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Retailer’s Guide to Attending Trade Shows

Wondering if trade shows are still valuable in 2022? You bet they are! Nothing beats seeing your target audience face-to-face. And a trade show offers the best venue to do just that. In fact, according to recent research, trade shows will be worth more than $40 billion by 2023.

Generally, trade shows allow retailers to meet their existing suppliers, nurture relationships with vendors, investigate new products, conduct business meetings, and understand industry trends, among other things.

But attending any old trade show just won’t cut it — you must do your research first to ensure you’re going to the right one. While this may seem like a no-brainer, figuring out what steps to take can be difficult and overwhelming.

That’s where this guide comes in. We’ll show you how to approach the budgeting and planning aspects for your upcoming trade shows.

Budgeting for Trade Shows

Preparing for trade show visits can be challenging, especially when budgeting. There are many things to consider, making it easy to go over budget. Below are some steps to help you budget for trade shows.

Determine Your Goals and KPIs

Your goals for attending the trade shows will significantly affect your budget in terms of the decisions you make. For example, if your goal is to meet and create relationships with new vendors, you might need to plan some dinner meetings. This means extra expenses on the venue and food.

Additionally, consider how you’ll measure success for visiting trading shows and how these KPIs affect your budget.

Look at Past Trade Show Visits

If you have attended trade shows in the past, you don’t have to start budgeting from scratch. What was your previous budget? How many trade shows did you attend using that budget? Should that budget be expanded or revised?

Keep in mind that the goals for attending trade shows last year may not be the same this year. Hence, your aim is not to replicate the previous year’s figures but to get a ballpark estimate and some ideas on what to include and not include in your budget.

List Everything You Need

Now that you’ve looked at historical data, the next step is to list everything you need for this year’s trade shows. Since you’re attending the shows as a visitor, this list doesn’t have to be long.

After listing everything needed, the next step is to estimate their expenses. Again, if you used some of the things in the previous years, you can use their costs as a guide.

Determine the Right Amount of Inventory Needed

Determine how many stores need to be stocked and what amount of stock will be required for each. 

The amount of inventory you plan to purchase should reflect your sales. If your sales were down 10% last year, your planned inventory amount should reflect that. If certain items are in demand now, you may want to stock them in larger quantities.

After determining the right amount of inventory, estimate how much it will cost you. Most manufacturers and suppliers usually list the prices of their goods on their websites, making it easier for you to create a budget inventory. You can also ask for quotes from the specific suppliers you work with or want to work with.

Add a Contingency

It’s not unusual for some things to go wrong when attending a trade show. The car you’re using may break down, so it helps to be prepared. While the amount to set aside for contingencies will depend on various factors, like the industry you’re in and the size of the event, a good rule of thumb is to factor in an additional 10% of your total budget.

The Total Budget                                                                 

Since you now have the estimated costs of the show expenses, inventory, and contingencies, you can add them all to come up with a budget.

To ensure you spend your budget wisely, prioritize the trade shows that will help you fulfill most or all your inventory needs. If you don’t have specific trade shows in mind, you can divide the total budget against the number of shows you want to attend.

Generally, the number of shows to attend yearly depends on two critical factors: the total cost of goods sold and your average inventory. For example, if the total cost of goods sold is $200k and your average inventory is $40k, you need to turn over your business’s inventory five times a year. As such, you may also need to attend five trade shows a year. 

Planning for Trade Shows

As part of planning for a trade show, here are some of the elements you need to consider:


Do you need special permits, contracts, or insurance when planning or attending trade shows? All these considerations are a part of logistics and should be taken care of in advance to avoid last-minute disappointments.

Staff Compensation

Several or all your employees will spend significant time organizing and attending trade shows. Determine the time that will be spent beforehand and then offer those involved appropriate compensation. By doing this, your staff members will be motivated to ensure the show visits are successful. 

Number of Employees to Bring

Bringing the right number of employees to a trade show ensures that the event runs smoothly. You don’t want to sponsor too many employees where almost all the budget is spent on their personal expenses.

The right number of employees to bring to a trade show will depend on various factors, such as the amount of inventory being bought, planned activities, staffing needs back home, and the size of the trade show. 

Generally, most businesses bring four to ten staff to each show. This ensures the buying team is diversified enough to cater to the needs of different customers. If one person does all the buying, there is a risk that the products bought will only fit one person. 

What to Wear

The people attending the trade shows serve as the face of your business. For this reason, you want their outlook to reflect well on your business. A good practice is to wear business casual clothing and comfortable shoes.

While at the shows, you can expect to receive a lot of product samples and freebies. Ensure there is enough space in your bags to accommodate these things. 

Travel Accommodations

Since you’re likely going to the trade show for several days, confirm with the organizers if there are reserved rooms for guests. Such rooms often come at a discount, which can help you cut costs.

If the trade show organizers do not offer rooms, the other option is to get accommodation in a hotel — preferably one close to the event.

Also, consider the traveling means your employees will use to get to the trade shows and their costs. 

Reservations for lodging and transportation should be made early to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Trade Show Prep

Trade show prep is typically done a couple of weeks before each show. Here are some things that buyers should do:

Review List of Attending Exhibitors

In most cases, a list of all the attending exhibitors can be found on the official site of the trade show organizers. Go through the list, noting the exhibitors that interest you and their products. You can also visit the specific exhibitors’ websites to find more info on the companies and their products.

Make a List of Current Suppliers

As you go through the list of attending exhibitors, list the suppliers you already work with and those you would like to stop and see. This is your chance to ask questions and seek clarifications from their team of experts on a one-on-one basis. They might also have a new line of products that may interest you. 

Make Another List of New Suppliers You Would Like to Check

Perhaps you would like to check the products of new suppliers you’ve heard of but haven’t connected with yet. Trade shows offer you the chance to create new relationships with these suppliers and even engage in business if their products interest you. 

Ideally, you should schedule meetings with these suppliers before the actual day of the show. Thus, by the time you attend the event, you already know who you need to meet. Plus, they’ll be expecting you. 

Research New Product Launches

In most cases, attending exhibitors release show specials via trade show producers or publications like HQ. As an avid reader of HQ magazine, you’ll benefit from a range of incentives for specific trade shows, helping you make the connections you need to grow your business.

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