Tips for planning a successful trade show

For years our industry hosted a traveling trade show throughout the Midwest in the fall. Year after year, we noticed (and vendors confirmed) that the bulk of the show attendees were our staff and customers. As we reflected on this we realized we were unnecessarily exposing our clients to the competition, so we decided to host an event of our own. Granted, the cost to host such an event was higher than attending the free traveling trade show, but there are countless benefits and advantages.

When you host a trade show you have control. We carefully select the vendors we invite to display at our product showcase. The vendors represent the best of the best of our suppliers who have a history of being top of the line in quality, service, and on-time delivery. We aren’t exposing our clients to vendors we’d rather not do business with.

You gain leverage with your vendors. Part of the selection process for which vendors we invite to participate includes what we can get back from those vendors. A private trade show is a powerful tool. You are putting your vendors in front of hundreds of clients all within a short timeframe. This can have a tremendous impact on that rep’s sales numbers. That is worth something. Leverage your vendor invitations against long-term price agreements, giveaways for the show, or free samples.

You control the marketing. We utilize a multifaceted marketing approach to grow attendance each year. The trade show is so useful to our clients that they start asking us when the show is months before the event date. Our clients are our best advertising for the event, but to expand the attendance beyond this we utilize e-blasts, social media, our website, radio/print, and personal invitations. Including different marketing approaches touches more potential customers than any one single approach can bring.

You can guarantee year-to-year improvements. Each year we evaluate past events and find ways to improve the customer experience. We’ve always known that parking is an issue when you have 400+ customers descending on a business park. After trying many different approaches, last year we finally found the solution. We hired a trolley to cruise the industrial park starting 30 minutes before registration opens and ending 30 minutes after the event concludes. The trolley picks up customers however far away they parked and shuttles them right to the door — and back to their car afterward. It is important when hosting an event to look at the areas where you may have fallen short in the past and brainstorm ways to cleverly address those challenges. Ask for feedback from your event attendees and take that feedback to heart to do something to make the event better.



You can give a peek behind the curtain. Our clients are busy people. Day to day, the most they want to think about is that we delivered on time and accurately. However, on occasion we find our customers love to see how things work. We invite them into our lives and give each client a chance to print a T-shirt, chat with our manufacturing staff, and in general get a peek behind the curtain. Showing the inner workings of a manufacturing facility can be exciting and along the way you are able to teach them more about the process you execute to produce the products they order.

You have the chance to say thank you! We take this day to shower our clients with our affection. Hosting an event that provides lunch, has a useful deliverable (product research), and gives our staff the opportunity to say thank you, in person, to the clients that keep us in business is a priceless gift. Making sure our event has a tangible business purpose gives value to our clients.

We strategically plan for both what our customers need from an event to justify attending and what our vendors need to justify the time and expense of exhibiting. By doing this, our event has become so successful that clients fly in to attend and vendors choose to attend our event instead of others held on the same day. This year a competitor three states over changed an event date on their end to avoid conflicting with our product showcase. A trade show takes a tremendous amount of planning but if done right, it can yield tremendous rewards.

Shannon Mayerl is president of Top Promotions Inc. in Middleton.

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