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Trade Show Planning & Preparation Checklist

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Exhibiting at trade shows is a chunky investment, so you want to make sure you're going to get the most out of being there.

That means lots of planning and preperation to be sure you've got everything you need to set up your stand, build relationships with retail buyers, and secure sales.

To make it eeeeven easier for you to have a successful trade fair - I've made you a handy downloadable trade show checklist. 👇 Keep it to hand as you read through this post and add any notes and reminders you need as you go.

Exhibiting your products at in-person trade shows can sound like 'old school' marketing.

But meeting buyers in-person and forming REAL connections is one of the best ways for small businesses to be discovered by both large and small retailers.

Planning out everything you need to take and knowing how to conduct yourself can be time consuming, and a little overwhelming. But getting prepared for your trade fair will help you make sure you're making the most of the opportunity of being there.

The better you plan and prepare to exhibit at a trade show, the more likely you are to make it profitable for your wholesale business.

AKA the more likely you are to get orders at the fair, plus orders down the line, and repeat orders from the retail buyers you've made connections with.

Here are my tips on planning and preparing to exhibit your products at a trade show.

a checklist for wholesale when attending a tradeshow

Before you exhibit at your first trade show - visit the fairs you're interested in

Exhibiting at trade shows is an investment. So be sure to visit the shows you’re interested in beforehand.

While you're there, take time to research where you'd like your stand to be and what sort of layout you'd like, before you speak to the show organisers about booking a stand.

Think about how you would display your products in your booth. Remember to take photos of your inspiration.

A lot of shows have a section for new exhibitors that might be worth considering. They usually come at a lower price too. Have a look during your research visit if these might be good for you.

Often organisers will try to push you to book a booth 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 help you make an informed decision about where your trade show stand is best placed. Rather than the organiser making that decision for you or pressuring you into booking a stand that isn't the best fit for your brand.

Try to negotiate a price that you’re comfortable with. Shows often say they never offer discounts, but they might be willing to offer you some sort of incentive if you’re persistent, or a special rate if it's your first trade show.

TRADE SHOW TIP: 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 when they're less busy.

Exhibitors are often passionate about the industry. By taking the time to chat you may well pick up a few hints, tips, and tricks.

Planning out your trade show stand

Before exhibiting at your first trade show, practice your stand set up.

Mark out your space at home and mock-up your display. Take pictures and bullet point out the process to setting up your trade show stand.

Make sure you also list everything you need to take to the trade fair for your stand - including some extras incase you have any breakages or end up with more space.

This will help you make sure you 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 trade show exhibitors Pinterest board here.

Remember these items for your trade show booth - add them to your checklist

1 | Furniture, tables, shelves, paint.

It's cheaper to bring your own than hire tables/ pay for painting from the trade show organisers. You can do this without making it a major expense by being inventive and finding things in second-hand stores, on eBay, facebook market place, or in stores like Ikea.

It’s also cheaper to paint your own stand but be aware that 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.

2 | Trade show stand 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, so make sure you nail your lighting as this is a big part of showcasing your products. Especially as it can get dark in exhibition halls and good light will make sure that your products look their best.

You can find the electricity order form in the exhibition manual/online portal.

3 | Your products!

This might seem obvious, but you might want to bring more than one of each of your products.

Remember - your display also gives potential retailers inspiration for how they can display your products in their stores.

Sometimes a stack of products looks better than displaying a single product. Or if your product is boxed, you might want to display one in the box and one out of the box.

Mock this up at home, so you know exactly what you need to do to make your products look their best at the event.

4 | Off & On-Stand Storage

Think of where you'll store your packaging and tools. If you think you'll need it, make sure you pre-order storage. You'll also need 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?

5 | Point of Sale

If you have any information about you or presentation stands, that you could give to shops to make part of their store display - make it's part of your presentation at the show.

6 | Props and Signage

Buy any flowers, stands, and other display material you might need ahead of time.

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.

Consider what you'll put on the walls if you don’t have shelves there and how you'll display your prices.

7 | Take your tool box

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.

8 | 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.

9 | Sales Materials, catalogues and price lists

It’s important to have material to give to potential stockists, so they remember you when they get home and start making decisions.

In your sales materials remember to incude good quality images of your products, your price list and all your terms and conditions, such as minimum order quantities and carriage paid.

Some will place orders at the shows, but many will place their orders after the shows.

PDF brochures and price lists are great for email pitching, but for trade shows, I would recommend that you have them printed and hand them out to buyers.

Take more business cards and sales materials than you think you'll need as you may give them out to other businesses exhibiting, journalists, or other professionals at the tradeshow as well as buyers.

10 | Lead Forms

Take a notebook to staple business cards into and take down buyer's contact details in. It's also a good idea to bring printed lead forms 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 name and business name.

So create a lead form that includes 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)

11 | 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 (abd doesn't run out of battery!).

Make sure to bring more order forms 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.

Exhibiting at your first trade show - on the day

Interact as much as you can both with buyers and your stand neighbours. You can learn a lot from others that have exhibited before.

TRADE SHOW TIP: 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.

Initiate conversations with buyers

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 buyer's 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.

What to wear

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 trade fair

Follow up with retail buyers as soon after the trade show as you can.

Email everyone you have contact details for 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.

Get your orders from the trade fair to retailers as quickly as possible.

If you had more orders than you expected (and therefore will take longer than usual to process them) 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.

Bookmark this post and use it in conjunction with you trade show checklist. I'm cheering you on and wishing you a successful show!


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