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Trade Show Booth 101: How to Get Noticed on a Crowded Expo Floor

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Your first trade show or expo is an important rite of passage for small businesses. A good event can lead to valuable orders, partnerships and exposure, but that can’t happen if your booth doesn’t get noticed.

“Attendees are on their phones, coordinating meetings and relaying info back to the home office,” says Tremayne Cryer, a Carrboro, NC–based designer and trade show veteran. “After combing aisle after aisle, they will barely notice a booth before stumbling into it. Anything you can do to raise your visibility in a unique way will help.”

When planning your trade show booth design, consider the following:

Location

Securing the most strategic space you can afford is one of the best trade show booth ideas you can have. “Position yourself near traffic,” Cryer suggests. “Attendees naturally navigate counter-clockwise, programmed by supermarkets to pick things up in their right hands, and throngs of folks will head to the snack bar and bathrooms. If your booth presentation is engaging, then facing the end of a long row, with folks meandering toward you all day, is a good way to burn your brand into their brains.”

Pro Tip: If good space is too expensive, ask partners and vendors if you can rent some space in their expo booths, or go in with another small business to share the costs.

Backdrop

Enhance the traditional pipe and drape when brainstorming trade show booth ideas. Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory in Pittsburgh, suggests a step-and-repeat backdrop. “It gives you a more professional, polished look and makes it easier for people to find your booth. I've been at events before where other exhibitors have said ‘Look for the big insert-client's-name-here sign, and we're immediately to the left of it’ in order to direct people to their booth. You don't want to have to reference the booth next to you.”

Pro Tip: Have a camera ready. “Often, thought leaders and other important industry people are walking around, and if you can get a pic of them in front of your branded backdrop, you'll get fantastic marketing collateral you can use in several ways,” suggest DePhillips.

Logo

Don’t spend a ton of cash on space and then scrimp on materials bearing your logo. Engage a professional designer to create a suite of materials that reinforces your brand (the Design Services team at your local Staples® Copy & Print center is always a good option). “From banners and signs, to packaging, to handouts and follow-up correspondence — these components instill your brand to the audience, both contextually and visually,” Cryer says. “Attendees see eleventy billion screaming messages at a show, and after a while, just put promotional materials in the show bag while walking up and down aisles looking for their lost co-workers. They’ll go through that bag when they get back to their rooms, and that’s your chance to make another impression. If you talked to them during the show, hopefully you were memorable. But if the materials have a consistent representation, attendees are far more likely to visit you again the next day or follow up when they return home.”

Layout

Too many trade show exhibitors focus so much on the pipe and drape that they neglect to give attention to the layout and flow of their booth, says David Brimm, founder of BrimmComm in Deerfield, IL. “Don’t clutter it up. Many people put tables or displays in the front of their booths — it doesn’t invite people in. Open the space so attendees feel welcome.” Create a floor plan that encourages browsing and conversation. If your booth’s big enough, establish an area in one corner with a storage ottoman as a table and comfortable chairs for serious deal making. Increase privacy with a decorative shrub.

Signage

Choose the right signage for your trade show booth design based on your budget and space limitations. Printed signage is easy to hang from piping or display on banner stands or tabletops. Digital signage can be more attention getting, whether it’s a neon or LED sign, or a monitor or tablet displaying a slide show. No matter which options you choose, work with your designer to create a professional and cohesive look.

Displays

If you’re selling product, visual merchandising is just as important at the show as it is in the store. “There are two factors I think about when setting up my trade show booth: customers' viewing ease — I have tables that can be adjusted to counter height — and clearly displayed prices,” says

Juli McCarthy, jewelry artist and owner of Mockingbird Studio in Elgin, IL. Put your items in a positive light — literally — by adding a lamp to tables and cases. Better display also holds true for your promotional items. Plunking giveaways in a fishbowl sends a message that you don’t value the items (or the people who take them), so experiment with presenting them in a more appealing way.

Pro Tip: “A big mistake to avoid is laying things out in straight lines,” she says. “There should be an easy but interesting flow to keep customers' eyes moving.”

There’s a lot to think about when planning for a trade show or expo. Use this list of trade show tips to make sure you don’t overlook anything important.

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