A trade show is an event that brings together businesses in a particular industry to showcase and demonstrate their products and services to attendees and other businesses. They are held in conference centres, exhibition halls and hotels across the country.

Exhibitors hire a space at the venue, erect a stand with their company branding, and aim to connect and engage with visitors. The show will follow a program of events involving speeches from industry leaders, seminars or demonstrations that visitors can attend. They may host awards or networking events and some have workshops involving discussions or activities based around an industry theme.

Trade shows work by bringing together individuals and businesses within an industry facilitating face-to-face contact with the aim of creating opportunities for sales and networking.

People at a trade show

Purpose of a Trade Show

Exhibiting at a trade show has many benefits:

  • Generate leads – visitors are there to buy and may be looking for a product like yours.
  • Increasing brand awareness within your industry
  • Networking – forming partnerships with suppliers and useful links with others in your industry.
  • Engage with customers – a trade show is the perfect opportunity to build relationships with existing customers in a face-to-face setting.
  • Assess the competition – see what your competitors are up to, what products they are launching and how they are received.
  • Launch a product or service – in front of a captive audience.
  • Gain feedback – from existing and potential customers, and refine sales techniques.
  • Monitor industry trends – listen to keynote speakers, spot future trends.

Process of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

In order to exhibit at a trade show, you need to take the following steps:

  • Request a floorplan from the event organiser and select your desired space.

The cost of it will depend on the size, you should aim to spend around a third of your budget on the floorspace. The best spaces will be in the areas that receive the highest footfall – so near but not right by the entrance, at intersections, or near restaurants, bathrooms or seminar rooms. See our guide on this for more information.

  • Design your stand 

Get quotes and 3D mock-ups from exhibition stand designers. Pick an agency who can do everything inhouse – project manage, design, construct, print and build your stand for the best value. Around a third of your budget should be spent on your stand. You want it to be as eye-catching as possible so go for bright colours, big graphics and bold print. Analyse what the stand will look like from different angles, from close up and far away. Avoid having too much text, no-one will read it and it will look too busy. If you plan to attend more than one trade show source a stand that can be reconfigured and used again. See here for more ideas.  Assess the layout of the stand – you want to provide some chairs and tables for visitors to sit at but don’t make it too cluttered. See our blog here for more ways to stand out at an exhibition.

  • Plan the products or service you are going to showcase 

Maybe use the trade show to announce new products or innovations.

  • Consider running special offers or competitions to engage with customers.
  • Think about promotional materials

You will need to have plenty of brochures or flyers to give out to visitors with further information about your products. Also think about having some branded merchandise to give out – for instance mouse mats, canvas bags or memory sticks.

  • Plan what technology to use

Are you going to have iPads for visitors to interact with or screens running demonstrations? If your budget allows it, consider using some form of gaming or virtual reality to attract visitors.

  • Choose your staff 

You will need sales people who are knowledgeable about your products or services. They need to be presentable and trained to stand in a way that welcomes visitors to the stand. It is important that they engage with visitors rather than each other or their phones so consider banning mobile phones and food from the stand. Allow enough staff so that they can take regular breaks, it can be hard work manning a stand.

  • Make hotel and travel arrangements for the staff.
  • Organise how the stand is going to get to the trade show and who is going to build it.

It may be better to let your exhibition stand contractor handle this unless it is very simple to construct.

  • Market your attendance at the trade show

Email your customers and prospects, use social media, look up the pages and hashtags being used by the organisers to promote the event and use them too. Research opportunities to list and advertise in the event guide or signage.

  • During the show incentivise staff to gather as many leads as possible, create competition, offer rewards.
  • After the trade show make sure you follow up on all leads gathered during the event.

What to Budget for a Trade Show

Like any other type of marketing, exhibiting at a trade show is all about achieving the optimum return on investment. With the right planning and budgeting, a trade show exhibit can generate an excellent ROI for your business.

Major venues in the UK typically charge £300-£350 per square metre, so even a small exhibition stand is likely to cost around £3,000 for the floorspace. That said, there’s always room for negotiation, and you could well get a discount if you book early or attend multiple trade shows run by the same organiser.

A basic, modular, self-build stand starts at around £3000 but can be reused at future exhibitions. If your budget is tight consider taking your own furniture and literature stands rather than hiring them.

You will also need to budget for electrics (usually provided by the event organiser so ask for the cost when you book), hotels, travel, promotional items and food. For a full guide on the cost of exhibition budgeting see our guide.

People talking at a Trade Show

Attending a Trade Show

If you want to attend a trade show as a visitor you first need to register for a ticket. Some have free tickets, others you have to buy. Once there you can visit the stands of lots of different businesses within the industry. You will be able to buy products, make contacts, get quotes and network with others. The talks, seminars and demonstrations on offer will inform you of all the latest innovations and developments within the industry. All this will be free once you are in, there is no obligation to spend further apart from on food and drink, plus you can pick up a variety of free merchandise.

Trade shows offer a unique opportunity to present your products or services, build your brand and network within your industry. Nowhere else will give you access to so many potential clients in one place, all in buying mode. Attending a trade show takes a certain amount of organisation and investment but if you plan well and don’t overspend you should see a good return on investment.