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01 June 2015

How to be effective at trade shows

Rose Hill Designs is a creative independent design company. It promotes a trademark style of British Pop Art for greeting cards, stationery, artworks & commissions. Founder, Rose, has featured her products at some of the UK’s largest trade shows including Top Drawer and is a current participant on the British Library’s Innovating for Growth programme. Here she gives us her advice for being effective at trade shows.

Rose Hill Designs at Spring Fair 2015, featuring the stall's setup with her products well represented for potential customers

Whether you are an independent or an established company, trade shows are a really important part of getting new customers. Additionally, you meet lots of other relevant people including buyers from chain stores and independent boutiques, other companies selling similar products (or different products) and it’s your chance to meet with overseas distributors.

Trade shows can be an expensive affair with a minimum stand size being 3 x 1 meters costing around £400 plus VAT per meter. Minimum stand cost alone is around £1800 and you will also need to add costs for lighting, PR and marketing packages, public liability insurance, furniture, van hire, hotel costs and lunch - so the total is usually in the region of £2250+ even for the smallest stand.

However, there are great opportunities to keep an eye out for, like 'Spotted' at Top Drawer, where you can be featured among the newest talents never to be seen before at a trade show. 'Spotted' allows you to test whether trade shows are right for you and you only need to pay for 1 meter. The costs are instantly cut down by a third and everyone wants to go to the newbie stand and find a gem. Other opportunities to test trade shows are at 'Launchpad' at Pulse, and 'Springboard' at PG Live. These are brilliant spaces to showcase your work and are a lot cheaper as they include some costs such as lighting and are smaller spaces to rent.

There is a lot to know about doing trade shows, but the four main areas to concentrate on are:

  1. Preparation (it is KEY)
  2. Setting up
  3. The show itself
  4. The follow up

Rose Hill Designs products (Cards). One design (Left) has the imagery of a Lion with the other card design (Right) is a 'Happy Birthday'card with imagery of a Birman cat with speech bubble of meow meow


What would make a trade show a success for you? There are many different reasons to do a trade show: to get new stockists, raise your profile, get at least 100 names for your address book and to meet face-to-face with your customers.  Make sure that you think about what you want to achieve from the show, and then plan to make this happen. 

Think of a list of potential key clients you want to sell to and invite them as well as your existing customers. Make sure you have a business card, flyer and product sheets of your products and price list ready to hand out.  Another really important thing to do is to read the online exhibitor manual and write down all the key deadlines. Make a list of all the things you will need for the setup and during the show and order them in time.

Then start to think about how you will display your products. Presentation is so important for a show and if you are creative then it’s a really fun part of the process. You definitely need to work this out before you get there so you know you have all the right tools, products, display units, etc. If possible make a mock-up at home as, believe me, it always takes much longer setting up than you expect, even after doing many shows, as the size is never exactly what they say it is. It’s good to have a few options prepared of how you would like it set up so, if it doesn’t go to plan, you have a plan B.

Don’t forget to think about who will help you to help set up on the day, to man the stand and to tidy up and pack your stand and products away. Don’t underestimate the work involved – a helping hand is crucial. 

Rose Hill Designs at the Top Drawer trade fair, sept 2014

Setting up

Make sure you know what time you can set up and all the things you will need: tools, products and everything else you will need including all the relevant paperwork. You will definitely be grateful for the prep work you have done for it, often something unexcepted occurs when actually setting up.

  Rose Hill Designs products (Mugs). (Left) artwork imagery of penguins on the mug, (Right) artwork imagery of a dog on the mug

The show

Try your best to sleep well the night before and arrive on time. Trade shows are very tiring but the adrenaline will really help, especially when it’s going well.

When a potential customer is near, smile and say hello, be friendly and chat but let them browse without bombarding them as you can scare them away. Make sure you don’t look bored or be on your phone; aim to look busy but convey that you can easily be interrupted if someone needs you. Tell stories which show the passion you have for your product. Be yourself.

I don’t like to eat on my stand but eat nearby so I can pop back at a moment’s notice. Everyone always comes at once and it’s usually the second you leave your stand! Make sure you get everyone’s contact details - if anything, that’s the most important thing from the show since they are your potential customers. The more leads you get at the show the more value for money exhibiting will ultimately be. 

Rose Hill Designs pet animal representation artworks displayed in a homely environment

After the show

The follow up is very important! It’s very rare for big chain stores to order at the show, but lots of independent boutiques often do. Send a friendly thank you email (I usually attach a picture of my stand or flyer so people remember who I am) straight after the show, or within two weeks otherwise, they may forget you.

Prioritise your workload straight after the show: what needs to be done first and who your key contacts are. Also, update your contact list with your new leads and customers. Evaluate the outcome against your original goals. Did you achieve what you wanted? What worked? What didn’t?

And have fun! This is where you see all the hard work you have put into your products pay off. It’s amazing to see the reaction from people about your work and makes it all worthwhile.

Rose Hill Designs Wirebound notebooks. (Left) imagery of a Tiger on the cover, (Right) imagery of a Cat on the cover


If, like Rose, you want to win £10,000 worth of free business support, apply for Innovating for Growth today.

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Logo

Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund


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