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Trade Show Tricks for Vendors and Exhibitors: 9 Truths You Should Know and Plan For

Trade shows and conventions are fun, but they can also be a giant pain if you’re unprepared. I’ve seen dozens of vendors flounder at conventions because they assumed that showing up was 99.9% of the job—it isn’t.

The “build it and they’ll come” mentality simply isn’t enough anymore. You have to put yourself out there if you want to seize the interest of attendees, gain new leads, and sell to the audience!

Put procrastination out of your mind and check out these nine convention truths (or as I like to call them, “tricks of the trade show”):

People won’t buy if they get the impression you don’t care.

People won’t buy if they get the impression you don’t care.

Attendees are more likely to approach you if you acknowledge their presence. This seems obvious, but a good chunk of exhibitors don’t seem to get it. Don’t just sit there like a lump when people walk up to your booth! It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of jotting down your shopping list—take an interest in each visitor. Even if you’re with another customer, take the five seconds to make eye contact and say “I’ll be right with you.” Unless you’re selling the best product ever invented, people won’t buy from you if they get the impression you don’t care.

You’ll scare people away if you start with a sales pitch. This is the opposite of my last point; never initiate the conversation with a long-winded spiel or pushy sales pitch. You won’t gain anything by forcing attendees to hear about your products or services the second they approach! If people seem interested, then take a minute to talk to them and uncover their reasons for seeking out your booth. You have to find the delicate balance between assertive and aggressive.

Understaffing is no good for anyone!

Understaffing is no good for anyone!

You may lose potential customers if you’re understaffed. In my experience, it’s better to have too many workers than not enough. Bring the appropriate staff that you can afford, especially if you anticipate a high attendee volume. If paying for workers isn’t a valid option, then ask employees or friends to work on a volunteer basis in exchange for a free meal. Sometimes it’s impossible to obtain the coverage you need, and that’s okay. But be warned: interested buyers won’t wait around forever and that’s a risk you’ll have to take.

People won’t remember you unless you give them a business card or promo item. Not every trade show attendee is there to buy right away; many of them visit to accumulate ideas for future projects. Do you have something tangible for your leads to walk away with? I’ve long forgotten the names of freebie-less vendors I’ve visited in the past. Keep plenty of business cards or inexpensive giveaways on hand to distribute to guests. Mailing lists are also good for keeping the “I’m just looking” crowd on your radar after the show.

Prize wheels tend to catch the eye...

Prize wheels tend to catch the eye...

It’s okay to have some fun while working your booth. Who wants to approach a mannequin-esque vendor? Professional behavior is appreciated by all, but you can get away with some fun and games when the mood strikes. For example, you could play music at a reasonable volume, tell tasteful jokes to attendees, or include a prize wheel at your booth to catch the eye. Using colorful tablecloths and signage never hurt anyone, either. Just remember that there’s a time and a place for humor and jokes, so use your discretion on a per-customer basis.

People are always in a hurry. Many attendees rush through trade show aisles even if they’ve just arrived—perhaps they’re afraid they won’t see everything in time. No matter what the reasoning, don’t take up too much of guests’ time with your introduction when they come to visit you. Keeping your intro brief but informative will weed out the impatient foot-tappers and leave you with more time to talk to the ones who are legitimately interested in what you’re offering.

Check that your company objectives are clear.

Check that your company objectives are clear.

It’s not okay to expect attendees to guess who you are and what you do. Do you have a sufficient number of banners, signs, or company literature? Is your product or service obvious to attendees? Triple check that your company objectives are clear, especially if you offer a complicated or specialized service. It’s not fair to people if they have to grill you to find out who you are; plus, some of them may be deterred from your lack of representation and never approach you at all.

The convention hall will be either too hot or too cold. Every trade show space is ventilated differently, so always plan for temperature extremes. A winter coat is probably overkill, but bring a light jacket and dress in layers for optimal comfort at all times. You’ll probably be manning (or womanning) the booth for hours at a time, so you might as well be comfortable.

Attendees love chairs!

Attendees love chairs!

Attendees have probably been on their feet for hours. This one may seem strange, but it’s important to remember. People will practically fight each other for a place to sit down and rest, and you can use this to your advantage. Make space at your booth for a row of chairs and invite people to sit when they need a break. They’ll be attracted to your spontaneous seating area and probably be more likely to talk to you if they’re relaxed. If you can’t snag chairs from the convention hall, then invest in a few comfy folding chairs or bring some from home. Trust me, people will appreciate the thought and you could end up being the hit of the convention!

No matter what angle you take with your trade show booth, don’t waste your time and resources by showing up without a backup plan for every scenario. Unpreparedness leads to chaos and then to frustration, which won’t help your case to attract new clientele. Organize, get a grip, and then get out there and market yourself the right way!

Which of these convention tips is the most helpful to you? Do you have any more trade show advice that would benefit vendors or attendees?



Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

Comments

  1. JPorretto

    “It’s not okay to expect attendees to guess who you are and what you do. ”

    A GREAT point that cannot be reiterated enough. There’s a design principle that basically says “Never blame the consumer for not using your product correctly.” If they don’t understand it, then it wasn’t presented correctly. Of course there’s caveats to this, but the general idea is a rock solid one.

    NICE post Jill. A TON of excellent points. (Clap clap clap clap)

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks, Jeff! :D Glad that you agree with me. If I see a completely ambiguous booth, I keep on walking. And I’m sure there are others who do the same!

      P.S. Would you be so kind as to provide me with a list of locations where I can redeem my excellent points? I’d like to get something excellent with them! Teehee…

  2. Juliette

    Once when I worked PPAI Vegas I had a distributor tell me that he just had to come into our booth to find out more because I caught his eye while he was hurrying past but I smiled (genuinely) at him the whole time he was walking. Just as he was almost gone he turned around and came back and told me why he turned around. I gotta say, a smile and eye contact can go a long way. :)

    • Jill Tooley

      Eye contact and smiles do wonders for vendors, and you’re living proof of that. It shows that you’re approachable and ready to lend a hand. I would have turned around and come over to you, too!

  3. cyberneticSAM

    Nice job! There is a lot of great information in here! I have never been to a trade show, so I had no idea there was so much to think about! Great post! :)

  4. ASneed

    Nice post Jill! =)

    These tips are all great, and I agree with them. These tips apply to craft shows and flea markets too I think. If their space is a mess, and if I can’t tell what they’re selling, or they don’t smile, I don’t stop at their booth! Plain and Simple. I especially like the booths that give you a sample of good smelling soaps and lotions that also have their name and website on the package–so later at home, I can check out all of their product offerings. I love freebies and samples! ;-)

    • Jill Tooley

      Me too! By the way, I agree that there’s nothing worse than a messy flea market space. How do people expect to sell anything if it’s all cluttered and chaotic? You’d think they’d WANT it organized!

  5. Jana Quinn

    The tip I loved most of all was making the small seating area. Not only will people love to get off their feet, but they’re also more likely to engage in conversation with you if they’re comfortable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done at a convention, but it’s an original idea. Nicely done!

    • Juliette

      Sadly some booths don’t have room for chairs or such. But I’ve discovered that when I walk the tradeshow floor I tend to linger in booths that have padding under their carpet. It’s silly, but man, that can make all the difference after being on your feet all day. And when you linger you end up in conversations. I’d suggest if the budget allows, padding under the carpet is a great investment (particularly if chairs won’t work).

      • Jill Tooley

        That’s an excellent idea, Juliette! Not all booths will have the room for chairs, but padding is a great compromise for limited space. Thanks for the tip! :)

  6. Joseph Giorgi

    So many great tips here, Jill! Anyone planning to run a booth in the near future should be using this as their go-to guide. I like that you mention that “it’s okay to have some fun while working your booth.” A more casual and relaxed atmosphere is always a good thing.

  7. Emmi

    I know that you weren’t really talking about science fiction conventions, but I usually do tables at the smaller ones, and that chair idea is genius. I’m definitely going to snag it. :D

    • Jill Tooley

      Even if I don’t come right out and say it, I’m usually ALWAYS talking about science fiction and comic conventions! Haha. I’ve been to many different kinds in my day, but those are always the most fun (and the craziest). Please do snag the idea and let me know how it works out. I know I’d plop down on a chair if a vendor had one available!

      Thanks a lot for commenting, Emmi! Come back and visit me anytime! :D

  8. Emmi

    Haha, well that’s good to know. Conventions are one of the best experiences on the planet, IMO – I’m working towards eventually blogging and going to cons for a living. I’m grateful for any way to stand out. :D

  9. Emmi

    Oh! Another question. What are the best kinds of freebies, do you think?

    • Jill Tooley

      That all depends on your audience! I could suggest a whole bunch of cool items you might like if I had more details (audience, price range, type of promotion, etc). Feel free to email me at: jill@qualitylogoproducts.com if you want to toss around some ideas! I’d love to help! :D

  10. Lisa

    Great tips! One thing I’ve seen a lot of people do and I think is one of the worse things is to start the sales pitch right away. No one wants to be hit with that right away.

  11. Todd Billingsley

    Great info! Another tip I learned at my first trade show was to make sure your booth is staffed every single minute that the exhibit hall is open. One night, the staff of every single exhibit cleared out to attend a concert, but the program listed that the exhibit hall was still open. The exhibit hall was a ghost town except for one of my employees and myself. We sat there for nearly an hour without seeing a single soul. My employee kept asking if we should close shop, but something kept telling me to sit tight. Sure enough, five minutes before closing time, two men entered the hall and walked straight to our booth. Our reward for staying? A $600 order!

  12. Carolyn

    I’m new to craft show vending. I found all the tips helpful, especially the chair tip. Some craft and flea market events, do lend themselves to setting up a few chairs. Thanks for the tips.

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