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Tradeshow 101: 10 Tips for Exhibitors

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Tradeshow season: some of us live for it, while some of us run. Personally, I’m all about exhibiting at them, and you should be too.
The logistics, scheduling, vendor management, micro-managing, budgeting, and executing of a polished project takes a special skillset.

Like you, I remember trying to figure everything out. Below you’ll find 10 tips to help you achieve your coffee exhibitor tradeshow dreams – or at least not have reoccurring convention hall nightmares.

Spanish Version: Exhibición de Café 101: 10 Consejos para los Participantes

coffee showMake sure you’re ready before the rush begins. Credit: Coffee Fest Trade Shows

1. Your Goals

This should always be your first step. Ask your team:

  • What do we want to achieve?
  • Who will lead and support?
  • What is our budget?

coffee showTrade shows are important business development opportunities. Credit: Specialty Coffee Association

2. The Exhibitor Kit

No matter what tradeshow you’re registering for, the organizing body will provide you with an exhibitor kit. Inside that, you’ll find:

  • A Utility Service Order Form
  • Set Up, Show, and Break Down times
  • Payment Forms
  • Shipping Options
  • Rental Options (Furniture, Floral, Decoration, etc.)
  • Labor Rates

These documents are your lifeline. They’re the difference between having a great experience and a terrible one. Read every page and ask questions early.

Many convention centers have exclusive contracts for drayage (transporting goods), shipping, labor, and a whole lot more. If their contracts are exclusive, you must use them. Ask the tradeshow representative for more information about this (especially regarding labor). You won’t be able to bring your forklift to the show to save cash – even if you ask nicely.

You’ll also receive emails, paperwork, and links for non-exclusive vendors as well. You might not need to use them, but ask to be sure.

coffee showNote down the questions you need to ask.

3. Planning

Nearly every trade show at which I’ve managed a booth, we were offered an early bird discount. It’s the easiest way to save money. And while you’re planning ahead, you might as well book flights and accommodation, especially if you’re planning on staying in the official hotel. Don’t get caught paying more than you have to.

You’ll also want to think about shipping and graphics. How long will it take for you to ship your crate? Your UPS items? Don’t make your staff carry everything. What about your promotional materials? How long is your printer’s turnaround time? No one likes to pay for rush service.

While you’re planning, be sure to create checklists for what you need to ship, what you need to bring, and what you’ll need to procure once you arrive.

coffee showPlanning sessions are key to tradeshow success. Credit: Royal Coffee, Inc.

4. Your Booth

This is the fun part. Start with your booth position. Having a 10×10 corner booth will drastically change your service strategy compared to a 20×20 island booth.

I’ve always believed that a booth should reflect the company. While walking into an Apple Store is an incredible experience, that aesthetic might not make the most sense for your booth. If you have a story to tell (and great coffee to serve), simply tell it like you would in your facility or with your clients. As Anthony Bourdain says, “good is good forever.”

Also, how will you drive people to you? Giveaways or promotions? Why should people stop at your booth? Get creative and help attendees discover you.

coffee showDesign your booth to take advantage of space. Credit: Royal Coffee, Inc.

5. The Coffee

Stop. Take a minute and think about what makes your program special. Don’t step outside of your element.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the coffee business. Coffee people can smell inauthenticity a mile away. Your booth should be a reflection of who you are and nothing says that more than your coffee program. If you’ve never roasted Geisha, now is not the time to pull single origin Geisha shots. Showcase the coffee program that’s made you successful – that’s what people want to experience.

coffee showStick to your brand. Credit: Royal Coffee, Inc.

SEE ALSO: Coffee Entrepreneurship: Financing Made Simple

6. The Equipment

“I drank all the coffee at the show – and yours is the best!” That’s what you want to hear. But how do you pull it off?

Check with your team early and often (especially those brewing and serving) to consider all the items needed: a hot water source, smallwares, an espresso machine? All of these micro-decisions will have major implications on your coffee service. When in doubt, reach out to your equipment suppliers – if you ask nicely, they’ll tell you everything you need to know.

Remember, none of this is free, so good planning is essential. Oh – and have all of your power specs handy for when you order your electricals. The convention center has no idea what a Marco T10 is, if it’s better to have a 2-group or 3-group Linea, or if a single 110 outlet will power four Bonavita brewers running simultaneously.

Amsterdam Coffee Fest

Work out what equipment you’ll need ahead of time. Credit: Dani Bordiniuc

7. Opportunities for Collaboration

The three big coffee trade show organizers – SCA, Coffee Fest, and Coffee Con – all offer opportunities to collaborate at the show. Whether you want to teach courses, host events, volunteer, or [insert your big idea here], there are always options. Reach out to the business development rep early. They want to hear from you.

Additionally, think about who your partners are. Talk to customers, suppliers, media, and so on as soon as possible to talk about ideas. They too want to hear from you.

Keep in mind, everyone wants to make a splash at the next trade show – but you can be the spark that generates the show’s most #trending event.

coffee showHosting a cupping is a great way to pull more people to your booth. Credit: Royal Coffee, Inc.

8. The Event Staff

These are the friendliest and hardest-working people in the industry. Who hasn’t had someone from the SCA or Coffee Fest answer all of their questions, save them from failure, or introduce them to a new customer? Who hasn’t had to ask someone nicely if they could borrow a flo-jet because the vendor sent the European version and you didn’t check before opening the show crate (true story)?

Show staff are amazing and they literally do this for a living. So be nice and they might even share few tips. (Oh – and send them coffee!)

coffee showLook after the people looking after you. Credit: Specialty Coffee Association

9. Your Team & Your Schedule

Your Team: They will be hungry. They will get headaches. They will be tired. Keep them fed, hydrated, and well-rested, and they’ll make sure everyone loves your coffee.

Your Schedule: Don’t burn the candle at both ends. You won’t be able to do everything. Take some time before the event to map out your plan and prioritize where you need to be versus where you’d like to be. You can’t do it all… and that’s okay!

coffee showMake sure your staff gets coffee and lunch breaks. Credit: Royal Coffee, Inc.

10. Post-game Analysis & Plan

After landing that new client, saving that one account, and hosting the party of century, you are back into your normal rhythm. Within a week, have a sit-down with your team to analyze what worked, what didn’t, and the opportunities to improve.

How will you follow up with leads? You just met with a ton of people – what now? Don’t let the trade show momentum pass you by. Connect with your team to ensure everyone knows what’s next.

coffee showThe festival may be over but your work isn’t finished yet. Credit: Coffee And Company

These 10 steps are just the beginning. There are tons of strategies for shaping and executing a game-changing coffee tradeshow booth. What are some of yours?

Written by Richard Sandlin of Royal Coffee, Inc.

Please note: Royal Coffee, Inc. is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.


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