Skip to main content

Trade Show Booths: What Does Yours Say About You

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years of experience in marketing/sales, including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.

Nothing says nothing like nothing! An unstaffed or "Minimalist" booth gives show visitors no reason to stop by.

Nothing says nothing like nothing! An unstaffed or "Minimalist" booth gives show visitors no reason to stop by.

As a trade show industry veteran and marketing professional, I have attended expos and events of every type and size over the years. I can tell you that if the only impression that I got of a company was their booth, their personnel and how the booth was set up, I can guarantee I wouldn't be doing business with many of them. I've classified several of the worst "don't let this happen to you" booths—and ways to avoid them—as follows:

The Booth Speaks for Itself

The company has invested some dollars in purchasing the booth space and may even have an elaborate backwall display. The only component missing is booth personnel. They're off checking out the rest of the floor (particularly the free food booths), meeting with friends, etc. They're hoping the booth will speak for itself. It has to since there's no one there.

  • What This Booth Says About You: Everything else is more important than meeting with or recruiting customers.
  • Booth Blunder Busting Strategy: Staff the booth with committed personnel and establish specific procedures and performance objectives for them.

The Minimalist

Booth contains the draped table, two chairs, and the paper sign indicating the booth number—all provided by the trade show. Brochures and business cards (sometimes only business cards) are left on the table. Booth personnel wonder why no one is stopping by.

  • What This Booth Says About You: "Customers are not worth our time or investment."
  • Booth Blunder Busting Strategy: If you're not planning to fully commit to the investment of time, money and personnel that a successful trade show experience requires, consider alternative marketing channels.

The Kitchen Sink

These folks are the polar opposite of The Minimalist. They bring EVERYTHING. Attendees will find something they like, right? Unfortunately, their unfocused approach has their expo investment circling the proverbial drain since attendees can't figure out what they should look at.

  • What This Booth Says About You: "We're desperate and don't have a clue."
  • Booth Blunder Busting Strategy: Focus on one or a couple of products or services to feature in the booth. Pick only those of most importance to the primary market segment desired.

Just Another Day at the Office

If it weren't for those annoying attendees, the booth personnel could get some real work done. (Sarcasm should be duly noted.) Cell phone in hand, these staffers are often completely turned away from the show aisle. My favorite was at a promotional product show I attended where the rep (my personally assigned rep no less) interrupted his conversation with me to take a cell call. Sorry to bother you. Sorry, you won't be getting any more of my business.

  • What This Booth Says About You: Same as The Booth Speaks for Itself, but with the rude twist.
  • Booth Blunder Busting Strategy: Sales personnel and small business owners can both fall into the multitasking trap. Make participating at the trade show a priority for EVERYONE working the booth. It should be a top priority because sales keep the business in business! Find alternative ways to handle the day-to-day operations while the show goes on.

My Shift is from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M.

Poor things. These chair-warming recruits don't even like the thought of, eeewww, sales. And chair warming is exactly what they do. Can't blame them. Their managers just sent them in as warm bodies to cover the shift.

  • What This Booth Says About You: Same as Just Another Day at the Office, The Minimalist and The Booth Speaks for Itself combined. Personnel are in the booth physically, but not mentally or emotionally. Might as well have just thrown brochures on the table and left it empty.
  • Booth Blunder Busting Strategy: Plan to have the most talented in-person sales team members manning the booth. This is a valuable selling opportunity! It's not the same as "covering the phones."

Booth Black Holes

The folks manning these booths do understand that they are there to make sales, sometimes under duress. They're desperate to make their numbers and, like a black hole, will suck in any show visitor that even accidentally steps into the expo booth perimeter. No qualifying the visitor. Just do the pitch and make the numbers.

  • What This Booth Says About You: Same as The Kitchen Sink. Desperate and without a clue.
  • Booth Blunder Busting Strategy: Set realistic goals for each member of the trade show sales team. Also look at including some less quantity driven goals for the show which could include getting feedback on existing products or services. Inviting visitors to offer feedback can be a softer sell approach anyway.

Ooo, More Nondescript Equipment (or Consulting Services)

I stand in front of the booth. And stand there. And I really, really try to figure out what these people are selling. If it's a physical product, they'll bring in some box-like device that does . . . um, what? Even better are the consultants. Usually they have a sharp-looking backwall with some nifty graphics touting buzzwords such as integration, technology, value-added, leadership, focused, relationships, and future. What do they do? What problems do they solve? These exhibitors will likely go back to the office and bemoan the lack of qualified traffic at the show.

  • What This Booth Says About You: "We know what we do, so how come you can't figure it out?"
  • Booth Blunder Busting Strategy: Drill down benefits to the point where it can be conveyed in one or two short sentences. Better yet, develop questions around those benefits that in-booth personnel can use to engage show visitors. For example, say the service is business strategy consulting, often a difficult concept to convey. A question based on a benefit could be, "Would you be interested in finding out if you could improve your sales by 10 percent this year?"

I'm sure there are many other greatest hits (misses?) that I've overlooked. But there's always another show season around the corner and another opportunity to see what not to do when I do my own exhibits.

The best way to avoid all of these exhibiting pitfalls is to know your participation objectives, your market demographics, and what makes your audience tick. Only then can you create a booth that attracts the customers you want to reach. As well, booth personnel must understand these, too, and be properly trained to optimize your trade show investment.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Scroll to Continue

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 25, 2014:

Hi Eddy/Eiddwen! Thanks so much for your votes and sharing. So appreciated. Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 25, 2014:

Hello raymondphilippe! Glad you could appreciate the tips even if your "expo days" are in the past. Even though my official trade show career is history, I can't help evaluating booths every time I go to a show. Thanks for the kind comments! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 25, 2014:

FlourishAnyway, I'll bet you've seen your share of these booth bloopers! Job fairs can have horrible booths since it's difficult for the exhibiting recruiters to wrap their minds around the fact that they're "selling" their career opportunities to candidates. They think it's the other way around (candidates should be doing the "selling"). What does a bad booth say to potential employees? You know what it says! Thanks, as always, for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great day!

Eiddwen from Wales on March 25, 2014:

A great hub which will benefit many. Voting up and sharing.


Raymond Philippe from The Netherlands on March 25, 2014:

I am glad my "expo days"are over. But your hub provides some sound advice on what to do or not to do with a boot. Good read.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 24, 2014:

I've seen all of these attending job fairs as an employer representative! Great descriptions!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 24, 2014:

Elizabeth/epbooks, we ALL need to review what we do at expos and shows! All the best with your book signing this weekend!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on March 24, 2014:

I sort of set this type of thing up when I do my book signing (which I have this weekend) at an event. While I have a great list of what to bring, this is an awesome reminder of how to set it up. Thank you. I needed that kick in the right direction! :)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 24, 2014:

That's okay, billybuc! But I'll bet that when you do have a booth one day, you'll think of this post. :) You have a great week, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 24, 2014:

Mine doesn't say much about me because, well, I don't have one. :) If I did, though, I would be a fool not to follow your suggestions.

Have a great week my wise friend.

Related Articles