By Sarah Lapping, ETI Director of Sales and Marketing – InTents magazine on Trade Show Strategies.

Get the most out of a trade show by strategizing before you leave home.

Industry manufacturers, suppliers and sponsors spend many hours preparing for trade shows. But if you are an attendee, do you prepare for a trade show or do you just show up? If you are planning to just show up, you risk missing out on many opportunities to maximize your time.

Every trade show attendee needs to have a strategy to get the most out of the event. Some trade shows can be overwhelming. Knowing what you need to accomplish before, during and after a trade show is key to making one worth your time and money. Here are some tips for making that happen.

Before a show

Know why you are attending. Most vendors offer the best pricing of the year at trade shows. When you are leaving your business and spending money on a flight, hotel and dining, a trade show should be worth your while financially. For rental company owners with plenty of stock in good condition, there are other motivating factors for attending a trade show: to support the industry, to network, to keep tabs on the product development of their current manufacturers or to learn more about industry innovations. Knowing why you need to attend will help you prioritize your show activities.

Research vendors so you know who’s who. It’s easy to get caught up in a booth—or, in the case of this industry, a tent—longer than necessary, causing you to miss out on visiting other vendors you are interested in. If you can bring additional staff or a business partner, plan to divide the show into sections so you don’t miss anything.


Budget for what you want or need to buy. I’ve had customers tell me they prepare by pulling reports of their yearly sales and planning to buy based on what’s trending in their inventory. Attendees may look at what they’re subrenting and evaluate if it’s worth investing in that product. I’ve had a few start-up rental companies come into my booth with spreadsheets, figuring how much they want to spend at a show and breaking down what each purchase will cost and how many times they will have to rent it to make a profit. It’s impressive how creative these owners will get.

Determine which employees will benefit the most by attending a show. In the tent rental industry, some shows are especially geared toward educational and certification opportunities for installation crews. These shows offer the chance to observe manufacturers installing different sizes and types of tents, from pole and frame tents to engineered clearspan structures. The opportunity for crews to observe proper installation techniques, anchoring and safety procedures and ask questions is priceless.

At the show

Take advantage of educational and training seminars. Even industry veterans can learn a new tip or trick to make the job easier, and no one can afford to keep doing business as usual when technology and the market are constantly changing.

Don’t be shy! Trade shows are the perfect location for networking with other industry professionals. I’ve had many customers who have met each other at shows and end up doing business together, referring jobs or sub-renting inventory.

Mix business with pleasure. A big part of networking includes attending the welcoming or kickoff receptions, brunches, dinners and other social events. While attending these functions, take the opportunity to ask people around you which seminars they benefited from and which booths or exhibits they’d suggest for a visit.

After the show

Keep networking. Follow up on the connections you’ve made that could lead to lucrative partnerships throughout the season.

Share your experiences with your staff and your customers. Give employees who attended the show the opportunity to share new skills and techniques—while the education is still fresh in their minds­—with staff who didn’t attend. Let customers know that members of your crew achieved new certifications. Finally, share with customers what new items you have in your inventory—and start turning a profit on those items right away!