How To Be A Better Vendor At Trade Shows

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Today, we’re going to shift gears a bit. Instead of talking to event organizers, we’re going to be talking to vendors. 

Vendors are arguably even more important to the success of an event than guest speakers. Particularly in trade shows, they form the core of how many attendees will spend their time when they aren’t at keynotes. The profits they turn – and the presence and value they bring to events – simply cannot be ignored.

“At the heart of a successful event planner’s business is a team of reliable vendors,” writes Entrepreneur’s Cheryl Kimball.  “It can’t be overstated: your events will be marred by even one bad vendor.”

It sort of goes without saying that you don’t want to be that vendor; you don’t want to be the one who leaves a black mark on the events you attend. You want to be one of the good ones – one of the best ones. You want to stand out from your peers, and make sure that every single person who visits your booth leaves smiling.

We’re going to talk about how you can do exactly that, catching the attention of both prospective customers and hires in the process.

Keep It Small And Simple

Plenty of vendors – especially first-timers – have a tendency to load up their booths with every single product they offer. The result of that is usually a morass of boxes and crates coupled with a display that’s an absolute nightmare to set up and take down. To make matters worse, this often ends up making a vendor’s booth look cluttered and chaotic – to the point that many people simply don’t bother visiting.

Keep things simple. You don’t need to haul in everything you might possibly sell. Instead, bring a sampling – a representation of what you offer. If someone stops by for a product you don’t have with you, they can always order it online, right?

“Don‘t bring all your samples and display items. Bring a small display that is easy to set up and take down and doesn’t require a lot of time,” advises sales coach Sandra Butler. “Bring a good representation of your products, and make it easy for people to know exactly what you’re selling at a glance.”

Use Eye-Catching Colors And Designs

If you’re going to enjoy any success as a vendor, it’s integral that you possess an understanding of how the human eye tracks and locates objects – and how it’s attracted to certain color combinations and shapes. While a lot of this goes into how your logo is designed; your booth’s layout is also important if you’re to draw people in.

You’re going to want a fair bit of symmetry in your booth, and avoid clashing colors – using more than one high contrast color is asking for trouble, for example. As far as the shape of your displays is concerned, design it the way you want to be perceived – geometric shapes suggest spontaneity, for example, while squares suggest order.

This piece is a decent primer on color combinations from a marketing perspective, and this piece on web design offers up a bit of insight on how you can lay out your booth. I could write a whole other article on this topic – for now, however, I think we’ll move on to the next talking point.

Be Active – Talk To People

As a vendor, sitting behind your table is a definite no-no. That table acts as a barrier between you and your prospective customers – it separates you from one another. Instead, stand in front of your table and participate in the show. Chat with passerby, talk to other vendors; do whatever you can to draw people to your booth.

The key here is to be personable – make yourself the kind of person everyone wants to talk to, and do whatever is necessary to help people out with the samples you’ve brought.

Give People Who Come To Your Booth Something To Do

One of the best vendor booths I’ve ever seen had a bunch of terracotta jars set up – the sort you’d keep flowers in. Hidden in one of these jars was a small crystal. Everyone who came to the booth and made a purchase had the opportunity to smash a jar with a small mallet. If they found the crystal, they won a prize.

That vendor is one of the only ones I actually remember from my time at conventions and conferences – and the reason I remember them is because they engaged everyone who came to their booth with a unique, interesting, and fun activity. They gave the people who visited their booth something to do, and the opportunity to win something as a result.

How’s that for fun? You should do something similar at your booth. Try to think of an entertaining activity that could easily be tied in with your brand. You’re not just here to sell, after all; you’re here to entertain.

Set Up A Conversation Piece Of Some Kind

According to Tabitha Dumas, every vendor should have a conversation piece of some kind at their booth – an unusual object that inspires people to do a double take or stop and chat with the vendor. Since she writes for a living, hers is a vintage typewriter. Guests see it, it catches their attention, and they want to approach it and talk to her about it (or play with it).

Consider one of your hobbies; one that’s closely related to your brand. Is there something unusual or unique from that hobby that you could put front and center at your booth? Is there something you can use to make people more interested in approaching you and seeing what you’ve got to offer?

Stay Positive

Negativity might get people engaged with something – it might even make them passionate. But it won’t sell products – nor will it reflect positively on you as a vendor. Even if you’ve grievances about the event you’re attending, or the organizer, or the venue; save them for the survey after the show (or bring them to someone who actually has the power to change them). Don’t simply sit in your booth and complain about how things are going – that gets you nowhere, and instead fosters an atmosphere of negativity.

Stay positive. Smile. Be warm, opening, and pleasant.

Don’t Go Alone

Another thing a lot of first-time vendors tend to do is assume they can man their booth on their own – that they don’t need someone to help them out. I’m certain some of you have already picked out the issue with that assumption. If they need to go to the washroom, who’s going to watch their products? If they need to leave the booth to get a bite to eat, who’s going to stay and engage with attendees.

“Never go to a show alone,” says Butler. “If you have a new recruit, this is the perfect place to train and coach them on how to do your business and how to talk to potential customers.”

Make Shopping Easy

One thing modern smartphone technology – and really, the Internet in general – has done is shift consumer expectations. Today, we expect things to be easy, and those expectations extend to the purchasing process. You need to make sure your samples are all laid out in such a way as to be easily accessible to anyone who wants to have a look, and that the purchasing process (or signup process, if you’re simply collecting leads), is streamlined and intuitive. Otherwise, people are bound to get frustrated and wander off instead of putting in the effort to buy.

Don’t Heckle – Ever

Sometimes, guests are going to ignore you. They’re going to walk past your booth without saying a word, even if you’re trying to get their attention. And that stings – here you are putting in all this effort and showcasing the best your brand has to offer, and these people are just walking past like you don’t exist? How dare they?

Stop right there.

It can be tempting to say something to negative to attendees that pass you buy with aggressive questions or challenges, but this is one of the worst possible behaviors you can exhibit as a vendor. Even if you do manage to browbeat the occasional guest into signing up for a newsletter or buying some of your stuff, you’re still spreading a ton of negativity around the event. And the people who do buy from you are going to remember you as being borderline hostile – not the way you want them to engage with your brand.

At best, this is going to alienate a lot of attendees and damage your reputation. At worst, it could well get you kicked out of the event for unprofessional conduct.  Heckling is a way to stand out from other vendors, true…but it’s the wrong way.

Closing Thoughts

In many ways, vendors are the bread and butter of event management. Without them, there’s no one to populate the show floor of a conference, no one to network with; no one to rent out space and help the event organizer meet their budget requirements. As for what you get out of all of this as a vendor?

If you play your cards right; a great marketing, recruitment, and networking opportunity – and many more to come afterwards.