Trade Shows

views updated May 23 2018

Trade Shows

A trade show is an event where companies that are involved in a certain industry gather to exhibit their products, learn about current trends in their industry, and gain knowledge about their competitors. Trade shows provide opportunities for selling, reinforcing existing business relationships, and launching new products. These events can range in size from small regional shows featuring fewer than two dozen participants to massive national shows, which may draw hundreds of exhibitors and tens of thousands of visitors over a period of several days to a week.

During the 1990s, business analysts, consultants, and participants alike debated whether the surge in electronic commerce and Internet purchasing options might soon render the trade show an irrelevant relic of a bygone business era. But, after a slow down in growth in the first three years of the 21st centurydue to post 9/11 decline in travel and a general economic slowdownthe trade show industry has grown steadily. These trade shows accounted for more than $100 billion in annual direct spending and attracted nearly 125 million individuals in 2004. "In many industries, the trade show has become a must-seize marketing opportunity," stated Business Week. "It's a time to meet prospective customers, get valuable feedback on your product or service, and close sales."

The continued vitality of trade show exhibitions provide small businesses with excellent opportunities to stand on equal footing with far larger competitors. For small companies with limited marketing budgets, trade shows can serve as an economical and effective pathway to new clients and increased industry visibility. Moreover, trade shows provide entrepreneurs and their small business managers with priceless opportunities to gather information about new industry innovations and competitor products and/or services.


The first step in establishing a presence at a trade show is choosing the right show. Finding the show that best meets your company's needs is crucial, since exhibiting is a costly proposition. Attending the wrong show is a frustrating waste of time and money. In order to avoid committing to a trade show that provides little in the way of new business or contacts, companies can take several precautions:

Crunch the Numbers. Businesses should request detailed statistical and other information on past trade shows from the organizers.

  • What was last year's attendance? Was the show visited most by serious buyers or by browsers? Savvy small business owners are aware that some trade shows pad their attendance numbers by counting every person who walks through the doors, including exhibitors and repeat visitors.
  • Is there demographic data available on attendees? For example, how old is the average attendee? Male or female? What is his or her income?
  • Who else will be exhibiting? Will your competitors be there?
  • How stable and successful is the show promoter? Are they experienced in managing a show and delivering an audience, or is this a new, untested exhibition?
  • What will the cost be? Expenses include booth space (typically about 25 percent of your expenses); furnishings, equipment, and other exhibit expenses (30 percent); utilities (20 percent); transportation of staff and materials to and from the trade show (15 percent); and pre-show promotions (10 percent). Booths that incorporate new electronic technologies (Webcasts, videoconferencing, etc.) will add to the expense as well. Some companies that exhibit infrequently rent displaystypically portable booths that come in easy-to-assemble kitsrather than invest in booths.

Identify target audience. If you are a small vendor with a new and exciting product seeking national distributors, then the goal would be to attend a national show with high visibility and attendance by all key players. If, on the other hand, you have an existing product that you want to expose to new markets, you would target potential buyers. For example, if a company decides that one of its software packagesoriginally designed for and used by the publishing industryalso would be useful to teachers and educators, the sensible strategy would be to attend trade shows aimed at teachers instead of computer software industry shows.

Scout potential shows. Experts counsel entrepreneurs to scout potential trade shows before committing resources to a booth. Business owners can often get an accurate sense of a trade show's value simply by visiting a show, sponsoring a show-related event, or participating in a show-related seminar or conference. All of these avenues can be excellent ways of gauging the quality of the attendees.

Weigh value of exhibiting. Business owners are also urged to consider whether or not he/she should even be exhibiting at trade shows. A very small business with limited funds and a clear business model might decide that the best route to go is direct mail and promotions to a well-defined target audience. On the other hand, a business that is attempting to publicize an established product with low profit margins might well decide that attendance at large national and regional shows with heavy traffic is a good strategic move. And some industry sectorssuch as high tech, transportation, communications, and manufacturingplace a heavy emphasis on trade shows.


Once a small business owner has decided to attend a specific trade show, there are steps that he or she can take to ensure that it is a successful and profitable endeavor. Of course, shows will vary in content, character, and tone from industry to industry, but for the most part, these guidelines can be followed no matter what field your small business is in.

Set specific and measurable goals. Perhaps the most important first step to take is to approach the show with enthusiasm and treat it as a sales opportunity and not a money drain. To take advantage of the opportunity, set specific goals. If the purpose of the show is to gather leads, then set a number in advance that would make the show, in your mind, a success. Compare actual leads gathered to that target number to gauge whether or not the show was worthwhile.

Publicize your involvement. According to the Trade Show Bureau, 45 percent of trade show attendees are drawn to a company's exhibit as the direct result of a personal invitation (via direct mail, e-mail, or telephone), trade journal publicity, or pre-show advertising. A trade show is worthless unless prospective customers visit the booth, and the best way to ensure that those visits occur is to make them aware of your location on the floor. Indeed, industry surveys indicate that about 75 percent of all trade show attendees make out their schedules in advance of arrival. This is an important step, then, so companies should make sure that they allocate sufficient funds for marketing needs.

Prepare personnel. Staffers manning trade show booths should be personable, well-informed, and well-trained to demonstrate and sell your product and/or service. Conduct a pre-show meeting with all key personnel who will be a part of the show, from employees who will spend their time at the booth to the shipper who will send your products to the show and be responsible for set-up. Let each person know what is expected of him or her at the show, and make sure that they know about all pertinent facets of the effort, from the location of promotional brochures to products that should be highlighted. Other assignments, like observation of competitor's booths and materials or breaking down the booth at the end of the show, may be assigned to specific people.


"Getting attention on a crowded show floor isn't easy for a newcomer," admitted Business Week. "However, you can create a respectable-looking booth inexpensively without being tacky: Buy good quality, three-sided skirts for your tables and portable banner stands for signage, and make flyers on your computer to set on plastic literature racks. Don't clutter the space with lots of giveaways, but do hand out your business card and a small gift with your logo and phone number on it to qualified leads."

There are two types of booths you can set up at a show, with different sales techniques needed for each. One is designed to make sales at the show, so salespeople should be trained in "one interview selling"quickly identifying a customer's needs and selling him or her your product to meet that need. At such a booth, it is common to have smaller and less expensive items on display and for sale at the show. Larger and more expensive items can be sold at the show and delivered later. All sales at the show should be at a discount over the regular list price, at least 20 percent. If sales are your goal, be prepared to deal with cash, credit cards, and checks.

The other kind of booth is more informational and less sales-oriented. It is primarily designed to meet people, to demonstrate a presence in the industry, to promote customer relations, or to generate new business leads. It can also serve as an excellent meeting point for people you are hoping will invest in your company or join you in a partnership. Since the focus of this type of booth is not sales, the booth personnel should approach their role differently than that of pure salesperson. Interaction produced valuable feedback. "Unlike the social vacuum of the Web, you can see immediately what customers think of your product," observed Business Week.

In the booth itself, try to have at least two people on duty at all times so that visitors receive a healthy measure of personal attention. Arrange the booth to maximize flow of traffic, for overcrowded booths will lead many potential visitors to pass on by. Booth staff should not hover over visitors. Instead, they should encourage browsing and be attentive to signals of interest in products/services from visitors. Make sure everyone who will be manning the booth understands the rules of etiquette at trade shows. There should be no eating or drinking in the booth, and no smoking. Do not spend time talking to the other salespeople in the booth. Assume friendly body posture and look receptive to questions. Perhaps most importantly, do not be in a hurry to get out of the show, since many people wait until the end of the show to make their purchases.


Small businesses that maintain a quality presence at a trade show are likely to obtain a number of business leads during the show's duration. Yet many companies never follow up on these leads. According to the Trade Show Bureau, as many as 83 percent of exhibitors do not engage in any sort of organized post-exhibition marketing to trade show visitors. This is a terrible oversight that blunts much of the business potential of trade shows. With this in mind, trade show experts offer a variety of tips to make sure that small business owners make the most of their trade show experiences:

  • Allocate money wisely. Many analysts believe that businesses should devote at least one third of their total trade show budgets to post-exhibition follow-up.
  • Separate hot leads from those that seemed lukewarm or ambivalent and concentrate on those.
  • Use a lead sheet to collect information on prospective customers who visit the booth.
  • If applicable, send new leads back to the home office every night.
  • Make sure that salespeople follow up on a lead within one or two weeks after the show; time is often of the essence in these cases.
  • Do not gather more leads than you can follow up on. Analysts contend that many businesses owners or representatives that gather a surplus of leads at trade shows are likely to break promises made (sending literature, following up with an answer to a question, etc.) at the show, which will reflect badly on the company.
  • Do not let new leads keep you from servicing existing customers. If you cannot handle new leads without neglecting the existing customer base, then maybe you should not be at the trade show.


Even if a small business owner considers trade shows to be an important part of his or her marketing strategy, there will be some trade shows that are not worth exhibiting at but that would still be useful to attend. For those shows, there are tips to follow to make the most out of the show.

The most important step is to find a good show that is worth the time and trouble it takes to attend. Watch the local papers or industry journals for leads. The biggest shows are typically held in major metropolitan areas, so concentrate on the largest cities in your region. Once you have identified a list of potential shows, contact each and ask for information.

Once you have identified a show to attend, good planning is the key to a successful trip. Make your travel arrangements and submit the show registration far in advance. Allow at least 90 days to avoid snags and delays. Decide in advance what you are hoping to get out of the showif it is a buying trip, know in advance what you hope to purchase.

Once you arrive at the show, review the list of exhibitors to see which companies interest you the most. Highlight those companies and check them off as you visit each one. Some people like to make one general trip around the entire exhibit floor, highlighting interesting exhibits as they go and making a second, more serious trip to those booths. Be warned that this approach may not be practical for the largest national trade shows, which are often spread over several floors of a huge convention center. Also, do not ignore the seminars that are offered as part of most trade shows. These may be just as useful as the booths in the exhibit hall. The seminars are educational and are also a great way to meet people.

Prepare to spend the entire day at the show. It is often helpful to take a tote bag along with supplies you might needa notepad and pens, a personal tape recorder to record notes along the way, traveler's checks and credit cards, business credentials (a list of creditors, for example, if this is a buying trip), business cards, and personal identification. The tote bag will also hold all the product literature you gather at the show. Finally, trade show visitors should make certain that they pack comfortable walking shoes. This may sound like a minor issue, but after eight hours on your feet walking the floor, it will seem like a very important item to remember.


Cohen, Stephanie. "The Abracadabras of Trade Shows." The Columbia News Service. Available from 19 April 2005.

Hart, Michael. "What's first? The Tradeshow or Industry?" Tradeshow Week. 6 February 2006.

Lynch, Brenda M., "Showdown: The Rise and Fall of the Tech Show Market: Why Some Survived and Others Short-Circuited." Meetings & Conventions. November 2004.

Miller, Steve. How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows. NTC Publishing, 2000.

"Trade Secrets." Business Week. 16 August 1999.

U.S. Small Business Administration. Trade Show Bureau. "Trade Shows." Available from Retrieved on 15 May 2006.

                                   Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                               updated by Magee, ECDI

Trade Shows

views updated May 14 2018


Trade shows related to the Internet, e-business, electronics, and computers grew in popularity throughout the 1990s. As certain showsincluding the PC Expo, Internet World, and COMDEXbecame known as the "who's who" trade shows of the e-business industry, technology-based companies began eyeing the trade show arena as a lucrative venue for securing customers. During the boom of the late 1990s, these companies scrambled to secure exhibition space at well known shows in order to launch cutting edge products and services. Also known as expositions or conventions, such shows often last three or more days, take place in large cities, and feature industry leading keynote speakers addressing hot topics and issues of concern to the exhibitors and attendees.

As trade shows became more elaborate in terms of duration and size during the late 1990s, show organizers, as well as exhibitors, began to seek out the help of professional exposition companies with trade show expertise. GES Exposition Services, for example, operates as a trade-show management company involved in planning and exhibit services. The $1.8 billion firm has been responsible for some of the largest trade shows in the industry including PC Expo, the Internet World shows, and the Consumer Electronics Show. The number of associations for trade show organizers and exhibitors also increased during this time period. Among the most popular in the industry are the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), the Trade Show Exhibitors Association (TSEA), the International Association for Exhibition Management (IAEM), the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA), and the Computer Event Marketing Association (CEMA). All of these membership-based groups provide information to and act as a resource for companies that plan and stage trade shows.

According to industry magazine Tradeshow Week, the average computer and electronics trade show in 1999 had approximately 426 exhibiting companies and 20,178 professional attendees; each show also had roughly 158,857 square feet of exhibition space. The West Coast and Midwest were the most popular regions for trade shows that year, and the majority of shows were held in June. After growing at a rapid clip for several years, computer and electronic trade shows began to experience a decline in attendance and size as the American economy slowed and frenzy began to fizzle in 2000.


During the earliest years of the 21st century, the Internet became an increasingly popular tool used by enterprises for many facets of business. While the e-commerce tools of the late 1990s focused on using the Web for marketing and sales efforts, the e-business tools of the 2000s broadened in scope to also handle things like procurement and other back-end business functions. Major trade shows began reflecting this trend, and instead of focusing solely on information technology (IT) or e-commerce tools, they began to incorporate both into events. In fact, CMP Media LLC canceled its 2001 eBusiness Conference & Expo in order to retool the show's focus. Instead, the company planned to hold the TechEnterprise Conference & Expo in December 2002, with a focus on the integration of technology and e-business.

Even as size and attendance at technology-based trade shows began to dwindle in the new millennium, many events continued to focus on both technology and e-business. In fact, some of these shows evolved into popular annual or seasonal events. Among the most well known are the Internet World shows, the International Consumer Electronic Show (CES), the COMDEX show, Seybold Seminars conferences and technology expositions, the Macworld Conference & Expo, the COMNET Conference & Expo, PC Expo, @d:tech, and the infamous DefCon conventions.

The Internet World shows are the largest trade show events in the e-business and Internet industries. Owned by Penton Media Inc., the Internet World conventions have experienced a decline in attendance over the past several years. In fact, according to a 2000 B to B magazine article, "the Internet industry's flagship event now faces competition from a slew of specialty e-commerce and b-to-b shows, as well as from traditional IT industry events such as COMDEX or PC Expo that increasingly focus on Internet technologies." During the Internet World Fall 2000 show, over 1,000 companies were on display in over 300,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. The event drew nearly 60,000 attendees interested in the show's Web content management, wireless, and streaming media conferences. Keynote speakers included executives from Intel Corp., America Online Inc. (AOL), Oracle Corp., CMGI Inc., and idealab!. Over 30,000 people are expected to attend the Internet World Fall 200l, which is postponed until December due the terrorist events of September 11, 2001. The show's keynote speakers will include Compaq Computer Corp.'s CEO Michael Capellas, AOL's co-chief operating officer Robert Pittman, and RealNetworks Inc.'s CEO Rob Glaser.

Sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association, the first CES show took place in New York in 1967 with 200 exhibitors and 17,500 attendees. By 2001, the show had evolved to include 2,000 exhibitors; 126,730 attendees; and 1.2 million net square feet of exhibition space. Known as the world's largest annual trade show in the consumer technology industry, CES draws its audience from 110 countries around the world. It showcases products and services ranging from digital imaging to wireless communications to satellite systems. The January 2001 CES four-day show held in Las Vegas, Nevada, featured keynote speakers Bill Gates, of Microsoft Corp., and Intel's CEO Craig Barrett. During the event, Microsoft launched its new gaming system Xbox, and Intel introduced its Pocket Concert wireless digital music player.

The COMDEX show, produced by Key3Media Group Inc., is the largest annual IT trade show, attracting exhibitors and attendees from over 140 countries. In existence for over 20 years, COMDEX operates as global marketplace serving the IT industry. While attendance was down nearly 30 percent at the COMDEX Fall 2001 show in Las Vegas, some 2,000 exhibitors introduced approximately 390 new products at the event. The number of companies present at the 2001 show dropped by roughly 400, while the number of new products introduced rose by over 130. Bill Gates gave his annual keynote address, predicting that even while the economy was slowing, 2002 would be a year of growth for the technology industry. At the show, Microsoft touted its new book-sized tablet computer, claiming that the tablets would replace laptops within five years; a tablet PC has the same memory capacity as a laptop, but can recognize handwriting and connect wirelessly to the Internet. In 2002, the COMDEX Fall show will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, along with Key3Media Group's NetWorld+Interop event, a show that caters to the Internet protocol (IP) networking and telecommunications industries.

Key3Media Group also produces the Seybold Seminars conferences and technology events, which focus on media technology-and publishing-related products and services. The Seybold San Francisco 2001 show was sponsored by Apple Computer Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc., and included special sessions on convergence among devices such as Palm Pilots, cell phones, pagers, and laptop computers. The event also addressed the issue of digital rights management (DRM), a popular topic dealing with protection of the rights of copyright holders, and also focused on e-books and e-publishing. Key3Media Group produces a total of 40 e-business-related events in 17 countries across the globe. These events feature over 6,000 exhibiting companies and draw over one million attendees each year.

The Macworld Conference & Expo, put on by IT event management company IDG World Expo, is a semiannual event taking place each year in New York City in July and San Francisco in January. For nearly twenty years, Macworld has showcased the Macintosh (Mac) operating system and Apple Computer's hardware and software. The event draws thousands of Mac enthusiasts each year and is typically used to launch new Mac products. IDG also produces the COMNET Conference & Expo, a networking and communications trade show. Ivan Seidenberg, president and co-CEO of Verizon Communications; Wolfgang Kemna, CEO of SAP America Inc.; and Patrick Nettles, chairman of CIENA Corp., were slated to keynote the January 2002 four-day show, which will be held in Washington D.C. The themes of the event include such issues as enterprise networking security, optical networking, regulatory issues, and wireless infrastructure.

PC Expo, part of CMP Media LLC's Technology Exchange Week New York (TECHXNY) lineup, is a yearly trade show event focused on cutting edge technology in personal computing. Attendance at the show dropped in the early 2000s. Nevertheless, 500 exhibitors including Adobe Systems, Compaq, Hewlett Packard Co., Gateway Inc., IBM Corp., Intel, and Iomega Corp. introduced new products at the 19th annual show. Palm Inc.'s CEO Carl Yankowski delivered the leading keynote speech, signaling the shift in the show's focus from the personal computer to hand-held appliances, including wireless devices. Bill Gates and Andy Grove of Intel had been featured keynote speakers in the past.

@d:tech, a seasonal show known as the premier event for Internet marketing and advertising, also experienced a drop in exhibitors and attendance during its Spring 2001 show, when the number of exhibitors fell 26 percent to 102, and attendance decreased 32 percent to 2,500. During the Fall 2001 event, the number of exhibitors fell to 75. Keynote speakers for the event included executives from Yahoo! Inc. and DoubleClick Inc.

The controversial DefCon show is an annual event that started in the early 1990s. Held in Las Vegas, the yearly show draws over 4,000 computer hackers and those interested in computer security. While DefCon doesn't compare to other leading industry shows in size and scale, it does garner significant media and industry attention due to the rising interest in security issues relating to the Internet. According to research group Datamonitor, spending related to network security is expected to increase from $10.6 billion in 2001 to $22.3 billion in 2004. Although show organizers claim that the intent of the event is to improve Internet security, many in the industry believe the purpose of DefCon is to demonstrate techniques for stealing information from large companies. During the 2001 show, Dimitri Sklyarov, a Russian programmer employed by ElcomSoft Co., was arrested by the FBI for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. At the time, Adobe Systems had developed e-book software that allowed publishers to distribute books electronically. These e-book were encrypted and did not allow the purchaser to copy and resell the book. Sklyarov was paid by his company to create Advanced eBook Processor, a program that removed Adobe System's encryption, thus allowing users to make unauthorized copies of the ebook. Adobe eventually dropped its complaint against ElcomSoft and Sklyarov due to negative publicity and pressure from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but the FBI chose to indict the programmer and his company for trafficking in technology designed to circumvent the rights of a copyright owner and conspiracy charges.

Even as trade show growth slowed during the new millennium, exhibitions continued to play a significant role in the industry. According to an October 2000 Business Week article, "trade shows are indispensable for making contacts, nailing sales, and showing off a hot new product." Finding this to be true, many companies continued to include trade show exhibiting in yearly marketing budgets.


Chapman, Ben. "The Trade Show Must Go On." Sales & Marketing Management, June 2001, 22.

Goode, S.E. "Are Trade Shows Really Worth It?" CRM, January 15, 2001. Available from

Hilts, Paul. "Russian Hacker Indicted." Publishers Weekly, September 3, 2001, 14.

IDG World Expo. "About IDG World Expo." Framingham, MA: IDG World Expo, 2001. Available from

Keefe, Bob. "Scaled Down Comdex Opens As Gates Reports Record Windows XP Sales." NewsFactor Network, November 12, 2001. Available from

Key3Media Group Inc. "About Us." Los Angeles, CA: Key3Media Group Inc., 2001. Available from

Klein, Karen E. "Trade Secrets." Business Week, October 21, 2000.

Tradeshow Week Inc. "Tradeshow Trends." Los Angeles, CA: Tradeshow Week Inc., 2001. Available from

"The Wide, Open Spaces of PC Expo." Business Week, June 29, 2001. Available from

Wrolstad, Jay. "Gadgets Galore at Consumer Electronics Show." Wireless Newsfactor, January 5, 2001. Available from

Trade Shows

views updated May 17 2018


Trade shows provide a forum for companies to display and demonstrate their products to potential buyers who have a special interest in buying these products. The compacted time frame and concentrated location of trade shows are cost-effective for exhibiting companies and convenient for buyers.

Since the 1960s, trade shows have become an increasingly prominent part of the promotional mix. Their relative importance is reflected in the promotional expenditures of U.S. companies. Larger amounts are spent each year on trade exhibitions than on magazine, radio, and outdoor advertising; only newspaper and television advertising receive a larger share of promotional dollars.

The primary role of trade shows in the promotional mix is that of a selling medium. Depending on the type of product being exhibited, selling activities can involve booking orders or developing leads for future sales. If show regulations permit, they can even involve selling products directly at the exhibit. Trade shows also serve as vehicles for advertising and publicity. Exhibits can be very effective three-dimensional ads as well as collection points for names for direct-mail lists. They can also command the attention of the news media, which regularly cover shows in search of stories on new products and new approaches.

Participating companies can also accomplish nonpromotional marketing objectives at trade shows. Market research data, for example, can be collected from show visitors. Competitors' offerings can be evaluated, and contacts can be made with potential suppliers and sales representatives.

More than 10,000 trade shows are held in the United States each year, and the number is growing. Nearly half of those are large business-to-business shows with 100 or more booths. The smaller exhibitions include both business-to-business and consumer shows.

Business-to-business trade shows focus on goods and services within an industry or a specialized part of an industry. They are targeted to wholesalers and retailers with the intent of pushing products through the channel of distribution. Most attendees at these shows are actively looking for products and have the authority to buy. Examples of business-to-business exhibitions are those in the areas of health care, computer products, electronics,

advertising specialties, heavy equipment, agriculture, fashions, furniture, and toys.

Consumer trade shows, like business-to-business expositions, also have an industry focus. They are different, however, in that they target the general public and, accordingly, are designed to stimulate end-user demand. The kinds of products exhibited at these open shows include autos, housewares, boats, antiques, and crafts.

Several trade show organizations provide information and assistance to exhibitors and those considering exhibiting. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (formerly the Trade Show Bureau) is an umbrella organization that represents the entire exhibition and convention field. It sponsors research on the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of trade shows, has a resource center, and serves as a referral point for more specialized groups. The International Association of Exhibit Managers is the association of individuals within companies who are responsible for exhibit arrangements. Others, like the Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association, concentrate on the organization and promotion of shows for specific industries.

see also Marketing ; Promotion


Lamas, Bob (1999, March). Involve Your Staff in Trade Shows for Better Results. Marketing News, 9-10.

Miller, S. (1999). How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows. Chicago: NTC Business Books.

Earl C. Meyer

Winifred L. Green