also, don’t carry too many product catalogs or forget to bring essentials like a phone charger and business cards.

Design Trade Shows

How can I share my trade show experience on social media?

Post about your trade show experience on your social media channels, highlighting key products, trends, and connections made. Share photos and insights to showcase your commitment to staying current in the industry and providing high-quality services.


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