Planning for a trade show is essential to your businesses’ success at the event.  Any major trade show requires considerable preparation at least a few months in advance, and if you aren’t ready, is certain to present a logistical nightmare.  It is very important to develop a solid plan, partner with the right resources, and monitor the process vigilantly.

Participating in a trade show can require a major investment of time, money and resources.  Therefore, you should be critical in your evaluation of which shows are going to benefit your business the most.  Consider whether or not attendees are in your target market or are even likely to be future customers or clients.  Exposure to a couple hundred qualified targets is a far better investment than exposure to thousands of generalized visitors who may not be interested in what you have to offer—unless that is your goal in the first place.  You should also specify the things you want to accomplish as a result of your participation in each particular trade show you are evaluating.  Do you want to gain exposure to potential customers, increase your visibility in the community or check out the competition?

If you want to have a significant presence at a strategic or influential show, you should plan to set up a booth—on your own or with a key partner who will complement your efforts and message.  Booth space is usually limited and must be reserved in advance.  There is most likely a fee for the space, and can include the square footage, location on the exhibition floor, but may or may not include additional materials such as tables, chairs or dividers.  Developing a good design and clear message for your booth are both key to the success of your presence at a trade show.  Your area should be inviting, easy to access, attract positive attention, and your logo should be big enough to see from a distance.  You should also employ a dress code for your staff at the show so they will be easily identifiable.  This can be a full uniform, or even something as simple as the same color shirt or hat.  Your staff should also know what is expected of them, and you should brief them on what message you are trying to convey and what aspects should be emphasized as well as providing the knowledge of how to run any demos or presentations.  Nothing looks more unprofessional than demos that don’t work, or an uncoordinated staff.

When it comes to planning a tradeshow, Graphic Technologies, Inc. (GTI) can help you in a number of ways. They offer banner-ups, direct mail to get the word out, pop-up table tents, pocket folders, and of course, you’re going to need plenty of business cards to hand out. Direct mail can be used as a tool to get the word out about your participation in the trade show, or additional correspondence as a result of compiling a contact list during the trade show.  Pocket folders are a great way to pass along your company information, as they easily contain all of your materials in order to avoid them being lost within the masses of other information each attendee is likely to be gathering throughout the trade show.  You want to attract people to your booth and GTI can help you create a banner that Sarah-Lathropwill do just that. Powerful colors, statements and photographs around your booth will make trade show attendees curious and want to check out what you are all about.  GTI can also provide specialty items that are a great way to help prospects remember your booth. Give them an item you want your logo printed on–pens, golf balls, flash drives, you name it–and they will make it happen! Sarah Lathrop of Graphic Technologies, Inc. says “GTI is a ‘Boutique’ printing business. This means one-of-a-kind items are made here. We can customize anything you need printed to best suit your business. We want you to succeed, and will be as passionate about your printing items as you are about your business goals.”  Lathrop also stresses the importance of planning adequately for a trade show. “Tradeshows are an excellent marketing tool, and can really help your business stand out against the competition. That being said, plan a strategy to make sure you are making an impression to remember. Staff should be friendly and welcoming, as well as knowledgeable of the product. Your booth should be organized, and easily accessible. Make sure staff wears comfortable shoes, dresses appropriately, and has snacks.  They will be representing your business all day and you want them happy!  She adds, “Know your audience and cater to that. If you are going to a health expo, try to find healthy treats to serve along with your product. You could even have healthy recipes printed on the back of some of your business cards. If you are going to a hunting and fishing expo, get some specialty items like bobbers with your company logo on them! The key thing to remember is to stand out!”

Amy-Dritley-LambirthAmy Dritley Lambirth of the Western Douglas County Chamber of Commerce (WDCCC) agrees that visibility is crucial to your success at a trade show.  She offers the following tips for anyone considering participating in a trade show:

• Promote, promote, promote that your booth will be at the expo. Announce new products or services. Create anticipation so people want to visit your booth.

• Have a game or contest at your booth. This draws a crowd. It could be as simple as having a jar full of cash and people have to guess the total.   Or a TV with a Wii hooked up. Maybe even a “stack the cups” game.

• Wear comfy shoes! I also always suggest bringing a pair to change into midday.

• Bring your own snacks and water so you’re not leaving the booth and possibly missing your next client.

• Network with the people who are also exhibiting. Your next client could be just 8 feet away!

• Put in a good effort.  As with any networking, you get what you give.

• Follow up with everyone that visited your booth.

WDCCC presents the only trade show in West Omaha, called the West “O” Expo.  This is a great opportunity for businesses to display their products and/or services to quality business professionals all in one day and under one roof!  WDCCC coaches their exhibitors prior to the event to make sure they are well staffed, well prepared and get the most out of their booth.  This includes tips and tricks to getting people to the show such as announcing it on your Facebook page, in your email signature, hand out tickets at your business or while networking, as well as simply inviting people you know would benefit.  They stress that during the day your booth needs to be warm, welcoming and active. Make sure you have staff on hand to take turns, and do not allow sitting or texting as it is essential that you and your staff are attentive to people walking by. WDCCC also provides a follow-up process for days following the show. This includes information on how to contact and follow up appropriately with those that visited your booth and left a business card. You have these HOT leads–now use them! Call and thank your visitors for stopping by, or write them a personal note thanking them for their time.  Additionally, make sure to ask for a sit down meeting so they can learn more!

Mike-ComptonAs a full service exhibit house, Renze Display will help you maximize your investment and return from tradeshow marketing efforts.  Renze Display can offer assistance with the budgeting and planning stages many months before the show, including booth staff training; can design and produce your exhibit and related graphics; and handles all the logistics including completion of show forms, shipping, on-site installation and dismantling, and cloud-based inventory management – effectively storing and maintaining your exhibit and other tradeshow-related products such as literature, giveaways, A/V equipment, etc.   With their 90,000 sq. ft. facility, large showroom, in-house graphics production, plus complete fabrication department and warehouse space, Renze Display is a one-stop shop for their clients.  Mike Compton of Renze Display says “Some of the most successful promotions involve giving folks an incentive to visit your booth — to redeem a postcard for a gift, bring the item for an autograph, bring a key that unlocks a prize or a missing piece to a puzzle, and so on.   Others have shown a photo of their display on the direct mail piece or in the mass email, or used the same color scheme/branding as the display.  This all helps breed familiarity and continuity–it helps people find you!  The exhibit itself needs to be attention-getting and fit the same branding as the pre-show promotion.  Your display is a very large, three-dimensional representation of your company for all to see.  The importance of looking your best should never be underestimated.  After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. To some extent we compare exhibit design to the billboard effect — you only have a few seconds when driving down the highway at 65 mph to view a billboard, understand its meaning and the company advertising, and understand any call to action.  The same often holds true for a trade show display — the attendee will decide in a just 4 to 7 seconds as they’re strolling quickly down the aisle whether or not they will visit your display.”

Jeff-WhitePart of making a good impression is giving visitors some sort of a gift to take with them, so they are effectively taking your contact information with them as well.  Colby Ridge offers personalized popcorn bags that are a great way to promote your business.  Leave a lasting impression with somebody you just met by handing them a bag of Colby Ridge popcorn, complete with your custom information included on the label!  These popcorn bags are also very affordable at only 99 cents per bag, and there is no set up fee for the labels.  Jeff White of Colby Ridge says “If you are attending a trade show as a vendor you need to make sure that you leave a lasting impression.  Stand out in the crowd, and don’t always resort to pens, pencils and letter openers.  Nobody is going to remember you if they open the bag from the trade show and there are five pencils that look exactly like yours!”  When you place an order with Colby Ridge, you will always receive a quality product at an affordable price.  Set yourself apart from your competitors and other trade show participants by offering a delicious and creative reminder of your business.

A great example of a highly effective business-to-business trade show is the Buy the Big O! Show presented by the Greater Omaha Chamber.  The show will be held on October 9th at the CenturyLink Center.  This is an excellent opportunity to put your company in front of an audience of more than 5,000 people and to connect with many potential customers with one-stop networking and marketing. Tracey Fricke of the Greater Omaha Chamber notes that this year’s show will not just be bigger and better than in years past, it will also feature its own mega deal day:  Small Business Black Wednesday!  Just like Black Friday, crowds of thousands will be looking for the best deals of the year. This is a great opportunity to develop special show discounts that will have the masses camping out by your booth.  Fricke emphasizes that The Buy the Big O! Show exists for one BIG reason—to help your business make more money!  Booth registration is now open at

Once you start participating in the trade shows you have decided are worth the investment, figure out a specific way to measure each shows’ success.  Whether this is handing out 2,000 brochures, obtaining contact information from 250 prospects or having 500 people participate in a demo; these benchmarks will help you evaluate whether the show was worth the expense.  Finally, it will be incredibly valuable to your business to keep track of prospects and follow up. Persistence is not a bad thing. It shows that you are professional and willing to go that extra step to get their business. Adding prospects from tradeshows to company mailers is a great idea too.  Trade shows are an excellent opportunity for businesses to reach potential clients and customers, and as long as you are prepared they are a great tool for marketing and networking.