Exhibiting at Trade Shows:
A Guide for Brands New to Wholesale

Trade shows are a great way for small businesses to be seen by bigger brands, to engage face-to-face with potential buyers and to build up their industry connections. 

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, such events are expected to resume in the second half of this year. New brands are once again turning to Small Business Collaborative for guidance on how to choose and prepare for exhibiting at trade shows.

Contents

Thinking about what to take and how to conduct yourself can be nerve-wracking, but being prepared will help you make the most out of the time and money you invest. If you’re new to trade shows and are thinking of exhibiting at one, keep on reading for some tips and expectations to consider.

How to prepare for a trade show

If you’re completely new to the world of trade shows, I would highly recommend that you book to visit one and have a look around. Most are free if you book in advance. Try to schedule your visit for early morning or late afternoon – these are the least busy times and therefore the best opportunities to talk to other exhibitors. 

When looking around, make a point of registering how other exhibitors are pulling in clients. Some can make it look very easy but for introverts, it can be daunting. If you’re on the shy side, it’s worth practising your ‘chat’ before the show; in the mirror, with a friend, or with the products in front of you.

Remember that buyers are likely to ask you questions about your products, your brand and your pricing, so incorporate this into your practice. Practising will ensure that the important details will be ingrained in your mind and it will become second nature. 

Finally, a quick note on dress code. Most shows are very casual now but think about who you want to appeal to, who your customer is, and dress accordingly. Remember to wear comfortable shoes as you will be standing a lot!

What to bring to a trade show: a checklist

Plan out your space well in advance – note what other exhibitors are doing when you visit other trade shows, mock up your stand at home, and visit my Pinterest board for inspiration. 

Here’s a little checklist of what you may want to bring, and why:

Products

This might seem obvious, but you might want to bring more than one of each of your products – sometimes a stack looks better, or if your product is boxed, one in the box and one out of the box might work best. Mock this up at home, so you’re not caught short when setting up. Remember your display can show potential retailers how they might display your products in their stores.

Think about how you can display your products creatively, and how many you will need. Credit: Therese Øertenblad

Tools

Bring every tool you can imagine that you might need. I’ve been to shows where I’ve had to hunt down screwdrivers, saws, double-sided tape, and more.

Storage

You will want to have somewhere to hide your coat and bag, and somewhere that disguises any clutter such as stationery, spare brochures, and business cards. Where will you put this on your stand? Plus off-stand storage: think of where you will store your packaging and tools. If you think you will need it, make sure you pre-order storage.

Lighting

Save money and bring your own lighting and extension cables, and only request a single plug socket. Also, try to pre-order the electricity for your stand before as it’s more expensive to book at the show. Lighting is critical, and I would advise you to make sure to have this as it can get dark in the exhibition halls and good light will make sure that your products look their best. You can usually find the electricity order form in the exhibition manual/online portal.

Furniture, tables, shelves, paint

It is cheaper to bring your own, but there is no need to look ‘cut-price’, you can be inventive and find things in second-hand stores, on eBay, or in stores such as Ikea. It’s also cheaper to paint your stand but you might have to paint it back to white after the show, or you could be charged. Generally, you can paint the walls if the stand is a ‘traditional build’, if not you will have to order wood cladding to be able to paint it.

Consider what backdrop and props will enhance your product display while being in keeping with your brand. Credit: Therese Øertenblad

Props and signage

Buy any flowers, stands, and other display material you might need ahead of time. Consider what you will put on the walls if you don’t have shelves there and how you will display your prices.

First Aid Kit

Exhibition halls usually have a first aid room where you can go to get bandaged up if the worst happens, but some plasters and disinfectant is a good idea. I’ve had to use mine more than once.

Sales material

It’s important to have material to give to potential stockists, so they remember you when they get home and start going through and making decisions. Some will place orders at the shows, but many will place their orders after the shows. PDF brochures and price lists are great all year round, but for trade shows, I would recommend that you have them printed.

Point of sale

If you have any information about your brand that you could give to shops to make part of their store display, then make it part of your presentation at the show.

Point of sale displays will help buyers visualise your product in their stores. Credit: Therese Øertenblad

Catalogue & Price List

With good quality images of your products and all your terms and conditions such as minimum order and carriage paid. If your catalogue doesn’t feature prices, make sure you bring separate price lists with you.

Business cards

Take more than you think you will need as you may give them out to other businesses exhibiting, journalists, or other professionals at the trade show.

Lead Forms

Some bring a notebook to staple business cards and take down buyers’ contact details; I also like to bring a printed lead form on a clipboard. If you ask a buyer to put down their contact details, they will often give you their email address, and sometimes they will even leave out their business name so to make it easier for buyers I usually have both a notebook to staple cards to and a lead form.

The lead form usually has fields for:

  • Name
  • Business name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Website
  • Notes (you can fill this in to help you remember who you spoke to)

Order forms

Many companies have iPads with their order processing system but if this is your first trade show you might not want to invest the time and money in this and a paper order form is perfectly fine. Make sure to bring more than you think you might need as some buyers would like a copy to bring with them. Make sure you have fields for all the delivery and invoice details.

After the trade show

Follow up in a timely manner; I like to email everyone right away and thank them for visiting the show and address any questions they raised. If you made a reminder that they were interested in a product, highlight it in the body of your email, or if they said they will be making their decision in a month, acknowledge that you made a note about it and that you will be in touch closer to that time. Attach your brochure and price list again. If they are local to you, offer to visit them to talk about the range further.

Once you’ve followed up, process all the orders you collected at the show. Make sure you keep your new buyers updated on when they can except their shipment.

Once you get to a point where you’re regularly accepting large orders from your network of buyers, speak to your fulfilment partner – who may be able to offer you a ‘wholesale fulfilment’ service option. This will allow you to claim back some of the margin you give over when you sell wholesale. 

Remember, trade shows can be excellent for building relationships with buyers and in some cases, other brands so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get as many orders as you expected; the new connections you’ve made will prove valuable in the long run. Buyers are usually looking for a specific product at these shows so don’t feel disheartened if they don’t take a closer look at yours.

About Therese Øertenblad

After a decade in the home and gift industry, Therese founded the Small Business Collaborative to help new creative businesses navigate their journey to wholesale. Therese has sold a vast range of products to both independent shops and large high street retailers.

Seeing your products in a retail store might seem like a faraway goal, Therese will guide you and share her knowledge to give you the tools and confidence you need to reach your destination.

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