Trade show success and expectations

Julia wrote:

On another note with regard to the trade shows themselves, I rarely recommend it to a brand new company for exhibiting because if they plan on it to “make their business” they will be in for a surprise. The costs alone can take up an entire budget, and if you have no current retailers ordering from you (because you are hoping to make all of your sales during the three to four days of the trade show) then you are really putting all of your “eggs in one basket” and may find a very quiet booth. I walked to the back areas and can’t tell you how many booths were empty each time I walked by…some were very open in talking and saying that they were under the assumption that once you have a booth, “you’ve made it.” It’s this naivety that is very sad, however, a lot of people shouldn’t be in this business to begin with, so I guess it can also be said “survival of the fittest.” (Sorry for all of the cliches!).

I was probably going to get around to writing about this as a separate post, but this comment really got me excited about the topic.

Every now and then I have read about a company that went to (insert show name here) and wrote $50,000 or $100,000 in orders.

I have never met them.

And the publications never talk about what kind of pre-show marketing went into building that level of buzz.

I think a lot of times, trade show success is not discussed within context. One day, I paid for a consultation with a sales rep and one of the things she said was “with a trade show, you’re losing money going in.” You have a sunk cost invested in the booth and related expenses (which can easily be as much as, if not more than, your booth fees), and you’re trying to recoup that expense.

Over the years, I have talked to several designers about how many orders they are writing at trade shows. And I have gotten various answers but what they all amount to is that most nearly all are not writing enough orders to cover the expense of the show, until a few shows in. Gross sales or gross profit, doesn’t matter which figure you use, it takes a while for trade shows to become profitable for them.

It takes a lot of pre-show marketing and promotion to bring buyers to your booth, you cannot rely on walk in/walk by traffic. The number of brands at any Vegas show (whether it’s MAGIC, Pool, Project, etc.) is simply overwhelming. For everything you carry, you may find a dozen other lines with a similar offering (maybe not to you, but your brand may be interchangeable to a buyer). It’s hard to stand out. Part of the key in marketing at a trade show is pre-show promotion, if you’re relying on walk in/walk by traffic, what if you’re in a section of the exhibit hall that gets very little foot traffic? After all these are large shows.

A while ago, a friend and I discussed using trade shows strategically, to show to the press, and other business contacts (strategic partners, suppliers, etc.). Another friend even landed a private label manufacturing deal as a result of showing at a large trade show. I believe there are other benefits to exhibiting (that may not be directly related to immediate or short term sales), but exhibitors have to think strategically about exhibiting at a show. The Vegas shows have large numbers of registered attendees, but that doesn’t mean buyers will be pouring into your booth. They get them registered, but you still have to work to get them in your booth, make appointments and get interest in the line. Even then, many will not write orders at the show.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Jennifer E. says:

    To you is there difference between and “a trade show” and “a buying market”? I am not sure if there is a culture difference in Canada or a just a linguistic difference.
    All of the buying markets I have been too everyone books appointment for buying. The agents who rep the lines phone all the registered buyers months in advance to book appointments.
    I am confused – do not they do that for POOL, MAGIC??

  2. J C Sprowls says:

    I’m interested to hear the expectation, too, Miracle. What users expect and what they experience are often different.

    In my mind, it doesn’t make sense to set up a booth, whether it be at a conventional trade show or along the side of a busy street without first confirming appointments with prospective clients – a “meet you there” call, as it were.

  3. Vesta says:

    I don’t know how different my market (juvenile products) is from the apparel marts. I think they must be very different, at least in what the buyers are looking for, at any given show. There are only so many “stroller” makers, but there are many more “women’s shirt” makers. Not sure if that makes sense. Anyway, at our markets there are certainly appointments and pre-show marketing done, but you really can make a splash at a show. We spent, oh, I’d say about $7000 on our first show, all told. No pre-show marketing or appointments. (Caveat: we’ve been selling for 4 years, so we went in with a small reputation, and a nice stream of people excited to finally see us at a show.) We wrote only a couple dozen orders at and around the show. However, we have written one order alone from a walk-up at the show for $50,000 (a big online retailer). Obviously, if we’d measured only by orders written at the show, we bombed. But that show bumped us to the next level in sales channels.

    I’ll tell you what: I’d recommend operating for a few years, getting the infrastructure in order, getting a little reputation, then doing the tradeshows. You won’t come across as such a newbie when and if people stop to talk. The buyer from that big account stopped and bombarded me with questions that I only knew the answers to because I’d spent the last 4 years making sure I knew my stuff cold. Had I stumbled during that barrage, I doubt they’d have called me.

    My 2 cents.

  4. Miracle says:

    The agents who rep the lines phone all the registered buyers months in advance to book appointments.
    I am confused – do not they do that for POOL, MAGIC??

    It’s common for reps/companies to book appointments, however, I think a lot of new exhibitors aren’t able to, or may not even know that they should.

    I don’t know how different my market (juvenile products) is from the apparel marts. I think they must be very different, at least in what the buyers are looking for, at any given show

    I haven’t been to the JPMA (?) show, or any children’s shows, but I have been to plenty of gift shows and stationery, contemporay furniture, etc. type shows. They are vastly different than apparel. Hardly anyone calls me to make an appointment at a gift show, they will all tell me that they will be there and stop by, they don’t seem to be reliant on appointments, as *everyone* starts calling for the apparel-ish shows.

    It’s a different culture. I think it’s harder to stand out at a clothing show. You walk a show and it’s overwhelming and after a while, lots of stuff looks the same. I haven’t had that experience at more “gifty” (meaning less apparel) shows, each booth seems to offer something unique and different (except for the… well the cheap tourist stuff type booths). Maybe that has a lot to do with it.

    Well, my point is that I think all buyers are looking for new and unique. That’s certainly what I got from talking to other buyers in Vegas. However, I think at apparel shows, when they are large, you start to feel like it’s too homogenous. For example, if you walk by 6 screened t shirt booths, what about any one of them will draw you in? I don’t think that there is a lack of variety at the Vegas shows, however, I do think that as a buyer, you start to feel like it’s all the same.

    I don’t usually have the same experience (or feedback) at the gift shows.

  5. Yahzi Rose says:

    Thanks for this reminder Miracle. Most of the designers I’ve spoken to that have been in business for some time always say these 3 things:
    1. preshow marketing is a must, mailing cards/brochures AND calling. If you don’t do it, you may as well throw your $ away.
    2. if it is your 1st time don’t expect buyers to make appts, you most likely won’t get any. However, this doesn’t mean that you should not call and ask for one or for them to come by.
    3. follow up is one of the most important aspects of the whole show. At the SF gift show, the director said one of the biggest buyer complaints is that manufacturers don’t follow up. You can’t expect a buyer to remember you and go out of their way to place an order.

    All 3 of these is enough to make my hands sweat but I’m determined not to waste my money.

  6. Alisa says:

    Follow up – follow up – follow up! That’s my two cents. This is my second year going to both the swimshow in miami and Vegas. I did not write orders at the show, so if I would not have followed up I would have gotten no orders!

    it’s just a tough thing, but you have got to put yourself out there – if you want to get out there!

  7. Mindy Wiener says:

    If you have not already read Daniel’s recap of preparing for Pool, I suggest each of you do so. Also, if you search back in the records to $wim Lessons, you will find valuable tips for preparing. I’d equate tradeshows to studying for an exam. While there may be those lucky few that can ace the test with little or no studying, the same does not hold true for the masses. If you do not come to a tradehsow prepared & informed, you are not investing your $ wisely. Most likely, you will not succeed. Although,m after every show, we do hear about those lucky few that came unprepared & have walked away with loads of orders. The unfortunate reality is that those people will most likely not be able to ship as they have not taken the proper steps needed to see the entire process through.

  8. Hello there. I have a swimwear and lingerie line that has been going for 4 years now. I sell in person and online and feel that it is time to do a trade show. Any advice for this young girl? I have been trying to find online any information on what a booth would cost for the Miami swim show and cannot find any. Thank you!

  9. Kathleen says:

    Hi Sophia, I have tons of advice. First is to read the book and join the forum. The forum, being private, is the only place we can publish confidential information. There’s so much you need to know before biting off a big chunk like a tradeshow.

    Have you thought of contacting the tradeshow and asking what booth space costs?

  10. Julien says:

    Great article.
    As an expert in this industry, I see this everyday – small players considering trade shows as the holy grail. But there is so much preparation behind a successful show: from defining your goals and objectives, training your staff, picking the right booth location, showing the right samples, etc.

    In the booth itself, driving the right traffic, taking notes the right way, following-up quickly… all these things are not natural, there have to be learnt. That’s a difficult job and, as you said, one should not put all his eggs into one basket.

    Thank you for the great article, please get in touch, I’d love to have you interviewed on our blog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.