Trade Show Exhibition Tips

by Julie K. Buzbee

Trade shows and up-to-the-minute seminars on plastics technology fit hand-in-hand with the forward-thinking ideas of today’s plastics executives who are constantly looking for an edge in a highly competitive marketplace. Trade shows offer a fixed location where entrepreneurs can meet prospective customers one-on-one in a day or two inexpensively. Plastics product trade shows are ideal arenas for executives who make and influence purchasing decisions on machinery, ancillary equipment, molds, material, subcontracting and design in the plastics industry.

Attendees at trade shows are a different audience that is hard to tap elsewhere. Many attendees are looking for brand new technology and equipment to create operational efficiencies, while some are looking for alternative suppliers and others are looking for new manufacturing partners for their products. All attendees are there for a reason, and the showroom floor is a good place to make connections and network.

Small Marketing Investment, Big Return
The Center for Exhibition Industry Research commissioned a study by Deloitte Consulting in New York that showed respondents put more marketing dollars into trade show participation than any other promotion except personal selling. The following statistics support the solid reasoning behind that trend: Deloitte determined that closing a sale with a trade show contact costs half as much as closing a sale initiated elsewhere: $550 and 1.4 sales calls compared with $997 and 3.6 sales calls.

Trade shows offer another major advantage for small businesses – a more even playing field. The CEIR reports that 44 percent of firms exhibiting at business-to-business shows have fewer than 50 employees. Even the smallest businesses can use creative marketing and booth design to showcase their goods and services right alongside the big conglomerates.

According to, package deals are the most economical way to go with a $10,000 budget covering space, booth expenses, show services, transportation, advertising and promotional activities and personnel (including travel costs). The Deloitte study also revealed that:

  • Most business decision makers – 91 percent – consider trade shows “very useful” places to purchase information. Trade shows are ranked first for purchasing information among 13 sales and marketing tools.
  • Of attendees, 85 percent are buyers of one or more products exhibited.
  • Integrated marketing plans produce the best results. That plan should have three broad headlines: pre-show planning, at-the-show performance and post-show follow-up.

Find Your Place and Space
Start your pre-show planning and goal-setting using employees who will be working in the booth or offering demonstrations at the show. Brainstorm with your booth staff to determine what the specific, measurable and attainable objectives will be, and write them down. Common goals – to be met in three months – include lead generation, introducing new products, promoting your brand or company image, recruiting distributors, entering new markets, providing audience education and performing research.

Bountiful Booth Offerings
Publicize your booth ahead of time with existing customers, business contacts and plastics industry media sources. And don’t stop tooting your horn when you arrive at the show. People love freebies, so give them out as freely as you do your business cards.

Use technology – old-school (chairs) and new school (computers) – to offer folks a place to sit and visit your website, respond to an online survey your company develops or simply to check their own email. Set up a running video featuring your company’s background, product benefits and customer testimonials. Train booth staff members to gauge interest based upon how long attendees watch the show.

Staff members should be polite, helpful and knowledgeable when it comes to answering questions about your company and its offerings. Rotate the staff every few hours to keep them fresh and enthusiastic. Ensure that they know how to ask open-ended questions with attendees to engage them in conversation. Don’t ask “How are you doing today?” or “Are you enjoying the show?” Try something like “What is your company’s goal for you to accomplish at this show?”

Train booth staff members to qualify leads and keep track of them, either through a spreadsheet or a customized lead card. Grab attention by holding live product or capability demonstrations at your booth. This is the third most important reason people remember an exhibit after booth size and product interest.

Conferences and trade shows offer great opportunities to learn the needs of customers and potential customers, including what they think of your offerings and your competition. Ask your booth staffers to troll the arena as well to check in on competitors and gather information to bring back to the office.

Be prepared to send prospective customers your proposed solutions to their needs or problems right away, even if it means phoning the office and having someone mail the material. Once the show is over, put your lead management system in place. Decide ahead of time how to distribute leads and what follow-up is planned.

Going to trade shows – either as an exhibitor or an attendee – gives companies a distinct advantage by exposing staff to the most up-to-date trends, technology and techniques. Taking the extra step by exhibiting provides additional networking opportunities, guaranteed brand-building for your company, and an opportunity to market your business to a wide variety of prospects. Get out there and get going to a trade show to gain competitor insights, cement relationships with current customers and educate potential customers about your offerings.