top of page

Attending a trade show as a retail buyer, visitor or guest

Visiting your first trade show as a buyer or attendee can feel overwhelming.

Exhibition centres can take hours to walk around and deciding which booths to stop at and when, or if to place orders at the event, can make it an exhausting day. Especially if you're an introvert like me!

But attending trade fairs is a productive way to find new suppliers for your store, meet sellers in person and form connections that could last for years.

I've exhibited at over 50 trade shows as a seller, and attended lots as a visitor too.

In this guide I'm sharing my tips on how to prep before your visit, what you can expect at the show and what to do after the trade fair.

What to prep before visiting your first trade show as an attendee

Register for your show badge

The first thing to do is to register for the show and get your show badge. Usually it's free to attend but you want to register early.

Set your intentions and goals for visiting the trade fair

It’s really important to know what you want to achieve when you're visiting your first trade show.

Otherwise it can be so easy to get carried away placing orders for products you love but aren't right for what you need, or to run out of time to get around all of the stands you want to see.

Start your trade show planning by setting some goals or intentions for what you want to come away with.

  • Perhaps, you’re going because you have an idea for a shop and want to see what products are available.

  • Or maybe, you’ve already got your store, and now you’re looking to fill it.

If it’s the latter, decide if you will be placing orders at the show, or if you plan on gathering as much information as you can, and then make your decisions after the show.

If you decide to place orders at the show, make sure you have a clear idea of what products you need, what quantities, and what your budget is.

Plan your visit & which businesses you want to speak to

You don’t want to leave the show, having missed seeing someone that you think may become a key supplier of yours.

Have a look at the show organisers' website to see who will be exhibiting, and make a plan of what stands you really want to visit.

Closer to the event date, jump on the show hashtag on Instagram and have a look through to preview who's there and what products/ stands look interesting.

Trade shows are usually vast, and it can be easy to be distracted by all the products on offer, so having a plan of the businesses you want to visit and talk to is key.

You can even reach out to brands you really want to see, and book a meeting with them at the show. The brand will definitely appreciate this gesture.

Prep your answers to the questions you'll be asked by exhibitors:

  • What sort of shop do you have?

  • What are you looking for today?

  • Are you placing orders at the show?

  • If you're not yet open - when do you plan to open and start selling?

What to take to a trade show as a attendee

Wear comfy shoes, you will probably average 20k steps as a minimum each day!

Bring a water bottle, and wear a backpack rather than carrying a tote or handbag. I promise your back will be super thankful!

What to bring to your first trade show:

  • Business cards

  • Water bottle

  • Backpack

  • Comfy shoes

  • Notebook and pen

  • A fully charged phone so you can take lots of pictures

  • A phone charger and battery pack

  • Your badge

Finally, have a look at the talks that the show organisers put on. These are always free, and a great way to learn new things. Once you’ve identified the talks you want to attend, you can plan your visit around them.

Psssst. Attending a trade show as a seller? Click the banner below to get your hands on my FREE Trade Show Planning & Preperation Checklist.

What to expect at the trade fair

When you arrive at the trade show

Use the coat check!

You may feel it’s easy to carry your overnight bag and jacket around all day, but it will be a long day, and it will be tiring, so having less to carry and worry about is definitely advisable.

Pick up a show guide

Pick up a show guide when you get to the show, it will have a floor plan where you can see the different areas of the show, and facilities such as coffee shops, restaurants and bathrooms.

Using the show guide is also great for making a shortlist of who to see and plan how you're going to walk round the trade fair so you’re efficient.

Give yourself plenty of time to walk round the exhibition centre

Once it’s time to start walking the show, my top tip is to take your time and don’t be afraid to stop and chat with exhibitors.

Ask for information, catalogues, pricing, terms and conditions, and lead times.

If a seller you want to speak to is busy when you get to their stand, wait to speak to them rather than thinking you'll come back later - as you wont want to walk around the exhibition centre more times than you need to!

Speaking to exhibitors about their products

Brand owners are there to help you decide if their products are for you. So don’t be afraid to ask questions.

It’s so much easier to get them excited about working with you and start building that relationship face-to-face. So take your time and ask anything you want.

Tell them about your store, your brand, the space, and get them as excited as you are about your shop.

Be ready to leave your details. Some sellers my also ask to scan your badge. Ask for their catalogue and contact details in return so you can connect after the show.

If you’re keen on a brand and they don’t have a catalogue to give you, write down their details, and take a business card. Most brands will follow up after the show, but things do get lost sometimes, so you may need to follow up with them.

Placing your orders

If you’re placing orders at the show, clearly communicate when you would like delivery and make notes about how much money you’re spending.

Consider taking pictures of the order forms you fill out, if the exhibitors can’t get you a copy. This way, you will be able to remember what you bought more easily.

If you see lots you like at the trade show, place your orders but ask for delayed delivery. It’s a lot easier and quicker to place an order at a show when you’re in front of the product and business, than wait to follow up.

What to do after the trade show

Follow up with the brands you want to order from

The sellers you shared your details with at the show will follow up with you, but sometimes it may take some time as they might be going straight to a different show, or have a lot of follow-up to do.

If you are keen to place an order, don’t feel like you have to wait for them to get in touch with you. Or assume that they are not interested in supplying you just because you haven’t heard from them yet. It can simply be that they are very busy.

Some brands do 3-4 shows back to back, and it’s exhausting, so they will appreciate it if you reach out to them.

Budget for your buys & place orders

If you didn’t place orders at the show, now is a great time to create a budget and decide what you need, when.

Then it’s time to place those orders so you can get the products in and start selling.

Some brands will have longer lead times, some best sellers will sell out during the show. So if you know what you want, get on with placing those orders.

If you don’t want delivery right away, don’t worry, you can usually tell the brands when you would like delivery.

My final tip is to enjoy the experience. Buying at trade shows is a lot of fun and you'll form connections that could last for years to come.

Pssst: Attending a trade show as a seller? I have an online course to help you make the most of your first trade show. Click the banner below to learn more.

Pin this post for later:


bottom of page