Cindy Perea is the Marketing Coordinator for National Trade Show Displays, an online retailer of pop up displays, banner stands, and a variety of trade show products.
9 Things I Wish I Knew Before Exhibiting at My First Trade Show
Chances are, you’ve attended trade shows and conferences. You’ve walked the aisles, heard the speakers, and networked. Then it’s your turn. Your company has asked you to represent your company at the next trade show. Although I was able to learn a lot from walking trade shows and asking others for advice, there’s so much to learn and often, key pieces of information are overlooked. Here are 9 things I wish I knew before exhibiting at a trade show that will hopefully help any “newbies” exhibit like a pro!
1. Give yourself double the amount of time you think you need to prepare. If you think it will take you 2 weeks to order a trade show display, give yourself 4 weeks. If you think you should promote that you’ll be attending a trade show two months before, start four months before. We recommend giving yourself more time than you think because people forget that work and life get in the way. Plus, there’s usually more pieces to the puzzle. For example, people will account for the amount of time it might take to produce your trade show display but they might not account for design time or how long it takes to ship.
2. Buy quality displays. Once you know the size of your booth, get started on ordering displays or reprint graphics for the displays you already have.
○ People form an opinion based on your display. As I walk trade shows, I could easily tell who invested time and money on their displays. Those that didn’t had banners that were curled, faded graphics, and wrinkled displays (all of which gave off the wrong impression). By buying quality displays, you’re telling people that you are professional, value your image, and they can expect the same type of quality in the services you provide.
○ Don’t overcrowd your booth but have enough so that it doesn’t look empty. We usually recommend a full kit which is a table throw display, banner stand, and an 8 ft or 10 ft display in the back. This will make your booth seem full but not cluttered. Find that “happy medium.”
○ Carefully put away your trade show display! (It’s so important I had to use an exclamation mark). Most of the damage that happens to displays happens right after the trade show is over, either parts are broken or lost. No matter how tired you are when a trade show is over and how anxious you are to leave, carefully put it away. Trade show displays cost money, and you want to take care of your investment. Most displays should last between 3 to 5 years.
3. Acknowledge everyone that walks by. You would be surprised by how many exhibitors stay seated and don’t try to engage with clients. Something as simple as smiling or saying Hi will surprise clients and will make them want to stop by your booth. People like being noticed. If they stop at your booth, don’t start giving them a sales pitch or you’ll scare them away. Instead, ask questions and let them do the talking. Don’t be afraid to be yourself- people are more likely to purchase from people they like and trust.
4. Dress comfortably. We know how important comfortable shoes are at a trade show but also be aware of your clothing. The trade show venues/rooms are usually too hot or too cold, so dress in layers.
5. Keep your leads organized. You’re going to meet a lot of people at a trade show and you might not remember every person you spoke with. If they’re offering an electronic badge scanner, use it and take notes or take business cards and write on them. Write down what products they were interested in and when you should follow up with them. I wish I had written better notes because once I got back to the office and was settling in, I struggled to recall who everyone was. Sending generic emails doesn’t have the power that personalized emails do.
6. Be realistic about your goals. It’s good to be positive about the outcome, but also be realistic. Not every person you speak with will turn into a sale and that’s okay! The first trade show I attended, I expected to speak to 500 people. I set myself up for failure because I set unrealistic expectations that I was not able to achieve. Focus on building relationships with those clients that do have a need for your product and remember that it is quality over quantity. It is better to get 10 quality leads that will bring in revenue than 50 dead end leads.
7. Make sure you’re properly staffed and that you have a game plan. Figure out which staff members will be there and assign shifts. If you’re by yourself, you might lose out on possible clients. Stagger your breaks and lunch breaks and try to set them up when the traffic is slow.
8. Bring a small bag with essentials. These are items that you should always have with you: tape, pens, water, snacks, charger, band aids, mints/gum, hand sanitizer, and rubber bands. Trust me, you’ll need these items. Pack them in an extra bag along with your trade show registration information, they’ll come in handy. (I made the mistake of forgetting a water bottle and these items are usually overpriced at the food court).
9. Don’t be worried if you don’t always see immediate results. Although you might get a few sales right after the trade show, don’t be disappointed if it doesn't happen right away. For example, we sell trade show displays and although most companies will need our services at one point or another, it’s not an impulse buy. People will contact you when they’re ready, which can mean weeks after a trade show. Remember to follow up with your leads more than once. After trade shows, people are probably getting lots of follow up emails that yours can get lost if you sent it right when the trade show was over. We have had large sales and requests for proposals after we sent a second email and reminded them of we were!
These are some of the things I learned from attending my first trade show. What piece of advice would you give first time exhibitors that you wish someone had told you?