Learn How to Make a Knockout Impression at Your First Trade Show
Malene Barnett, WE NYC Mentor
Malene Barnett - Malene B

As trade-show season swiftly approaches, I can’t help but reminisce about my first trade-show experience. The lack of hard walls and use of old-fashioned drapes to separate each booth proved to be quite a challenge at this show for hospitality design. With a tight budget – and a lot of creativity – I found an innovative way to display my carpet designs by turning cardboard boxes into tables and display surfaces. Although I vowed to never again do a show that did not provide hard walls, I overcame booth design obstacles and even landed my first project and a two-page spread in Hospitality Design magazine. 

Looking back, I see how far I’ve come in my trade-show presentation and I’d like to help you navigate this chaotic yet rewarding world. You may be thinking, “How do I prepare?” or “How do I make my brand memorable?” Don’t overwhelm yourself with daunting questions. Stick to some of these basic principles and you’ll be sure to make your mark on the masses. 

Start strong with a small booth 
There’s no need to go overboard for your first trade show. Stick to a standard booth size, which ranges between 5’x10’ and 10’x10’. Start with a smaller booth option. As you gain more experience and develop more products, you can set a goal to opt for a larger booth size. Despite this, I am a firm believer that bigger does not necessarily mean better. I’ve exhibited in 5’x10,’ 10’x10’ and 10’x15’ booths, but it was the well-designed 5’x10’ booth that earned awards and attention from buyers. A concise, well-thought-out design will win over a bigger, more ostentatious presentation.  

Make your brand memorable 
Hire a designer to create the layout for your booth. It will not only take one item off your to-do list, but also optimize your brand image. Always keep in mind that you want everything to reflect the most elevated version of your brand. Initially I applied only the minor suggestions I received from consultations with designers, but not until I implemented a designer’s entire design did potential buyers really take notice. The products were obviously the star attraction, but I still receive inquiries from designers because of my impressive booth design. 

You may be thinking, “How do I prepare?” or “How do I make my brand memorable?” Don’t overwhelm yourself with daunting questions.

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Your neighbors are your friends 
Every event is a networking opportunity. Your fellow exhibitors are also looking to extend their audience, so follow them and post pictures of their products on social media. Typically, they will be happy to do the same for you. I would also suggest taking a picture with your fellow vendors and be sure to exchange contact information at the conclusion of the trade show. To follow up, send email with an attachment of the picture you took together to remind them who you are. New and positive business connections are a win-win for everyone involved!  

Photos are paramount 
Take pictures with any visitors that would help to enhance your brand’s credibility. Don’t be afraid to call out the name of a potential client if you know who they are. When I saw people whose work I admired or read about, I went out of my way to make sure I snagged a picture with them. Although it was a bit nerve-racking to approach complete strangers, to my surprise, they all were flattered and graciously allowed me to take and post pictures of them.  

Give a postcard 
Design a postcard to be used as a keepsake. Add a personal touch by including recipes, instructions for an easy DIY project or inspirational photographs. The postcard will not only be appreciated by your clients, but also serve as a tool for them to remember your product at the conclusion of the show. 
Invest in a scanner 

Leave the pen and paper at home. Many people run out of business cards throughout the course of the day. Using a scanner will allow you to collect more leads and be more efficient. I made the mistake of not investing in a scanner during my first trade show and was writing down contact details. I soon realized that people don’t want to wait for someone to transcribe their information. Scanners are not cheap; this is why I call them an investment, but it’s well worth it. Now, with a downloadable app, you can use your phone in lieu of a traditional scanner. The app will keep track of all leads, leads per hour and other information, plus you can write notes for each potential lead. You’ll thank me for encouraging this investment when you have all the contact information in an easy form for follow-up later. Be sure to email your catalog in a PDF form or send the link to your website at the conclusion of the event. 

Be different, be bold 
Showcase your most thought-provoking or visually intriguing product. Although it may not be your best seller of the day, it will draw an audience to your booth and allow potential clients to view your collection in its entirety. At HD Boutique in Miami, my first trade show, I showcased my first three carpet designs: Wolof, Papunya and Mendhi. They are all showstoppers as opposed to bestsellers, but they attracted a crowd each day of the show.

Don’t be afraid to take the plunge, plan accordingly and kick ass at your first trade show. Follow these surefire tips as closely and consistently as your budget allows and you’ll make the best impression at your show. Don’t be surprised when potential buyers swarm your booth and you become the envy of your booth neighbors. I share more tips in Malene B Essentials e-guide series for creative entrepreneurs. To learn more visit www.maleneb.com 

And I love to hear success stories! Feel free to forward them to studio@maleneb.com.