How Trade Shows Work

The Big Book

Shortly after the application has been sent in and processed, you'll receive your exhibitor packet/binder/folder of information. Unless you're a paperwork junkie, you may be a little overwhelmed by the volume of information you're going to have to wade through. The show information will include forms for everything from booth cleaning and rented floral arrangements, to advertising and promotion opportunities. Just take them one at a time and flag all of the deadlines. Some shows will actually provide you with a checklist and schedule of deadlines. If they don't, take this advice: Create your own! Also, be sure you really need all of the services offered. You probably only need your booth vacuumed after the initial setup day, and you may want to just purchase and ship some of the other things you can rent, such as trash cans and power cords. Those items can easily be packed among your other booth items and will save considerable money over time. (Check out the Trade Show Tool Kit checklist.)

What If You Miss a Deadline?
It's amazing how things like deadlines will creep up on you. Missed deadlines aren't always a catastrophe, however; you'll just have to pay more for the service if you sign up for it later, and even more if you decide you need it once you get to the show. Many times, there are early-bird discounts or prepayment discounts for a lot of the show items, so flag all of those so you won't miss out on some savings. Also, be aware of the convention centers that require you to use union labor. Usually, for those locations, if your booth requires any tools to be put together, union labor must do it. If you have a portable, pop-up or modular panel system booth, you're probably fine. Just check the requirements before you go so you are prepared.

Booth Staffing
Part of the paperwork you'll be filling out in "the big book" will be the total number and the names of the booth staff you will be sending to the show. Assuming you worked through the formula provided above, you now know how many to send. The problem now is to decide whom. This is always one of the trickiest parts of managing your trade show activities. Depending on the locations of the shows you have planned to attend, you may have people begging to go, or begging not to go.

So how do you decide which of your sales reps to send? The first thing to think about is who among your sales reps are the most "people-oriented," and who are the most knowledgeable about your company. If those two overlap, problem solved! If they don't, and if you have your sales staff divided up as product specialists, it may make sense to send someone else who has more of an overall knowledge of the company (unless it happens to be a very specialized show). Putting your technical people in the booth isn't always the answer either, because technical people often don't have those very necessary people skills. If yours do, you're very lucky!

Packing and Shipping
You've sent in all of the forms, everything is ready and paid for, so now you just have to pack it up and ship it. Your show paperwork will have explicit instructions for precisely how and when your booth must arrive. Make sure you review them. If your booth arrives early, you may have to pay to have it transferred and stored; if it arrives late, well... you don't want that to happen. Make sure you know all of the requirements for your shipper, as well as the convention center. Also, make sure you send everything together in the same shipment. Your drayage charge (what the convention center charges you to take your booth shipment from the loading dock to your booth space) works on a minimum charge basis. Every time something comes in that has to be taken to your booth, there is a minimum charge of usually about $200 or more. If you can keep everything together, you'll just get charged once based on the shipment's weight. So remember to send last minute incidentals to the hotel where your staff is staying instead of the convention hall.

The Trade Show Tool Kit
Another thing that will help your booth staffers is a Trade Show Tool Kit. This kit includes all of the incidental things you never remember and always need. It should include: packing tape, scissors, Band-Aids, aspirin, extra extension cords, extra light bulbs, business cards of various staff members, pens, paper, a highlighter, a stapler and staple remover, shipping labels filled out for the return shipment, extra lead forms, a disposable camera... There could be a long list of things your staff may need, but not always the space to include everything. Decide on the most important items, and make sure the supply is always replenished and packed with the booth. Your booth staff will thank you for it. (Check out the Trade Show Tool Kit checklist.)

Company Literature, Giveaway Items, etc.
How many brochures, giveaway items and other handouts you need to bring depends on how many people you expect to see. Once again, you can refer to the handy formula listed above. If you expect to see 12 visitors per hour, then estimate how much literature you'll need based on that number. Keep in mind that about 90% of all literature never makes it back to the attendees' offices anyway. Depending on the quality and expense of your company literature, perhaps it's best to train your staff to always offer to send the literature by mail to the attendee's office. Many times, attendees don't want to lug your precious marketing materials all over the exhibit hall and will jump at the chance (and sometimes request it themselves) that you send the information to them the following week.

Back-to-Back Shows
So many trade shows are scheduled in the spring that you're bound to have problems with scheduling. Usually, the best thing to do is take advantage of the storage services and have your booth and supplies shipped directly from one show to the next and stored until show time. Make sure the staff from the first show makes a list of everything that needs to be replenished, like literature, candy, giveaways, etc., so you can pack it up and send it to the second show. If it's not too bulky, your booth staffers may be able to take it with them when they travel to save the additional drayage charges, or it could be shipped to the hotel where they are staying.