SH's Trade Show Survival Guide

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

Are you ready for trade show season? Big or small, with a dozen vendors or over a thousand, trade shows can be overwhelming.

Before you even get in the car or on a plane, take a moment to define your reasons for going, whether you are a vendor or a visitor.

Why are you going?

As a vendor, what is your goal? Do you want to maintain your network or grow it? Are you looking for new clients for your products or services?

As a visitor, do you have a specific problem you want to solve, or are you searching for inspiration?

Set measurable goals

Need more contacts? Aim to add 100 new emails for your list. Want to convert visitors into leads? Schedule 5 calls/appointments with potential customers in the two weeks following the show. Expanding your online reach? Get 25 more followers on social media.

If you are trend-spotting, define the products you are most interested in or those that you feel will serve your clients best. Don't rely on pamphlets or business cards; keep your phone or tablet handy to save websites directly into favorites, take photos, or use Pinterest or Houzz to keep ideas organized.

Make a plan

No matter how well the floor is organized, you always seem to miss something, and the fact is, you can't get to every booth. So before you head in, get a map and chart a path between the booths you really want to see (or the ones with the best swag).

Trade show floor
Trade shows are a maze of cool products, interesting people and major inspiration.


If you really hit it off with a booth visitor, be certain to follow up after the conference. And don’t just grab a business card and scribble down information; devise a system for collecting information and add detailed notes about the conversation.

Likewise, don’t just hand over a business card and expect the person to follow up; most people return from a trade show with hundreds of cards. They can’t be expected to remember every person they met, especially at a show with hundreds of vendors.

Know the questions, have the answers

No matter what you are selling, people will always ask one important question:

How much does it cost?

Come prepared with an answer that keeps the conversation in your control. The same goes for questions about ordering, lead times, references. Always keep product specs on hand and make sure that any helpers know the product or service, or at least know where to find the answers.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash
Keep product information available on a tablet or laptop.

Those are the more general questions. If there are any current concerns or trends in your industry, (like smart home technology in the kitchen and bath industry), do your research. To find out what people are talking about, in the industry or in terms of design trends, explore social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

People visit trade shows to keep up with their respective industries. They are looking for new products, the latest R&D news and upcoming trends. They also go to find solutions to their problems. If you identify these issues, focus your booth on it. Smart visitors go with objectives in mind. They want clear information and an easy way to contact people once the show is done.

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