How to Prepare for a Trade Show

How to Prepare for a Trade Show

Have you ever walked a trade show? If so, then you know how crazy it can get on the show floor, especially if you are not prepared. Suppliers trying to lure you in, throwing samples and catalogs at you or trying to hypnotize you with their delicious food samples.

If you know what I am talking about, then you have probably felt like this:

how to prepare for a trade show

In order to avoid looking like your 3 year old in need of a nap, here is how to prepare for a trade show so that you walk away a winner.


Before you get started, think about why you would want to attend a trade show. Will a trade show help you increase your business? Will it help build relationships with your vendors? Are there products you might learn about that would otherwise be difficult to locate?If you answered yes to any of these questionsl, then let’s get started.


Take some time to learn about all the trade shows you might be able to attend.

You have the option to go to a larger, national trade show such as PPAI Las Vegas or ASI Orlando, or to smaller regional shows like VAPPA, NEPPA, or SAAGNY.

No matter where you go, you will see most suppliers at the same trade shows – especially at the larger ones.

To make traveling a little easier and less costly, you could look for a trade show in the closest city to where you live. But if you are feeling adventurous, I recommend choosing a show in a city that you have always wanted to visit. Take out two birds with one stone!

Look at your travel and lodging budget. No matter where you go, you can always get a discount on a hotel. Check out the trade show’s website for recommendations – this is very helpful, especially when visiting a city for the first time. This probably isn’t a surprise, but we almost always use Kayak to book our flights.

Understandably, you will want to spend more time at the larger trade shows and use the allotted two days (typically) to walk the show floor. For smaller, regional shows, you can usually get everything done in one day and still get your kids from the bus at 3:00pm (if you choose to stay close by, of course).


After you have decided on the best show(s) for you, spend some time preparing for it. You can visit the show website and read through the agenda, vendor list, and more.

Check out all the vendors that will be in attendance, mark the ones you want to see, and via the website’s map draw the route that you’d like to take. This way you can walk the show much more efficiently and avoid circling back through the same aisle ten times because you missed a supplier.

If there is anything important you want to discuss with a specific vendor, contact them ahead of time and make an appointment. You won’t be the only one visiting their booth and after you have made your way through the show paparazzi, you have to compete with other curious, chatty people and likely wait in line. If a supplier knows you are coming, they will do their best to be free around that time.

Want some quality time with your vendors without setting up an appointment? Most distributors leave after lunch and the show floor gets rather quiet. Take advantage of the people that need their nap time and walk the show in the afternoon. Sometimes it is worth it to walk the show on the second day as you get pampered with free snacks and drinks at the end.


Write a list with all of your client’s upcoming events so you can spot product suggestions and ideas more efficiently. Understanding these needs prior to stepping foot into the convention center will help tremendously in making this a valuable trip.


Bring your business cards, but only hand them out to suppliers that you really want to hear from. Most likely, the suppliers will follow up with you or add you to their email list. If you know for sure that you will have no use for their product or service, save yourself some time and just don’t give them your card.

Before getting your business card printed, make sure it is not coated as this will make your life more difficult when trying to take notes on it. Well, it makes the supplier’s life more difficult, and they will let you know about it. After hearing “ugh, I can’t write on your card because it’s coated” 20 times, I can guarantee your mood level changes. So let’s just cut this experience out from the beginning (note the sarcasm).


Every trade show will have many educational sessions and workshops, sometimes free. Take advantage of these great sessions and gain an edge on your competitors. There is almost always a keynote speaker you won’t want to miss.


Dress business casual and wear comfortable shoes because you will be walking and standing all day. If that is a problem for you, every major trade show (PPAI, ASI, Expo East, etc.) offers scooters. Pay attention because road laws are not obeyed here. People walk and talk and text all at the same time.

Bring a bag or backpack with you, but leave the suitcase at home. You don’t need to take every single catalog and sample with you. There is no price at the end of the show for the heaviest bag. If you travel by air, you will have limited space anyway. Therefore, take advantage of the sample packing and shipping service most shows offer and leave what you don’t need.


Don’t forget to take your phone or tablet with you to take pictures of products. While you think you may remember everything, if your memory is anything like mine then you’re out of luck. By the time you have traveled home and are back in the office, you go crazy thinking about the name of that product and what company it was from. A simple look at your iPhone will come in handy.

Please, please, please bring some hand sanitizer, or grab a free one from one of the vendors or entrance tables. The products and hands you are touching may have been around the world and back.

Whatever you do, attending a trade show is not a walk in the park. You truly can benefit by preparing for the show ahead of time.

Knowing the details have been taken care of, you can actually have a lot of fun meeting the suppliers you spend so much time with talking on the phone. Give them a smack on the head, or a simple handshake will probably do.

Go enjoy your next trade show!