How to Choose a Trade Show

Trade Show Trenches
October 26, 2022

So, you’ve decided to participate in a trade show. Congratulations! Trade show marketing, when done well, can significantly increase sales and brand recognition. It’s the one place where you can meet potential clients, chat with suppliers, and observe competitors. For many companies, those 3-4 days at a trade show will set the stage for sales, marketing, and even research and development for the next 12 months. 

However, most companies don’t limit their trade show marketing to just one show. They attend or exhibit at 5, 10, or even 200+ shows every year. Choosing the right ones, even when the shows are in Las Vegas, shouldn’t be like pulling the handle on the one-armed bandit. You don’t want to gamble. Trade shows are expensive. Unfortunately, there’s no “magic” strategy for selecting the right shows, since every company and every industry is unique, but there are steps you can take to maximize your ROI and ROO (return on objectives). 

How to Choose a Trade Show: Tips From the Pros

There are two paths to choosing a trade show:  the easy one and the smart one. Both require some time and research… but the difference between those approaches won’t be obvious until after you’ve attended the show and analyzed your results.

The Easy Approach

Let’s start with the easy one. Every industry has at least one major trade show. For example, RSNA (Radiological Society of North America) is the annual conference for radiology professionals. CES (Consumer Electronics Show) attracts nearly 200,000 electronics enthusiasts each year. There’s The Great American Franchise Expos, held in over 10 cities throughout the year, for those seeking to own a franchise business. Simply do a quick search in Google, like “trade shows for plumbers or dentists or fantasy/sci-fi fans.” Heck, there’s even a trade show for companies in the trade show industry (EXHIBITORLIVE). 

The show’s website will provide you with basic information about the attendee audience, how to register, educational sessions, exhibitors, and some (but not all) of the costs. 

For many companies, a Google search and an informal conversation with their management team completes the research. They register and start planning for the show. 

The Smart Approach

You may recall the earlier sentence “Trade shows are expensive.” Smart exhibitors start by posing these questions: 

  • Why should we participate in this trade show?
  • What are our quantitative and qualitative goals?
  • What is the anticipated cost and expected return? 

You might be saying to yourself, “What company wouldn’t ask those questions before committing to a trade show?” Frankly, you would be surprised. There’s an assumption by many new (and even experienced) exhibitors that having a cool display and showing up will result in a tsunami of clients and orders. Sometimes that happens… but not as often as you would think. 


find a trade show

7 Quick Tips

  1. Does anyone within your organization have any past experience with the show? Mine that information first. 
  2. Contact the show organizer. They’re generally happy to share formal and informal information about attendees and other exhibitors. They’ll also guide you on how to maximize your success via sponsorships, receptions, educational sessions, etc., and how to minimize your costs via early bird dates, booth sizes, and floor locations.
  3. Reach out to exhibitors from past shows. That’s often the best way to obtain unfiltered advice. Not every exhibitor is a competitor. They may be a current supplier or sell products or services which are complementary to your offering. If they don’t see you as a threat, they’ll be happy to share. 
  4. Ask about other trade shows. Most companies participate in multiple trade shows throughout the year, both large and small, national or regional. Ask why and whether those shows were successful or not for them.  
  5. Consider your budget. Does it make sense to spend it all on one or two BIG industry shows or participate in multiple smaller, less expensive shows?
  6. Ask your trade show exhibit provider for advice. They may have clients who attend the show you’re considering. If so, someone from the exhibit house has probably walked the floor and can identify where there are challenges and where there are opportunities. 
  7. Finally, every show and every show organizer has a distinct personality. Some embrace new exhibitors with “Welcome to XYZ Show” sessions. Others not so much. At some trade shows, you may feel like you’re the new kid who just moved to town, surrounded by exhibitors and attendees who have known one another since First Grade. If that’s the case, meet it head-on by attending as many social and educational events as possible and introducing yourself to, well, everyone. 

Trade Show Calendars and Directories

The Tradeshow Calendar:  The Tradeshow Calendar is a global search engine for B2B trade exhibitions with branded versions on multiple websites. It has links to thousands of official exposition websites. Search by industry, date, city, and/or country to find face-to-face marketing events to help you buy and sell products and services in any market in the world.

IAEE Trade Show Calendar: Search by show name, city, country, industry, and month. Choose from either an online or mobile version. 

10 Times: Comprehensive database and search tool for trade shows, conferences, and events both in North America and throughout the world.   

TSNN (Trade Show News Network): Includes lists for the Top 250 US Trade Shows, and Top 50 Canadian Shows. 

Exhibit City News Trade Show Calendar: North America focus. Search by show name, city, industry, and month. Includes historical data about the number of attendees, exhibitors, and exhibition sq. footage.

EventsEye:  A global listing of trade shows, exhibitions, conferences, and business events organized by region, country, or business segment. 

Trade Fair Dates: Excellent search engine for international trade shows, trade fairs, and exhibitions. Search by fair name, country, city, or service sector. Available in English, German, Dutch, and French. 

Have More Questions About Picking the Right Trade Show?

Rolling the dice when it comes to choosing a trade show is like asking your parents to choose your spouse. It may work out just fine. Or not. Do the research, not just online but also by contacting other exhibitors at the show, the show organizer, and Exhibits NW.

The knowledgeable team at Exhibits NW has been in the trade show industry for over three decades. Whether you’re looking for a rental exhibit, a custom exhibit, or just a trusted partner to ensure your success, contact our team so we can help you exceed your trade show goals!

Schedule a Call

If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form, and we’ll contact you shortly.

Schedule a Call
If you’re ready to take your trade show exhibits to new heights, fill out this form and we’ll contact you shortly.