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Exhibiting at Your First Trade Show: A Guide for Small Business Owners

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Exhibiting at a trade show can be a great opportunity to showcase your products, connect with potential buyers, and boost your brand visibility.

Meeting retail buyers in person, and them being able to see your products IRL is one of the quickest ways to grow your quality, warm leads and get orders rolling in.

But of course, navigating the world of trade shows and making them profitable for your business can be overwhelming, especially for first-time exhibitors.

If you’re new to trade shows and are thinking of exhibiting at one, consider this your COMPLETE guide to trade fair success.

Exhibiting at trade shows, exhibiting at trade fairs

What are trade shows?

Trade shows (known as trade fairs in the US) are organised exhibitions where businesses can showcase and demonstrate their products, connect with retail buyers and sell their products wholesale direct to retailers.

The benefits of exhibiting at a trade show

Trade shows are a great way for small businesses to be seen by bigger brands, to engage face-to-face with potential buyers and to build up their industry connections, as well as get new orders of course.

You can't beat the connections you make with buyers when you meet them in person, and often the connections you build at trade show can lead to loyal, repeat retail orders for years to come.

How much does it cost to exhibit at a trade show? Is the investment worth it?

Exhibiting at a trade show can typically cost around £2,500 - £3,000 for a 'standard' size booth.

Be aware that there are also other costs to consider though - travel expenses, promotional materials, staffing, lighting, electrics, props and displays.

It's important to budget for attending a trade show - something I cover in my course elevate your first trade show.

Decided you want to take your products to a trade fair? Great!

It can be a big investment of your time, money and energy, so preperation is key to make sure it's profitable for you. Let's cover EVERYTHING you need to know before you go to your first trade fair.

Psssst. Before we dive in, have you got your hands on my FREE Trade Show Planning & Preperation Checklist yet? 👇 Work through it and add any notes as you read through this post.

Before the trade show

Check your business is ready to exhibit at trade shows

Trade fairs are a hefty investment, so it's important you don't book a stand until you know your products and business are ready to take advantage of being there.

Ensure your products are retail-ready before booking your first show. This means that your products can sell themselves on shop shelves in retail stores. Plus, you must meet all legal requirements in all the markets you want to sell your products in.

Pricing is another crucial thing to sense check. Do not book your first trade show without first getting clear on your wholesale pricing first.

Buyers will expect on average a 50% margin on the ex VAT RRP. If you’re not offering this or close to this, you are limiting who can buy from you and it will be harder to get wholesale orders.

Having clear branding before you consider exhibiting at a trade fair is important. It makes creating a stand that reflects your brand and instantly communicates what you do to retail buyers much easier. And that helps to attract the right buyers to your stand.

Choosing the right trade show to exhibit at

Before committing to exhibiting at a trade show, it's important to research and carefully select the one that aligns with your business objectives and target audience.

A great way to find trade fairs that are a good fit for your brand is to ask your current stockists which shows they go to and which shows they like best.

Make your shortlist and aim to visit them before exhibiting there.

Attending trade fairs as a visitor

Before you jump into booking a stand, aim to go in person as a visitor first. Most are free if you book in advance.

Speak to the exhibitors, in particular the smaller ones in the same areas that your brand would fit into and ask how they're finding the fair.

Try to schedule your visit for early morning or late afternoon - these are the least busy times and therefore the best opportunities to talk to other exhibitors.

When looking around, make a point of registering how other exhibitors are pulling in clients. Make a note of anything you can do to engage with retailers when you're exhibiting.

Budgeting for your first trade show

Before you book your first show, make sure you create a budget; because costs can easily add up.

You can expect to pay anywhere between £2,500 to £3,000 to rent a standard trade stand.

In addition to your stand rental fee there's also travel expenses, promotional materials, staffing, lighting, electrics, props and displays to consider in your budgeting.

Inside my Elevate your first trade show course, I give you a budget sheet that will help you make a spending plan for exhibiting at a trade show that helps you avoid spiralling costs.

Do some pre-trade show marketing

In the run up to your trade fair, take advantage of the marketing opportunities offered by the show - submitting images for promotional materials and updating your show profile.

Buyers use the show profiles to plan their day. And other buyers who aren't attending may take a look at show profiles to find new business they'd like to stock - so be sure to capitalise on your show profile and complete it as soon as you're prompted.

Reach out to existing stockists and contacts in your sales funnel, inviting them to visit your stand.

Leverage social media to create buzz! Here are a few things you can do:

  • Showcase your stand preparations

  • Show sneak peeks of your printed catalogues and point of sale materials when they arrive

  • Share images of your products being packed up for the show

  • Engage with potential buyers you've connected with before, drop into their DMs and catch up with them

  • Do a poll to ask who’s going to the show. You may find buyers that you didn’t know follow you. DM them to ask them what day they are coming and give them your stand, try to have a conversation with them about what they are looking for, if they are interested in your brand etc.

This will all help to prime potential buyers before the show even starts.

Practice what you want to say to retail buyers

If you see yourself as a quiet person or you have no sales experience just yet then the best thing to do before the show is to practice.

It’s worth practicing your ‘chat’ in the mirror or with the products in front of you. That way, when it comes down to it you'll have everything you want to say about your brand and your products ingrained in your mind.

Remember that buyers are likely to ask you questions about your products, your brand and your pricing, so incorporate this into your practice.

Mockup your trade show stand

A well-designed and inviting stand can attract more visitors and increase the chances of making valuable connections.

Create a trade show booth mock-up and tape out the area to ensure optimal product placement and a cohesive visual presentation.

Your stand should be visually appealing and reflect your brand identity. Make it easy to see what you do, even from a distance.

Display your products so it’s easy for buyers to see your whole range, touch, and smell your products. Whichever is relevant to your products.

Once you've mocked up your trade show booth, step back and see if you would stop at your stand.

Here are a few prompts to help you perfect your trade stand presentation:

  • Have you missed any products?

  • Is it immediately clear what you do?

  • Does it look in keeping with your brand?

  • Can a retail buyer look at your products and picture them in their store?

Once you're happy with your stand set up, take photos of your mock-up booth for reference.

This will make your stand setup on the day less stressful.

At the trade show

Give yourself more time than you think you'll need

It's easy to underestimate the scale of a trade show. Once you've visited a few different exhibition centres you'll get used to how big they are and how long it can take to even walk to your stand form the entrance.

When it comes to setting up your stand, give yourself plenty of time to unload everything you're taking and get your booth set up.

You don't want to be setting up your stand late into the evening before the first day of the show and start your first trade show experience feeling stressed.

Selling strategies for trade shows

One of the biggest roadblocks to trade show success is feeling uncomfortable about selling your products.

It's important to remember that retail buyers are there to BUY your products. There’s no need to hide that you’re selling. Your job is to help them understand how your brand can fit into their stores.

Ask open-ended questions to understand retail buyer's needs and interests, and tailor your chat accordingly. Practice talking about your brand and products to build confidence - confidence sells!

Don’t worry if the first conversation doesn’t go exactly as planned, you will have plenty more opportunities to chat.

Let your passion for your products shine through, as buyers appreciate the personal touch and the opportunity to connect with you face-to-face.

Don't be afraid to initiate conversations and smile at passersby to draw them in.

TRADE SHOW TIP: Treat everyone the same. This might sound obvious but I’ve seen it plenty of times where people haven’t, and someone turns out to be a key buyer or amazing potential contact.

Finally, get to know your neighbours. You can learn so much from each other and support one another at the show.

Maintaining your energy

Alongside set up and break down, you'll be spending 8+ hours a day inside an exhibition centre without many breaks or a chance to see daylight sometimes. This can be exhausting but exhilarating at the same time.

Make sure you're feeling as well rested as possible before the trade show starts.

Take snacks and perhaps a packed lunch along with you so you remember to eat and stay hydrated!

After the trade show

Tips for Post-Show Follow-Up

Following up after the trade show is crucial for capitalising on the leads you've gathered and converting them into sales.

Have a plan in place, including pre-written order confirmation templates and personalised follow-ups based on notes taken during conversations.

Prioritise prompt follow-up to maintain momentum and demonstrate your professionalism.

Remember, the leads you gathered at the trade show are valuable, and nurturing them is essential for future business growth. You paid a lot of money for these leads, so don’t get distracted or think you are bothering them.

Remember trade fairs are a marketing & selling long-game

You might go into your first trade show expecting a mass flurry of orders. This absolutely can happen, but if it doesn't don't feel disheartened - trade shows are a long game.

In reality, you will most likely come out of your first trade show with a few orders but a lot of contacts who further down the line will hopefully place an order and become repeat buyers.

It is your responsibility to follow up with these new contacts after the show and keep them updated on your products so they remember you.

If you’ve been keeping in touch with buyers and exhibit at future trade shows, they will recognise your brand and be more likely to visit your stand.

Enjoy the experience!

Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to showcase your products, network with industry professionals, and secure valuable partnerships.

Remember, preparation and diligent follow-up are key to achieving success at your first trade show. If you want to dive deeper in preparing for your first trade show, click the banner below to learn more about my online course - Elevate Your First Trade Show.

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How to exhibit at your first trade show


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