832-732-5063 emilyandros@gmail.com

Your Tradeshow Checklist

Everything you need to know about going to a trade show

from a 30 year trade show veteran.

Deciding to go to a trade show

After you decide to go to a show your first decision will be what size of booth space to I need and where should it be?

Obviously size is dependent on budget but after that you have to think of your competitors’ booths. If your competitors are all showing up with 60′ x 60′ Islands you’re going to look pretty mediocre in a 10′ x 10′ booth. HOWEVER if the budget is really low, then you may not have a choice. If you do have a choice, try to AT least pick a 20′ x 20′ booth as that will give you a lot more room to work in with better visibility. Of course another essential consideration when you determine your booth size is the size of your existing trade show booth (if you have one) and what minimum size booth space does it fit into?
If you exhibit at the same show each year, then at the end of the current year’s show you can usually go and pick your booth before most of the other exhibitors do. The selection process is done on a matter of seniority (based on how many times you have been to the show previously and how big your booth was at those shows). The negative thing about picking your booth space at the previous year’s show is that you’ll have to pay your deposit right then (which can sometimes be a hardship after you’ve just paid for the previous show). So if you didn’t pick your booth space last year, then sometime before the show, you’ll be mailed or emailed a map that will essentially make no sense whatsoever [especially if you’ve never been to that particular exhibit hall]. If that’s the case, it is a good idea to call someone at the trade show developer’s office (a.k.a. “the show people”) and ask them to go over the map with you. Review all the available spaces with someone familiar with the exhibit hall and how it’s going to be set up. Try to pick a booth closer to the front of the exhibit hall or next to some rest area or eating area (that you know potential clients will be hanging out in). If the map you see doesn’t have any decent booths, be sure and let your show rep know you’d like something better. there are often cancellations and booth spaces become available, so if you don’t tell them you want something better, you’ll never get it. Be sure and ask the show people if there are any columns or other obstructions that will be in or around your booth. If so, try to pick another space. It’s also a good idea to be near your biggest competitors (especially the ones that all your customers will go to see or all the customers you WISH were yours will go to see). If you’re close them or next to them, sooner or later a decent, potential clients will stroll by your booth. o Read the show Book o Fill out all forms o Write all checks which are due by the show deadline in order to receive pre-show discount
Some time before the show they’ll send or email you what’s called the “Trade Show Guide Book” that will have all the forms you’ll need to fill out to exhibit at the show. You don’t HAVE to fill them out in advance but if you don’t you’ll pay more and sometimes get the bottom of the barrel when it comes to renting furniture and flooring, etc.


Getting people to your booth

Consider ordering and sending out some invitations to your top customers. It’s a personal way to let them know that you remember them and care if they show up or not. Make sure whatever you create (design & content wise) is consistent with your overall corporate brand as well as the show theme. You may not think you need a show theme but if not, refer to my previous blog posting “What Mardi Gras Beads can teach you about Advertising”.
Consider having your invitations (and all your trade show printing) handled by a print broker. People mistakenly think that print brokers are more expensive than going out and getting your own work printed but nothing could be further than the truth. If you don’t believe me get your own quotes and then give them to a broker and ask them to beat them…..see what happens.,
Include existing and potential customers. It goes without saying that it’s a good idea to send out invites to your existing distributors or clients but of course you also want to attract new clients. To do that call your rep at the trade show headquarters in advance and ask if you can purchase last year’s attendee list. Alternatively ask if you can get this year’s registrant list to make sure you’re communicating with the people who are planning on attending this show. There are other ways of reaching potential new customers such as co-marketing with other attendees (who have similar target markets but who don’t compete directly with you), local advertising, press coverage and distributing invites or flyers at local hotels to name just a few.
See more things that you can do to get people to your trade show booth in the advertising section below. Don’t forget to release a Press Release prior to the show. Call the show publication and ask them when the show issue will be “closing for editorial” so you can make sure your press release gets to them in time. Consider releasing some newsworthy product or other story to other trade related journals so you have something to say that’s enticing to get potential clients to your booth. Consider conducting a show event or contest or other promotion that you can announce in advance of the show and entice visitors to stop by.
Once you get visitors to come by your both via PR and marketing, you can get them to stay by providing beverages (water for sure, and booze if the show will let you) and give them a place to sit down. Sometimes people complain about having people lounge in your booth but if you provide enough room for people to sit down it won’t matter.

Trade Show Booth and Supplies

if you are reusing an old booth be sure to have someone get the booth out and set it up…believe me there’s nothing worse than getting to the show and finding out your missing a piece that takes a week or two to reorder and replace.
Once you’ve inspected your existing booth you can decide if you need a new one….besides if you have to gravel in front of your boss you’ll want to have all the information you can get as to why the old booth can’t be reused again. I’ve purchased many a “pop up” booth which is convenient, easy and can be brought into the show without paying the “show labor” (union workers). If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a custom booth do me a personal favor and don’t hire someone who’s unimaginative. If you’ve got a budget to create a new booth make sure you have the help of someone who knows how to do this, knows how to save money doing it and can think out of the box to get you something memorable.
Create a trade show booth inventory that includes every single item that is in your show crates. You THINK you’ll remember this when you’re packing up your booth at the end of a show but trust me, next year when you’re getting ready to go to a new show you will not remember that one of the support rods buckled under the weight of one of your customers who sat on your counter!
Carpet or other flooring; is the current condition is ok? Does it need to be cleaned or replaced? Think twice about renting the show carpeting….it’s usually gross and it’s almost always cheaper to buy something and just toss it (or donate it) after the show. I used those puzzle pieces made out of foam once for a show and not only did they look great but they felt good on our feet. It’s a good idea to try to think about providing a certain amount of comfort to your clients because it helps to get them into your booth and to stay there.
To lock up inventory & handouts; do you need to hire a cage to lock up the equipment or does the booth have a lockable area to put valuables?
Do they need to be replenished from last show? If so what? Consider taking things like Windex, Plexi cleaner, Formica cleaner, paper towels, Velcro, scissors, staplers, screw drivers, hammers, tape (bring clear packing tape not only to pack up show boxes but also to run along the edge of your flooring…it’s usually required by the show management to ensure that visitors don’t trip over the edge of your carpet), vacuum / vacuum cleaner bags, writing pads and pens, etc.


Does your trade show booth require crates? Don’t forget to bring locks and it’s a very good idea for your crates to have wheels. Did the crates survive the last shipment or do they need to be repaired or replaced?
Your shipper should provide you with preprinted labels either before you go to the show or at the show. If you don’t have labels go find your shippers booth around the service area of the trade show and there should be someone there that can help you. If you know your shipper isn’t going to have a booth at the show, be sure and take their complete contact information and name with you so you can call them to let them know you’re ready to be picked up.
Research the different options and how it affects other costs: 1. Shipping with cheap shipper (not a common carrier); if you do that will you have to pay full price to get the products into the booth and will you have to hire a separate shipper to bring crates from airport to the show? 2. Or, ship with the show shipper; pay a higher price, but get the package deal to bring the crates into the show floor. 3. Or get a quote from a common carrier – other than show shipper?
Consider filing for credit with whichever shipper(s) you use, otherwise you’ll have to have a check or a credit card for these people when they pick up your booth at the show.
Check with show booth to see what your “target” date is for shipment arrival.
If needed, don’t forget to tell the shipper to come to pick up your shipment with a truck that has a lift gate.

Furniture for booth

Keep in mind that sometimes the show furniture is really hideous so you might want to go and rent furniture at a local furniture rental location (but don’t forget to consider how using outside vendors will influence OTHER show costs, because you almost always have to pay union people to carry in items from non-show related vendors). (you also may have to do the same with show vendors but often there’s a package price).
Condition of any existing furniture, does it need to be painted or repaired? Did anything break the last time around that needs to be replaced? Does the existing furniture upholstery and colors match your new show theme or will repairs and/or replacements need to be considered?
If you’re renting them, have the forms been filled out and how many to you need? Keep in mind that sometimes it’s cheaper to buy something than to rent it….even if you have to donate it to the local shelter when you’re done. When you rent or buy anything outside the show you have to consider when the exhibit hall will allow your vendors onto the show floor to deliver the items among other nightmares (such as will your vendor have to wait in the line of teamsters to get into the exhibit hall itself and will they charge you more for this or not?). As much as the rule books often tell you that each and every item has to be checked in and out…..it’s not always true. My sister and I bought a HUGE circular sofa and dragged the entire thing in through one of the side doors at a Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas (we did a lot of things like that to have a nicer hipper show when we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford both the cost of the sofa and the cost to pay the teamsters to bring it into the show…..now mind you I heard of a guy who got beat to a pulp for doing this at the Jacob Javits center in NYC years ago but we were girls and I can’t say that didn’t help us to get by with more of that type of thing, at least just a little).
Don’t rent these…..that’s ridiculous. Just buy some inexpensive ones you can hide under or behind the booth and donate them to the Salvation Army after the show.
Looking through the list of rent-able items will usually remind you of other items you may need. Keep in mind that 99.9% of the time it’s cheaper to just buy the thing you’re thinking of renting and donating it to a local shelter.
Sign up for service/ bring own phone as it’s much cheaper than renting a phone at the show (sometimes it’s cheaper to just bring cell phones but the signals aren’t always perfect on a show floor and if you do that don’t forget to arrange in advance to get your internet connectivity via your wireless carrier as well).



Do you need to have any of the signage on the booth changed or can you use existing signage? If so, what is needed and where do you get it done at? Do yourself a favor…don’t use those ridiculous white cardboard signs that the show often supplies exhibitors with – they just reek of cheap, homemade and unprofessional. You’re better off not having a sign if you have to use that ugly dog.
Design new layouts, write copy, print, trim, laminate, pack to ship?


Most trade show exhibit halls aren’t lacking when it comes to lighting but a few carefully placed spot lights can highlight important products or signage and make your booth look better. Consider if your lighting is part of your display or if you need free-standing lights…if so find something sturdy. Don’t forget whatever you put in your booth is going to have to be approved by the Fire Marshall who will take a “walk through” right before the show starts so be prepared to have you booth shut down if you have some crummy lights that don’t pass inspection.
Do you need to replace bulbs? (Better safe than sorry and having to run around a foreign city in a taxi or a rental car and looking for some odd sized bulb is not my idea of having a good time…..also it’s hard to explain a huge taxi bill to your boss).
I know it seems a bit anal but check the cords to make sure they’re OK

Back-wall curtains

Curtains – Use existing curtains that come with the show or opt for a different color curtains? – seriously try not to use the show curtains as your only backdrop…unless you’re desperate and quite frankly you could at least have a custom set of curtains silk screened with your logo and hang them on a secondary set of curtain rods (you can’t take down the show curtains most of the time because the booth behind you may need them…of course if you’re an island booth that’s a different story all together). 1. If changing the curtains, do you “rent” show curtains or bring our own? 2. If you bring our own, do you need to have them made and ship with the booth?


Catering for the booth

Do you want to serve coffee or at least have a water dispenser? Food?This has to be done with the show caterer. Food is too obvious to sneak in!
It’s not a bad idea to have a “party” in the booth at the end of one day – with music and catering. Get special permission from the show management.

Booth Giveaways

Research give away ideas; consider giving away mugs, shirts, bags, pens, etc. – preferably anything that’s memorable.
Promo orders & timing – Get items quoted/approved & ordered far enough in advance so you can ship with booth.


Booth Security


  • Product security – What will you do with the products at night? Take it all with us? Research this.
  • In booth security options – order a “cage” to lock products up at night or design security areas into a new trade show booth when possible.
  • Security guard – consider hiring a security guard for higher valued inventory.


  • Existing brochures – do your existing advertising and sales support materials suffice to take to the show or do you need to do a new one specifically for the event?
  • Show special – If you’re going to do some kind of a show special it’s always a good idea to provide some kind of “take away” that the customer can look at later when they’re (hopefully) reviewing all their trade show materials.
  • Review strategy & objectives – I could write a book on this subject….no matter what printed materials you do at the show, consider how the show objective differ from your normal marketing objectives.
  • Brochure production – Design, write copy and do layout – go through proofing process with management.
  • Printing – get quotes and make sure you order what you’ll need for the show in plenty of time to get the items before the show.  Consider hiring a print broker who knows where to get the best and lowest cost printing for you.  A print broker can save you as much as 85% of what you’re currently paying for printing and often they don’t mind if you’re not printing 10 billion of something.
  • Shipping of print materials – Print locally and ship to show or print at show destination?
  • Price Sheets – do you need to do a price sheet just for the trade show or does your standard price sheet suffice?  If you need a new price sheet allow plenty of time to discuss pricing issues with the corporate management team. 
  • Printing Price Sheets – Depending on how many price sheets you’ll need you will either photocopy or offset or digital print the price sheets.  It’s cheaper to print offset or digital if you need anything more than a handful of printed prices.
  • Shipping Price Sheets – Ship to show with trade show booth or send UPS in advance? Or ship Fed Ex (depending on time)


  • Ads – Any ads for the show?  Check with the show to see what advertising options they are providing to show exhibitors.  Obviously you don’t have to advertise with them and you may want to consider doing some local advertising that is not “sanctioned” by the show management.  You will just have to determine the pros and cons of each option and decide if it’s worth the extra price to advertise via the “show” channels.
  • Show directory – listing?  Has our information been submitted to the show directory? If so, has the booth number been changed since the initial show sign up? If so, has the directory printer been notified?
  • Show website – review the web related advertising options offered by show management including website ads, email marketing and digital show book listings.
  • Other marketing options – see show book  for other advertising options such as bill boards, radio ads, magazine ads, local TV, press conferences, show news releases, editorial content that’s being distributed in advance of and during the show, etc.


  • Photos of the booth – Over my career of 30 years I cannot tell you how many trade shows I’ve been to and how many exhibits I’ve designed, constructed and put up that I have NOT photographed.  Quite frankly it was often because i just didn’t have the budget for that when all things were said and done but I should have done it for a hundred different reasons.  Decide if you should hire the show photographer to photograph booth, hire a “non show” photographer or photograph your booth yourself.
  • If you photograph your booth yourself, be sure and bring a camera (phone) and consider if any other materials are needed.
  • Make sure you integrate any photos you take into a press program and social media marketing efforts.

Press Package

  • Hooks – creating a list of possible “hooks” for your press releases – a PR hook is something that ties your press release into current events, show happenings and other events & issues that will make your press release more than just a sales pitch.
  • Press releases – Write press release(s); How many press kits will you need and how will you get them to the show?
  • Press release distribution – either print or distribute digitally, depending on what show management prefers.  Consider using an Internet press distribution company such as “PR Newswire”.
  • Photos – include digital photos with your press release?  If so provide a flash drive or some other digital method of transmitting your photo to the press staff.
  • Folders – check with your show management to see if the attending press wants printed press materials or if they will only accept digital press materials.  If you need printing materials, consider printing professional portfolio folders with your company logo or buy at office supply stores and print labels?  (that latter option is pretty crummy….so in that case you might want to just do a digital press mailing prior to the show).
  • Print labels – print labels for folders in-house or at a printer?
  • Assemble packages – assemble packages to be left in the press room at the trade show.  Most shows now days don’t even accept printed materials any more but check with show management to see how they’re handing press release distribution.  Whatever that is – make sure you participate in that because the press coverage is essentially free.

Web site

  • Web changes – what changes are needed for the show?  At the very lease you’ll want to post the information about the show itself and let people know how to find you.
  • Promos – It’s a good idea to do some kind of promotion at the show and tie it into your website.  There are a million things you can do and what you do depends greatly on what what type of product or service you sell, your target market, your completion and many other factors.,  For this reason I highly recommend you hire someone creative to help you think of something creative and memorable and most importantly someone who knows how to handle web marketing & social media.
  • Products & Services – Do you need to add new products or services (or the new show special) to the website
  • Sales Support Website – do you have a sales support website for your sales staff?  It’s a good idea to add copies of all the new sales support materials, promotions and promo materials to the website so your sales staff can not only see that you’re supporting them but also so they’ll know what items they have access to before, during and after the show.
  • Other Site Changes – Other items may need to be changed or added to the website such as instruction manuals, show event calendars, booth staffing schedules, etc.  If you have a section on your site for reps or salesmen, do you want to announce a sales meeting at the show? Time and date?  Don’t forget to do the planning for this!  (btw good idea not to serve to much booze before the sales meeting…I made that mistake once regrettably).
  • Website Press Portal – If you’re having a press conference, perhaps you’d want to post the press releases and the conference information on the website.
  • Show Specials – the website is an obvious place to list the info about any show specials you might be planning on having at the show.

Products for show use

  • In Booth Inventory – Think through and inventory what you’ll need for the trade show (i.e., how many groupings of products are needed? How many display areas will you need in the booth? Do you want to make a grouping on the table or on the reception desk in the booth?)
  • Ordering Inventory – Do an order form to your warehouse/order department for the inventory that will be needed for the show; remember this inventory needs to be re-checked in upon return so save all packaging at the show.
  • Point of Purchase Displays (POPs) – Get a matching number of point of purchase displays (if the product that’s displayed at the show has such an item) and don’t forget to develop any signs that you’ll need to describe what your products are, the prices, etc.?
  • Brochures for POPs – Also, get quantities of the brochures for each item on display, which can be set next to the product. (Do you need plexi-stands to display these brochures? If so, how many will you need?)  And these don’t usually ship very well, this may need to be taken to the show by hand or have them shipped directly from the manufacturer to your hotel.
  • Batteries – Do products require batteries? If so order and ship to make sure you have plenty before and during the show.
  • POPs for Services vs. Products – if you sell a service rather than a product consider treating the service LIKE a product in that you’d create a point of purchase display (POP) for each service with the same types of signage and brochures that you’d put next to an actual physical product.

Hotel, Airline & Car Reservations

  • List of Employees – Create a list of all the employees attending the trade show and assign someone the task of researching airline & hotel reservations for these people – if hotels are held with a credit card, put last day to cancel on computer reminder system so you don’t forget to cancel and get charged for rooms you don’t need. (who, if anyone, can be doubled up and bunked into one room?)
  • List of outside reps that will be attending – hotels & reservations for them?  If so, who will be paying for that?  Get approvals from management on this.
  • List of customers attending show – are you paying for any of them to attend?  Hotel? Airline reservations?
  • Itineraries – Send out itineraries to anyone going to the show
  • Auto reservations – for all of above (reminder: send out memo to employees reminding them to bring their proof of auto insurance and a credit card with space for a deposit to rent a car).
  • Auto shuttle from show to hotel – Rent a nice car and use it to shuttle your show guests from the show to their hotels.  That way they won’t have to stand in the Taxi lines (like everyone else), they love you for it and save them a lot of stress.  Also this will conveniently make all of your NON-customers take notice and wonder why they’re not your client.
  • Give out “invitations” to the above shuttle – Tell customers where to find your shuttle and use this in your show promotions; advertise the shuttle and tell visitors to stop by your booth for a ticket for a free ride in your company shuttle.

Show Tickets

  • Order tickets – Order show tickets in advance to include in the mailing you’re doing to the customers & others that you’re inviting to the show.  If you can get as many tickets as you want, then ask for them in advance so you can send them out to EVERYONE!!
  • Other tickets – press conference, party for customers, sales meetings, events in the destination city for top customers (football games, baseball, see if there’s a special exhibit in the local museum and get tickets to that).


  • Employees – Get badges for everyone attending the show from your company and of course everyone who’s working your booth, including your sales reps and other invited attendees.
  • Customers – Don’t forget to get badges, if possible, for your top customers.
  • Vendors – Also, you may need a few spare badges to get vendors/service providers into the show to deliver flowers, supplies, furniture (if those suppliers are NOT the “show” suppliers).

 Booth work schedule

  • Employee schedule – Do yourself a favor, schedule your workers to work shifts, and include your outside reps.  Otherwise, the employees will end up having to work the whole show and be too beat to go out a night with customers and the reps will drift in and out of the booth and not be there when you need them.  That way, if key customers show up, you can tell them the exact time when someone will be at the booth to meet with them.
  • Dividing work into shifts – I recommend that the incoming morning staff be in charge of setting up the booth in the morning and the afternoon shift be the people most needed to wine and dine important customers.  That usually means the marketing staff is there in the morning and the executive staff can show up a little later (after all they may have been out all night partying anyway and need to sleep in a little!).
  • Schedule in advance – Make sure your employees and reps understand that you need their help BEFORE the show so they can work your schedule into their schedules. Obviously your reps and sales staff will need to have free time to meet with important clients and take them out to schmooze, but don’t let them use this as an excuse to not help you at all during the show.  Letting them know when you expect them in advance prevents you from being “left at the altar.”
  • Schedules to clients – Also be sure to send a schedule out to your customers before the show (perhaps when you send them their badges, tickets or invitations) so they can find out when their reps will be in the booth.  Make sure this information is also online so any last-minute editing can be easily viewable by your clients and staff.  

Hotel Suite

  • Off-site events – Consider renting a hotel suite to hold customer meetings/press meetings.  Schedule  beverages & food; arrange for catering if so.  You can usually find event spaces at the exhibit hall but sometimes it’s good to just get the heck out of dodge for a change in atmosphere.
  • Off site event products – Make sure you have product or service displays (point of purchase displays) for whatever events are being held in this room.  Don’t forget to include products that can be taken to this room to be put on display.
  • Save money using employee rooms – You can use one of the employees rooms as a “suite” if you’re on a tight budget (but be sure to make your employees promise to keep the room clean for when the guests come over).

Press Conferences

  • Press conference or not?  – Decide if you need to arrange to introduce our new
    Press Conferences

    Press Conferences

    products and service at a press conference.  It’s only a good idea to do this if you have something really newsworthy and interesting to say to the press….be careful not to gather a bunch of press together for no reason or your first press conference will be your last.

  • Press conference support materials – If you decide to hold a press conference consider invitations, catering, press folders, press releases, press conference announcements, online press releases and all the other things that go along with any press event.  Don’t forget you’ll want to have products or services with POP displays at the press event.
  • Press list & announcement – Get list of press attendees to send a mailing to them in advance of the show.  Make sure the event is listed on your website and consider releasing a notice of the event via PR Newswire.

Other things to remember

  • Take sales materials for use at a “reception desk” in your booth.
  • Take a cooler or buy at location to hide drinks under the reception desk (unless you’re getting the drinks from the show caterer and then you don’t have to hide them)!
  • Buy flowers at show destination (at an outside flower shop, so it’s cheaper) – or if you’re short on time, use the show florist.
  • Put a garbage can in one of crates for booth
  • Take a vacuum cleaner
  • Batteries and cell phone chargers
  • Cleaning materials, paper towels
  • Consider having a place for people to drop their business cards – possibly hold a contest if you don’t have some better promo figured out.
  • Get the show badge scanner – it’s worth it to collect the data on the people who visit your booth in an organized manner.
  • Schedule meetings in advance with Press and Ad sales people as well as the trade show management to discuss next year’s booth space; customers.

If you are going to a show, as you can see you may be better off hiring a professional to help you with your event.  I cannot stress enough that you don’t have to feel like you can’t afford to hire someone like this.  You seriously can’t afford NOT to hire someone like this because of how much they can help you to save.  Feel free to contact me if I can help you in any way at:  emily@mdept.com

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