Are you way over going virtual? Good news! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new regulations in regards to social gatherings and public events. It’s now fair game to start planning events, and that includes outdoor trade shows.

The idea of hosting outdoor expos may seem new, but it’s not totally unheard of. Back in 2018, the city of Denver landed a deal with a company named Outdoor Retailer to host their trade shows until 2023. This partnership is projected to have a $110 million economic impact in the area!

You too can benefit from outdoor trade shows. Here are 15 tips that will get you on track and make sure your event is a huge success!

#1: Choose a Roomy Venue

Think “elbow room.” Social distancing is the new norm for the foreseeable future, so be sure that you book a venue that has plenty of space. You’re probably also going to need a permit, so jot down a list of possible outdoor event locations way ahead of time.

#2: Know the Rules & Ordinances

Noise restrictions, fire and safety codes, and maximum capacity are all going to be important. Call the venue’s management team ahead of time to iron out the details. It also doesn’t hurt to contact local authorities so they are aware of your event. There’s nothing wrong with extra security!

#3: Set the Date & Time

Host your outdoor trade show in late spring or early fall. The best months are May, June, September, or October. You’re less likely to deal with bad weather, and there aren’t any busy holidays to compete with like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

#4: Keep an Eye on the Weather

Don’t let rain rain on your parade! If it does start pouring, have a bunch of disposable ponchos to hand out to all the guests. On the other hand, if it’s going to be insanely hot, you’re going to want shade and plenty of it. Pay attention to the news so you know what the weather will be like the weekend of your trade show.

#5: Sketch Out a Floor Plan

Even though you’re not stuck inside of a convention center, you still need to think about a floor plan. Here are things to keep in mind:

  1. With COVID-19, you’re going to want everything comfortably spread out.
  2. The brands that draw crowds should be toward the front.
  3. Keep it fair so the smaller businesses aren’t stuck behind the dumpsters!
  4. The food and bathrooms need to be easy to find.
  5. Make sure there are aisles for everyone to comfortably navigate.

Another good rule is to avoid overbooking too many exhibitors. We are slowly coming out of quarantine and getting back to social events. Keep your numbers small.

#6: Have Enough Hands for Setup & Clean Up

Many hands make light work! Hire enough people to set everything up and take it down later. It also doesn’t hurt to have a few people at check-in and controlling traffic in the parking lot. Give everyone reflective safety vests so they stand out, and walkie-talkies so they can easily communicate.

#7: Figure Out the Power Supply

Outlets may be scarce at an outdoor venue, so make sure you have a plan for electricity in advance. Power banks and wireless chargers are going to be lifesavers for your cell phones, while you’re going to need some kind of power on stage for your keynote speakers. The venue will likely be able to answer these questions for you, so reach out to them and see if there are any extra cords that you’ll need to bring.

#8: Set Up Outdoor Banners & Pop-Up Tents

The best thing about outdoor trade shows is that you don’t have a ceiling above you! The displays and tents can be bigger, bolder, and more extravagant than they can in a convention center. Be sure to also set up enough outdoor banners and yard signs so that exhibitors and attendees can easily figure out where to go.

#9: Hand Out Entry Bags

What’s a trade show without swag?! Fill up tote bags with all sorts of freebies and promotional gifts like keychains, pens, and lip balm. It also doesn’t hurt to throw in a few coupons for some of the companies that have displays. You don’t have to go overboard; even a little welcome gift is exciting to receive!

Use any of these reusable bags!

#10: Provide Face Masks for Free

In January 2021, the CDC released new rules in regards to public gatherings and social activities. This includes:

  1. Wearing masks at all times, including on public transportation
  2. Maintaining a 6-foot distance from others
  3. Staying home if sick
  4. Keeping a list of guests for future contact tracing needs
  5. Limiting contact with others

By providing free face masks in the entry bags, you’re making sure that everyone can follow these guidelines. It’s a gesture that is sure to be appreciated.

#11: Place Hand Sanitizer Everywhere

Germs are rampant in social gatherings, so keep everyone safe by ordering hand sanitizer in bulk. There should be at least one bottle at each booth, and in key areas like at the entry, near the bathrooms, and by the food. Make sure that your sanitizer has at least 60% alcohol as that is the amount that is must effective according to the CDC.

#12: Don’t Forget Food & Refreshments

Food trucks were huge in 2020 during the pandemic, and they’re absolutely perfect for outdoor trade shows. Street tacos, funnel cakes, grilled cheese sandwiches…you can find a truck for every taste bud!

Check out some of the best food trucks in metropolitan areas through the U.S.:

  • Hero or Villain – Detroit, MI
  • Luke’s Lobster – New York City, NY
  • Kogi BBQ – Los Angeles, CA
  • Beaver’s Donuts – Chicago, IL
  • Fukuburger – Las Vegas, NV
  • The Naked Cupcake – Orlando, FL
  • The Blaxican – Atlanta, GA
  • Diva Dawg – New Orleans, LA
Source: roaminghunger.com

Hero or Villain – Detroit, MI

Save the day at your trade show by hiring Hero or Villain, a sandwich food truck with a cool heroic theme. The menu items are named after popular characters like Hawkeye, Captain Planet, and Thor.

Source: nyfta.org

Luke’s Lobster – New York City, NY

Even if you can’t afford five-star dining, you can still offer lobster for lunch at your trade show! Just check out Luke’s Lobster, a food truck that serves a ton of tasty seafood – tails with cocktail sauce, crab rolls, clam chowder, and even lobster grilled cheese!

Source: wikipedia.org

Kogi BBQ – Los Angeles, CA

Kogi BBQ is so popular, it has its own Wikipedia page! This food truck brings Korean BBQ on the go in the form of tacos, burritos, sliders, quesadillas, and burgers.  Bring enough wet wipes and enjoy!

Source: dailynorthwestern.com

Beaver’s Donuts – Chicago, IL

Mmm, donuts! Chow down on mini donuts from Beaver Donuts. Who can resist tasty flavor combos like s’mores, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and cannoli?!

Source: fukuburger.com

Fukuburger – Las Vegas, NV

You probably don’t think about Japan when you think about burgers, but Fukuburger sheds convention, bringing American and Japanese cuisine together. The attendees at your trade show will love the unique lunch options, which include burgers with wasabi mayo and steamed white rice with beef and fried egg.

Source: thenakedcupcakeorlando.com

The Naked Cupcake – Orlando, FL

Attendees and exhibitors at your trade show are going to want dessert to go with their meals. Why not delicious cupcakes from The Naked Cupcake? The signature flavors are irresistible and include such favorites as vanilla with cookies-n-cream frosting, lemon with strawberry drizzle, and chocolate with crushed Oreos and gummy worms.

Source: ajc.com

The Blaxican – Atlanta, GA

The Blaxican is an Atlanta original that has been featured on countless “best food trucks in America” lists. The selection of Mexican soul food includes tacos with Cajun seasonings, jalapeno mac ‘n cheese, and tangy sweet potato fries.

Source: divadawgtruck.com

Diva Dawg – New Orleans, LA

New Orleans native Ericka Lassair started Diva Dawg shortly after graduating from culinary school. Now the food truck is a favorite in the area, boasting a menu that includes delicious hot dogs topped with nacho cheese, pepperoni, and even alligator sausage and crawfish!

#13: Book Sponsors & Entertainment

Sponsors are a great way to fund your trade show, and they’re relatively easy to find. Reach out ahead of time and see who you can book. The more relevant to your trade show’s designated industry, the better. If you want to kick it up a notch, see if you can also get a live band to perform. This helps support the music industry at a time when they need it most.

#14: Offer Enough Seating

It’s important that your guests are comfortable. You’re probably not going to hire masseuses or anything crazy, but you can at least offer enough seating. Folding chairs can be ordered in bulk and are the easiest to set up and put away later.  

#15: Rent Port-o-Potties

This one may seem random, but you’re going to be thankful that you thought about it after drinking bottle after bottle of water! Public restrooms may or may not be open, so do everyone a favor and rent port-o-potties for your outdoor trade show. Luckily, there’s plenty of toilet paper at stores again!

Final Thoughts

We’ve been cooped up in quarantine for all of 2020, and the trade show industry was one that got hit the hardest. A ton of major shows, from Apple WWDC to SXSW to the Game Developers Conference, were forced to cancel or postpone their events.

You don’t want 2021 to be the same, so try planning an outdoor trade show! Keep the CDC’s regulations in mind, offer plenty of food and refreshments, and don’t forget to have a Plan B if it rains. In other words – let the show go on!

References

Gonzalez, M. (2020, April 12). 16 Tips to Plan a Successful Outdoor Event. Retrieved from, https://eventstant.com/16-tips-plan-successful-outdoor-event/

Exhibit Us. Tips for Preparing an Outdoor Trade Show. Retrieved from, https://exhibitus.com/tips-for-preparing-for-an-outdoor-trade-show/

Blevins, J. Millman, E. (2017, July 6). It’s Official: Denver Lands 5-Year Deal to Host Outdoor Retailer Trade Shows Starting in 2018. Retrieved from, https://theknow.denverpost.com/2017/07/06/denver-host-outdoor-retailer-trade-shows-2017/150533/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021, January 30). Personal and Social Activities. Retrieved from, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/personal-social-activities.html

Hoffman, C. (2020, September 8). 15 Outdoor Event Venues That Can Safely Host Events This Fall. Retrieved from, https://www.bizbash.com/venues-destinations/media-gallery/21173833/15-outdoor-event-venues-that-can-safely-host-events-this-fall

Blyler, J. (2020, March 12). Coronavirus Costs and Consequences to Tech Trade Shows. Retrieved from, https://www.designnews.com/electronics-test/coronavirus-costs-and-consequences-tech-trade-shows

Hyken, S. (2020, August 9). Trade Shows and Exhibitions in the Post-COVID-19 Era. Retrieved from, https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2020/08/09/trade-shows-and-exhibitions-in-the-post-covid-19-era/?sh=3b5530fa2810

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.