Trade Show Exhibitor’s Rookie Guide
If you are new to exhibiting at a trade show, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed on how to get it all done. This guide is written with you in mind. It points out all the things you need to know about and execute to be successful at trade show marketing.
It is the perfect starting point to your journey to being a trade show marketing genius! We have broken it down into the steps you will need to execute to have a successful event.
Approximate read time: 27 minutes
Deciding which trade show is best for your company
Trade show marketing can be an extremely effective method for business networking, launching and showcasing new products, and selling new or current products and services. Most business sectors have a trade show available, with many sectors like medical, retail, and education have several different trade shows.
The cost of exhibiting can seem overwhelming and possibly even prohibitive for new companies. But with proper funding and budgeting, this hurdle can be overcome. The first task for a marketing manager then is to determine which shows would create the highest ROI for your company, then determine which of those shows have space available for new exhibitors.
When creating your list of trade show events , be aware of things like location and timing. You might be better off going to a trade show in Florida in February rather than August. Also, if the trade show is happening in a major city, attendance should reflect that.
It is also important to look at the size of the exhibit hall, how many exhibitors there are, and whether any of them are your competitors. Trade show attendance is also a very important factor in selecting the best trade show for your company. Don’t let audience size fool you either. You may be better off with a smaller and more targeted audience for your business, rather than a larger and more general crowd.
Lastly, you should have a clearly defined list of goals you would like to achieve while exhibiting at your chosen event. What business outcomes are you looking for? Do you want to announce a new product? Do you want to target retailers that will carry your product in their stores? Are you looking to connect directly with consumers for sales at the show? All of these questions will help you determine which show is right for your business based on the goals you have set for your business.
Setting your trade show budget
If the goals you are trying to reach are clearly defined, and their outcome in mind, you can work backward to generate a budget to help you achieve them. Your budget could vary widely depending on those goals, as well as your revenue and cash flow, how long you have been in business, and what you are selling.
If you have already identified a trade show as a sales and marketing channel for your business, you probably have an idea of what you will need to spend to make them work for your company. If you haven’t done so yet, you can read over the pros and cons of exhibiting at a trade show to determine if trade show marketing is right for your business.
There are several factors that must be part of your budget when exhibiting at a trade show:
What size and location of floor space you will have
Of the trade show expenses determined by the show you have selected, the size of the show floor you select will be the biggest. Trade shows sell floor space on per square foot charge. The average cost per square foot is, $21.00. Typically, booth spaces start at 10×10 and can grow laterally to create linear booth spaces of 10×20, 10×30 and larger.. From there booth spaces typically jump to 20×20, 20×30, all the way up to 50×100 and even larger. Check with the specific event to see what size floor spaces they offer.
How much your booth will cost
Once you selected the trade show floor space, you will need to decide what type of booth or display properties you’ll need to fill that space. Several factors influence the cost of your trade show booth. The size your floor space will determine the size of your booth. A good rule of thumb to start the budgeting process is to consider the industry standard pricing for purchasing a new trade show exhibit. This typically ranges from $100-$150 per square foot. Your trade show marketing tactics will determine how to design your booth. You might want a double deck booth with private meeting space on top. This will also impact the furniture, lighting, and accessories you will need to stand out on the trade show floor.
One benefit that Xibeo can offer you is trade show booth rentals. This is an option to get a custom designed booth to use at your trade show event, at about 35% of the cost to purchase, and without the ancillary cost of owning a custom designed booth.
What kind of promotional and sales items you will need
Success at a trade show involves the ability to attract a crowd to your booth and to convert sales and leads from that crowd. There is a cost involved with both of these. Promotional items such as giveaways or booth games will attract the audience you want. Sales items such as brochures, videos, lead generation forms will help you convert sales and leads from your audience.
What other show expenses you will have
Booth shipping from your manufacturer to your show and back, taking the booth from the truck to the show floor and back to the truck (also known as material handling or drayage), booth setup and teardown, are all part of the cost of exhibiting at a trade show. Drayage costs will be higher than you expect because a union is providing the labor.
You also have trade show services. These can be things like electricity, internet service, or food and beverage service. All of these seem incidental, but they can add up when not taken into consideration.
What it will cost to staff your booth
Plan on your human resources to make up 15-20% of your budget. You need to have a trained staff manning your booth. Training in approach, sales pitch, lead collection, products or services, and any trade show specifics like presentations or giveaways should be thorough to take advantage of the invaluable face time that trade shows provide.
You will also need to provide transportation, lodging and other ancillary costs with having the staff at the event.
Registering as an Exhibitor
After you have done the preliminary work of goal setting, trade show selection, and budgeting, you are ready to make it happen. The next step is to register as an exhibitor. Most trade show events have applications available on their website. Once your application has been accepted and you enter into a contract, you will receive an exhibitor manual from the show coordinators.
This manual will include all the important information you will need to successfully exhibit at their particular trade show. Details will include important exhibitor dates and deadlines; booth limitations, rules, regulations, and procedures; information on any licensing that may be required; forms for show services, and all other information that is appropriate to exhibiting.
We recommend you study this manual as soon as you receive it. If you are unclear about anything inside it, ask your sales rep. Mark all the important dates on your calendar and schedule out any projects needed to complete deadlines.
Selecting Trade Show Floor Space
The place that your booth is located inside the trade show exhibit hall can make or break the success of your show. If you get tucked away in a corner, you will almost certainly not get a lot of foot traffic to your booth. It takes dedicated (or possibly bored) attendees to find their way to all the corners and out-of-the-way sections of the trade show floor.
Ideally, you want a space that will see a lot of foot traffic. Consider placements near the entrance, major aisles, restrooms, bar, food court, lounge areas, networking areas, or any other space that you anticipate will have a lot of activity.
Make sure to stay away from areas that might get too congested as this can push into your booth, taking up the room you need to meet and greet attendees that want to meet you. It can block access to your booth as well.
Keep in mind, the best locations on the trade show floor can sometimes command a premium fee. They could also be locked up by previous exhibitors that have negotiated first right of refusal for the space. If it is a good space and the company exhibits every year, you will not be able to rent that space until the day they stop.
There are a few other things to think about here. One is the size of the neighboring booths. Trade show coordinators usually do a good job of keeping the bigger booths together and grouping the medium and smaller booths together, but you could get next to a big booth that might drown out your efforts of audience attraction.
Another consideration is the companies that are exhibiting around you. Depending on your goals, you may wish to be close to or far from direct competitors. Or maybe you have identified a symbiotic company who would draw an audience similar to the one you are looking for. It would be beneficial to exhibit near this other company to take advantage of their audience generation efforts.
If there is a lottery for floor space selections, make sure that you have several different options selected. That way, if the spaces you want are taken before you get to choose, you have backup options selected so you can make your choice quickly when it’s your turn to choose.
Finally, when deciding upon which floor spaces will work for your goals, talk to the event coordinators. They have the inside information that might give you a hint on the best place you need to be based on what you want to achieve.
Once you have selected and finalized the show floor space, you will need to get to work on developing a booth.
Designing a Trade Show Booth
Your trade show booth is the biggest sales tool you have at a trade show. It is the place that you will call home during the event. It is the place that you will conduct business. It is the place where you will meet customers and potential customers, partners, suppliers, competitors, etc. Careful detail is a must when designing your trade show booth.
During the design process, you will need to look back to your goals to determine how your booth will be designed.
Are you trying to showcase your products? Launch a new product? Appear established in the market? Build brand awareness? Sign more clients? Generate leads? Maintain your current clients? Find vendors?
Answers to these questions will guide the layout and design of your booth. It will determine what furniture, lighting, accessories, and graphics will be needed to accomplish your goals. It will also determine the price of your trade show booth.
Components of Trade Show Booths
There are a lot of things that go together to form your trade show exhibit. Everything is strategically chosen to reach your goals while staying within your budget. The options for booth design are nearly infinite because of the infinite combinations of components used.
Structure is the defining area of your booth layout and tool to support your brand message.
Structure includes walls, frame, upper deck, rooms. etc. – these provide the shell of your booth, the enclosure of your space, how you make this part of the trade show your own.
You and your staff will be on your feet for the duration of the show. With that in mind you want to make sure whatever flooring you choose is comfortable, well-padded and ties in aesthetically with your booth properties. This can be accomplished with well padded carpet or vinyl flooring. Another thing to consider when choosing flooring is the amount of electrical you’ll need to run under the flooring. If you’re running electrical cords to multiple demo stations or equipment, raised flooring may be the best solution for you.
Typically convention halls do not have the optimum lighting to highlight product or your brand message. Depending on your booth design requirements, spot lights or backlighting should be considered. Lighting can also be used as a creative design accent.
Graphics are the most important aspect of your trade show booth. They have the greatest impact in conveying your message to show attendees. The bigger and bolder the graphic the larger the impact.
Do you want your potential customers to sit down and stay awhile? Or, are you more interested in having a nice flow through your booth? Lounge furniture creates a casual atmosphere, and conference room furniture creates a space for formal meetings. Both will keep your clients in your booth space and engaged. High top tables, with or without chairs, will allow for a nice flow of attendees but still create a place for a quick informal meeting or exchange of information.
Together, these design elements will create an aesthetically pleasing and functional trade show booth.
Renting vs Buying a Trade Show Booth
Let’s face it, trade show booths are one of the largest cost considerations of your trade show budget. The bigger they are, the more intricate they are, the more graphics you have, all of these will impact your cost. This can result in sticker shock for some new exhibitors.
Of course, there are other considerations when deciding on how much you will spend on your booth. If you are buying a booth, it’s important to consider how many different configurations your booth will need to accommodate, the cost of shipping to and from the show as well as the material handling or drayage. You will also need someplace to store your booth when you are not using it.
Purchasing a booth can be a long-term investment. And a perfect option for a company who exhibits at three or more shows a year and would like to keep a consistent look at their trade shows over the lifetime of their booth. Purchased booths typically change very little from show to show other than graphic messaging and basic configuration. The initial investment can be daunting, but if designed and built properly, your new booth can be a great marketing asset and pay for itself over time.
One way to avoid possible sticker shock after putting together your perfect booth is to consider renting instead of buying. We offer a custom rental program that can significantly reduce the cost of your booth.
Because we have so much inventory, we can create a custom booth completely tailored to your company’s design, message, and functional needs. And after the show, we bring everything back to our warehouse and turn it into something completely new. Rentals give you the option of having a fresh booth that is custom designed for the floor space you have at every trade show and at an average of 35% of the cost to purchase.
If you plan on doing significant changes in your trade show marketing, such as new locations, new trade shows, and new products or services, renting is a very attractive alternative to buying. With fresh graphics and design tactics, your booth will always be positioned to help you achieve your goals.
When you rent a booth, you don’t need to budget for booth storage fees, booth maintenance fees, and, in some cases, we can also offer free shipping. This budget-conscious option is perfect for a company that is new to trade show exhibiting but doesn’t want to look like it.
Setting the Trade Show Exhibiting Timeline
It is crucial that you stay on top of the timeline of your trade show so that you are prepared for important dates. The more prepared you are before the trade show, the more smoothly the trade show experience will go for you.
Once you receive your trade show exhibitor manual from the event coordinator, make note of all the important deadlines. Each trade show will have its own requirements and timing, but things you need to pay attention to are:
- Date for final payment and insurance submission
- Deadlines for trade show event advertising or sponsorship, including payments, artwork approval, material submission, etc.
- Deadlines for submitting your Exhibit Appointed Contractor information
- Deadlines for reserving show services such as electricity, drayage, internet, and food beverage service
- Date freight can arrive for booths, sales materials, promotional items, graphics & signage, etc.
- Deadline for hotel reservations
- Exhibitor setup and teardown times
There will most likely be event specific deadlines that you need to pay attention to as well. Read over your manual and write these dates down on your calendar. Set up reminders so that you don’t miss them. Sometimes missing a deadline means missing out, or at the very least, paying a lot more than you otherwise would have.
Approximately 12 Weeks Before the Event
This is when you need to sit down with your exhibit provider and discuss trade show goals and objectives. Discuss your ideas for audience attraction and what you need to do with the audience you receive at the event.
We will then take the information we gain during this discovery session to design a booth we believe will accomplish your goals. After presentation and detail negotiation and finalization, we will present you with a quote to build the booth for you, whether you wish to buy or rent.
Once approved, the contract is executed, and payment is given, we will build your booth to your specifications.
Approximately 8 Weeks Before the Event
This is when we start to figure out what booth furniture, flooring, and other accessories needed to complete your booth construction. We will work with you to source the best, most cost-effective equipment and furnishings, always with an eye on your budget.
During this time, you will also want to work on your website landing page to announce your exhibition at the trade show. Look over the attendance list and find those individuals or companies that you would like to schedule a meeting with.
You should also begin work on designing your marketing and sales messaging for use in your booth graphics, as well as your promotional and sales materials.
Approximately 6 Weeks Before the Event
This is the time we allocate for working on getting the graphics for your booth designed and printed and ready to go for the show. If you worked out your sales messaging and marketing materials already, you will be well prepared to discuss graphics.
We can work with your designers to ensure the graphics are the right size so your message is well received and understood. If you don’t have an in-house designer, we have partners who can help you. Once we have your output ready art, we’ll have them printed and prep them for inclusion on your booth set up.
At this time, you should also be securing your other means of boosting your audience at your booth. If you are going to have a game, you need to source and coordinate the game, as well as prizes. Take this opportunity to train your staff on your sales messaging and booth activities and data collection.
You may also wish to secure travel plans during this time so that you are secure during your time at the trade show event. Room blocks sell out, discounts expire, and airfare gets higher every day you get closer to the show. Early reservations will save you headaches and money.
Approximately 4 Weeks Before the Event
When the show is four weeks away, you should begin staff training so that everyone is prepared to discuss the booth’s marketing and sales plans and any other activities they need to be able to talk about. Practice so pitches become fluent. It’s hard to capture someone’s attention for a long, drawn out or choppy conversation coming from an untrained booth staff member.
During this time you will also need to order any promotional and sales items that need to be printed. Make sure your videos are produced and in editing. Secure products that will be showcased at the booth.
You will also want to make sure all of your show services are ordered and paid for. If you miss the show deadlines, the costs for these can go up quite a bit. Don’t get those unnecessary dings on your budget and get them ordered early.
Exhibiting at the Trade Show
When the time finally arrives for the live trade show and you have followed along with this guide, you should be in excellent shape to rock this trade show. You have selected the perfect trade show, you have the perfect booth in the perfect location. Your staff is well-trained and eager to participate.
You have some great giveaways and a secret to thrill your audience. You have appropriately advertised yourself to the trade show audience. Now, you need your booth setup and ready to go.
We provide setup and teardown services for you, working with the unions and the convention center to coordinate everything. This last part can be extra stressful for a new exhibitor. We can take all of that off your shoulders so you can focus on having a great show.
All that’s left is for you to execute your strategy at the trade show, and of course, follow up like crazy. Be diligent in collecting information for follow up after the show. 51% of trade show visitors plan on buying within the next 12 months after attending. Be sure you stay top of mind with your visitors by executing a well thought out follow up sequence.
Your final step in the whole process should be to analyze how much new business and revenue the company earned as a result of exhibiting. How does this compare with your budget? Did you meet your goals? What did you learn that you can apply to your next trade show?
By answering these questions, you will be ready for any changes in strategy and execution you might need to make to ensure that the following trade show is an even bigger success.