What We Learned as First Time Trade Show Exhibitors


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  1. Meg Geddes says:

    One word – well, two. ANTI-FATIGUE MATS. Maybe that’s three. As it happens I have a client who sells them and people who have to stand up all day swear by them.

  2. My old company worked in the tradeshow industry, and you’re 100% right about the unexpected expenses. You’re a captive market, and the facilities and unions know it. You can barely screw in a lightbulb here in Chicago at McCormick without a $250 invoice. Actually, that’s not a joke – there was a time when you couldn’t screw in your own lightbulbs.

    For first-time exhibitors, though, your setup looks great. It’s simple, but it’s professional, and the booth only gets them in the door. You still do the selling. I loved seeing companies who spent $50-100K on a booth but then staffed it with 19-year-old rent-a-faces who didn’t know the first thing about the product. Yeah, we’re all real impressed – too bad nobody bought anything.

  3. Jessica Commins says:

    “In hindsight, it would have been cheaper to buy the items and ship them there.”

    Well, yes and no. In your case, you paid the onsite rate, which is always tons more expensive than ordering through the conference provider ahead of time. That said, it would have been cheaper to ship stuff at the rates you paid, but if you ordered ahead of time, you probably would’ve broken even.

    Why? Well, every conference center requires you ship to their warehouse and you then need to pay someone to bring it to your booth area. If you just ship a table and chairs, they’re going to charge you extra because it wasn’t crated. And if it’s a union venue (like NYC was), you’re going to pay even more…

    Another fun thing about union venues is their rules regarding what you can bring in on your own. Anything larger than a bigger box that one person can carry requires their union people’s “help.” If you don’t order this ahead of time, you will pay more.

    I had a friend try to bring two of her own roller crates (these are about 5′ tall, 1′ wide) into a union venue in Chicago, and when she refused to allow the union guys to do it, they blew a whistle and everyone stopped working. Needless to say, she wasn’t very popular with the conference organizers that day.

    Live and learn, I guess… :)

    All of that aside, your banners look great! I’m glad y’all had a great time and hope it turns out to be a very successful event for you. :)

  4. Hi Rae, great post. Do you have any recommendations for companies that provide the type of insurance you needed?

  5. Jason Nelson says:

    Awesome write up Rae. Very interesting and informative. BTW, I really like the footer design on your site.

  6. Sounds like you did a great job going in on your first show. Unfortunately, most busy start up executives aren’t aware that there’s a huge amount of information about how to exhibit at trade shows that’s available on the internet and through industry providers. A quick google search on trade show and/or exhibiting will get you there. A bit of research can help to avoid some of the unforseen expenses. I hope that you find it was a great success and the learning curve was worth it!

  7. Nice article Rae. A decent breakdown for smaller exhibitors even if it was not their first time. You actually did well despite the fact that you didn’t read everything entirely, but as you now know and I have to stress further that it is very important to read all the literature sent to you, because there are a lot of expenses that could have added up very rapidly. Rules and requirements can be very different from venue to venue as well.
    I spent many years working for a convention services contractor(the people you rented the booth materials from) and I saw many, many 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 33rd timers be overwhelmed with unexpected expenses and mostly due to choosing a display any larger than the one you went with. The shipping costs on top of the union required material handling, set-up and even plugging in your display has left, at least, a couple of exhibitors shocked, broke and extremely angry every single show.
    I hope the costs of exhibiting at a trade show were offset by the leads generated there.
    Have a nice day

  8. Carol Dunlop says:

    Thanks for the great info. I have decided to do the tradeshow route in 2015, just getting my plan together so the breakdown helped A LOT! I have actually worked a couple for different companies, but this is the scary part since I am going to do it for my own.

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