Tricks of the Trade (Show): 9 Steps to Exhibitor Success


[Editor’s note: Learn more about exhibitor opportunities at the NCA Annual Convention 2018 in New Orleans, March 15-17]

This post originally appeared on Perfect Daily Grind

Are you exhibiting at a coffee festival or trade show? Or considering it?

Exhibiting is a good business choice. It’s a straightforward, face-to-face way of engaging with your community and clients (current and future). It can allow you to shape the face of your business. And it’s an opportunity to make a more lasting impression than some methods of digital outreach.

Yet without the right preparation, you won’t see the return on investment you’re looking for. Being able to own your space and maximize your engagement with others is key but far from easy, while having to be “on” and present at all times can be a challenge. So before shelling out and setting up, make sure you’re ready.

Feeling daunted? Don’t worry; we’re here to tell you how to make exhibiting a solid business investment. Read on for our 9 steps to seeing an excellent return (and actually enjoying yourself).

1. Know the Event: Who’s It for & How Can you Serve Them?

Is this a trade show, mostly attended by business owners, manufacturers, and people actively working in some part of your field? Or is this a festival showcasing your field, mostly attended by consumers, enthusiasts, and the general public?

This is a crucial difference, as both groups will expect different things. Ask yourself which of these two groups is your business most suited to and which parts of your work need to be emphasized to make the most impact. Do you offer more to people behind the counter, through wholesale accounts, product development, and support, or do you have something more easily accessible to everyone, such as retail products, personal-level services, and education?

Once you know who you’re appealing to, it’s time to work out how. By keeping your target in mind, you’ll be able to determine your best layout and narrow down what materials to bring. Speaking of which…

2. Understand Your Space: Amenities, Surroundings, Dimensions

When registering for a space, it’s important to check that you’ll have everything you’ll need with the event organisers.

Take nothing for granted. And I mean nothing. Will you have access to electrical outlets, or will you have to pay for them separately? Do you require a different level of electricity for certain machines? Do you need access to a water supply? What’s their policy on wet/dry waste? Will you have any storage? How much will be built for you, and when can you arrive to inspect it?

It may seem trivial, but getting these questions out of the way will help you get the space you want without last-minute expenses and the stress because “I just thought it was going to be there”.

Next, make a general layout of what equipment/retail/handouts will go where in your space. Remember, the less cluttered you can make it, the more welcoming it’ll be.

Once your space seems sorted, know where you’ll be in relation to the other vendors and other in-house events. Learn what you can about the exits/entrances, bathrooms, and parking. Knowing the venue will decrease unnecessary wandering and long treks on the day.


3. Aim to Be Overstaffed

Throughout the event, people will want to talk to you – hurray! You’re getting exposure! – but they’re not going to form an orderly queue when there’s another exhibitor next door. Remember that if you’re a one-man show, it only takes one person to dominate your time completely. Likewise, any emergency or break that makes you leave your stall unattended (you were planning to use the bathroom, weren’t you?) is a potential missed business opportunity.

Investing the time and money into a space with the intention of meeting new people, but then going bare-bones with staff, is a waste. Your effectiveness will be greatly inhibited and therefore your return will be much lower.

Instead, follow through with your efforts by having more staff handy than you think you’ll need. If one person’s doing a demonstration, you’ll then be able to answer visitors’ queries. If someone is eating lunch, you’ll still be able to help visitors without sacrificing professionalism. And when – not if – it gets busy, you won’t get overwhelmed and guests will trust that they won’t have to wait too long to be seen to.

4. Have Your Company Information to Hand

For visitors, there are typically a lot of stalls to visit. They won’t waste time on ones that seem unappealing. So the question is, can somebody understand your business just by walking past the booth? Will they get your unique selling proposition straight away? Because if not, they won’t wait around to learn what it is.

Have business cards and relevant event/product fliers easily accessible (bonus points if you put them next to a mailing list sign-up sheet). For those you’ve spoken to, some take-away materials will reinforce your pitch. For others more pressed for time, it might be the only thing they get from your stall.

5. Schedule Mini-Events at Your Stand

Mini-events are great ways to attract more visitors – including return ones! You could schedule equipment demonstrations, product samplings, or how-to workshops. Just don’t forget to promote them: have the demonstration name and time clearly visible on your stand, mention the events to visitors, and post about them on social media (more about that later).

Remember that your stand isn’t in a vacuum. Be aware of other major events happening throughout the venue, and plan yours either during a lull or shortly after a larger event (bonus points if it’s after an event near your stand).

6. Connect with the Other Exhibitors

Think the only connections you want to make are with customers? Think again.

Getting to know the other stallholders can open up a very useful resource. For a start, you’ll get additional market insight as to how common or uncommon your business is (and how much you’ll need to stand out or up your game), and can learn a lot about what else is available in your field right now. And you could even make new friends! If you put the effort in, your peers can be both helpful and inspiring.

Your visitors will also appreciate your new connections. Since you’ll know what other services/businesses are on show, you’ll be able to make recommendations when you can’t assist someone yourself. Other vendors will know you’re there, too, and so will hopefully send any relevant people your way.


7. Bring Retail, Merchandise, Swag

Especially at a consumer-focused show, some people will want to buy something then and there. So make that sale possible by bringing merchandise with you.

Alternatively, if you don’t sell retail items, branded merchandise or swag is an easy way to get your company name out.

(Just, please, no more lanyards.)

8. Use Social Media

Let your pre-existing customer base know where you are, how to get to you, and all about your mini-events and the cool fellow exhibitors you’ve come across. This is especially handy for the consumer-focused show. Make use of hashtags, location tracks, and tagging for added reach.

9. Last but Not Least: Have a Good Breakfast!

It doesn’t matter how early you need to arrive at the venue, you need to get yourself as ready as possible before the full-on day of talks, demonstrations, and connection-making begins. Your energy levels will be reflected in your performance, and you’ve invested far too much in this event for it suffer thanks to an energy crash or “hangry” feelings. Take care of yourself, and you’ll be better able to take care of others – and have fun.


Exhibiting can be an overwhelming experience, but it’s also a good investment. Whether it’s your first, fifth, or fiftieth event, following these steps will make it less stressful and more effective.

Good luck!

Written by R. Winn and edited by T. Newton for Perfect Daily Grind

Photos: Joseph Rodriguez at the NCA Annual Convention 2017 

Learn more about exhibitor opportunities at the National Coffee Association


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