Trade Shows Are Back: Here’s What You Need to Know

With the pandemic in the rearview mirror, enterprise businesses are again looking to generate business and cultivate prospects through trade shows. If you’re one of them, we’ve got some expert advice you can use right now to make the most of your experience.


Your Display Vendor Matters

A trade show display is more than an extension of your business. For the length and duration of the show, it is your business to hundreds or even thousands of prospects. Needless to say, first impressions count. But how do you make a good one?

Paul Hartwig, third-generation owner of Hartwig Exhibit & Display says vendor selection is key, and that an investment in the right one may cost more but can pay off in the long run.

For a fully custom exhibit you should expect to pay $1,200-$1,500 per running foot,” says Hartwig. “Much cheaper exhibits go for around $1,000 for a 10’ x 10’ portable display, but like anything else, you get what you pay for.”

While it may be tempting to cut costs, choosing a vendor that simply resells mass-produced exhibits could mean getting lost in the shuffle of cookie-cutter displays that fail to stand out.


Exhibit Considerations

A vendor that provides a breadth of in-house services can ensure your exhibit stands out as a proper reflection of your business and brand. According to Hartwig, these include exhibit and graphic design, construction, onsite installation and dismantling, electrical hookup, and a host of other details. “Most shows are unionized, and every venue is slightly different, so to be good at this just takes a lot of experience,” says Hartwig.


Making the Most of Your Show

Once you’ve landed on a display vendor and have an exhibit, you can focus on ways to create an optimal trade show experience. This means understanding why you’re exhibiting in the first place.

“Define why you’re exhibiting,” says Hartwig. “If you’re well entrenched in a market, sometimes you exhibit just to stay in touch with current customers.” Under these circumstances, your booth would be more of a meeting and hospitality space.

“If you have a cool new product, make it the hero, and if you’re new to the show, clearly communicate what you do with signage or video because attendees will not ask,” Hartwig says. “Know why you are exhibiting and design accordingly.”

Finally, don’t forget to follow up with leads generated from the trade show. According to Hartwig, a surprising number of exhibitors fail to do so. “This happens a lot where exhibitors take the time and effort to go to a show, collect leads, then ignore them,” he says. “Biggest mistake in my opinion.”


Post Pandemic Bump

While trade show attendance hasn’t reached pre-pandemic rates, Hartwig points out that those visiting them may be higher-caliber prospects. “I’ve been told by our customers that attendance is down, but the quality of attendees is better,” he says. “Companies are cutting back on travel expenses, sending only decision makers with actual buying power.” As a result, more sales are being made.


Breaking the Traffic Myths

Some myths about traffic don’t hold up to scrutiny, according to Hartwig. One of them is that a lot of booth traffic means more sales. “Don’t assume that lots of traffic is good,” he says. “I’ve seen booths with tons of traffic because they had women in togas signing photos,” he recalls. Despite huge lines at the booth, they didn’t sell anything.

Another myth is that you can control the flow of traffic in and out of your exhibit. “Don’t think you can create a traffic pattern with your layout,” Hartwig says. “People will enter here, then go there, followed by here, and it never works the way you planned.”

The takeaway here is that traffic has a flow of its own. As an exhibitor, your job is to work with it and not against it.

New Trends

According to Hartwig, the latest trend in trade show exhibits is geared toward the lightweight production of display materials that reduces freight and weight.

“Almost all new booths use digitally printed fabric graphics in place of hard panel ones because it’s cheaper, lighter, and can be backlit,” he says. “These can also be produced in very large sizes without seams and it’s not difficult to change out. “

The trend toward these lighter materials means a win-win for exhibitors seeking flexibility and cost savings, Hartwig says. “There’s going to be a real push to cut down on the size and weights of booths. Freight and material handling at show site is very expensive and not going to get any cheaper.”