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So, You Want to Go to a Trade Show?

A group of people speaking at a trade show booth.

December 15, 2022

A trade show brings together members of a particular industry to showcase their products and services and develop new business connections. Exhibiting at a trade show elevates your brand within that industry, allows you to meet competitors and assess your position in the industry, and access a large pool of ready-buyers and decision makers for companies who are in the market for a product or service like yours. 

Trade shows can be a wonderful way to expand your market and generate new wholesale customers, but they require a significant investment of time and money, so it’s important to make sure you’re prepared to make the most of the experience. 

Are you ready? 

Before attending a trade show, you should have a wholesale price list, a product order form, and at least a few wholesale accounts. Buyers at shows want to know that you have experience working with and fulfilling the needs of businesses like theirs. You also want to make sure you will have the capacity after the show to really make the most of it. Make sure you have adequate time and/or staffing support to unpack, fulfill orders placed at the show, and follow up with leads. The last thing you want to do is make a sale at a show and not be able to follow through with it in a timely manner. 

Do Your Research 

When searching for a trade show to attend, think beyond just the obvious shows for your industry. Think about the types of buyers to whom you would like to sell. Where do you want consumers to find your products? Get creative. Do you want to be in grocery stores, gift stores, sports equipment stores, ski shops, or in hotels? Think big!  

It is also important to consider the timing of the show. If it’s too short notice you might not have enough time to prepare. If this is your first show, consider giving yourself 6-9 months of lead time. 

Find out who attends this show and who exhibits at it. Are your top competitors there? How many people typically attend? Are there any other workshops or events that take place? Is there an opportunity to speak on a panel or enter a special competition? 

Determine a Budget 

Exhibiting at a trade show can require a significant upfront investment, so you’ll want to plan ahead to know what you will spend and the sales you’ll need to generate to make it worthwhile. When planning your budget, be sure to include all registrations fees (including booth space and any educational sessions or competitions you would like to attend), marketing assets and booth design, booth furnishings and utilities, shipping/freight costs, travel expenses, lodging, food, labor, and any printing, samples, or other items you need to complete your booth set up. 

There are programs intended to help mitigate the financial risks of attending trade shows. Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets is currently accepting applications for Trade Show Assistance Grants, which provide up to 50% reimbursement on eligible expenses for out-of-state shows targeting wholesale buyers. Food Export Northeast’s Branded Program also offers 50% reimbursement on eligible expenses for international shows. 

Check out part two of this blog, where we will discuss goal setting and your trade show marketing strategy!

Thanks for reading the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets’ Marketing and Agritourism Blog! I’m your host, Kristen Brassard. I’m an Agriculture Development Specialist focused on marketing and events for farm and food businesses. I graduated with a master’s degree in Food Systems from the University of Vermont in 2021 and have nearly ten years’ experience in marketing and events planning. Stay tuned every other week for tips on marketing and incorporating agritourism practices on your farm. Be sure to sign up for our weekly Agricultural Development Newsletter so you never miss a post!