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How to Prepare For a Trade Show

booth trade show

Preparing for a trade show is no feast for the meek. No matter the line of work you are in, there is a whopping lot that goes into it. From selecting the right show for you, to the design of your trade show booth, working on your trade show graphics, preparing your line sheets, brochures and business cards, and a myriad other stuff in between, trade show preparation can be daunting.

You really need to go out of your way to ensure your booth presence is a success. Because at the end of the day, you will need to explain the ROI coming out of the show. And even if that was not the case, one of the biggest benefits of exhibiting at a trade show is that it can surpass any marketing or growth technique even in this digital age. If done right.

Well, probably not SEO but, well, you get the impression. In terms of value though, this is one of the most lucrative and cost-effective ways to promote your business.

Moment of Glory

Trade shows give you access to a highly targeted audience. The attendees tend to be motivated customers who are already interested in the type of offering you deal in, so this is your 15 minutes of fame.

Participating in a fair is also likely to benefit your brand in terms of increased exposure – it’s what we all want, is it not? A well designed booth with custom displays will get more eyes on your brand, leaving a lasting impression on your audience in the process. The trick is to be unique as opposed to setting up a run-of-the-mine booth.

A trade show is also a great time to generate leads. Instead of focusing on a list of prospective customers who may not have full interest in your products or services, trade shows are often graced by thousands of targeted prospects who only need a bit of impressing and you may well be in business – not to mention an abundance of registered media and analysts.

What’s more, trade shows present a perfect opportunity to build trust with your prospects through face-to-face interaction. In all honesty, there are few more powerful ways, if any, than this to build lasting rapport with potential customers. These are opportune moments for potential leads to know more about you as a brand. And what you are all about. What you represent. What you stand for. Nothing beats face to face business interaction.

This is also the only time you get to stand side-by-side with the competition, enjoying a 3D view into what you are doing right and where you could improve.

It may seem like there is a secret sauce to making your exhibition a resounding success. But in actual sense, there is none. That’s right. Zilch. A profitable show is not all about splashing crazy money on your exhibition and hoping you will be the hottest thing on the floor. Nor is it about having the biggest or flashiest booth. These things will give you an edge, sure, but they won’t guarantee success.

Trade show success is mostly a culmination of hard work behind the scenes. And a generous dash of creativity.

And here is how you go about preparing for one.

Pre-show Planning

Preparing and executing a successful trade show is no mean task, as pointed out. You do not learn about a trade show that is happening in a month and just decide to toss your hat in the ring. It doesn’t work like that, at least if you want to make a success out of it. It takes a considerable amount of time – think upwards of at least 6 months in advance – to iron out all the nitty-gritty.

To put this another way, a trade show, or rather an effective trade show, is not just about purchasing booth space and presenting to an audience.

When preparing for an exhibition, it is easy to overlook some basics which could end up costing you. This is why a checklist is a central component of trade show planning. There is no worse feeling than getting to the exhibition only to realize you forgot some small yet critical aspects of the show. Build a list of items you will need for your booth and make sure they are prepared and ready prior to the event.

If this is not your first trade show, you will be better placed to know what you need during your next event, judging from the previous one. If it is your maiden event, worry not. There are many sample checklists online, but you can find great templates on this resource which are available for download.

Find a Befitting Show for your Business

Every industry has a wealth of trade shows going on in any given year. This, however, does not mean you should attend every one of them. It is a good idea to weed out those that are of least benefit to your business, and focus on the shows that promise most value.

Good thing is, there is a host of extensive, online databases that can assist you in separating the grain from the chaff.

  • The Trade Show News Network (TSNN) – Think of this as a trade show search engine (which it is) which lists every major trade show in the world. It allows you to narrow your options down to not just the industry type, but also the location, date, organizers and vendors.

Depending on the show, the number of booths available and booth/floor size will be different. To get a clear picture of such information, we advise contacting the organizer.

  • Expodatabase – Another great database that allows you to sift through industry categories and narrow your options down to the desired event. You will find details including venue, date and statistics to do with attendance, in addition to events overview and organizer information.
  • 10times – This is more like a social network for trade shows, although it has a search engine feature that will yield a comprehensive list of domestic and international trade shows. If you want to RSVP for a show, you need to register first, choosing whether you want to be a guest or an exhibitor.

Each show has a profile page created for it, and this bears information about the event, organizer and even hotels in the vicinity, complete with their prices and ratings. The list of exhibitors is displayed on the respective show’s profile page.

Beyond these resources, each industry will always have some source of news whereby respective shows are doing their bit in advertising in a bid to boost attendance.

If it is your first trade show, it is wise to narrow your search to events tailored particularly for smaller businesses. The downside to diving head first into the deep end is that you risk facing stiff competition not just from big industry players, but also for the floor. Big shows also mean less quality time spent with prospective leads, and that’s not what anyone wants really.

Moreover, testing the waters first at the small to mid-sized events affords you the chance to learn the whole process. You can then iron out all the fine details, and learn how to effectively gauge the return on your investment prior to jumping on board the bigger (and often costlier) shows within your industry.

Check the Show’s History

Once you have a show locked in, we also recommend checking out its history, especially if it has been running for a while.

This could involve checking the location’s feasibility in terms of ease of access through various transportation modes – public transport, car and so on. Also, check whether or not the event will be adequately marketed to your potential customers. Feel free to look at how similar vendors who have participated in the show before have reaped from it because you don’t want to burn your marketing spend on a show that guarantees little to no returns.

The general attendance record in the past is essential information that could also serve as a rough glimpse of what you will be in for.

Register for the Trade Show

Registering for a trade show is a straightforward affair and can be done through either mail application or the respective show’s website.

Applications normally go by the name of exhibitor applications, and sometimes, you may need to go through an event organizer to request for this exhibitor application.

In addition to providing general information in your application, chances are you will be furnished with additional forms which cover costs like additional booth supplies such as furniture, as well as fee waivers for Wi-Fi and electricity – just to highlight but a few.

Goal Setting

Going into a trade show without clear goals of what you are looking to achieve will only result in a hazy experience whose achievements will be difficult to quantify. But being in business, it is fair to say setting quantifiable goals is not an alien concept to you. So, go ahead and jot down a few measurable variables you are looking to accomplish.

What exactly would you like to achieve at the show? Is noting the actual attendance at your booth important to you? A simple headcount could do. Is it to net “X” number of prospective leads and contacts? You can track them through the help of email lists or kiosks by having them sign up through mobile tablets. Is it to score an interview with one or two media representatives present? By all means, go for it.

Or would you like to track your sales trend before, during and after the show? Perhaps drive website traffic through the help of social media? Whatever you do, make sure you are providing value as you go about achieving your goals. This is your time to shine, so make it worth their while.

Choosing and Preparing your Booth

Floor space at trade shows is allocated soon as registration commences, so it is a good idea to enter the fray soon as you can. After all, if you had made a decision to attend the show born out of an anticipated positive ROI for your business, and assuming you set the ball rolling months back by making elaborate plans well in advance, then there is no reason to wait.

Premium booths are snapped up quickly, but that doesn’t mean the rest are bogus. What you don’t want is a booth located at the farthest end where both prospects and Wi-Fi have trouble reaching.

As far as preparing your booth goes, you don’t need to have the biggest and most flashy booth on the show floor to draw in attendees. What you do need is to have some type of display that gives passers-by an idea as to what you are selling – we have covered the topic of display in more detail below.

Make it a point of preparing everything you will need for your booth in advance. Last-minute preparations almost always never work out well. Refer to your checklist and have everything ready ahead of time.

Booth Display: Signage Options & Lighting

When it comes to your booth design, signage is one of the most delicate things you need to think about. In this business, first impressions matter, and matter big.

Convey your stand’s purpose through clear wording and simple images. Avoid trying to fit in everything in your display because the essence is to pique curiosity and inform. If you have some creative or artistic types among your ranks, a boon for you – this is the time to draw on their expertise. If not, consider hiring outside professional help.

Unique always wins; it gives you a considerable edge at any event. But be unique in a good way; not peculiar, not leery. Make bright colors work for you, and use vivid images to draw attention to your booth.

Make use of the great trade show and exhibit lighting options available, which range from subtle to dramatic. Whether it is using performance lights to highlight your flagship offering during a demo, or deploying strobe and gobo lights for special effects, lighting is a key component of trade show booths.

Artful use of lighting can play prospects into your hands booth by setting the mood you desire while sprinkling an emotional aspect to it. Accent lighting, for its part, can help define products and images in more detail, while adding a bit of texture to them.

Overall, your booth needs to be professionally prepared. Unless you are targeting prospects looking for bargain basement prices, things like homemade posters pinned or displayed against a backdrop will only make you come out as unprofessional.

There is a cornucopia of options with regard to the type of trade show signage you can incorporate into your booth’s space. You don’t have to stick to the age-old posters – it is 2017 already. Some more contemporary ideas include:

  • Step and repeat banners

    – This type of display has a tremendous presence. It is the backdrop display you often see used by sponsors, imprinting their logo in a repeating pattern, mostly step or diagonal alternating.

While it is mostly used for photo sessions in the outside world, the step and repeat banner is great for showcasing your company logo, products and, of course, sponsors. Place these towards the back or sides of your stand to make good use of space.

  • Tension fabric displays

    – This banner derives its name from the act of stretching the fabric over the top of a frame resulting in a smooth, stretched display. It is ideal for product launches and is best placed to the booth’s side or near the back.

  • Pop-up displays

    – Another type of display that provides an excellent backdrop for your booth, a pop-up banner is an excellent choice for displaying large images of everything from products to sponsors.

  • Retractable banners

    – This is a bit smaller and is the kind that pulls out from a solid metal stand, providing for simple setup and great portability. You can use these banners to display your company information, logos or product images; limited-time sales even. For best exposure, place it towards the entrance of your booth.

  • Teardrop banners or Feather banners

    – These are tall, flag-like displays that make for great placements outside your booth to draw immediate attention. The longer the banner, the easier it is to be spotted amidst the crowds on the floor.

Other notable mentions include X-stand banners and foam boards.

A mix of these trade show displays will help foster an environment that promotes both a professional and inviting booth for your attendees.

Marketing Material and Giveaways

Printed materials are another essential element of an effective trade show. Whether it is flyers, brochures, line sheets, business cards, favicards (social media business cards) or any other handout for that matter, make sure to have these materials made in bulk to distribute during the show.

As well, think about branded business merchandise such as USB sticks, wearables, key fobs, coffee mugs, light up trinkets and so on. These all go a long way towards increasing your brand awareness.

Giveaways don’t need to be expensive. Branded notebooks and pencils would do too. Novelty is the key here, so don’t be afraid to use your imagination if you don’t have a sufficient marketing fund to dip into in the name of costly giveaways and gimmicks. Which is understandable as a small business.

Typically, these are all expenses without a quantifiable benefit, but a cost you have no option but to incur. Not just because your competitors are doing it, no. These are great promotional materials that can help your business in gaining valuable traction.

Cost is definitely one factor to consider when printing or designing marketing products. Look at the various options you have that could help you scale down the costs. But while doing so, ensure all materials are professionally designed and produced. Look at the designs to ensure you are satisfied with them before commissioning the print job.

Also importantly, have them prepared way in advance to avoid unwanted headaches and rushed charges.

Last Word

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things you need to do when preparing for a trade show. As earlier mentioned, there is a lot that goes into it. This is why it requires an ample preparation period, sometimes even as much as 12 months! However, what these points do is address a good part of what’s involved on the material side of things.

Other important stuff to consider includes travel, training of booth personnel, devising a communications strategy and more. A checklist is an indispensable part of this whole process as it ensures you cover all your bases (well, almost) without overlooking anything, or worrying that you will.

We say almost because there is another crucial part of the trade show that is hard to follow up using a list: the overall image your business projects. See, you could have a well-executed trade show, but if your image is not executed the right way, your exhibition will flop in spectacular fashion.

Whether it is ensuring the presentation staff are up to the task, or dissuading trade show faux pas such as eating in the booth, sitting at the back of the booth waiting for prospects to approach you, or spending time on the phone, looking disinterested, you need to put your best foot forward in beefing up your image.

Get this smorgasbord right and you are golden.