It’s May again, and the 2013 National Restaurant Association Show is set to begin next weekend here in Chicago.  Despite the popularity of these types of trade shows, there are no guarantees of success when it comes to being an exhibitor.


In fact, according to the Trade Show Bureau (TSB), roughly 40% of first-time exhibitors don’t come back. A lot of them just go, stand around not doing much, and then swear they’re never coming back.  The problem for these first time exhibitors is they don’t realize the effort it takes before and after to make a trade show work.

Here are 10 tips that can help small companies and/or new exhibitors make their mark at a trade show:

Check a trade show directory. Find out as much as possible about an exhibition before the show. Make certain its attendees are your target group.

Fix a budget. Find out prices for airfare, accommodations, and the like. Also, decide what your display needs are. If your budget is tight or you’re just going to one show, you may want to consider renting a display. If you go to a lot of shows (five or more a year), buying a display may be a better option.

Set objectives. Don’t go to the show without concrete marketing goals. Plan to meet a certain number of key customers and prospects.

Ship ahead, and allow plenty of lead time. Don’t expect things to arrive when they’re supposed to. Plan as if your materials will get there a week or two later than your target date.

Watch labor costs. Portable displays can usually be set up quickly and help you avoid additional labor costs. Check the show booklet carefully to see what the regulations are when it comes to setting up your own booth. As a rule, if it can be set up in 20 minutes or less with one person, you can avoid extra labor charges.

Keep it simple. If you can’t afford a lot of extras in the booth, at least keep it uncluttered and simple. Don’t put a table in the front, blocking the entrance. Avoid having chairs in the booth (it may become too tempting to sit down). Most important: Have a banner that tells people who you are and what you do.

Spend on lights. Don’t cut corners too closely on lighting. Many exhibit halls are poorly lit, and a dark booth is both uninviting and apt to make the company look like it doesn’t belong.

Consider trade show training. Many firms offer training on how to sell at trade shows. Salespeople who are great on the road may feel less comfortable standing in a booth for six or eight hours a day.

Don’t understaff. A minimum of two people is always necessary. If budgets are really tight, look at the possibility of hiring an on-site temp rather than sending a staffer to the show.

Be aggressive. Go out into the aisles and meet people. Don’t stand there (or worse, sit) waiting for people to come to you.