Trade Show Checklist: How To Successfully Sell Your Product At Trade Shows

By Christine Syquia

With a physical product, there are several ways to meet customers and market your business. In this week’s article, I write about doing trade shows and meeting potential customers face-to-face in a convention type of setting.

I have noticed over the past couple of years that the trade show world seemed to be dwindling in foot traffic. In the face of numerous shows ‘debuting’, there are simply too many shows to attend. I remember one brutal season doing the January accessory show in New York, flying to Hong Kong to walk their trade show and meet with suppliers, then back to the US to do Magic in Las Vegas, back to NY to do Coterie, and then to Paris to do Premiere Classe. It was crazy!

A Cardinal Rule

One cardinal rule that my partner and I always had was to walk a trade show before we committed to taking a booth. All the information from trade show management about foot traffic, buyer attendance and press coverage will never provide the same insights that walking a trade show will. Just walking a trade show for a couple of hours will give you a good idea if the show is really a good fit for your brand.

I will always remember that my partner and I did a trade show – our very first one – in New York and were very much out of our element. It was clear that our product was priced too high for this particular show. A very well-known buyer from a wonderful boutique in Nantucket, Massachusetts came by and said our booth was the most beautiful in the whole show and that we stuck out like a sore thumb. She promptly placed an order and signed with her trademark signature.

Shortly thereafter, one of our neighbors came by and gave us a phrase that we still quote to this day. This character stopped by our booth, looked up and down the aisle, and said with her heavy New York accent, “Look at them, look at them, look at you! You don’t belong here!”

$5000 booth fee

$2000 fare to NYC and hotel room

$500 food and cabs

= $7500 TOTAL TRIP

Lesson learned…priceless.

In rushing to do our first trade show, my partner and I were so excited to get our product to market when we really should have waited and walked the show before foolishly throwing our money away. C’est la vie; it was one of the many lessons we learned the hard way.

Showrooms & Trade Shows

Frankly, I think there are too many trade shows and the market is oversaturated. For years, many exhibitors have complained that there should be a central governing agency to mandate a trade show schedule and prevent overlapping regional markets and shows, with the meaningless shows disappearing. The sheer volume of shows makes it hard for buyers to decide which is the best to attend. Nowadays many specialty stores hardly have a budget to travel and must be incredibly picky about which shows they attend.

As your company requires sales to survive, doing trade shows is important to grow your brand, but since shows are very expensive and time-consuming, I suggest you also try to get showrooms at the same time. If you reach the point of having enough showrooms, you can then re-evaluate whether you want to continue doing the trade shows at all.

We met all of our showrooms at the trade shows. At the trade shows, you will be able to connect with buyers and get direct feedback about your new collection, check out or maybe network with your competitors, and hopefully meet with fashion editors and bloggers.

Additionally, a trade show is a great way to build your store list. Whenever a store would stop and linger at our booth but not buy anything, I would always ask for a business card and hand them a line sheet. When I returned to my office, I would add their name to my mailing/buyer list.

Planning & Preparation

Getting ready for a trade show requires a lot of planning and preparation. You need to make sure you have handled the booth decoration, line sheets, brochures, business cards, extra lighting and, of course, your samples.

I was once at a trade show where one of my neighbors was a new jewelry company that had just got accepted into the trade show the week before! I felt sorry for the girl who was running the booth as she was so green and inexperienced. She did not have fixtures to place her product on, a rug for her booth, or paper for her walls. Our consultant encouraged me to talk to her, but honestly, she needed so much help that I could only give her a few pointers and hope she would have more time to plan and prepare herself for the next show.


Depending on which trade show you do, I have included a checklist of things you need to do in advance:

• Complete and send in contract.

• Make personal contact with sales rep at the trade show. Talk to them about your line, address any concerns, etc.

• Send in deposit.

• Decide on booth size and decoration.

• Download trade show manual and read it thoroughly.

• Get insurance if mandated by trade show management.

• Book hotel and travel.

• Decide if you will do any advertising or sponsorship to promote your booth. The sponsorship opportunities are sometimes listed in the manual. If not, ask your trade show rep about them. Half of the time we would do some type of sponsorship.

• Order food or beverages for your booth if you want to do a promotion such as a happy hour to draw in more people.

• Hire models or temporary workers for your booth if you need additional coverage. It always helpful to have at least two people, even in a small booth. The days are long and tiring, and you may need assistance during peak times or to cover during bathroom breaks. If you can’t persuade a friend to join you, a temporary worker found on Craigslist or Daily Fashion Jobs might be a good option.

• Order staff badges.

• Decide if you will send your product directly to the show site or carry it in your suitcases.

• Order any additional electricity or lighting.

• Order booth cleaning if needed. Note: we never did this.

• Send in final deposit.

• Order labor if needed to put up your shelving or help with building any additional furniture you might be bringing in.

• Find out the set-up schedule and plan on being there as soon as the doors open, especially if it is your first show.

Raw Space & Booths

At the trade shows, you can either buy a booth package with the walls already in place or raw space. Raw space is for those vendors who have custom-built booths.

The majority of vendors use the booth packages. If you are getting a booth package, I urge you to consider covering the walls with drapes or fabric or, better yet, papering the walls with the backdrop paper used for photo shoots. This makes your booth stand out with minimal cost. If you are showing in New York, call The Set Shop in New York City and have them deliver the paper to your booth. It will be much cheaper than ordering it from the vendors who are contractually tied to the unions.

In future weeks, I will discuss having outside sales reps as well as developing your presence online. However, I think that spending the money and doing a trade show gives a new brand an invaluable opportunity to get their product in front of main decision makers such as editors, meet with key store buyers and most importantly, announce to the industry that your brand is a viable player.

Christine Syquia

About Christine Syquia

Christine Syquia is the owner of the Accessory Business 101. Get her free 30-page report which discusses how one can start a product based company with little to no experience. You can access the free report here. In addition to working with designers, Christine also enjoys working with local businesses as a business and expansion consultant in Santa Monica, California where she lives.

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  • Trade shows are an experince aren’t they! So much easier to learn tips from an expert then to try and figure it all out yourself.

    I previously consulted for many trade show companies and here is one tip, that may not work for all typs of products but definately some. Before the show we encouraged exhibitors to search online for potential companies they would like ot meet in the vacinity of the show. We then encouraged them to contact these companies explaining that thye would be in town for the show and the reason why you feel they should meet you.

    Some companies we encouraged to go one step further and gained media attention by giving some product away to local school or charity or sometimes as a prize on a radio show. Whenever media picked up on this thye always reommended people go to see them at the show, meaning more potential customers and goo brand awareness.

    Takes some planning (thats why they hire me!) but can really help your outcome from a trade show.

  • I hope to someday be at a point where I have products and can do a trade show. Thanks for your post!

  • People in this business think that everything can be done online. I think they are absolutely wrong. Offline marketing is still so powerful that it could explode your business if you mix it up with online marketing. I’ve never participated in a trade show with a product or service, but i believe that it can establish your brand and let you go viral. Thanks for the info.

  • What a great detailed list! We have considered attending trade shows but have not yet committed to any. I had thought of most of your points – it comes down to cost-effectiveness. I am bookmarking your article. Thanks again.

  • Beautiful checklist.

    I’m a fan of checklists because they are one of the most effective ways to “automate” our thinking, and helps us move up the stack, as well as codify our best practices and lessons learned. It works for Disney. It works for McDonald’s. And checklists are the way the Air Force shares and scales knowledge in a rapid way.

  • I like the idea of hiring a model or a representative. In my opinion if you are selling a product that has enough of a margin in it to accommodate the extra expense of the model, then I would say by all means get that model in there. It’s great too especially in the beginning stages when you aren’t as experienced and you can rely on someone to get you going.


  • […] themselves and their brands at industry shows.  But you don’t have to.  Here are just a few checklist items you can work on to make your show a profitable […]

  • […] important idea to remember when drawing people into your booth is to show case the product. What are you selling?  Have a friendly sales team present to show the products and […]

  • I HAVE PRODUCT I would like to sell my sister and cousin do this in two different state the item sells
    well and I would like to start selling this product also what are the steps I need to so,thye do a lot of
    shows with there awing and there racks and tables ,then the product where do I go to get into shows what sites..I live in Arizona

  • Renni

    thanks for a helpful post,im planning to participae in THE BOX in march , can you through some light about its placement on the buyers “DO visit” and some inputs about how well placed is its presence during PARIS FASHION WEEK.

  • shriks

    I am a manufacturer wants to visit one international exhibition in the near future. I am not participating in the exhibition. what should I do to get good genuine buyers in that exhibition?

  • Great article, thank you. I’m gearing up to do my first wholesale trade show next year and I’m so glad I found this write up!

  • w. dale craig

    where are the shows? I live in va. 60 mi. south of wash, dc

  • Lloyd Westenberg

    Hello Christine,
    Great information you put out here for us first timers at the trade shows. I will be attending several shows this fall. I have the molds being designed on 5 physical therapy devices and will start minimal manufacturing around mid september. I hope I am prepared enough for the buyers. My target group will be the very large medical supply companies out there, but I will respect the privately owned physical rehab centers that are out there.
    I have an investor and will most likely seek another with medical industry sales experience. It is nerve wracking process that I have done all by myself, while working a full-time job. Pricing molds, straps, wheels, boxes for the devices, since I will be assembling them myself, has been tough but i relish the challenge of all this. Thanks again for being out there with this helpful information for startups like me.

  • Hi out there:) I am making the leap from custom fashion designer boots to a retail line. I have lots of moxie but not much money. How do I find out which is the best trade show for me to reach small and large boutique-type retailers? Please, any input is more than I have now!

  • Hello Christine,
    First of all, thank you for sharing this checklist with us. You talk about how to “successfully sell products” on trade shows and you give great milestone to look for during the prep time. However, I feel an essential part is missing there: as you mentioned, exhibitions are usually REALLY costly. Therefore, getting a proper return on investment can be tedious and requires to handle and follow-up really well with every lead that comes across your booth.
    Recording prospects information and following up in a timely manner is, to me, the most important aspect of every event. Digital solutions such as myfairtool help you collecting such details but require before all to have a trained team able to actively seek and convert visitors passing by.
    Thanks again!

  • Bell

    I’m a new boutique owner and I’m looking for smaller designers of women and men’s apparel. Every day wear type of items with a twist of trend. If anyone can tell me where to find designers to carry in my store that would be great!!

    • Gina

      Hey Bell,

      We have just launched our newest collection. Contact us and we will give you all of our information!


    • HI Bell.. we are a young and trendy brand out of India.. we do tops, dresses skirts, jackets etc.. the look is boho with a heritage is aimed at the domestic Indian market, so not suitable for your market.. would mail you appropriate pieces from our collection do drop me a line if you want to take a look.

  • Al

    Hello Christine, you say “We met all of our showrooms at the trade shows. At the trade shows, you will be able to connect with buyers and get direct feedback about your new collection, check out or maybe network with your competitors, and hopefully meet with fashion editors and bloggers.” What is the difference between a trade show and a showroom?

  • I had a rule when I was an exhibitor and vendor rather than a producer for others. The sales resulting from the show needed to be an average of 7 times the total expenses after two shows or it was dropped or changed. So $7,500 should return $52,500. Don’t be disappointed, you have to count all sales between those two shows. You never know, I’ve made a show that was slow only to have a large purchase order confirmed the very next show. Trade shows are hard to predict. I agree with walking the show, but the expense of doing that should be added to the full show expense. I know this … there is nothing more depressing than spending money on a show and not writing orders. Don’t get down, use the slow time to plan change. You’ll be surprised at the great ideas that come from sitting with your product and planning change during down times.

  • TGX

    Gearing up for my first trade show. This is very helpful. Thanks!

  • Gina

    Would it be wrong to ask retailers / boutique owners to put a 30% deposit at the time of the ordering?

  • Hi Christine,

    we are a young womens brand out of India, the signature is boho.. meet bollywood glam..
    Looking to bring the brand to US and Europe..
    can you help identify a couple of trade shows that we should participate in.. I have been going through the trade show lists and it is extremely confusing..
    Off course I will go walk the shows first.. but right now not sure where to start..
    pls help

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