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Home » The Camelback Chronicles » How-To's » First Timers | Trade Show Planning 101

First Timers | Trade Show Planning 101

You have been put in charge of your company’s first big trade show, now what? Almost every industry participates in some type of trade show each year in order to display their products or services. Companies also participate as attendees to make purchases, learn about new products and network for their business.

Let’s explore the first fun task of being in charge of your Company’s trade show: Planning the display!

There are several factors that need to be considered and most companies need guidance in this area, as it is not their expertise. Below is a checklist of basic questions to ask yourself when preparing your trade show display.

What display should you choose and what should you consider?

  • What is your budget?  This can be very important when your budget is limited, but you need to make a big splash at your trade show. But don’t worry!  There are plenty of ways to make your company look great on a tight budget.  Consider that your display is a way to attract new customers. What is the value of each customer to your bottom line in the short and long term?  Sometimes the value of attracting a single customer is high enough to give you a nice return on your investment.  Other companies might require quite a number of new customers to make it worthwhile.  This is just one area to look at. What’s your budget?You should also consider your opportunity costs. What is the cost of not exhibiting effectively or skipping the show altogether.  Are your best customers attending?  Is everyone in your industry going to be there?  The point is to weigh the budget by considering not just the cost of your display exhibit, but how it will benefit your company’s bottom line.
  • What type of trade show display should you buy?  You have more options for exhibits today than any other time before.  Over recent years, prices for portables have dropped dramatically, but the rule of thumb that “you get what you pay for” generally holds up for exhibit purchases.  Look for quality products sold by quality suppliers and you can’t go wrong.Buy for flexibility.  If you are planning on using one display for multiple shows, there are modular systems that look modern and high end which allow you to adjust the size or change out graphics.  You can also add various accessories depending on the need such as counters, lighting, monitor mounts, shelves or slat wall.  You may find that you need more than one unit or type of display because several important trade shows, conferences or events in the industries you serve may take place at the same time. Not only should you consider at flexibility, but you should also look at show displays Utilize a trade show display that offers additional accessories to support your visual marketing, products, and more!Do you need to display products, close sales, offer seating, hang monitors, offer entertainment, have room for speakers and an audience?  Whatever the “nuts & bolts” needs you have, this has to be planned into your display and exhibit space and may dictate the type of display you use.Combine all of this into your display choice.  You may find that you primarily exhibit at one major event a year and a simple graphic wall will suffice.  In this case you have a full range of choices such as pop up displays, fabric tension walls, hybrids and truss exhibits.  You may also find that you need more options, a larger size and modularity.  In this case, a custom modular display might be a good choice for show displays Does your booth display reflect your company’s culture and branding?In finalizing the exhibit design, do you feel that your display encompasses your company’s culture or message?  For example, if you are high tech company, perhaps your display should be cutting edge with up to date technology, modern modular hardware and eye catching graphics.  Maybe your message is that you are a “Green Company.”  There are a lot products that are made from recycled materials that can be used effectively to hammer this point home.
  • How will my items ship?
    This is very important to know because of deadlines and show rules that plague the trade show industry.  There are certain cut off dates for getting your display to the venue, getting it to your booth and setting it up.  You are at the mercy of the show.  Obviously, if your display is small enough to carry or roll in with a case(s), your show may let you bring it to your booth yourself for set up.  In this case, you can either ship it to show services or even to your hotel room.shipping casesIf your display is crated, then you have to get it to show services within a specified date range so it can be delivered to your booth on set up day.  Our advice is to plan way ahead of schedule.  Order your display with plenty of time to get it to the show.  Last minute orders and next day shipping can cost tons of money and make your life miserable before the show.  You also open your company up to the risk of not having an incomplete display for an important show or worst yet, no display at all.  You don’t want attendees to judge your company by greeting them in an empty booth because you waited until the last minute to finalize your display and the freight company missed your delivery date.
  • How many people will it take to install my Trade show Booth?  Set up can be easy or hard depending on the venue.  Some require union labor; others let you do it yourself.  Many portable displays can be set up by a single person, while more complex exhibits require a team of professionals to assemble what seems like a small building in a matter of a few hours.  A large percentage of display exhibits fall in between the two extremes.  Most exhibitors who rent a 10’x10’ space are utilizing portable displays that pack up in a few cases for easy set up.
  • Do I need Podiums for speakers?  Are you doing a demo or just need a “meet & greet” area to scan badges and hand out brochures?  Make sure you have the right amount of space and furniture to do an effective job.  There is nothing like having to demonstrate your company’s new product without enough room to see anything.  A little planning goes a long way.
  • Do I need literature holders for brochures?  The short answer is yes.  Some attendees will want to take your brochures as a reference or to sort out the products they are actually interested in buying.  If you scan badges and plan on sending out brochures after the trade show, take notes so you can send them in a personalized way, reminding the attendee what you discussed.  Also, have a plan for getting them out quickly.  Don’t wait weeks or months after the show to send your follow up mailings.  People lose interest after a certain amount of time.

literature holder with banner standPair up a literature holder with a banner stand! Both necessities!


  • Where will your trade show be held? There are venues in all 50 states and most of the countries of the world.  In the U.S. there are many large convention centers (Top 25) and a slew of medium to small sized venues including hotels and casinos.  Wherever your show takes place, learn all of the rules they have for exhibit deliveries, set up dates, labor and so on.  Most will have a guide that covers everything you need to know.  When in doubt, call show services.  Also find out if the hotel and convention hall are at the same hotel.  This can make your life easier by being in close proximity to the show.
  • What size booth do you need (10 x10, 10 x20, 20×20)?  This depends on what you want to do with the space.  Do you need a demo area, conference area, large graphical display, are you displaying products, selling items.  What kind of impact are you going for?  In exhibiting, size can matter, especially if it’s the difference between an island booth and an inline 10’x10’ booth.  The small booths can get lost in the long line of same-sized-booths where islands kind of stand alone in a sea of carpet!
  • Where will your booth be located?  Very important.  Get advice from show services in regards to attendee traffic.  Look for potential hubs of activity near stages, food areas or large open spaces at entrances and exits with maximum visibility.  Again, island booths stand out more than inline booths, but research shows that many attendees will wind their way around to visit all of the aisles.  So all isn’t lost if your budget requires you to go inline, just make sure you have an attention grabbing display!
  • Will the space require overhead signage in order to be easily located?  Overhead signage is great for not only attracting attention but making sure you are found by attendees who already know you, who could be your existing customers or prospects.  Check with show services to see if an overhead sign is approved for your booth type.
  • Where will my items be delivered?  If you are in a time crunch and the display you are using is small enough (Pop up display or banner stand for example) for you to carry or roll in then you have the option of shipping to your hotel.  This is a huge inconvenience if you are not staying at or near your venue because you still have to get it there by foot, car or taxi.  Chances are you will have your display shipped to the advanced warehouse (watch the dates) for storage until set up day.
  • Does the Venue provide shipping labels for direct and advanced shipping?  Most major shows will give you labels that have all the information for a freight company to get your display to your booth whether it is crated or in cases.  If not, pay close attention to shipping dates and addresses where your display needs to go for ultimate delivery to your booth.
  • What does the exhibit floor look like? Do I need to purchase a floor for aesthetic and or comfort reasons?  There are several reasons to use your own floor in your exhibit booth.  For one thing, you are in more control of the design and can bring in custom trade show flooring utilizing textures, materials, graphics and colors.  We have seen flooring disasters because of pattern and color clashes with existing flooring and carpet.  When you use flooring that coordinates your exhibit, the flooring can “frame” your whole area, separating you from the rest of the exhibitors.  Also, your floor choice can protect your feet at the show if it has anti-fatigue properties which cushion your feet and joints, helping to avoid getting worn out too soon.  Let’s face it, if you’re going to be on your feet for hours on the exhibit floor, manning your booth, you should make it as comfortable as possible!

trade show flooring Trade Show Flooring

Exhibit Objectives:

  • What do you want your display to accomplish?  Do you want to attract new customers?  Remind existing customers that you are still here?  Launch new products or services?  Network in your industry? Rebrand your company or products?  All of these ideas are valid and you should make your plans around the ones you find important for your company.  For example, you may want to organize an after show private party for important customers as a way to say thank you for their business.  If your trade show has a stage with events and entertainment taking place, try to become a part of it with your product launch by supplying some of the entertainment in the form of a magician or music.  Back in the booth, everything included should be moving your exhibit goals forward.. the display, the message, the tone, clothing, brochures, etc.

Trade Show Extras:

  •  Have “giveaways” to hand out such as logo pens, t-shirts, mugs, note pads, tote bags, water, food.. the list can go on and on!  Hand out giveaways that are fun and creative.  For example, we visited an exhibit that had a photo booth that allowed 1-4 people to sit in it and receive four different pictures in one strip of film.  (Just like they have at fairs and shopping malls)

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