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Planning Your Trade Show Exhibit
By Melanie McIntosh

Exhibiting at trade shows can provide an excellent opportunity for your customers to experience your product. When customers experience or try out your product, they are more likely to buy.

Trade shows require a lot of effort to plan, set up, staff and wrap up. Booth fees, display and other costs may add up to a large expense. It can pay off well for businesses that plan their exhibit well. While the expenses may seem daunting at the outset, a well-planned and marketed booth can acquire new customers at a lower cost per customer than traditional methods of direct mail or advertising campaigns.

Used in conjunction with other forms of advertising, as an integrated part of your marketing plan, trade show exhibits can be extremely effective.

However, many times businesses participate in trade shows without a clear plan. A lack of planning makes it difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of your trade show exhibit.

Here are 5 tips to help to plan effectively for your next trade show.

1. Set goals

Before you sign the exhibitors' contract, decide on the goals you want to achieve. Some general goals are: Conduct surveys Enter a new market Create awareness Develop a mailing list Make new contacts Sell product

Once you have determined your general goals, prioritise them. Now re-write your list of goals as SMART goals, with the most important at the top of the page and the least important at the bottom.

SMART goals:

S = Specific M = Measurable A = Attainable R = Realistic T = Timely or Time-dated (Give your goal a date or a time limit)

For example:

The goal at XYZ company at the 123 Trade Show is to acquire 25 complete surveys per day for a total of 50 surveys over 2 days.

2. Determine a budget

Too many small businesses and retailers don't budget enough for trade shows. The cost of the exhibit is more than just the rental of the exhibit space. Before you decide to enter a trade show, draw up a budget and determine if you can afford to produce an effective booth.

Costs may include the following:

Exhibit space rental Carpet Lighting Booth Display Shipping Literature and Materials Booth staff Advertising Pre-show marketing Post-show follow up Meals and out-of-pocket expenses

If you have to travel to a trade show you'll also need to include all your travel and accommodations costs.

Compare your estimated costs to the results you expect to achieve at the exhibit. Does it look realistic? How do the results compare to the estimated costs of achieving those same goals through other marketing methods?

You may find that the trade show ends up being the most cost effective way to acquire new customers, in addition to the added benefit of being able to achieve more than one marketing goal with your exhibit.

3. Promote your booth

Don't rely solely on the promotion and advertising done by the exhibit producer. You need to plan your own marketing to ensure that you get the most out of the show. Some promotion ideas:

- Send invitations to the show to your customers and prospects list - Provide your best clients with guest passes to the trade show, or tickets to a seminar or luncheon associated with the show - Mention the trade show in your regular print, radio or other advertising - If you have a web-site, newsletter or any other publication, make sure you mention your trade show exhibit - provide some type of promotion or benefit for your customers who come to the show - i.e. a special preview of new merchandise, a trade show discount, etc.

4. Plan booth display

Have a plan for your booth before set-up day. Don't expect to get there and 'work it out'. Set up will go faster and with less stress if you know exactly what your booth will look like.

Begin with a list of what you need at the show. Don't just go with the basic table and chair that comes with the booth rental. Instead, try to re-create the atmosphere of your store. Bring a fixture or two from the store that also are appropriate for the exhibit. Remember - don't overcrowd your booth!

Draw a sketch of your booth. It doesn't have to look pretty, it just needs to help you visualise the booth space. Try to make this drawing to scale. (i.e. 1 foot = 1 inch) Make sure you plan for some hidden storage for booth supplies.

Finally, prepare your booth ahead of time and set it up as a trial run well before the exhibition date. This will give you time to make adjustments before the show.

5. Follow-up

Plan your customer and prospect follow-up before the show. You have the most opportunity to make a sale if you follow up in the first week after a trade show.

Decide what your follow-up will be: - an invitation to an event - a sales letter - a discount coupon - a free benefit - a thank you for visiting your booth, with a friendly reminder of your services

Prepare your stationary, plan your event and have everything ready to go before the trade show date. If you are not prepared, it is easy procrastinate and miss the opportunity to follow up in a timely manner.

You can make your booth stand out from the crowd, and reduce your stress by creating a strong exhibit plan, and implementing it.

Melanie McIntosh is the editor of the Retail Tips newsletter and president of Inspire Retail Solutions, a retail consulting business specializing in helping retailers develop inviting shopping environments. You can contact her at

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