Time to Take Stock of Your Trade Show Inventory

May 19, 2020

De-de Mulligan

De-de Mulligan is a digital marketer, blogger and President of Mulligan Management Group, a full-service, boutique marketing agency. A former meeting planner who received the MPI Ohio Chapter’s Planner of the Year award in 2006 and 2012, she brings a unique perspective to her blog posts, including for Rentacomputer.com. You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

In normal times, you probably exhibited at 10-15 trade shows a year. Once you got back to the office after three days of shaking hands and exchanging business cards, you most likely shoved everything into storage and got back to the business challenges of the day. But these are not normal times.

Now that the halls are clear and your office is quiet, you have ample time to pull everything (and I mean everything) out of that designated trade show area. Not only will you feel more organized when it’s over, but you and your team will also know what you have on hand and be able to put together a budget for replacement items. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Before Taking Inventory

Make sure you have with you:

  1. A laptop or tablet that has a spreadsheet application to record pertinent information.
  2. Wi-Fi access, so the spreadsheet is continuously uploaded to the cloud
  3. Gloves
  4. Disposable wipes to disinfect items and remove dust
  5. Box Cutters
  6. Sharpies for re-labeling boxes
  7. Separate locations for items that need to be repaired or replaced
  8. Desk space to power up electronics
  9. A smartphone or camera to take photos

Make sure you designate enough time to complete this process as you may need to go to more than one location or play detective with missing items.

Inventory Tips

Trade show items usually fall into one of four categories:

  • Structure, flooring, and furniture: The things you use to build your booth and the assets that make it functional
  • Signage: The banners or signs that identify your space
  • Technology: Monitors, AV equipment, computers, kiosks, scanners, and anything that runs on electricity
  • Marketing: Collateral, business cards, and giveaways

Let’s take a look at each one in greater detail.

Structure, Flooring and Furniture

Carefully inspect each piece. Is anything broken? Do you have all the flooring? What shape is the furniture in?

If you know of a good carpenter or upholster, perhaps they can fix any broken pieces and modernize your furniture. If it is beyond repair, you will need to make a note of each item in the spreadsheet, the year your company bought them, and the estimated price at the time (for write-off purposes). Lastly, put all the flooring together. If there are missing pieces or it looks worn, consider replacing it altogether.


These are typically large banners you hang in your booth or directional signage. Open each item and inspect it thoroughly. Are there tears in the fabric? Can it be repaired, or does it require replacement? Is any of the information on it outdated?


First, plug each unit into an electrical power strip. Does it turn on? If not, check the power cord for any frays or problems. If you think it might be the cord, swap out with another from an identical unit.

Once powered up, check to see if it is running the current operating system. For example, all PCs should be running Windows 10, while Apple has various current version levels.

If it cannot support the latest OS level, now is the time to retire these units. Check to see if any important files or documents are on the hard drive and transfer them to the cloud. Record the type, model, serial number, current OS, date of purchase (if you know it), and whether it powers up or not on your spreadsheet.

Power up all monitors. Do they work? Are they cracked? Do they connect to current technology? Be sure to record the make, model, serial number, and date of purchase on your worksheet.

Assess the condition of your LCD projectors, printers, badge scanners. Do they power up? Are they current with the most recent connections (i.e., HDML)? If they will not connect to current technology, be sure to retire them.

For the laptops and tablets that are current, make sure everything is up to date, including the operating system, applications, and malware protection.

Lastly, once your list is complete, and you have identified the PCs, Macs, and tablets that need to be replaced, consider renting this technology when the need arises. If the trade show industry doesn’t get started for another six months and the shows are few and far between into 2021, it makes financial sense to rent rather than buy due to usage, cash outlay, and continuously changing technology. Plus think about how much storage you can free up!


Read each piece of collateral carefully. Do your brochures have an old business address? A previous logo? Do you have business cards with people that have left the company? Giveaways that have expired or will expire before your next show?  

Do a count of each item that needs to be recycled or thrown away on your spreadsheet.

Last Tips

When the spreadsheet is complete, be sure to upload it to the cloud and share it with your management, IT department, and the insurance company. Accounting may or may not need to be involved depending if the equipment is going to be written off or not.

When putting the usable items back in storage, keep them within each group. Make sure there is enough room for new items when they arrive or ask for a larger storage unit.  

For the technology you are going to retire, consider donating it to a local nonprofit.


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