Business, Marketing

21 Tips to Rock Your Next Trade Show and Make the Most of Your Investment

It’s Trade Show season!! Trade Shows are one of my FAVORITE ways to build wholesale business, grow brand recognition and connect with retail stores. There’s a special magic that happens when you get to spend a few days with similar small businesses, in a booth that was once only a concept on a piece of paper.  You make tons of new friends (even though yes, they are technically the competition) and get to connect with some of the BEST buyers and retailers throughout the country. It’s as exciting as it is exhausting!

It’s Trade Show season!! Trade Shows are one of my FAVORITE ways to build wholesale business, grow brand recognition and connect with retail stores. There’s a special magic that happens when you get to spend a few days with similar small businesses, in a booth that was once only a concept on a piece of paper.  You make tons of new friends (even though yes, they are technically the competition) and get to connect with some of the BEST buyers and retailers throughout the country. It’s as exciting as it is exhausting!   |  Think Creative Collective

Trade Shows can cost your business thousands of dollars, so when you decide to take the leap you want to be as prepared as possible. Whether it’s your first show or fiftieth, the key to a successful show is plenty of preparation. These are my top 21 tips to make sure you rock your next trade show and make the most of your investment!

Budget like a BOSS

There’s no question, a tradeshow can do some serious damage to your bank account. You’re spending a lot of money upfront in the hopes that the orders will more than make up for it. Be really price conscious and create a budget for yourself now, because expenses add up FAST! Here are some must-includes to help get you started:

  • Booth Costs
  • Hotel + Transportation Costs (taxi/uber/rentals/train/plane and such)
  • Samples
  • Special supplies
  • Any giveaways you plan as a show special
  • Printer costs (business cards/catalogs/press kits/order forms)
  • Special Signage (so buyers can easily spot your booth!)
  • Postage (for any pre-show or post show mailers, thank you notes etc)
  • Meals (especially important if you’re traveling!)
  • Miscellaneous Expenses (to cover anything that pops up!)

Read the Terms + Exhibition Guide

Every trade show location has specific exhibitor terms that you’re accepting when you sign up for the show. They include everything from what is and is not allowed in your booth, show logistics (when you can move in/break down), lighting and power guidelines (sometimes you have to pay for power — no joke!), acceptable fixtures (they probably need to meet fire codes) and more. There is nothing worse than sinking a lot of time and money into your booth, only to find out it doesn’t meet the requirements for the show so please, pour yourself a glass of wine and read the guide before you dive into your show prep!

Have a Pre-Show Marketing Strategy

Building anticipation for the show generates excitement for your brand and products! Your pre-show marketing strategy doesn’t have to be complex. Here are a few ideas to get you started that are relatively inexpensive!

Social Media Sneak Peeks

People love to know what is coming around the corner! Share a sneak peek of a collection that is being debuted at the show, new designs, or new products and get your audience excited!

Create Show-Specific Hashtags

Use show-specific hashtags along with your usual relevant hashtags and use them consistently. Seek out your favorite stores online and learn from the tags they're using and tags from posts they liked.

Types of tags to include:

  • Trade Show related hashtag — tradeshow name, your booth number
  • Industry related hashtags (stationery, gifts, home decor)
  • Business related hashtags

Pre-Show Mailer

Everyone loves getting snail mail! Send a beautifully designed mailer that invites buyers to your booth. Your mailer should include your company name, the tradeshow you’re exhibiting at, your booth number, any social icons).

Set Show Goals

You’ve invested so much time and money into your show, you want to get the biggest return on your investment possible! In addition to monetary goals (like getting $25,000), you’ll want a concrete list of goals you want this show to accomplish. They may include:

  • # new stores you are looking to open
  • sign X # sales reps
  • meet and befriend X number of small business owners
  • connect with X # publications

Book Your Accommodations Waaaay in Advance

You’ve got a lot on your plate, and keeping a roof over your head shouldn’t be stressing you out. Most trade shows will partner with local hotels and offer discounts to exhibitors. Even in major cities where it seems like there are endless hotel options, be proactive and book that baby asap. The more you can cross off your list in the beginning, the more time you’ll have to focus on the important stuff.

Bring a Binder with all of Your Important Paperwork

When you sign up to do a show, your inbox will be inundated with paperwork. Keep track of your contracts and agreements and have a copy on hand in your booth. Most shows have strict rules and regulations, and if a question is asked you’ll want to have the proper documentation with you to reference. There are companies that contract out components of your booth (everything from additional lighting to actually building your booth for you) and when you arrive there’s always a chance something may be missing or incomplete. Having all the important documents in one place will make dealing with a difficult situation much easier. While you can always have a copy on your laptop, keep in mind that WiFi service can be slow and spotty!

Bring a Drive with Important Docs

While you have probably already printed your catalogs, line sheets, press kits and order forms, there’s always a chance you’ll need more! Pack a flash drive with any important documents in case you need to make a quick Kinkos run. The drive takes up zero space and you’ll be happy to have a backup.

Pack Your Samples and Include Some Extras

With hundreds of people walking through your booth each day, your samples are going to get touched often and can become worn quickly. All it takes is one dirty hand to trash your newest notecard. It’s also great to have a few extras on hand to fill the shelves if they look a little sparse. While you may spend months planning every inch of your booth’s display, once you’re actually in the space those plans can change quickly! In some instances, your samples will simply disappear. There is always a risk of theft but every once and awhile someone inadvertently walks away with a sample and is too embarrassed to return it. Prep for the worst case scenario and you’ll be covered no matter what happens.

Bring Plenty of Catalogs, Line Sheets, and Order Forms

You’re going to encounter two types of buyers: those ready to write you an order on the spot and those who collect information and bring it back home to review before writing. Either way, plan on passing out a ton of sales material.

When it comes to order forms, I’ve found that it’s helpful to create one that details each item in your assortment. Filling in a generic blank order form by hand takes a lot more time than having one where you can circle styles, fill in the quantity and add the final cost. When you are working the booth all by yourself, you want to write orders as quickly as possible to avoid having other buyers wait too long. A buyer kept waiting may choose to come back later, but then get busy and you’re either left trying to track them down or end up missing the opportunity to work with them altogether. Make order writing as easy as possible for both you and your buyer!

Have a Press Kit

Buyers aren’t the only ones walking industry trade shows! Major and local magazines, publications, and influencers visit shows to look for the latest and greatest. Be prepared if a major magazine walks into your booth and likes what they see by keeping a few press kits on hand. Some shows have a specified press area where you can also drop off your kits.

Have a Show Special

Nothing says “buy now” like a little extra incentive! Reward and thank your buyers by offering them a special for the order(s) they place at the show. This may be some sort of discount or really cool gift with purchase. Use this opportunity to get as creative as you’d like!

Be Prepared for Frequently Asked Questions

While you may painstakingly detail your terms, conditions, and shipping windows in your catalog, most people won’t flip to that page — they’re simply going to ask! Be prepared to answer some of the most common questions which include:

  • What credit cards do you accept?
  • Do you have a show special?
  • When is this available to ship?
  • What's your minimum opening order?
  • What are your minimums per style?
  • Where are your products made?

Take Notes on Business Cards

It never fails — there will be hours when nobody visits your booth, then all of a sudden it becomes packed with buyers! In the hustle of trying to talk to everyone, it’s easy for one conversation to blur with another. When you exchange business cards, take a moment and make a note on the back of your buyer’s card that will help you remember who they are and the conversation you had. Maybe your buyer was wearing a dress you loved, or she mentioned a big upcoming event. These little details matter when you’re crafting your follow up emails because it shows the buyer you were paying attention and helps you recall your meeting.  

Recap Each Day THAT DAY

After 12+hours on your feet, you probably just want a glass of wine, a real meal and to go to bed  (I’ve been there!). It’s so important to take some time to review your notes, orders + business cards (because they should have notes too!) to look for any discrepancies and make a list of anything that stands out in your mind (order questions, leads, opportunities, follow up notes). As much as you tell yourself that you’ll remember, chances are, you probably won’t. These days are long and can easily run together, so take a moment while the day is still fresh in your mind to recap as much as possible. Doing it NOW will save you major headaches later on. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to see how many orders you wrote, how they compare to your goals and help you start working on an inventory tally for orders.

Bring Snacks

Chances are, even if you have someone else in the booth with you will be lucky to snag a bathroom break. Pack a few protein bars, some nuts, and lots of water to help you stay focused throughout the day. While most convention centers have food, options are usually limited and lines can be long, meaning you may miss a key buyer in your booth!

Leave the Heels at Home

Those convention center floors are hard, so it’s best to leave your heels at home and opt for a pair of fancy + comfy flats. We’ve all had that pair of shoes that we thought would be super comfy and turned out to be a nightmare, so break in any new show shoes ahead of time! If heels are an absolute must, pack a backup option so you can swap them out when your feet start to hurt.

Decide on Your Sales Rep Strategy

Chances are, you’ll meet a few sales reps who are head over heels for your line and want to rep it. Decide in advance how you want to handle reps. Do you want to add them to your team? Or do you want to keep everything in house? Have a plan in place to handle the requests as they come through.

Encourage Visitors with a Sweet Treat

Buyers usually spend 1-2 days at the show, meaning there is a lot they need to pack into each day! In many cases, they don’t really have time to eat. Setting out a small bowl of candy or sweet treats (individually wrapped, please — there will be a lot of hands in there) will give them a reason to pause. They will spend those extra few seconds checking out your booth and when they do, chances are they will see something that gets their attention! Buyers are pretty polite and in most cases will ask before they take. This gives you the perfect opportunity to chat them up. It may seem silly, but I can tell you from experience that this little act of kindness goes a long way!  

Have a Post Show Plan

Once the show is over you’re probably going to want to take a long vacation. There is so much to do that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and check out for a few days. Developing a post show plan beforehand allows you to come up for air without anything accidentally slipping through the cracks. Here are a few post show planning ideas to get you started:

  • Decide when you’ll answer outstanding emails from your time out of office
  • Organize show expense receipts
  • Calculate new stock order units
  • Decide when you’ll place the stock orders
  • Determine how you’ll follow up with and thank buyers who placed orders
  • Have a plan for following up with buyers who showed interest but didn’t write
  • Decide how you’ll collect outstanding payment info (not everyone is comfortable leaving their CC info with you at the show)
  • Processing any orders that need to ship immediately

And there you have it! I hope I’ve made the process a little less scary and overwhelming so you can cross that trade show you’ve been considering off your biz bucket list!

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