4imprint, LLC

Tradeshow 101: Selecting a tradeshow for your exhibit

Thousands of trade shows are held each year in Canada alone, covering topics from technology to travel to comic book enthusiasts. As an exhibitor trying to develop new business, your options are limitless. So how does one strategically choose which trade shows make for the best exhibits? Here are a few pointers:Set clear goals
First things first. Sit down with your sales and marketing teams and ask the question, “What exactly do we want to get out of a trade show presence?” Sales goals, visibility or brand recognition? Do you expect to sell a particular amount of inventory, or become known to a certain number of wholesale suppliers? Are you focusing on promotion or hoping to launch a new product?You can have more than one goal, of course, but the point is that you need to be clear about what your participation in trade shows is going to achieve in order to pinpoint which show or shows will be most effective. Additionally, setting goals makes it easier to benchmark success.

Do your research
You need to choose the trade shows that will give your business the best return on investment in terms of your goals. Exhibitor Zen occurs when your company has identified a trade show that is well-attended by target audiences, yet not inundated by competitors.


  • Your current customers. Ask them where they go and why. Provide a little incentive for their input, such as a free gift like an umbrella or a travel mug gift set.
  • Your target audiences for new customers and their primary industries. Which conferences or shows do they host? Which conferences or shows do they attend?
  • Your competitors. Are they going to be somewhere you should be, too?
  • Your professional association(s). What shows or conferences are other members talking about on discussion boards? Is your association offering any sort of discount or promotion on an upcoming event?
  • Social media channels. Ask your followers, fans and blog readers what conferences they are attending and why. Conduct searches of different conferences using social media platforms.

Compile a list of prospective shows. Contact each one and ask for a list of the previous year’s attendees to cross-reference with your other research.

If you’re still unsure, see for yourself
Some trade show pros recommend that before spending money on an event that may be all wrong for what you want to accomplish, you should become an attendee first. Walk the event’s floor and find out what other exhibitors are selling and what is drawing people to their trade show exhibit. This will help clarify what types of attendees will be there.

Crunch the numbers
Grab your list and quickly calculate the cost to participate—airfare, accommodations, entry fees, booth decorations like banners and table throws, giveaways like business briefs or rulers, employee time, etc. Initial calculations can sometimes slim down your list to just those trade shows that are within budget.

Next, take the math to the next level to determine if the juice is worth the squeeze:

  1. Quantify the total number of relevant prospects, buyers, and influencers that will be interested in your particular product or service and that you’ll be able to get into your booth.
  2. Estimate sales revenues from the show.
  3. Then, calculate the cost per lead and return on investment as a ratio of booth expenses to revenues generated.

After you’ve pulled the numbers together, sit down with your team and make a prioritized list of prospective trade shows, aiming for those with the highest ROI potential. Then, you’ll be able to make a strategic decision on where to plant your next trade show exhibit.

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