How to Choose the Right Trade Show for your Business


Why should a startup like you even care to exhibit at a fair?

Simple: Because exhibiting and trade show marketing done right can bring immense business value.

More than 80% of trade show attendees are potential customers for exhibitors according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). Not to mention 78% of the people walking the exhibit floor travel more than 400 miles to the venue, so you’re getting a national audience!

Meanwhile, 99% of marketers believe trade shows provide unique benefits one won’t get from other channels. The top three perks include seeing customers, face-to-face meetings with prospects, and the opportunity to network with key industry players.

On the other hand…

Going from knowing the perks of trade show marketing to actually reaping the benefits is a lengthy journey. And this guide will walk you through the crucial first step: choosing the right show for your business.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Know Your Business Objectives

Sit down and ask yourself: “What are my objectives for attending and exhibiting?”

Even the best trade shows in your industry won’t help if you don’t even know what you want to get out of your attendance.

Are you looking to meet prospective customers face to face? Perhaps you want to add high quality leads to your pipeline or even close deals at the show? Maybe you are looking to launch a new product or service and want industry folk to know about it?

Whatever your goals are for exhibiting, write them down and have a plan for achieving them when you’re finally on the floor.

Step 2: Know Your Budget

The first line item to account for is, of course, the booth space.

A square feet can cost you anywhere from $138 to $154.50 according to the Exhibit Designers and Producers Association. Based on these figures, a 20×20 space can cost you more than $60,000 but the actual cost will vary depending on the show. Here’s a cool tip:

Booth space usually accounts for 33% of your total exhibiting cost. So multiply your booth space budget by three to get a better estimate of how much you need to spend.

Aside from the space, you will also want to budget for the stuff you will put in it – from the A/V gears, product shelves, to banners and tarps.

The exhibition equipment you’ll need depends on your goals for the show. If you’re a software provider and want to close deals on the venue floor, for example, you will want to have a laptop to demo your product. A table and a couple of chairs can also come handy for when you sit down and sort the paperwork. Next stop is your staff.

The allocation for staffing should include:

  • The hourly rate of your team
  • Time spent during the planning phase
  • Hours they’ll spend manning the booth
  • Marketing materials they need to bring
  • Travel and accommodation

With a budget allocated for trade show exhibiting, you can now find shows that are within your means.

Step 3: Gather A List Of Trade Shows In Your Industry

Chances are, you’re already familiar with some of the biggest shows in your industry, and you want to list those down. However, the most popular industry events are likely to charge a premium for exhibiting. So be sure to widen your search as you might find lesser known shows that put you in front of your audience – but minus the steep price tag. Reach out to your top clients, and ask them what shows they attend.

Depending on your industry, you may find shows that target cooperatives and buyer groups. Exhibiting at these events is an excellent way to meet face to face with buyers or even the business owners themselves.

You will also want to use online databases and directories like the following:

  • Expo Database: The database and website has sections for show organizers, suppliers, visitors, and of course, would-be exhibitors like you. Use the search box when prospecting for shows. Simply enter a keyword (ex: industry or sector) and your chosen location to get started.
  • Trade Fair Dates: A directory (with a searchable calendar) of 10,000 trade shows and exhibits from more than 100 countries. You can filter your search by name, industry, sector, or country. You can even look up specific cities to see upcoming fairs nearby.
  • Events Eye: This site may not look as sophisticated as the previous tools we looked at. Nevertheless, Events Eye lets you look up trade shows by name, date, location, and industry. It has information on events from the industrial, service, medical, computing, agricultural, and leisure sectors.

At this point, your goal is to get as many relevant shows as possible within your radar. So list down everything you find even if the dates overlap. In the following steps, you’ll see how to narrow down the list to the events that best suit you.

Step 4: Refine Your List

Now’s the time to refine that long list of industry trade shows you’ve created. When narrowing down your prospects, you will want to take the following factors into account.

  • Demographics: Success in any marketing endeavor boils down to meeting the right people at the right time. Research confirms that fair and exhibition attendees are in a buying mindset, so the timing is perfect. But are they the right people?

    The only way to find out is to speak to the show’s management team. You will want to get as much information about the trade show as possible. In particular, you want to see the visitor list and check the demographics the event caters to.

    While you’re at it, ask for the previous year’s list of exhibitors so you have a better idea of who you will compete with for attendee’s time and attention.
  • Location: Up to 60% of the attendees are likely to come from within a 200-mile radius of the venue. While getting a nationwide audience is nice, you still want to prioritize meeting prospects and key industry players within your geographical location. So take into account your distribution area and the location of your audience when choosing a trade show.
  • Past Performance: Expect the show’s management to paint their trade show in the best light possible. That’s their job. But if you want to get an objective including of a show, including the not-so-good bits, you will want to speak to other people.

Ask past exhibitors and attendees about their experience. Did the management go beyond the call of duty to help exhibitors succeed?

Check their social media profiles to get a pulse on people’s sentiment when talking about the event. See if the management provides extra marketing opportunities like seminar slots, placements on widescreen displays around the venue, tracking technologies to capture attendee info, and more

The people who walked down the aisles – was it a pleasant experience for them? If not, the negative vibe will prevent you from getting visitors and conversions. Here’s another cool tip:

Start planning early (like “a year prior” kind of early) so you can go to the show as an attendee. Attending is way easier on your budget than exhibiting, and doing so is also one of the best ways to see if an event fits your startup.

Attending can also get you insider information on how other companies in your industry (including your competitors) approach their exhibits so you can one-up them when it’s finally your turn.

  • Budget: This is where step two comes in handy. Exhibiting at trade shows provides a lot of business value. But running out of cash and going into debt is the last thing you want to happen as a startup. So pick events that are within your means.
  • Available Booths: A trade show might be the best fit for your startup. But if the available spaces are subpar, exhibiting cannot be recommended. In particular, you want to avoid exhibiting near columns, low ceilings, aisle dead-ends, and freight doors. These places block people’s line of sight. And if people can’t see your booth, they won’t visit and you can’t convert.

This step is the most time intensive as you will need to call up different parties, research online, and take note of everything. But all the effort is worth it if you can find the exhibiting opportunity that fits your needs like a glove.

Step 5: Book Your Spot Early

Getting ahead is way better than starting late and working hard. So if you’ve found the right trade show, pick up the phone and book your spot.

Hesitating can mean getting a less-than-ideal location. You may also have to change your booth’s components and attractions because the space you wanted is no longer available. Not only inconvenient, but having to switch your location and reconfigure your space also adds another layer of expenses.

On the other hand, registering early can help you secure premium space at a discount, save productivity, and give you more time to plan your attack. In simpler words, early-bird booking can improve your ROI. As an added bonus:

Reserving your space early shows the organizers that you take exhibiting and trade show marketing seriously. And this might just convince them to work better with you. No one wants to deal with tire-kickers after all!

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Rais Dar
Rais Dar is a startup business consultant and the founder of Startup Daily Tips publication. He has an overall 8 years of experience in Banking, Real Estate, Event Managment and E-commerce Industries.


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