By Jim DeBetta

trade-show-introIt’s that time of year again – consumer product trade show season is in full swing. Just about every type of product that you can imagine is showcased in big trade show halls all over America including toys, electronics, housewares, pet items, clothing, sporting goods – you name it.

For inventors, these shows offer a great opportunity to set up a booth and show off their creations to retail buyers, the media, and sales reps who may want to help you sell your products.

Being properly prepared for trade shows can be a lot of work, but knowing what to expect and how to prepare will ensure you make the most of your experience.

After exhibiting at more than 100 trade shows and walking countless others, I have learned some great ways to prepare to maximize your time and money:

  • When booking a booth space, be sure to request a spot that is near the entrance where attendees first come in each day. Being in the back of the hall means some buyers might not make it that far when walking through the show quickly. Premium front-end spots fill up fast, so try to book a spot early.
  • Trade shows work with local hotels, restaurants and even airlines to get group rates for attendees. Check trade show Web sites for deals.
  • Go online and view the show floor map before you arrive. You can get a lay of the land and get a list of all people exhibiting and/or attending. This can be a big time saver.
  • Make sure you bring plenty of business cards, brochures, sell sheets and other materials that clearly explain how your product works and its key benefits. Bring more than you need – you don’t want to run out.
  • Make sure your product or prototype looks good – preferably inside an alluring package.   Retail buyers cannot buy a product that is not in a finished state. If you have more than one sample of your product, bring it. In fact, bring five or 10 if you have them. Some buyers will take a sample with them. The media may want to write a story about your product. Having your product prepared in the best possible way gives you a better shot at drawing real interest and securing a deal.
  • Make sure your booth space is well planned, well decorated and welcoming. Don’t position a display table at the front. Having too much furniture or chairs prevents people from entering your space and comfortably discussing your products. Make it easy for people to “come on in.”
  • Wear comfortable shoes. High heels or constraining wing tips will cause you plenty of pain later in the day. You will be on your feet for many hours. Comfort trumps looks – believe me.
  • Be at the ready to talk to everyone who walks by your booth. It’s a big mistake to only look to greet big retail buyers and ignore everyone else. You never know who may walk in and how they may impact your business. Treat everyone the same and be on your feet saying “Hi” to everyone you can.
  • Never, ever sleep, eat, or talk on your cell while in your booth. Yes, people actually fall asleep in their booths. This is a sure way to turn off any prospective buyer or anyone else for that matter.
  • Show up early and stay until the end. This is a marathon. Know that anytime you leave your booth, someone important will show up – always happens. Being there and dressing well are key elements to being successful.

Additionally, I usually e-mail any retail buyers I know or have been in contact with and let them know my booth number. I also try to arrange as many meetings as possible before the show. I don’t care if someone wants to meet me for breakfast or late in the evening, I will usually accommodate them. Time is short at these shows and everyone is trying to do a week’s worth of work in just a few days. I make myself available as much as possible while also trying to secure as many meetings as possible.

I always look at trade shows as the most efficient and least expensive way to meet with retail buyers, search for new product innovations, connect with industry colleagues and to learn what is new in the industry. Of course, I’m on the prowl to learn from those who can teach me something new about the retail environment and what they are doing to cope.

So get ready to experience a powerful way to show off your products and meet great people who can help vault your business in 2010.

Upcoming Shows At-a-Glance*

Event: Global Pet Expo
Where: Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla.
When: March 25-27

Event: Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS)
Where: McCormick Place, Chicago
When: April 14-18

Event: National Hardware Show
Where: Las Vegas Convention Center
When: May 4-6

Event: San Diego Marathon Health & Fitness Expo
Where: San Diego Convention Center
When: June 4-5

Event: Sydney International Boat Show
Where: Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre
When: July 29-Aug. 2

Event: Woman’s World Expo
Where: Jackson Convention Complex, Jackson, Miss.
When: May 7-9

Event: Indy Baby Expo
Where: Indiana State Fairgrounds, Indianapolis
When: Oct. 16-17

Event: Toy & Game Inventor Expo
Where: Chicago
When: November

Want to find a trade show? The best one-stop source we’ve found is at

*Not all are open to the public and may require advance registration