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Taking Your Invention to a Trade Show

Gain awareness for your new product with this guide to planning for a trade show.
March 21, 2007

Trade shows offer inventors and entrepreneurs the opportunity to reach a large number of potential buyers and retailers. They also provide a marketing-sales double whammy: You'll meet buyers seeking products like yours, and even if you don't make a sale on the spot, your presence creates awareness about your product. You should also use trade shows to scout out similar products, make new contacts and gain general knowledge about your industry.

Here are some strategies for maximizing your trade show experience.

Find Shows That Fit
The most important thing you can do before attending a trade show is to make sure you choose the right one. You need to make the most of your time and money, and a poor choice can be a waste of both. Be sure to make your choice based on the potential returns. To choose appropriate trade shows, consider the following:

To find potential trade shows in your industry, visit , where you can search by industry, show name, date or state. You should also visit the website of the industry association related to your product; most sponsor trade shows for members and buyers to come together.

Make the Most of Your Booth
So you've chosen the show you'd like to attend. Now you need to determine what you'll do when you get there. It's important to maximize your booth space by presenting a professional, eye-catching image. While your booth design doesn't need to be elaborate, try to creatively make the most of your space.

In a basic package, the trade show will probably supply you with a table and skirt and some chairs. You can add stands and shelves you can buy at a discount store to further display your wares. Bring pretty tablecloths to cover boring tables. Create signs, banners and graphic elements to convey your brand and your products. You don't need to spend thousands on high-end panels--there are many thrifty ways to make your booth stand out.

For instance, we bought $79 white wooden shuttered closet doors at The Home Depot to use at our first show and placed them directly behind us in our booth space. I was able to display my packaged products by hanging them from S-hooks on the doors, similar to how they'd be sold in stores. I then spent the majority of our budget on high-resolution graphics of our products, which I also hung around the booth. The result was a professional-looking booth in a homey setting at a relatively low cost.

The location of your booth can also be critical to your success. When registering to exhibit, get a map of the show layout to choose your preferred locations. Here are a few things to remember when scouting your site:

Working the Show
A few weeks before a trade show, you can start creating some pre-show buzz. Send a letter or postcard to key prospective customers to let them know you'll be at the show. Include your booth number and information on what you'll be exhibiting. Also, consider including a promotional element to entice them to come visit your booth--a drawing for a prize or a small giveaway to all visitors.

Once you're at the trade show, make the most of your time. Engage with potential buyers as they pass by. Appear friendly and interested and offer a quick product demonstration. Develop some show specials, such as free shipping or discounts for orders placed at the show. Remember that at your first show, your goal is to establish new relationships and open new accounts--not make a killing on profit. Don't sacrifice a potential long-term relationship for a few dollars.

Tools of the Trade
Remember to bring these key items to the show:

Can't-Miss Tips
We've also learned a few additional lessons along the way about dos and don'ts for exhibiting at a trade show.

Keep it in Perspective
While trade shows can be a great way to make sales, be sure to set realistic expectations. A trade show should be one component of your overall sales plan. In other words, don't expect to make your entire investment back at your first show. In addition to potential sales, remember to value what else you can gain by exhibiting at a trade show--new contacts, industry knowledge, feedback about your product, and product and brand awareness.