5 Common Mistakes Businesses Make at Their First Trade Show


Hey, we’re all human—everyone makes mistakes, especially on their first try with something.  When it comes to a venture as big and involved as a trade show, this can be an especially potent truth.

After all, when a company is planning their first show at a major exposition, all hands need to be on deck. Even then, things can go amiss; anybody who’s worked behind the scenes at any type of event knows that this is something that happens pretty often!

You can’t anticipate every potential hurdle that comes your way during an event, but you can try to be prepared for as many as possible. With a strong team, organized planning effort, and the help of some trusted professionals, your first trade show can be a smashing success.

In addition to solid preparation, study and learn from the blunders other first timers have made at their first trade show:


Proper Budget

1. They Didn’t Properly Budget

Without an airtight budget, there are a lot more chances for a small problem to turn into a financial crisis. There are a lot of expenses that come with showing at a trade show, and it’s important that your team considers each in depth and makes a decision on what they are able to spend.

Though a large part of your budget should go towards your actual display booth, as well as the design details that surround it, you have plenty more to consider. The last thing that you need is to spend every penny of your budget, only to arrive at the showgrounds with a crisis on your hands and nothing left to fix it.

A few questions to contemplate as you make your budget:

  • Where will the trade show be?

Chances are, this event is not local to your head office. Trade shows are often in big cities like Las Vegas, Chicago, or Atlanta. This means that you will need to sort out transportation, accommodation, car rental, and everything else that comes with business travel.

You will also need to consider how your display will be delivered and eventually disassembled on the site—though some great companies offer these services along with booth design and construction.

  • Who will be staffing the event?

Will you be outsourcing event staff or using in-house staff? Will they need to be trained? If they are traveling for this event, those are also expenses to consider.

  • Will we be giving away freebies or testers?

Freebies and giveaways are an important part of the trade show structure. These days, people hand out far more than branded pens and t-shirts. To make sure your brand stands out, ensure that there’s room for something unique for leads to take home with your name.


Train the Staff2. They Neglected to Train their Staff

As a business owner or marketing head, you know the ins and outs of your company like the back of your hand. Outsourced event staff who you’ve only recently hired? Probably not so much.

It’s up to you to make sure that your event staff is properly trained. At an event, it is crucial for staff to speak the language of your brand in a way that’s passionate, not pushy, when they pitch.

They should be knowledgeable about your brand mission, values, and product, and be well aware of your goals for the trade show. Make sure your staff has tried your product, if possible, and is passionate about sharing it with new consumers or businesses.

Aside from brand knowledge and passion, it’s important that your staff is friendly, helpful, and easy for prospects to speak with. And finally, they need to correctly capture leads and urge prospects to follow your brand on social media.


Stuck in the Past3. They Got Stuck in the Past

Bob Dylan famously sang, “these times, they are a-changing,” and that lyric rings true, over forty years later. Our society is constantly evolving, and it’s true: you better start swimming, or you’ll sink like a stone.

When a brand relies on outdated marketing techniques or values, it can cause their business to suffer.

This doesn’t mean that old-fashioned styled products or services can’t sell—but they need to be marketed towards the modern eye. Consumers are looking for exciting concepts, even if something familiar is wrapped inside.

A few tips:

  • Go Green

It’s finally trendy to be eco-friendly. Don’t mark yourself as a dinosaur by handing out wasteful pamphlets and individually wrapped freebies.

If you use carbon footprint reducing products in your business, like solar panels, highlight this to your prospects. If you hand out samples, try to steer clear of the more wasteful ones—and if you’re giving away food or drink, consider composting taster cups, or keeping a recycling bin at your display.

  • Embrace the Digital

Whether this means using touch-screens instead of posters for information, or including a scannable square for prospects to learn more about your mission after they leave your booth, it’s vital to use modern technology in your trade show marketing plan.

This is the way that most people consume information these days, and successful companies need to keep up!

  • Fall Under the Influence

A trade show is a great opportunity to work with an influencer or endorser. Working with a popular entertainer or media figure is a great way to keep your brand relevant and up to speed with the latest trends. (It’s also a surefire way to attract lots of prospects to your display!


 Branding4. They Lose Grip on Their Branding

It’s okay to go above and beyond for a trade show—this is a time where many more “serious” companies can include some fun, lighthearted elements to their business—but no matter what bells and whistles you include at your expo, it’s important that they still reflect your branding.

A few key branding-elements to ask your creative team when designing your trade show booth:

  • What Does Your Brand Look Like?

If your logo and branding are usually in red and gold, it doesn’t make sense to trick out your display in “millennial pink,” even if that’s a current trend. Your booth should be recognizably your brand, even if it’s a high-concept trade show version of it.

If you have a mascot, they should appear somewhere as well—perhaps printed on a giveaway, or with a life-sized version for prospects to interact with.

  • What are your Values and Mission?

If your mission is to provide healthy eating solutions to busy parents, it doesn’t make sense to auction off a motorcycle. Instead, an exciting giveaway that aligns with the needs of your prospects—like a contest to win a family-friendly vacation—remains in tune with your mission and attracts lasting customers.

  • What is your Current Marketing Campaign?

If your current marketing push is urging women to post #nomakeupselfies, find a way to bring it along to the expo: you could display some of your favorites, and have a photo booth for visitors to take their own. If you have a new product, design your booth around that as a showpiece.

Use what your current campaign has to offer. Those who already know of your brand will recognize it, and new faces will be able to connect you to your social media presence when they see it “in the wild.”


Time Management5. They Waste Time (and Money) on Details Better Left to Professionals

As you’ve likely gathered, there are countless elements that go into your plans to attend a trade show. This can be overwhelming, even for the hardest working team. After all, there’s still plenty of other, non-trade show related business to attend to while you are planning for this event.

Instead of sweating the small stuff, go with a reputable company who can help you navigate the waters of your first trade show.

At Exponents, we rely on over 35 years of experience to help brands around the country deliver the best trade show experience possible.

With our huge range of customizable rental options, specialized booth construction and graphics production, personalized project management services, on-site supervision, and a team to deliver, install and dismantle your booth, we take the stressful details out of the equation for you and your team.

Give us a call today, we can make your first trade show the best day of your career!