trade show

Scared Of Exhibiting At A Trade Show?

Honestly, you should be.

Here’s what one Indie Retail reader is worrying about:

What scares me about wholesale? Trade shows. Part of me wants to take that step and exhibit for the first time but it also terrifies me. I’m scared I’ll look like a novice, like I don’t know what I’m doing. I know it could open so many doors for my business but that fear won’t go away.

What if I invest all that money and effort and I fall flat. How do I know I’m ready?

The short, annoying answer is that you don’t.

And in any case, being ready isn’t a guarantee of success. You can never be certain that any business venture will work out the way you want.

Exhibiting at a trade show is a great big risk.


Here, have a tic-tac while I hum the Braveheart theme. It’s terribly soothing which is not something you can often say about bagpipes.

Now let’s break this down. When you’re thinking about exhibiting for the first time, you will hear a lot of hubbub.

Some of it will be very positive hubbub, largely coming from the organisers. You’ll hear how exciting and glamorous the show is. How 9000 highly motivated buyers will be attending every day and 72% of them will make an order there and then.

A lot of figures will be thrown at you. The point of this positive hubbub is to position the show as a total slam-dunk in your mind. You’ve already got that spark of interest – that feeling of “This could be AMAZING for my business!” As a responsible business owner, however, you don’t make decisions based solely on how you feel.

Hence the flood of statistics.

The organisers are giving you something rational to back up that excited feeling and encourage you to take the plunge.

The other sort of hubbub is negative, and consists of people telling you how incredibly hard it is to pull off a successful trade show.

It’s astronomically expensive. You get loads of browsers but no buyers. The big companies hoover up all the sales. You get the picture.

But IS it that hard? It depends on your definition.

Exhibiting at a trade show is a big, complex process with a lot of moving parts. But so is your wholesale business and you’ve made that work. What we can say is this:

Assuming all the right elements are in place, a properly-executed trade show is unlikely to be a failure.
“Properly-executed” is the important bit.

In itself, that’s not hard. But it is hard work.

Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

1. Why are you doing this?

There are many, many bad reasons to exhibit at a trade show.

To show your family that, look, you can make a go of running a business. To keep up with your competitors, who seem to be making a killing at these things. To make a lot of money, like, right now because the rent is due and ohcrapohcrapohcrap.

Good reasons are harder to come by, and can usually be expressed in a way that would make a chartered accountant proud. To build awareness of your company. To meet a wide range of qualified potential stockists. To sell your work to specific retailers.

Long, complicated answers to the question “Why are you doing this?” are not a good sign.

The first step is being able state your goal in simple terms, and still feel excited by it.

2. Is there a show that’s right for your business?

Watch out! This one’s a SLIPPERY WEASEL.

A lot of artists will take this question to mean “Is there are show that makes me look good, feel good and, enables me to mentally give the finger to everyone who laughed at the papier mache camel I made back in art class?”

What they should really be asking is: “Is there a show that lots and lots of my target customers will attend?”

Exhibiting at a trade show that doesn’t attract the people who want to give you money is not a good idea. For your investment to pay off, you have to go where your customers are.

Even if that means putting your own preferences aside for a while.

See? Weasel.

Answering these two questions before you book makes you more prepared than most new exhibitors.

That sets you up for success. Will it still be nerve-wracking?


Will you be able to sleep peacefully every night until it’s over?


You’ll work very hard and you’ll get very worried, but, if you do things right, you’ll know that every part of that big, complicated process has been taken care of. And when you score a big new stockist or get featured in Elle Decoration, all those scary moments somehow won’t seem to matter so much.

Your homework, if you choose to accept it:

Write down all the possible reasons you might reasonably give for booking your first show. Aim for at least ten. Only write a reason down if you genuinely feel it to be true.

Now cross out the five weakest reasons. Then choose your top three.

Finally, select the strongest reason you have for exhibiting at a trade show. Examine it.

If you proceed, this thing is going to be your guiding light for months.

It will require you to use your whole ass, even when you’re tired, ill or juggling other responsibilities.

Does this reason motivate you that strongly? Do you want whatever it promises that much?

If the answer is yes, the next part is more fun.

Start researching shows. Which ones do your target retailers attend? Ring up your existing stockists and ask for their opinion. Go visit as many as you can.

And get ready to strap yourself into the rollercoaster.

PS – If you’re exhibiting at a trade show, there’s an Advice Call package for that.

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