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Trade Show Wars – Top 10 Survival Tips

March is a busy month for me with back to back trade shows, which I refer to as “The Trade Show Wars”. Trade shows really are blood and guts marketing – do the logistics, execute, get the names, and deliver sales “The Glengarry Leads”. I was horrified to realize today that I’ve been doing shows for over 10 years now.

It’s all about the preparation, I have a bunch of checklists I’ve used for many years, comment or email me if you are interested (I’m not going to bother setting up links if none of you care about this at all).

Here’s some productivity boosters for you:

  1. Shoes – Need to look good, but don’t break them in on the floor. Many hardcore folks like black rockports, I’m an ecco man myself.
  2. Carpet – you don’t need the expensive carpet, but get all the padding you can. It keeps the staff happy and after day 2 people will visit your booth just to give their feet a rest.
  3. Meeting Room – I’ve even done this splitting a 10×20 in half and curtaining off half with a nice table and four chairs. You’ll be surprised, if it’s more than 2 days you’ll have prospects visiting just to sit down and they won’t want to get up once they do.
  4. Water, Mints, First Aid Kit – Everyone’s voice takes a beating, they eat crappy food and get bad breath, and somebody always gets cut handling the booth.
  5. Box Cutters and Extension Cords packed in the booth crate – in the old days I had a toolbag I would bring in myself, these days the absolute last thing you want on your trip home is to get pulled from the airport security line for a box cutter in your bag, but you do need a sharp knife for cutting carpet or boxes excessively taped shut.
  6. Heavy duty tape measure in booth crate – if you need to run an extension cord under the carpet you can pay an hour of labor and wait 3 for it to happen or use your own razor to cut the carpet, slide the tape measure through to the edge and use duct tape to attach the cord and pull it through yourself. This is only for last minute changes dictated by the boss, if possible have this marked on your show diagram and the electricians will do this free if it’s ordered by the deadline.
  7. Spare Bulbs – Pack them with the lights, not the kind of thing you need to look for on site.
  8. GPS – This can save your life, I had a screw up once that I was able to fix b/c I was able to get to the nearest Home Depot, get a hacksaw, pipecutter, and a bunch of plumbing stuff in under an hour.
  9. Ship to the warehouse – Most shows you can ship to the warehouse up to a week ahead, or ship direct to the show floor. Always ship early so you can confirm everything has made it. The bigger the show the greater the probability that boxes will be lost in the two days before the show opens.
  10. Get cell numbers on speed dial for your whole team – Do it before you get there and it will save all kinds of time.

I have a secret 11th that I’m not willing to put in print, if you’re a Ronin drop me a line. Have fun! LOL

7 replies on “Trade Show Wars – Top 10 Survival Tips”

It’s funny you say that. I was talking about some Ecco’s I bought about year ago (2 pair in fact, since they give you a deal at the outlet). I went there last weekend since I needed some new shoes and I didn’t see anything that I thought was sharp. It seems like they only make golf shoes, stuff with loud colors, or shoes for retirees with velcro straps. What the hell happened?

Trade show marketing and war have a lot in common. It’s good to have a well thought-out battle plan, and you should play to win! I liked your suggestion on splitting up a 20ft space and having a small “office” to sit down with clients at… it’s a great idea if it’s in your budget. I’d also add that it’s important to have a good trade show display with eye-catching graphics… which you can find at our website below!

Not to knit pick but I have worked in the trade show industry for the past decade and some of tips must be for shows that aren’t union ran. Most shows only allow you half an hour to setup your own booth anything longer then that you are technically suppose to hire labor. As for as extension cords you are not allowed to run your own extension cords under the carpet. Again the union use their own electrician to run UL approved flat extension cords. Other then that your tips seem very insightful.

Mike G

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