7 tips to decide if a trade show is right for your product


Trade shows can be expensive, so it is wise to do some homework ahead of time to ensure they are a good fit for your product. Along those lines, consider these steps:

  1. Ask your industry contacts, or any potential customers you may have talked to, which trade shows they attend regularly. If there are one or two shows everyone mentions, investigate those.
  2. Try to attend a show a year before exhibiting. This is the best way to investigate a show and allows you to talk to small companies about their experiences. You will also be able to see exactly what type of an exhibit display you will need, and how your competition exhibits its products. Your booth has to be comparable or better than your competition’s booths.
  3. See if the show is sponsored by a major trade magazine or industry association targeted to your key potential customers. These shows often have educational seminars related to the industry and are typically the trade shows key buyers attend. Some shows are run by independent groups. My experience is that they are not as worthwhile.
  4. Ask for a list of last year’s trade show exhibitors, and for the floor plan from last year’s show. Most trade shows will give you this if you call up their sales departments. Look first to see whether all of the main industry players exhibit at the show. Second, look for names of smaller companies with small booths. You want to see a variety of smaller companies exhibiting; they typically won’t exhibit if they don’t get a good return on their investment.
  5. Call some of the small exhibitors and ask for their trade show manager, who usually will be the sales manager. Tell that person you are considering exhibiting at this year’s show and ask whether he or she felt the trade show was a good investment for their company. After you receive some general feedback, ask these questions.
    • Were there many of their target buyers at the show?
    • Did the show have good traffic?
    • Was the company satisfied with the number of leads it  received?
    • Has the company attended the show for more than one year, and will it go back next year?
    • Was the company looking for sales representation—and if so, did it meet any potential reps?
    • Was the meeting well attended by industry press? If so, did the company receive any press coverage?
      Were there unexpected costs of the trade show—i.e., costs of setting up the booth, charges for bringing the booth into the hall, or electrical charges for plugging in equipment?
  6. Ask the trade show exhibitor salespeople whether they have a new product showcase, which is typically less expensive, or if  they have another exhibitor who might want to share a booth. Find out if you can bring in your own booth and set it up yourself, or if you need it to go through the drayage company. The drayage handles, for a price, the movement of your exhibit items between your carrier’s vehicle and your trade show booth space. Try to find options for keeping your expenses as low as possible.
  7. Consider the impact of the trade show on your budget. Your costs include the exhibit, marketing materials and space rental charges, as well as travel and hotel expenses. If the costs are too high at a national show, consider attending regional shows—preferably in or near your geographic area.