You may be wondering, “Do trade shows matter in the age of the Internet and instant communication?”

The short answer is a resounding “Yes!”

And they matter the most when you are first starting your business, when you feel you can least afford it, and when you feel you have the least time for it!

I made a huge mistake in the book business by not attending and more aggressively participating in trade shows early on. If I had done so, I would have built a better distribution network for my books earlier, built up export sales earlier, sold more translation rights, and perhaps most of all, probably learned enough to make significantly better products.

Expand Your Industry Network with Trade Shows

Even if you decide not to exhibit, but just attend a trade show, it may be highly beneficial. You can approach key people in the industry one on one that you may never be able to reach on the phone or even by email. You can connect with key customers and take the relationship to a deeper, more personal level. You can meet with key suppliers.

Even as an attendee, you get a much better feel for what’s happening in the industry by walking a trade show in person than you can ever get by reading about or even watching videos of the same event. You may be able to hear about upcoming changes in the industry while they are still in the rumor stage. You may get a feel for the key elements that the competition is focusing on. You may get previews of competitors’ new products. You may hear that a key employee at a direct competitor whom you always admired is now considering leaving his current job.

Once I attended a Las Vegas trade show to help my teenage kids line up a hot innovative sneaker supplier for their new apparel store. I particularly wanted to help them connect with a high-end sneaker account that just wouldn’t return their phone calls or respond to their emails. I was amazed that not only was I able to walk up to his booth and meet him in person, but also that he knew all about the kids’ new store, considered it the talk of the town, and would be happy to sell them his limited-distribution, highest-end sneaker line.

Unique Networking Opportunities

Similarly, at trade shows there are those serendipitous meetings in the bathroom, around the water cooler, or at after-show parties, where you find that the person you have been talking to just happens to be the key decision maker for the account you have been trying to break into for months.

Once, when my father was flying to the trade show for my book business, he made a great contact on the plane, when he found himself sitting beside a woman who bought remaindered—basically returned or damaged books—for a 70-store chain. This woman got sick and never even made it to the trade show, but my father’s contact led to developing a major new sales outlet. Magical things can happen at trade shows!

What about having a booth? Should you have a booth at a trade show? If you have a trade or service you can sell to attendees, then absolutely! Most people treat their trade show exhibit very timidly with the smallest and simplest booth possible. I suggest you start a little bigger, create a more polished look, and give it your all. That way, if it works, it could work big! If it doesn’t work, then you don’t have to go again.

Which trade show to exhibit at? I would absolutely zero in first on the largest and biggest that is most relevant for your product or service. I’d much rather have a tiny booth at the best show than a great booth at the worst show.

Takeaways You Can Use

  •  Even if you don’t exhibit, trade shows can help you learn about your industry.
  • If you do decide to have a booth, go big!