Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

Tradeshow marketing

Natural Products Expo West 2020: What Might Have Been

When Natural Products Expo West was cancelled on March 2, just a couple of days before the doors were to have opened to 80,000+ attendees and 3500+ exhibitors, there was a sense of “what did we miss by not being able to exhibit, by not being able to attend?”

And it happened for everyone. Here at TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we had several clients who had done modest upgrades to their exhibits. Upgrades that would have showed off new products, new brands, you name it.

All unseen.

But I thought they should see the light of day, so that followers could at least get an idea of what they missed. Plus, knowing that companies often change year over year, there’s a good chance that none of these exhibit revisions would be used in 2021. We worked with several other clients at the show, mainly to assist in installation and dismantle, so there was nothing new to show. I reached out to the clients involved, and many of them said, YES, please share those concepts; the artwork and revisions that we would have shown our visitors at Expo West. And one client declined to show off their new look, opting instead to save it for the future. Here’s a short video of those changes:

Check ’em all out here:

TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, March 16, 2020: Coronavirus Tradeshow and Event Planning

In this week’s TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, I wanted to see how companies that rely on the tradeshow and event industry are doing. Friday afternoon I invited a handful of them to chime in to see how they’re working to deal with tradeshow cancellations and the upended event landscape. Guests include Kevin Carty of Classic Exhibits, Marcus Vahle of Share Experience Company and Andy Saks of Spark Presentations.

Shout out and thanks to all to participated, including Stacy Barnes of Eagle Management, who also passed along her thoughts which are included in the program.

This week’s ONE GOOD THING: the positive, upbeat “can-do” attitude of all that I have spoken to in the event industry, including partners, colleagues and clients, who all are working hard and planning on how to deal with the situation to make the best of it.

What do to When You Can’t Exhibit at Tradeshows

The tradeshow industry looks to be imploding, at least for the short term. Natural Products Expo West cancelled. NAB Show cancelled. HIMSS Show cancelled. SXSW cancelled. Even March Madness games will be played without an audience, if they’re played at all. I think it’ll get worse before it gets better.

You built an event calendar out for the year. You planned, you upgraded, you designed and produced new graphics, maybe you even invested in a new exhibit. But if the show doesn’t take place, how can you make the best use of your upgrades or your new graphics?

A couple of suggestions:

Put together a short video, maybe a minute or less, that you can share on social media. Explain that while you were planning to launch a new product or debut a new booth, but the show cancellation prevented you from doing so. Instead, show it off in the video. If it’s just a graphic upgrade, show those off in the video. If it’s a new exhibit, your exhibit house should have provided 3D renderings – show those off as well, and make sure to tell your clients and prospects and social media followers that you’ll be using it as soon as you’re able at the next show – whenever that is.

Use social media to launch the new products. If it’s feasible, have a little contest and give away some samples. Pick a few winners and mail them the samples.

Convene people for a Zoom virtual meeting. Maybe even make it a virtual tradeshow to where you can show off your new booth renderings – and hey, if you want to go all out and it makes sense for you and you have the room, set up the booth and use that as a backdrop for your Zoom call. Show it off!

Photo by Canva Studio from Pexels

Do one-on-one outreach to clients. Make calls, send emails. If convenient (or wise), schedule coffee or lunch. Keep in touch! Heck, schedule a Zoom call and send a coffee gift card ahead of time so they can have a fresh cup on hand! Talk to them about what you were going to do with the show.

Other promotions: create a small brochure and mail it to your clients and prospects showing off your new products that you were going to debut at the tradeshow. Have a sale. Offer free shipping. Do a BOGO sale.

Bottom Line: It looks like the frequency and functionality of tradeshows and events are going to be drastically cut for the foreseeable future. Don’t wait to figure out what you can do in place of tradeshow and events. There’s always something.


Thanks to Andy Saks of Spark Presentations for the inspiration for this blog post.

When it Comes to the Coronavirus and Events, People Don’t Know What to Do

I just got an email a few moments ago, the first exhibitor at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), saying they were withdrawing from the upcoming event, scheduled in Las Vegas April 18-22, 2020.

So far, there’s nothing on the show website that indicates they are even considering postponing or cancelling the show over coronavirus concerns.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the way things played out, albeit in a very quick fashion, at Natural Products Expo West. A week before the show was scheduled to start, Unilever announced they were pulling all of their brands, including our client Schmidt’s Naturals. Other exhibitors followed in short order, one by one, over the next few days. Show organizers tried to put on a brave face and keep the show afloat, and that made sense at the time, since the show was literally hours away. But finally, about 40 hours before the doors would have opened for the first day, they pulled the plug, saying the show was “cancelled.”

No one really knows exactly what to do.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

In the past few days, here are a few things that have passed through my newsfeed: NBA is considering holding games without audiences. March Madness may consider the same thing, but so far they say the games will go on in front of live audiences. Rock concerts are wondering if they can go forward. Some schools and universities have gone to online classes, including (at least) Harvard. SXWS pulled the plug, leaving numerous small businesses out in the lurch. Lots of restaurant and clubs in the area will lose tons of money as will their servers, bartenders, hotel workers and more.

Italy locked down the country in an attempt to contain the coronavirus.

CPAC, the conservative annual gathering, is making news because a so-far unnamed high-profile person has been confirmed to carry the virus, someone who has come into contact with dozens if not hundreds of people. Many of those have had contact with members of the Trump Administration, including the president himself. Some of those confirmed to have had contact with the carrier have self-quarantined, others have not.

The story is fast-moving and given the changing and increasing numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19, more and more people are acting out of caution.

The event industry is squarely in the bullseye. Rightly so, since events draw together tens of thousands of people who shake hands, hug, share rides on public transit, climb on planes and buses, cabs, ride services.

That’s a lot of contact.

And again, no one really knows what to do, but more and more decisions are being made to err on the side of caution.

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

Just this morning, I read that Chinese President XI visited Wuhan, the city at the center of the COVID-19 outbreak, as a show of confidence that the Chinese government is containing the outbreak. The story also mentions how the rate of infections is slowing, which must be good news for officials around the world trying to get a handle on everything. But still…

The coronavirus will continue until governments and health officials get a handle on it. Events will be postponed and cancelled until things settle down.

And who knows how long that’ll be?

I think the event and tradeshow industry is in for a bumpy ride.

Natural Products Expo West 2020 Postponed. Or Cancelled?

This article has been updated.

A week before Natural Products Expo West 2020 was set to open, I got an email from one of the tradeshow exhibit houses handling brands for Unilever, which had several brands at Natural Products Expo West and had acquired one of our clients, Schmidt’s Naturals, a couple of years ago. They had made the decision to pull out of the show due to concerns over the spreading Coronavirus COVID-19.

A day later, another client pulled out. Then another. Then another. By Monday the 2nd, when I was set to fly out to the show from Portland, I had one client out of nine that was still planning on being there. My plane was scheduled to fly out at 5:30. As I sat on the tarmac after boarding, I got an email from the last client that they had decided to pull out. By now, I was seeing on Twitter that as many as 40 – 60% of exhibitors and attendees would probably not show up, making the show a shell of its former self.

Finally, a few moments before wheels lifted, New Hope, the show organizers, sent out an email saying that they had decided to “postpone” the show.

And away we flew.

Exhibits half-built wait to go back into their crates

The next morning, I went to the Anaheim Convention Center with hundreds of other exhibitors and logistics managers to work through the logistics of getting crates shipped back to where they came from. Some crates had made it to the show floor. Some exhibits were already mostly set up.

It took most of the day to track down all the pieces of the clients that had items that needed to be shipped back.

A shoutout to the crew at the GES Service Desk at the Anaheim Convention Center. To a person, they were all cordial, pleasant and extraordinarily helpful.

We all wondered when the event would actually take place. Maybe not until next year?

A Few Thoughts and Questions

I’ve had the chance to speak to several people at the show, along with clients who had to bail or were forced to retrieve crates and packages, clients that had invested in the show with updated exhibits or in some cases, new properties.

No one knows what comes next. Not the exhibitors, not New Hope, which put a positive spin on it, saying “It is our intention to deliver a Natural Products Expo West event before the summer to serve the community, either in Anaheim or a suitable alternative location.”

I don’t see that happening, and neither do most of the exhibitors I spoke with. New Hope is obviously the professional experienced entity that has put on shows for decades. But exhibitors and others are asking where and when such a re-scheduled Expo West 2020 might take place? And if they can find a place that would accommodate the event, how many exhibitors would actually be able to show up, given that companies spend months putting things together to schedule an appearance at a large international show like Natural Products Expo West?

So yes, lots of questions.

But the big one for me is: if they manage to find a location and date that fits, what would change in the situation that would allow the show to go on?

And by situation, I mean the spreading Coronovirus. According to Worldmeter, the virus continues to spread unabated. Experts say we’re a year to a year and a half from having an effective vaccine. Many people seem to still be in fear mode over the spread.

Awaiting retrieval

But not everybody. I do believe that the essence of Natural Products Expo West is that, being a food sampling platform, it’s much different from say, a technology tradeshow. Many, if not most, non-food tradeshows are going forward. People still gather by the tens of thousands at events. People still board flights, go to grocery stores.

And the number of those infected keeps increasing, and will likely continue to increase.

Back to the original statement: the underlying situation has not changed, and doesn’t look like it will change in the near future which would allow a rescheduled Expo West to take place “before summer” as New Hope states. Given that, if nothing changes, I don’t see a rescheduled event taking place before mid-June.

In fact, if nothing changes, it’s quite possible the same issues may lead to a postponement or cancellation of Expo East in September in Philadelphia. Yet to be seen, obviously.

If the underlying Coronavirus situation doesn’t change, the only other thing that might change is the attitude and knowledge. We might learn more in the ensuing weeks and months that the virus isn’t as dangerous as the ongoing fear promulgated in lots of big media outlets would have us believe. Company leaders might come to realize that the risk of having their people at a show as either exhibitors or attendees is so low that a prudent decision would have them participating.

Other shows go on with no problem. Will Natural Products Expo West or Expo East continue this year?

Stay tuned.


Additional information:

New Hope Announcement

Influenza is much more deadly than Coronavirus. “…at least 12,000 people have died from influenza between Oct. 1, 2019 through Feb. 1, 2020, and the number of deaths may be as high as 30,000.”

World Health Organization Q&A on Coronavirus

CDC: About Coronavirus/COVID-19

Best Tradeshow Articles I Found on Twitter

Cruising Twitter is always an entertaining proposition. Sometimes because you find some really interesting stuff. Other times because you end up wanting to pull your hair out. But it’s never boring!

In search of some #tradeshow ideas, I entered that search term in the box on Twitter. Lots of companies use Twitter to push out advertisements and come-ons, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you mix it up with good useful information. But I looked and came up with a handful of good articles. Let’s take a look.

Color Reflections offers “8 Event Booth Design Tips for the Wow Factor,” including ideas on how to stand out, how to stay true to your brand, make sure your booth staff are all on the same page and more.

Skyline Southeast offers an article called “The Benefits of Custom Tradeshow Booth Construction” which is a good walk-through when you’re considering a new custom exhibit.

Our good friends over at Tradeshow Makeover has “5 Expert Tips on How to Stop Leaving Money on the Tradeshow Floor.” It’s got a wrap-up of tips from five individuals, including investing in your tradeshow staff training, goal-setting, and adding value to your interactions.

The UK’s leading business magazine, Business Matters, offers an article on the “4 Best Ways to Optimise Space in Your Tradeshow Exhibits.” The link was tweeted by Jahabow, a custom retail display company from Owensville, Missouri.

Fortunate PR guy (his words) Jim Bianchi tweeted out a link to a post called “Top Lessons Learned for Automotive and Mobility Suppliers from CES2020.” Much of the lessons had to do with how beneficial CES is to exhibitors (which it certainly should be), but it illustrates how many traditional auto suppliers are finding their way into one of the world’s biggest shows. Another tip had to do with navigating around Las Vegas during show time, given that the public transit systems can be overwhelmed by an additional 175,000 people. Yeah, no kidding!

Zentila, a meeting resource planning tool from Aventri, shared a link to an article titled “7 Signs You Need a Lead Retrieval System for Your Onsite Team.” Tips include saving time, organization of your leads, sustainability and more.

Photo by Anuja Vidhate from Pexels

And finally, a list from Architectural Digest on Tradeshows You Should Consider Attending in 2020, assuming you’re in the architectural world. Most of the shows are stateside, but there are mentions of the London Design Festival, Heimtextil in Frankfurt and others. Lots of details on each show for the serious planner. This was shared by Skyline out of South Carolina.

Yes, Twitter has its detractors and it can be a little overwhelming if crazy politics are going on at that moment (okay, that’s always going on), but it’s also a good source for good information if you just know where to look.


Odds and Ends I Take to Tradeshows

Everyone is different, yet everyone is the same. We all attend or exhibit at tradeshows with things we need, and if we end up there without those things, we feel like part of us is missing. Here’s a short list of things that I always take on the road to tradeshows. I mean, beyond the clothing and other stuff that ends up in a suitcase. Here are a few things I’ll have with me when I head to the show floor at Natural Products Expo West in early March:

Charging cord and plug-in adapter for my phone

iPhone 6S: holds thousands of photos and songs, not so mention show apps and a million other things.

Boosa charger: this is the best I’ve had. It holds enough juice to re-charge my iPhone 6S at least four times before it needs to be plugged in again. Great to have on the show floor.

Laptop: while I suppose I don’t really need this I’d feel lost without it. It’s a 2011 MacBook Pro that’s been upgraded a couple of times and runs like a clock. Great to offload photos, do some writing and blogging, surf the web in the Airbnb. More comfortable with this than an iPhone for handling email or writing or sharing social media.

Spare key locks for client counters: most of these counters use the same lock, and it seems that the keys can easily go missing, so I keep a few in my backpack.

Backpack: where would you be without it, right? Like a purse, only bigger and it fits easily on the back.

Reading material: often it’s a piece of fiction, but sometimes something else.

iPad Mini 2: It doesn’t get a lot of use, but on the plane I find that it’s great to pull up something from my Kindle app and read.

Allen wrench set: always handy on the show floor.

Fitbit: belt version, not a wrist wearable. Plus extra battery because of course when you’re on the road, that’s when the battery dies, right?

Business cards: more than I think I could possibly need.

Rubber bands: always need a few of these to keep the business cards from spewing all over my backpack pockets.

Cash and a couple of credit cards. I don’t carry much cash, but a little comes in handy. Most everywhere takes cards, credit or debit.

Eyeglass cleaner spray with a mini-cleaning rag

Mini-flashlight: you never know when this will come in handy.

Snacks: always!


Tradeshow Rules

If you’re sitting on an airplane, there are certain rules that need to be followed. First and foremost, the attendants and the captain are in charge. In fact, on each and every flight I’ve been on, they remind you that federal law dictates that you must obey any instructions from flight attendants.

If you’re playing golf, there are rules upon rules about addressing the ball, putting, where you can take a drop and so on. Same with basketball, climbing a mountain, lifting weights. Some of the rules are well-thought out and dictated by organizations that manage the sport. The NBA, for example, can have different basketball rules than the NCAA. Or different football rules. Some rules are just plain common sense but aren’t written down.

When it comes to tradeshows, as an exhibitor or an attendee, as part of the agreement that allows you access to the hall, you agree to certain rules. If you’re an exhibitor, there are dozens and dozens of rules about the exhibit you are allowed to set up, heights, fees, and so on and so forth.

Unwritten Rules

What about rules that may not be written down, but are just common sense? No doubt most of these are just rules of polite society: don’t be a jerk, treat people as you would like to be treated, and so on.

There also several unwritten rules of etiquette that you should adhere to. No eating in the booth, no sitting in the booth, greet visitors with a smile and a great engaging question, being on time when you’re scheduled to work.

But about the tradeshow floor itself, rules are again often unspoken. Let’s check in on a few.

Suitcasing is a term for someone who is walking from exhibit to exhibit and trying to pitch their product or services. Or they occupy space where people are coming in and out and hand out flyers or brochures. It’s considered unethical because the visitor didn’t pay for being there. They have no money invested.

Outboarding is when a company doesn’t exhibit, but they’re willing to rent a suite at a nearby hotel and invite attendees to see their wares. I’ve read that it’s less common than it used to be simply because show managers now often reserve blocks of rooms for exhibitors and if someone that is not exhibiting tries to reserve a room or a suite the hotel just refuses.

Extending beyond the booth confines is not something I see a lot, but I do see. This is when exhibitors will push things like banner stands or literature stands outside of their booth dimensions.

Using music in your booth. Unless you hire the musician, and the musician is playing his own unpublished music (rare, but it could happen), you’ll be liable for paying licensing fees. And they ain’t cheap.

After hours a good rule to follow is limit your alcohol intake, don’t stay up late, make sure you’re well-fed and hydrated. If you’re hosting a client dinner or event, let the visitors eat or drink first. Be a good host.

There are literally hundreds of other rules we could get into, and no doubt you could come up with your own. Rules about marketing strategy, collecting and following up on leads, attracting key prospects, graphic design and so on.

The final rule I’ll offer, though, is this:

You’re going to be on your feet for hours at a time. Wear comfortable shoes!

Reaching Other Markets via Tradeshows

One of the most valuable aspects of tradeshow marketing is the ability to reach markets you would not normally be able to reach. In fact, it’s what has helped Bob’s Red Mill grow through the years. Bob Moore, the iconic Bob of the company, recognized early that by exhibiting at regional and national tradeshows, they could get their products into markets that would otherwise be extremely difficult to crack.

Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill, with the Dixieland Band

It means going to the right shows where attendees are from companies that can ramp up distribution, that can become good partners. It means making those connections and deepening them over the years so that your products are valuable to them, and their ability to distribute into outlets that you would have a difficult time doing on an individual basis is valuable to both parties.

Yes, selling and making connections at tradeshows is important. But one of the most important things to recognize is that once you meet and acquire a partner there, part of the purpose of the show is to use it as a platform to introduce new products. Not only that, but when you’re in those longer conversations with partners, you can dig deeper into what’s important to them and their end users, the consumers. Feedback is critical not only to making sure the right products are being created and manufactured, but for keeping the lines of communication open and honest. When problems come up, if you have a good partner, the communication can be candid, and problems can be addressed. Often a tradeshow is the only face-to-face meeting that partners have each year, and the value of meeting and shaking hands and seeing people in person cannot be overstated.

Use the tradeshow as a way to find and open new markets. Keep in mind that relationships will solidify as time goes by and the face-to-face communication is an important part of those relationships. Which you get when you sit down across the table at a tradeshow.


Profit Toolbelt Podcast Features TradeshowGuy Interview

It was a couple of months ago that we featured Dominic Rubino on the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee video blog/podcast. This month the interview Dominic did with me appeared on his Profit Toolbelt Podcast, which is aimed at the ‘growth-minded contractors,’ who often end up attending or exhibiting at home shows.

Our conversation focus was on how to stand out at a Home Show. Fun conversation. Click the image below or this link and head on over to the interview.


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