Top Tips for exhibiting at events and shows

Are you considering taking your business to events and shows for the first time? We first started taking the Black Nova Designs trade stands to events 18 months ago, and we’ve learnt so much in that time. We kicked off our adventure at Badminton Horse Trials in 2022 and yes, it was a real baptism of fire doing a six-day outdoor event for our first ever show! Since then, we’ve done plenty more – some one-day, some indoors and plenty outside. So, we think we’re pretty well placed to give you some tips and ideas to help you prepare and make the most of your first-time exhibiting experience.

1. Prepare in Advance

Before you hit the road to travel to your event, make sure you’ve meticulously planned your setup. This means having everything you need at the ready when you arrive, even essentials like loo paper! Decide how you will secure your stand and any valuables and certainly don’t assume the site will be safe. We’ve only been to one event with proper site security, and we know some business owners who literally sleep on top of their stock at night…

We also recommend taking along plenty of food and water. You’ll be lucky to get a burger and chips for less than £15 and when you’re buying breakfast, lunch and dinner, it will quickly get expensive. Plus, even if you love junk food, fried food just isn’t great for three meals a day, six days in a row… We take huge containers of water too, as it means we’re not buying plastic water bottles which are so damaging for the environment, and it helps our bank balance too.

2. Drawing people in!

We’ve experimented with the best place for those all-important pull up banners telling people what you do, putting them at the back and front of the stand. In our experience, it’s best to have them right at the front of your stand to grab attendees’ attention before they even reach your booth. Plus, especially if you have dark branding colors like we do, ensure your stand is well-lit. Brightening up your space can make a significant difference in attracting visitors – it makes you look very inviting if the clouds roll in and it rains heavily too.

We also have a dog water bowl which pooches appreciate on those hot days. The owners tend to chat to us while their dog drinks and once they find out what we do, they often ask for a business card!

We have a virtual reality (VR) headset for people to try on the stand, and it’s a great way to get people in and chatting to us. We’ve changed the format and now people get one go for free and then must make a donation to keep playing on it. That’s because it was so popular, especially with kids, that we essentially became a creche for the day at Gatcombe, with so many teenagers and children on the stand that adults could hardly get through to talk to us!

3. Do I really need a lawn mower? Or a tablecloth?!

If you’re exhibiting outdoors then be prepared to cut the grass if necessary – and yes, that might mean taking a strimmer or lawn mower along! The really wet spring followed by plenty of early summer sun this year meant the grass went mad and it was nearly knee-high at some events we went to. Of course, if you have a floor or carpeting for your trade stand this won’t matter as much. If you want to invest in flooring, then sheets of hessian can work well – but it can also be a nightmare to clean if it gets muddy.

At indoor events, you often only get provided with a table! So, think about how you can make your booth stand out in such a limited space, remembering your banners might end up tucked behind you if there’s no space to have them at the sides. A tablecloth can work wonders to help elevate the whole look!

4. Plan lead generation too

After getting all everything else ready it can be easy to forget the whole point of going – to sell! If you own a product-based business that’s straightforward as normally people will see your goods, find out how much they cost and quickly have a good idea if they want to buy them! But for service- based businesses, like us, you need to think about gathering leads. One simple way to do that is by giving away business cards or gathering email addresses. You could consider running a contest or giveaway. For instance, you could offer the chance to win a bottle of gin or champagne in exchange for attendees’ email addresses. It’s a small investment of say £35 for potentially gaining a couple of hundred contacts.

5. Remember event etiquette

Here’s another top tip that is so simple… but so many people seem to get it wrong! Don’t sit behind your table engrossed in TikTok or Instagram… Stand up and smile at people when they pass. You’ll look so much more approachable! There’s no need to be pushy, don’t jump in with what your business does, but strike up a natural conversion. You don’t have to be pushy to sell your products or services – just be genuine.

That also brings us onto goodie bags… They are seen as a must-have for events, but they do cost a fair bit and there’s no real return on investment. It rather depends on the event, in our experience! Some people visit events and trawl the booths just to collect freebies, so consider giving them to those who interact with you and show genuine interest. Our goodie bags include items like webcam covers, logo bugs, pens in eco-friendly bags, all branded up to help people get hold of us when they need to.

6. Expect the unexpected…

Sometimes, despite all your planning, unexpected things can and do happen. At one event this year it just rained and rained and rained. It took a month to dry the marquee, the event was abandoned halfway through, and we ended up buying wellies and extra warm and waterproof coats! We also learned our VW T6 camper has a sports front bumper on it which meant the tow eye didn’t fit without removing the bumper. Always fun in the mud and rain! But we coped and smiled our way through it. At Gatcombe I bumped into Oliver Townend, one of Britain’s leading event riders, whilst wearing my Oodie (a knee-length fleece and sherpa-lined hoodie) and had a business-y chat while looking like an oversized child! We also met the Royal family while knee deep in mud and generally had a blast. You never know what will happen on the day… 

So, while events are expensive and time consuming – and sometimes very muddy – we love them. It’s great to get out there and meet customers properly, and we pride ourselves on taking IT on the road and out from behind the computer screens. The IT industry has a reputation for being faceless and we want to be the opposite! We are getting a feel for which events we really like – Badminton Horse Trials is one of the best out there for evening entertainment – and we’re well prepared for long days. If you have any questions about taking your brand to events, then feel free to drop us a line! We’re always happy to share our insights.