Should you be a trade show exhibitor?

Updated 3/30/2015 6:56 AM

Yes, exhibiting at trade shows can be costly: Troy Trice says a traditional 10-by 20-foot booth will run $15,000 to $20,000 -- and that booth expense typically is about one-third of an exhibitor's overall show outlay.

Travel and the exhibit floor space you rent are additional. Show marketing before, during and after the event -- including swag -- adds to the cost, too.


Yet Trice also says trade shows can be an effective part of the sales process even for smaller businesses, which, he adds, "often do trade shows better because they have a more succinct team. They're better organized. There's more ownership of the process."

Trice is a trade show guy, president of TradeTec Skyline, a Lombard exhibitor company. Still, there is validity to what he says: Carefully planned and properly managed, the exhibitor experience can generate positive returns.

"You need that face-to-face" selling opportunity, Trice says. "Trade shows can be a cost-effective way of getting your product to prospects -- certainly better than making individual appointments and traveling to meetings."

However, Trice emphasizes, "You have to plan. Trying to do things at the last minute can blow a budget."

Step one is to find out who attends the show. "Walk the show the year before (you plan to exhibit)," Trice suggests. "Get attendee demographics from the show sponsor. Ask people why they attend. Engage with the people who run the show."

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If your sales targets and the show match, book your space. Concrete, Trice says, goes quickly.

Then the real work begins:

• Think about the people who will staff your booth -- and maybe get them some training. "Bring networkers, people who can engage others for five minutes or so," Trice suggests. "Great sales people are not necessarily good booth people."

• Find an exhibit company that will provide a booth which meets needs and budget -- and will help with preshow marketing to let attendees know you will be exhibiting; with at-show activities; and with post-show follow-up.

The good news is that Chicago and its suburbs are home to several major exhibit companies. The other good news is that Trice says there are less expensive booth options, many of which eliminate potentially high shipping costs because the materials can travel in carry-on bins:

• With strong graphics and varying sizes, lower cost tabletop displays can put your message out front for show visitors to see.

• Banner walls are individual banners that can be used together or separately to shape your space and deliver your message. Banners are easy to set up; you can update the look, and message, by creating a new banner or two each year.

• Inflatable displays are perhaps the quickest and easiest to set up. An included inflater and hose pump air into the display unit; Trice says set up can take as few as seven minutes. You will have to push a button, though.

• Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Listen to Jim's Business Owners' Pod Talk at 2015 Kendall Communications Inc.

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