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Trade Show Checklist: Small But Important Must-Have Items for Your Booth

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

Swag? Check. Logo apparel? Check. Promotional materials? Check.

Think you’ve got everything checked off your trade show checklist? What are you going to do about the raging headache you get after 5 hours of listening to the same bad jingle emanating from the booth next door? Yeah. That’s what we thought.

Beyond the usual must-have items for your booth like presentation graphics and printed marketing materials, there are a slew of small but important supplies crucial to trade show survival, such as:

  1. Aromatherapy Products. “I've used aromatherapy vials or sticks to energize/refresh because the air is so stuffy, I get drowsy,” says Juli McCarthy, founder of Mockingbird Studio in Elgin, IL. Janet Grady, principal of The Prism Company in Durham, NC, gets a similar effect from lavender-scented wipes. “The lovely aroma chills everybody out a bit,” she notes.
  2. Basic Office Supplies. Ship scissors with your booth materials or pick up a pair at a nearby office supply store. Heavy-duty duct and packing tapes come in handy for the million and one things you don’t think about — like fixing a loose heel on your shoe. Paper abounds at trade shows, so bring a stapler to attach business cards to order sheets or to mend hems and small tears.
  3. Bluetooth Speaker. “Essential for creating a great exhibit vibe,” says trade show veteran Elizabeth Oviedo, marketing manager for Symmetry Software in Scottsdale, AZ. She plays upbeat music that “fits our company culture and draws trade show attendees to our exhibit. In addition to helping create a great atmosphere, our sales team also finds that it helps them keep their energy up during long days.”
  4. Digital Camera. Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory in Pittsburgh, recommends having a camera that’s dedicated to taking pictures of your booth in action, and any high-value or high-profile visitors interacting with your product or team. “These images are great for social media fodder at the event itself, but can also be used in blog posts and other marketing collateral,” she says. “A huge percentage of people totally forget to take pictures at events and they miss out on great photo opps as a result.”
  5. Hand Sanitizer. Nobody wants to shake a dirty hand, and you sure don’t need to spread icky germs. Keep a couple of containers of hand gel accessible to you and visitors.
  6. Multi-Surface Wipes. “They are excellent for getting rid of dust that has accumulated while the exhibit was in storage and for fingerprints on your countertops that build up over the course of a day exhibiting,” Ovieto notes.
  7. Power Supplies. Even if power supplies are provided with your booth, always bring at least one extra power strip and an industrial-grade extension cord.
  8. Tool Kit or Multi-Tool. Scott Conary, owner of North Carolina–based Carrboro Coffee Roasters, never attends an expo without a small toolkit that includes “the basics for repairing, tightening and opening everything from the booth itself to packaging. Can't remember when I haven't needed a screwdriver.” Include a multi-pack of bungee cords and some safety pins on your trade show checklist while you’re at it.

In addition to “public” supplies, you may want to pack a stash of personal items that includes:

  • Adhesive Bandages & Insoles. Somebody on your team will get a scratch or paper cut. And even if you’re not walking the floor, your feet will take a beating. You can always sneak behind a drape and tend to your sore or injured areas.
  • Aspirin and Other Meds. When a headache arrives or your allergies flare up, you need instant relief.
  • Energy Bars. No matter how close your booth may be to the snack bar, it’s never close enough when you’re hungry.
  • Mints. They not only keep your breath fresh, they’re great at preventing dry mouth. Feel free to share!
  • Lotion & Lip Balm. Combat the dry recirculated air and keep your hands worth shaking with a little non-greasy lotion. Stock some lip balm, too, because it’s hard to smile when your lips are chapped.
  • Nail Clippers and a File. Everyone (guys, too) snags a nail, but these items also come in handy when you can’t find the scissors or need to smooth rough edges off dry-mounted posters or swag.
  • Talcum Powder. For keeping your feet and the rest of yourself cool and dry even during the most grueling show days.

Oh, and one more thing: Even if bottled water is part of your giveaway strategy, you don’t want to drink the merch. But staying hydrated is crucial. That’s why Barry Campbell, a technical writer and consultant based in Raleigh, NC, brings his own personal water bottle and Starbucks VIA packets. “If food and drink are available at all at a trade show, they're going to be overpriced, and the bottle is small enough to refill at any water fountain.”

Use these checklists to ensure you’ve got the small but important items you need for trade show success.

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