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12 Top Tips for Trade Shows

by Claire Martinsen on Thu 26th Jan 2012 03:49

I shared my Top Tips for Food Shows a few weeks back, so thought that I should share similar tips on doing Trade Shows.  Being in the food and drink industry, these are the type of trade shows that I do, but the tips should be equally applicable to any kind of trade show!

  1. DO SOME PRE-MARKETING – All the large trade shows have exhibitor sites, which show which exhibitors are going to be there.  You’ll be sent a password and login details for the site to enable you to update your profile, to load photos of your product and in most cases issue a press release about your activity at the show.  It’s well worth spending time making sure your details are as full as you can make them – if people can’t get to the show they might scan the website instead!  You can also do some pre-marketing yourself via sending out invites to key buyers, placing a banner at the bottom of your emails for the weeks leading up to the show etc.
  2. FORMS AND ORGANISATION –  Be prepared to fill  in lots of paperwork prior to the show – if not the show organisers will chase you up for it!  Health and Safety forms, sampling form, electricity forms, stand signage forms, forms for staff on the stand etc.  Depending on the show location you will probably need to book a time to set up the stand [which can be up to 3 days before in some locations!], book a vehicle pass.  Keep all the documentation in a safe and easy place to grab before you go to the show – you don’t want to travel for miles and find out that you’ve missed your build-up slot and don’t have the right paperwork with you.
  3. GET YOUR LITERATURE READY –  Think about what information you are going to give potential customers and get this organised and printed some weeks in advance [definitely not a night before job!].  They might want to know about range, pricing, distribution, point of sale etc, so make sure you have this covered off in a clear pack that you can give them on the day they visit your stand.
  4. SET UP THE DAY BEFORE  – Unlike food shows, where you set up on the day, Trade Shows are generally the day before [or several days in advance].  If you have a specific time then make sure you arrive on time – you are generally given a fairly tight window in which to set up, so make sure you have packed in a logical means [eg don’t have the velcro and screwdrivers hidden at the bottom].  I take my faithful flat-bed-trolley to help me wheel everything in as quick as possible and a step-ladder to help me hang the panels on the wall [see above!] – I’m only 5ft 3″ and can’t always rely on a chair being near by, so it makes sense to bring a step-ladder.
  5. ORGANISE LUNCH – There is always food to buy on site, but its expensive and sometimes there can be a long queue.  I tend to nip out early before the show starts and buy a ‘picnic lunch’ to have with me the whole day.  If there is time then I can take a quick 10 minutes to eat, otherwise I can just nibble throughout the day.  Its worth being in control, rather than trusting that the queues will be short and that there will be a lull for you to escape!
  6. SAMPLES – Big tip! you won’t need many samples……..I still cringe at the memory of how many bottles I took to my first trade show and ended up bringing 80% of them home!  At shows there is a limit to how much people want to eat and drink, and also a limit to how much they can carry!
  7. RECORD LEADS –  The key reason for  going to a trade show is to build trade leads, so make sure you have a robust system for doing this and make sure you do it well!  You can hire a ‘datapen’ for the show, which enables you to ‘scan’ each visitor to your stand and get the details back on an excel spreadsheet.  They work for lots of people – but to tell you the truth I only used them once as they didn’t work for me.  I use a trusty notebook [ruled and spiral bound A5 hardback!], pen  and stapler – it’s simple but works for me! [I’m probably a luddite – I also use a paper diary rather than anything more fancy!]
  8. STAFF UP – Generally you will need at least 2 of you on the stand, however small the stand is.  If it gets busy at the stand then visitors won’t wait, they’ll just move on to the next stand, so you need to make sure there’s always someone free to talk.
  9. KEEP UP THE ENERGY – As with Food Shows and Festivals days are long and just be prepared to keep the energy up all day!  You want to be chatty and enthusiastic all day long, and for a 5 day Trade show that can be really testing.  Don’t plan anything for the evenings unless you are completely brave – after a long day on your feet you will probably only want to collapse.  So ignore all requests to travel half way across London to visit long-lost friends and catch up, you will want to sink into bed and go to sleep early believe me!
  10. PLAN THE EXIT – Now if the build up at a Trade Show is important, then the exit is even more important!  Make sure you have everything under control and are able to make a quick exit.  You can generally only bring trolleys into the hall half an hour after the close of show, but you can go in and out with hand held things straight away.  Under my stand I have a stash of long handled hard-wearing bags that I can fill with things and exit as fast as I am able.  After days and days away from home, you just want to be home as soon as you can.
  11. PARKING – Now this may sound a strange to have to consider, but the NEC and SECC are the only locationsthat are easy to park at!  For the London shows you have to pay for NCP parking nearby…….and therein lies a problem…the parking is generally easier for cars/low vans.  My van for example won’t fit the height restrictions and if I want to bring the van to a Trade Show its [a] more expensive  or[b] miles away from the venue.   I therefore always take my car – I want to park nearby so I can nip back and get things if required and exit quickly [see #10].  For Olympia and Earls Court pre-book on the website before you go, as the parking is cheaper if pre-booked.
  12. THE REAL WORK STARTS AFTERWARDS – Its true, the actual show is only the start of the work……in the weeks afterwards you need to make sure there’s some time blocked out to follow up the leads from the show, send proper samples etc.  Don’t underestimate how long this takes to do!


PS Good Luck at what ever trade show you are going to – and if you see me there, please don’t forget to wave!

PPS The picture at the top is of my mum – the very lovely Lynda, at the Harrogate Speciality Food Fair in June 2011

Posted in: Tips for running a food business


Cait Daniels
Fri 27th Jan 2012 08:17
Hi Claire Great post - really helpful and informative. I would just like to add that Westpoint Exhibition Centre, Exeter is also extremely easy for parking as I'm sure you will find out in April! Would you be interested in sharing these tips with our other exhibitors by doing a guest post on the show's blog? Let me know. Thanks Cait

Claire Martinsen
Fri 27th Jan 2012 08:06
Hi Cait, Looking forward to coming to the Source at Westpoint for the first time. Easy parking is the easiest way to get to an Exhibitors heart xx xx Claire

Nicola Dickinson
Mon 30th Jan 2012 04:52
Thanks Claire. I got to hear about your blog via Twitter, doing my first Olympia this year. This info was really helpful. Thanks a bunch for taking the time. Nicola

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