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Starting a Business

Trade Show Basics

When it's your turn to showcase your product, you need to be prepared.
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: My product is in its final stages of development, and I'd like to introduce it at a trade show. What can I expect?

A: Here are the basics: The first day of any trade show is typically a "kick the tires" day-the day buyers, distributors and sales representatives look for the next Hula-Hoop or George Foreman Grill. The second day is the return trip, and the third day is the closing day. You should be ready to talk, present, pitch and sell, and to do that right, here's the information you'll need.

Most industries and/or product categories have trade organizations that regularly organize trade shows, and 90 percent of those trade shows are usually held in the first quarter of every calendar year. Typically, there are one or two major shows per year that offer you the opportunity to debut your product. The larger shows attract people from all over the world, including retail buyers.

Most of those retail buyers have several years' experience and often make several appointments in advance with existing clients and/or manufacturers attending a show. They typically have an agenda or buying criteria based on a unique buying profile, usually created by the store they're representing. In simple terms, they have certain categories and price points they're looking for as well as strict budgets. Planning is critical for buyers, often done one year in advance and season by season.

Once you've identified your trade organization and zeroed in on the date and time of your first show, it's time to create your presentation for soliciting and securing orders. When introducing your product to the industry, avoid showing prototypes unless you have several items and the purpose of the prototype is to obtain market research. Showing prototypes often results in an impression that you're not ready for market.

Which brings us to a good rule of thumb: Be ready for your show in print, presentation and pitch. This is your moment in the sun-do whatever you can (within budget) to showcase your product. You don't have to spend tons of money-you just need a good product, an attractive four-color display, sales sheets, business cards and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm.

Have at least 12 samples of your product for review. Some first-time exhibitors use prototype packaging; if the boxes are printed with a high-gloss coated print, this can look like the real thing. But beware: Most buyers are sophisticated enough to recognize the difference. Have that four-color sales sheet on hand-that's the only reminder buyers will have to look at later when they're making their decisions, so be sure it looks professional. Plus, you can use it as a self-mailer for follow-up on the stack of business cards you'll acquire once you successfully showcased your product.

Keep in mind, large corporations often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at trade shows to get their messages across to the same buyers. The secret to winning the trade show game is pre- and post-promotion via direct mail to key buying individuals attending the show. The ultimate secret is to stay in their faces and promote all you can. If you're seen enough, your message will be delivered. In the world of trade shows, simple is good, sexy is great!! And image is spectacular.

Dave Dettman founded Mr. Product LLC ten years ago and currently serves as president and CEO.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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