How Do You Know if a Trade Show is Right for You?

Lela Barker

Let’s get one thing squared away first: a trade show is NOT a big craft show. Craft shows/ farmer’s markets/ maker fairs are incredible opportunities for you to connect with the public to raise awareness of your brand and generate direct-to-consumer sales. Trade shows are designed to raise brand awareness and generate business-to-business sales. So you’re essentially signing on to erect a chicly-designed booth, stand in front of that booth for 10 hours a day for 3-5 days to connect with wholesale buyers in hopes of writing volume orders, making connections with potential sales reps and generating media buzz about your brand. The preparations and post-show followup which precede and follow a trade show are very, very different creatures than the preparations and post-show followup you’ll engage for a craft show.

Trade shows involve serious dollars (more on that next week as we explore how to design a trade show budget) and massive amounts of time, so you’ll want to be damn sure that the show you sign up for can deliver the results you desire.

When on the prowl for trade shows, I recommend:

1. Looking for a show whose target market aligns with your ideal customer. Not sure what an ideal customer is or who yours are? I wrote a lovely little blog on this very subject, which includes a free worksheet you can download + put to good use. Learn more about ideal customers.

2. Looking for established shows with strong reputations for both incredible organization + attracting attention.

3. Asking your collaborators + maker friends which shows they recommend.

4. Scouring the internet for all the information you can find about a show.

5. Interviewing show organizers + managers.

The golden rule of trade shows is: Thou shalt not exhibit at a trade show that thou hasn’t walked. We talk a lot about trade shows in my LBU program.  Each semester, I plead with my Lucky Girls to heed this warning… it’s impossible to know if a show is really right for you until your feet are on the show floor. Whatever investment you have to make in order to get yourself there will pay itself back in spades: you’ll avoid shows which aren’t a good fit and really connect with how to rock out those that are. Once you have a show in your sights, I recommend unleashing a small tsunami of queries:

Show Scope + History
What types of products are exhibited?
How many consecutive years has the show been taking place?
How many years has it been hosted at this location?
How many exhibitor booths will be included this year?
What are the attendance numbers for the previous 3 years?
Is there a “cash + carry” component to the show?

Application Process
Is this a juried show?
If so, what is the selection process?
Are there any specially curated collections and, if so, what is the selection criteria?
What materials must be submitted with the application?
When are applications due?

What is the booth fee?
Is there an upcharge for corner booths?
What’s included with the booth fee?
How are booths assigned?
What payment methods are accepted?
What is the payment schedule?

Exhibitor Demographic
What is the payment schedule?
Can you get your hands on a copy of the show directory from last year?
What percentage of last year’s exhibitors were repeat exhibitors at this show?

Buyer Demographic
Describe the buyer demographic.
What percentage of attendees are directly involved in the purchasing process?
What percentage of attendees represent independent shops and galleries?

Bonus Points
What type of show awards are offered?
What amenities are available to exhibitors?
What type of complimentary pre-show promotional opportunities are available?
What type of paid pre-show promotional opportunities are available?

Where to look for the 411 that will answer those burning questions? Start with the trade show website itself and look specifically for the “exhibitor prospectus.”  Also, ring up the show organizers to tie up any loose ends you can’t find online. But always, always walk the show- there’s nothing that can replace putting your eyes on vendors + buyers.

About the Author

Lela Barker

Lela Barker hails from the deep-and-dirty south (ATL, represent!), where she spends her days helping makers and product designers navigate the pitfalls of product pricing, brand development, and wholesale strategy. She launched her apothecary brand in 2003 and bootstrapped the hell out of that little business to cultivate a portfolio of 1500+ stockists worldwide, generating $12million in revenue and establishing successful distributorships in the Middle East, EU, Scandinavia, and South Korea. Lela is the keeper of a well-worn passport and the maker of the finest lemon meringue pie you’ve ever put in your mouth.

3 responses on “How Do You Know if a Trade Show is Right for You?

  1. Allison Callaway

    I’ve walked Indie Beauty Expo a few times and decided it would never be a good investment for me as a green/indie skincare brand.

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