What Did I Forget? The Ultimate Trade Show Checklist

As many of you know, planning for a trade show can be hectic and stressful. There are so many different factors you must account for and consider leading up to the show. You also need to think ahead, be proactive, and plan strategically to ensure that you don’t run into any problems the day of the show.

It’s now mid-June which means that trade show season is just around the corner. My team at Strategia Design created a checklist of factors to assess. We’ve found it helpful in our trade show preparation and we thought we’d share it with you. Exhibiting at a trade show can be pretty pricy the longer you wait, so do your company a favor and check off some of these boxes early!

Here are the different factors to evaluate:

  • Travel – Have you booked transportation? Sometimes it is good to book far in advance and other times the best rates are found 6-8 weeks prior. Be sure to utilize some travel hacks like Hipmunk.com where you can ask for daily updates on rates, and the little chipmunk is cute.
  • Hotel – Has your room been secured? With tradeshows, these are often the first thing to go. As soon as the event opens the room blocks, be sure to reserve your room. With the convenient cancellation policies, you can always cancel if needed. If possible, try to stay close to the event. It will be easier and less stressful for you in the long run. We also look for hotels that offer amenities like free breakfast and water bottles to keep your costs down and keep you energized.
  • Shipping – How will your booth or product get to the show? There are many different shipping options. When shipping to a tradeshow, we recommend using a trusted carrier with proven tracking systems. FedEx ground is inexpensive and reliable. For larger shipments, you can use a freight company – but beware of the fine print.
  • Storage – Will you need to pay for storage space? Are you renting tables, chairs and accessories from the tradeshow or are you shipping your own? If you ship them, are you going to leave them on the floor when the show is over? If you are going to ship them back, be sure to arrange affordable storage so that you can reuse them next year.
  • Installation and dismantle (I&D) – Who is in charge of booth set up and take down? Knowing who will be available to set up and take down your booth is critical. If you are paying someone to do it, be sure they are licensed and are familiar with your booth structure and layout. If you team members are going to do it, be sure to arrange enough time for them to travel in and out and that they are able to get badges to access the floor early. We have created an emergency kit that has tools, tape, etc. that may be needed to set up the booth. We recommend that a member of your staff pack it in their checked baggage. We shipped it once and well, that didn’t work.
  • Rental – Do you need to rent any furniture or “extras” for your booth? Ambiance is important, but consider how many people will be in the booth and how much room you will have once the floor gets busy. Sometimes the rentals from the tradeshow group can be limiting. Cort rental or other rental furniture outlets will deliver to the docks and have a wider variety.
  • Electrical – How much wattage will your booth require? Will you have computers to charge, or a monitor, spot lights, etc.? Be sure to ask or research how much you may need for your booth size and content. Try to order in advance to receive an early bird price.
  • Flooring – What flooring options do you have? Most show floor are concrete. The first time we did a show, we ordered carpet and no padding. The second time we exhibited, we ordered padding, and the third time we ordered double padding. What a difference! If you are going to invest in one upgrade, we recommend the double padding. It will save your back and your feet and people will appreciate it as they step into your booth to talk to you. It shows you care and are willing to invest in your brand and employees. Again, try to order in advance to receive an early bird price.
  • Catering – Will you serve any food or beverages? Many shows will not allow you to bring anything other than what you sell. If you need condiments, ice, etc., you will need to contact the catering group for help or advice. It can get expensive so be smart about your sampling prior to the show.
  • Sampling – If you are a manufacturer, will you sample any of your products? How will you prepare the samples? Do you have enough counter space? How will you display them to look appealing and inviting? What will you need to buy and how much? Where will you store the extra?
  • Apparel – What will the booth staffers wear? Do you want a corporate or casual look? Do you need multiple outfits for different days? Will you need warm or cool clothing for inside and for outside? It can get cold on the floor, so take that into consideration!
  • Internet – Will your booth need Wi-Fi? It is an additional expense, so be sure to secure it with the show in advance if you need it.
  • Materials and handling – Do you need to make use of show services? Will you need someone to bring your materials from the dock to your booth? Again, you will need to arrange this in advance or it could delay your set up.
  • Graphics design – How will you design the booth? Do you have an internal team or do you need to outsource? How will you incorporate your brand or message?
  • Structure, Graphic production/printing – Who is printing your graphics and how long will that process take? It will usually take 3 – 4 weeks for printing and shipping. Be sure to ask for training as well on how to use, set up and take down your booth if you plan on doing it yourself. Most manufacturers will train you for free. If you are ordering online, try to understand the return policy and time for replacement if something happens.
  • Collateral – What print materials will you bring the trade show? Do you have any sell sheets or rack cards to share with your clients? Is there any information around a lunch or buying information you will need people to be able to take with them? How will you display these items in your booth? Remember to plan 6 weeks in advance to leave time for design, routing, printing and shipping.
  • Ads and press kits– Would your company benefit from running an ad or creating a press kit? At most shows, there is a pressroom where local and national journalist will go to collect information on companies. Taking the time to put together and interesting and engaging press kit can raise awareness and get journalists to stop by your booth and maybe even do a story on you. Advertising is also good if you have the disposable income. We recommend targeting the people you want to visit with or trying to make appointments in advance. This can be a better use. Once you are established, advertising and sponsorship can be great for brand recognition.
  • Giveaways- What will you use after the show or bring home as a token memory? For many years, my entire pen collection consisted of different pens from the companies I met at trade shows. Today we like to try to purchase giveaways or ad promotion items that align with the business. Always consider the size of something because many times attendees will not have room in their luggage and will end up leaving it at the hotel or in the bathroom. Think of things that are useful. We provide sharpies and lens wipes. They are small and useful!
  • Follow up – How will you document and organize leads? Do you need to purchase special software or programs? At shows today, you can rent a scanner that will capture the badge and information of people who stop by your booth. We prefer to collect cards so we can write down fun facts and information about each person – this gives you the information you need to have a meaningful and personalized follow up. The most important thing is to actually follow up in a timely manner!

There are many other factors to consider and this list just begins to scratch the surface. By starting to plan now, you will save a lot of time – and money – in the long run. Knowing that all of these factors are accounted for will also give you peace of mind.

Do you use a trade show checklist? What other factors did we leave off? Let us know your thoughts below!