A version of this post was originally posted on Small and Mighty Co.
Tradeshows are expensive and they can be a great way for small businesses wanting to be seen by the bigger brands. Knowing what to take and how to conduct yourself can be nerve-wracking, but being prepared will help you build trust with potential buyers. In this article, I share my top tips for a successful show.
If you have booked to exhibit at a trade show in January and February, the chances are that you have already prepared most of the things you need, but I wanted to give you a few pointers and a checklist. If you are not exhibiting at any show but think this might be something you would like to do in the future, I would highly recommend that you book to visit one to have a look around (most are free if you book in advance).
Try to schedule your visit for early in the morning or later in the afternoon so you can make the most of it by talking to other exhibitors. Exhibitors are often passionate about the industry, by taking the time to chat you may well pick up a few hints, tips, and tricks. While you are there, note down on your brochure where you would like to have a stand, what type of stand layout and size would work for you, and think about how you would display your products. Remember to take photos of your inspiration.
Plan out your display
If it’s your first trade show, I would advise you to mark out your space and mock-up your display. This way you will bring all the products you need to make your stand look nice, and you can make sure that you have all the things you need.
For some inspiration, check out my Pinterest board here.
These might include things like:
Furniture, tables, shelves, paint. It is cheaper to bring your own, but there is no need to look ‘cut-price’, you can be inventive and find things in second-hand stores, on eBay, or in stores such as Ikea. It’s also cheaper to paint your stand but you might have to paint it back to white after the show, or you could be charged. Generally, you can paint the walls if the stand is a ‘traditional build’, if not you will have to order wood cladding to be able to paint it. Lighting. Save money and bring your own lighting and extension cables and only book a plug socket. Also, try to pre-order the electricity for your stand before as it’s more expensive to book at the show. Lighting is critical, and I would advise you to make sure to have this as it can get dark in the exhibition halls and good light will make sure that your products their best. You can find the electricity order form in the exhibition manual/online portal. Products. This might seem obvious, but you might want to bring more than one of each of your products, sometimes a stack looks better, or if your product is boxed, one in the box and one out of the box might work best. Mock this up at home, so you’re not caught short when setting up. Remember your display is to show potential retailers how they can display your products in their stores. Off Stand Storage. Think of where you will store your packaging and tools. If you think you will need it, make sure you pre-order storage. On Stand Storage. You will want to have somewhere to hide your coat, bag, and lunch (if you’re bringing it) and somewhere that disguises any clutter such as stationery, spare brochures, and business cards. Where will you put this on your stand?
Point of Sale. If you have any information about you that you could give to shops to make part of their store display, then make it part of your presentation at the show. Props and Signage. Buy any flowers, stands, and other display material you might need ahead of time. Consider what you will put on the walls if you don’t have shelves there and how you will display your prices. High-quality faux flowers can make just an impressive impact, as well as a long-term money-saving alternative, not to mention they, don’t get the dreaded third-day droop from the heat of the lights. Tools. Bring every tool you can imagine that you might need. I’ve been to shows where I’ve had to hunt down screwdrivers, saws, double-sided tape, and more. First Aid Kit. Exhibition halls usually have a first aid room where you can go to get bandaged up if the worst happens, but some plasters and disinfectant is a good idea. I’ve had to use mine more than once. Sales material. It’s important to have material to give to potential stockists, so they remember you when they get home and start going through and making decisions. Some will place orders at the shows, but many will place their orders after the shows. PDF brochures and price lists are great all year round, but for trade shows, I would recommend that you have them printed. Catalogue. With good quality images of your products and all your terms and conditions such as minimum order and carriage paid. Price List. Only if your catalogue doesn’t have your prices. Business Cards. Take more than you think you will need as you may give them out to other businesses exhibiting, journalists, or other professionals at the tradeshow. Lead Forms. Some bring a notebook to staple business cards and take down buyers contact details in; I also like to bring a printed lead form on a clipboard. If you ask a buyer to put down their contact details, they will often give you their email address, and sometimes they will even leave out their business name so to make it easier for buyers I usually have both a notebook to staple cards to and a lead form. The lead form usually has fields for: Name Business name Address Phone number Email address Website Notes (this is for you to make your notes, things you might find useful, such as chain of 3 stores, the lady with green glasses, and a dog named Molly, note down anything you might want to remember) Order forms. Many companies have iPads with their order processing system but if this is your first trade show you might not want to invest the time and money in this and a paper order form is perfectly fine. Make sure to bring more than you think you might need as some buyers would like a copy to bring with them. Make sure you have fields for all the delivery and invoice details.
At the show
Be engaging! Interact as much as you can both with buyers and your stand neighbours. You can learn a lot from others that have exhibited before. Try not to sit too much, it’s long and tiring days but if you’re standing and smiling you are much more approachable. Remember that you paid a lot of money to be there and bring refreshments to keep you going. Don’t force buyers to speak to you. Imagine how you like to be treated when you walk into a small store or up to a counter in a shop. A warm smile and an “If you would like any help do let me know” is ideal. If someone has lingered a little longer, chances are it is likely that they are interested. Ask them open-ended questions such as “are you enjoying the show today?”, “do you usually come to this show?”, “What sort of business do you have/work for?” or tell them more about the product they seem most interested in. You can of course also ask them if they would like a catalogue, but I often try to leave it until later in the conversation as it sometimes shuts the conversation down.
Get the buyers details, if someone asks for a catalogue ask for his or her business card or that they fill in a lead form. If they are hesitant, they are likely researching their own business, or they might not be your customer. If in doubt you can always give them your business card. It’s always okay to politely inquire as to what type of shop they have before you provide them with any information to take away with them. You will soon learn to recognise genuine buyers. Dress Code. Most shows are very casual now but think about who you want to appeal to, who your customer is, and dress accordingly. Remember to wear comfortable shoes as you will be standing a lot.
After the show
Follow up in a timely manner; I like to email everyone right away and thank them for visiting the show and address any questions/notes you made. If you made a reminder that they were interested in a product, highlight it in the body of your email, or if they said they are selecting in a month, acknowledge that you made a note about it and that you will be in touch closer to that time.
Attach your brochure and price list again. If they are local to you, offer to visit them to talk about the range further.
Follow up and process all the orders. If you had more orders than you expected and therefore will take longer than you thought to get them delivered to make sure you mention this to the buyers. It’s likely that some of them would have specified a later delivery date anyhow which might help you spread it out.
Follow up again if you get no reply on leads and make sure to follow up with the new stockist a few weeks after delivery to see how the range is selling.
Tradeshows are a great way to meet new and existing buyers. They are expensive to exhibit at so visit the show you’re interested in beforehand and take time to research where you would like your stand to be and what sort of layout you would like before you speak to the show organisers.
A lot of shows have a section for new exhibitors that might be worth considering, they usually come at a lower price, have a look during your research visit if these might be good for you.
Often organisers will try to push you to book where they think you should be, they will do this by name dropping nearby exhibitors and trying to get you to book by giving you a sense of urgency. Having done your research first will really help you to not be pressured into booking a stand that is not your ideal stand.
Try to negotiate a price that you’re comfortable with, shows often say they never offer any discounts but they might be willing to offering you some sort of incentive if you’re persistent.
Dates for your diary in 2021
There are a lot of different shows but here are a few of the most popular ones including online editions.
25 - 29 January Top Drawer (Online)
28 January - 3 February NY NOW (Online)
06 - 10 February Spring Fair (Online)
26 - 30 March Maison & Objet (Paris)
17 - 20 April International Consumer Goods Show (Frankfurt)
18 - 21 July Harrogate Home & Gift
8 - 11 August NY NOW (New York)
10-14 September Maison & Objet (Paris)
12th - 14th September Pure London
12th - 14th September Top Drawer (Olympia)