Growing Your Business: Preparing for Trade Shows series

I’ve recently invited a few guest bloggers to share regular guest columns on Indie Fixx. The folks I’ve chosen have an expertise or interest in areas that I do not.  But, they are topics I thought you might enjoy, so I thought some new blood might be worthwhile. Some of these bloggers will be sharing a temporary series for a few months, while one or tow might decide to stay on for a more permanent gig.  It depends on you, so make sure to voice your opinions in the comments! If you like a series or guest blogger, make sure to speak out.

On to the first guest new regular blogger. xoxo – Jen

grow your own business preparing for trade shows

Hello! As the banner suggests, I am Avis Wampler, the creative force behind Avie Designs Stationery. I am so thankful to Jen for hosting my Preparing for Trade Shows series.

This is a topic very close to me right now as I am preparing to exhibit at The National Stationery Show this May. This will be my third time, so I am in no way an expert, but I have picked up quite a lot of tips and tricks that I’d love to share with you. A trade show is a large undertaking and as hard as the show may try and help you, I found that there is just not enough information out there for exhibitors. I know that a lot of people don’t want to share their secrets, but I don’t believe in secrets.

So the goal of this series is to help people that are thinking about exhibiting or have already decided to exhibit with the specific steps that I took. This will include: all the preparation beforehand, how much it can cost, what to expect during the show and some follow up.

I’ll be sharing my tips and experience with you through May in this ongoing series. This series includes:

  1. Are you ready to exhibit at a trade show? (today’s topic)
  2. Preparing your product for the show.
  3. Advertising and pre-show mailings.
  4. Designing & executing your booth.
  5. You’ve made it to the show, now what?
  6. Post show follow up.

the author's booth at The National Stationery Show in 2009.

Let’s get started.

First off, what is a trade show? A trade show is a large convention where people in a specific industry present their goods to retailers wanting to buy those goods wholesale. Press and other members of the industry attend as well.

About 8 months before the show is when most people start to book their booth.  If you want your choice of booth size and location, this is when you need to start deciding if you are ready to go.

In order to sell your product wholesale, you have to be able to produce large quantities quickly and at a wholesale price. This means that you need to be able to sell it to a store, make money from that transaction and then the store sells it to the customer and the store makes money as well. And all the while, you need for your end customer to get a reasonable deal too. Stores will often ask you for a recommended retail price but they ultimately have the power to charge whatever they want.

If you are not able to sell your product at a wholesale price or produce it quickly, you are not ready for wholesale or for trade shows.


linea carta booth, image by simple + pretty

Many small companies want to make the jump from handmade items to wholesale, which can be done. But,  if you enjoy delicately hand-making each item, then wholesale may not be for you. There is space in the market for those type of items, but your handmade goodies better be pretty darn special for the price you’re going to have to sell them at.

Additionally, you need to think about if you are  able to package your product in a professional way that is cost effective. Also, are you prepared to sell to stores, not just to your end customers? If you need more detailed information about how to prepare for selling your products wholesale, Meg Auman over at Crafting an MBA has a great e-book with lots of terms and practices you should be familiar with before you go for it.

If you feel confident that your company is ready to move into wholesaling, then you  may want to explore exhibiting at a Trade Show;  although, exhibiting involves a few more decisions before you’re 100% ready.

Everything in this world costs money and Trade Shows are no exception. They are expensive, so expensive that they should be considered an investment. First, you have to rent the booth, which can be thousands of dollars. Then, you have to produce enough product to exhibit. You need to advertise, reach out to the stores that will be at the show, print catalogs, press kits, and business cards. If your Trade Show is in another state, you need to pay for the travel costs, which includes shipping all your stuff, traveling to the city, staying and eating there. The National Stationery Show, like many other trade shows,  is in New York City and it isn’t cheap to stay and eat there at all.

smock paper's booth at the 2010 National Stationery Show

You should also think about if you are prepared for wild success that may come from a Trade Show experience. Okay, I can’t promise you that your products will take off with wild abandon, but you do need to be ready if a large retailer approaches you.

Lastly, I have been told that at The National Stationery Show it takes 3 years exhibiting before you are really taken seriously by the buyers. And that makes sense. They want to make sure you are a business that is here to stay before they invest in your products and share them with their customers. So, Trade Shows can be a really long-term commitment. Are you prepared to stay with it for the long haul?

Have I scared you off yet? Trade Shows are ton of work and cost a lot of money, but they can be so much fun and rewarding for your business. Meeting people within your industry and making new contacts is exhilarating. And, you might make a sale or two at the same time.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series: Preparing your product for the show.

About the contributor:  Avis Wampler is a graphic designer, paper lover & the founder of Avie Designs Stationer, a small stationery company out of Decatur, Georgia created in 2007.


  1. Hello. Your post was awesome and very informative. I did not know there was so much involved with a tradeshow. I am just starting out with my busines, that it gets overwhelming at times. I would love to follow your series. Thank you again.

  2. Hello,

    Great post…just wondering if you are set up to do the large print orders yourself or if you outsource the printing.

    Thanks again,

  3. I really love this post. Information like this is fantastic. Sometimes you work so hard making things for the show, you forget all the other things you should be doing to really make the trade show work for you.

    Hope to see more!
    Andrea Lynn

  4. I am so excited about this series! I’m preparing to exhibit at the NSS for the FIRST time this year and am quivering in my boots. I’m especially excited for your chapter on designing and executing your booth. Can you touch on how you built your walls and shelving? Also, what about flooring and lighting?

    Yay! Thanks so much!

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