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Tips for Exhibiting at Wholesale Trade Shows

Updated on November 30, 2014
SandyDell profile image

Sandy Dell is a semi-retired independent sales rep sharing info about wholesaling, working with producers, buyers and sales reps.

Exhibiting at a Wholesale Trade Show May the Next Step for Your Business

Wholesale Trade Shows are temporary marketplaces, usually a few days in length, where buyers (usually retailers) and sellers of wholesale products, come together. Most exhibitors at gift industry shows are producers, but booths may include reps, distributors, and importers, along with industry suppliers and service providers who target both retailers and producers. Most of these shows are not open to the general public (just members of the trade who represent legit buyers). The primary business purpose at 95 % of these shows is placing orders (buyers) and taking orders (exhibitors). Most are held at the largest convention center in a particular large city where they are found.


Why Exhibit at a Wholesale Trade Show

7 reasons to give wholesale trade shows a try ...

Although wholesale gifts shows are time consuming and costly, there are still many good reasons for exhibiting:

1. Your company presence at a large gathering of pre-qualified buyers allows you to develop significant sales leads and orders (if done well).

2. With your own booth to display products, you may invite existing buyers and prospects to attend and examine things more closely.

3. You are able to meet and visit with the buyers and decision makers from stores that you would never talk with otherwise.

4. You may test market interest in new products or lines.

5. You may conduct competitive research (check out your competitor's booths!) to compare product features and pricing, and identify growth opportunities.

6. You benefit from an opportunity to address customer concerns or complaints about your products.

7. With this "personal touch" opportunity, you may develop relationships more easily. And many will, hopefully, bloom into long-term business.


Wholesale Trade Show Expenses

Some of the fees associated with exhibiting at wholesale trade shows

Wholesale gift shows are not for amateur producers or hobbyists. The cost alone can scare away anyone who is not serious about the potential opportunity a show represents. You need your line to be large enough, and packaging professional enough, to take full advantage of this type of prospect-generation system.

As I said, attending these shows, which the average consumer public is not generally aware of, is pricy, and includes a large number of costs.

First, you need to cover the expense of travel to, and lodging and meals at, the show. And meals and lodging are likely much higher than you are used to spending, as convention locations are expensive and in high demand, so they jack up the prices. You will probably need to arrive a day or two early for set-up (more lodging and meals). Plus, on the production end, you will lose a week or so of productive shop time to travel and exhibit at a show.

What Your Exhibitor Fee Covers

At the smaller regional shows, the basic booth cost is usually several hundred dollars, and scales up to over $3,000 for a simple booth space at the largest shows. (PS This fee is for the entire length of the show, not per day.) The basic fee typically covers:

* A draped 10' x 10' booth

* One draped table

* 2 chairs

* One very basic sign with your company name

* Simple overhead lighting

Additional Options and Expenses

Fees for the following features are usually extra, in addition to the basic booth costs. Some are optional, some really not:

* Corner booth (where you will have exposure from two aisles)

* Electric outlet

* Special floor or wall coverings

* Extra lighting, tables or chairs

* Delivery of display or inventory boxes to your booth location, which you shipped to the event

* Fire retardant materials and/or inspections required by show sponsors

* Any labor for booth assembly or take down, or assistance moving displays or supplies in and out of the building, which is not done by your. You are not allowed to bring in your own workers -- extras must be done by union labor, referred by the show management.

* Parking fees while exhibiting at the show (sometimes covered with your booth space)

* Exhibitor association "membership fees" required to exhibit at certain shows

Depending on how frugal you are, whether you can stay with family or friends during the show, and other factors, exhibiting even at a small show can easily run $2000 to $5000 in out-of-pocket expenses. Double that amount for the opportunity to exhibit at one of the larger shows.


Tips For Exhibiting and Operating Your Booth

Be prepared for long, but fun, days .....

Assuming you've sailed through the sea of logistics and costs to get your booth set up and operating, there are a number of things you should do, just to run the booth.

One of the gift show management companies we've worked with, Western Exhibitors, offers a free training for first time exhibitors. If your registration for any show includes an opportunity to attend "how to exhibit" training, GO! The workshop, even though weeks in advance of the show, is probably worth many times the additional trip and travel expenses, to the success of your booth.

Exhibiting at a gift show is a huge undertaking, and there are many ways to approach booth operations. Here are some of my best recommendations.

1. Dress professionally, but comfortably (good shoes a must!).

2. Find a way to entice buyers into the booth, with food, freebies, or highly unique oddities.

3. Bring lots of business cards and sales materials. Plus a STAPLER, to keep them all together in the buyer's booty bag.

4. Collect as many business cards as you can, for later follow-ups. (Tip: sometimes offering a drawing for a free case of a product, or other incentive, is a good way to get cards.)

5. Offer an incentive for prospects to place an order AT the show (e.g. free shipping on first order). Include a big sign with this offer.

6. Be friendly and outgoing, but not pushy.

7. Once you have someone in the booth, give your 30-second elevator speech, then let them drive the interaction. Answer each question completely, and ask them clarification questions, if you are unsure of their meaning. As the buyer prepares to leave, give one last short, soft-sell pitch, ending with the show incentive offer. And always thank them for coming in (a statement which they appreciate and gives them permission to leave for the next booth).

8. Find at least one person to share time at the booth (for example, business partners, employees, or any reps who cover the region served by the show).

Pre and Post Show Marketing

After show follow up is critical to making and closing sales

Marketing for a show is often broken down into pre-marketing, post-marketing, and marketing AT the show.

Your registration packet will include many opportunities to promote, most of which cost more, of course. I will mention the most important of these, as I go through the three marketing phases.


Part of show success is to become one of the 15 booths per day that an average buyer comes to see on purpose (i.e. knows about you in advance)! There are two important ways to accomplish this:

1. Notify your existing customers and prospects you will be exhibiting at the show, and that is a good time to see and touch your entire line. Use email, newsletters, post cards, phone calls, personal contacts, reps, or any other means to contact your list.

2. Rent lists of past attendees from the show management, then mail and/or email them an invitation, outlining your theme and/or product category.


In addition to what you create for your booth appearance and atmosphere, most shows offer "paid" marketing opportunities for during the show, including:

1. Featured business listings in the show directory.

2. A "New Product Showcase" where you can display a sampling of items from your line not offered at the same show previously. (Highly recommended!)


After the show is over and you are back in your office, the real work begins.

The first order of business is to go through all the leads and orders you got at the show. Orders, and requests for information, should go out immediately!

Follow that up with one or more thank you letters to ALL prospects you got business cards or contact information from. Send another round of your sales materials, and any additional (e.g. "Post Show") offers you want to make to turn prospects into customers.

Now, remember that snail mail and email list of past buyers/attendees you purchased from the show management for your pre-show marketing?

Guess what? The show now has an updated list, with old and NEW attendees to the show! This mail, email, and phone list is a GREAT prospecting tool. You know they are serious buyers! Send out one, or a series, of promotional, chatty letters or postcards, inviting them to your web site. Include any "After the Show" offers you want to make.

Gift shows should be viewed as a long-term investment. Not every buyer, even if they stopped by your booth, is going to place an order with you at the show or even during the year after the show. But you'll find that ongoing personal follow-ups always increase your odds of creating a new friend and customer. Especially since so few producers do the follow-up, or the right kind of follow-up.

Interested in finding out more tips and info on exhibiting at wholesale trade shows?


Trade Show Exhibiting Secrets E-Guide

... Check out our E-Guide

Discover the SECRETS of exhibiting in your first, second .... or even fiftieth wholesale trade show!

"Whether you make or distribute (or import) specialty foods, candles, jewelry, soap, crafts, confections, dolls, post cards, greeting cards, knick knacks, pottery, t-shirts, souvenirs, housewares, or even publish regional or "gift appropriate" book titles, I will take the mystery out of exhibit at trade shows! (And help grow your business to an ENTIRELY new level!)"

In this value-packed resource, you will find HUNDREDS of practical tips, techniques, stories, and how-to tactics that REMOVE the fear and anxiety from exhibiting in your first wholesale trade show

Here are some of the other informational topics and features of this eGuide:

**What are wholesale-only "Trade Shows"?

**How to determine success (the numbers)

**Reasons to exhibit at wholesale shows!

**Costs and fees (upfront, hidden, and incidental) and how to SAVE!

**The REGISTRATION process (and timing)

**How to choose a booth location (absolutely critical)

**Adventures in pre-planning

**Expectations and reality when you do your first show

**Building and designing your exhibit

**Tips for exhibiting and operating your booth

**Marketing: Pre show, during the show and post show

**Advertising opportunities AT the show

**My TOP TEN marketing tips list

**The future of trade shows

But wait, you also receive the following Bonus: Current Wholesale Trade Show Listing for USA and international shops.

Check it out here!

Share Your Experiences with Wholesale Trade Shows

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    • SandyDell profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandy Dell 

      6 years ago from Lenore, Idaho

      @james_salehoo: Great tips -- thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've been to a few trade shows and one thing I wish exhibitors would do is think carefully about the materials they give out - you ca waste so much money when you just dish out bags of merchandise all the time.

      When you arrive you usually get a canvas bag to put all your bits in that exhibitors will hand out. By the end of the show, mine is always FULL of brochures, flyers, business cards etc.

      I'll admit to going through the bag, picking out the free pens, drink bottles, etc and tossing out the marketing material for the companies I know I am not going to use. If I have actually talked to someone, I am so much more likely to keep any material they have given me.

      I know from experience that flyers and brochures, etc are expensive to design and print so I highly recommend that you only give them out to people who are interested - people that you and your staff talk to or people who pick them up themselves.

      Don't just hire promotional staff to hand out flyers and smile sweetly - this doesn't work in my opinion/experience.

      Oh and one more thing: Every exhibitor seems to give out free candy which makes everyone feel sick. Bottles of water or gum etc would be much more appreciated!

    • SandyDell profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandy Dell 

      6 years ago from Lenore, Idaho

      @ShazTapp: Thanks for the tip ShazTapp!

    • ShazTapp profile image


      6 years ago

      Some great tips here and a very informative article for those needing a great resource for finding out about trade shows. One of Australia's biggest and favourite trade show is coming up next month. I thought some of your readers might be interested in taking a look:


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