Five bad habits of experienced exhibitors

Written by Susan Ratliff on May 26th, 2012. Posted in Attending a tradeshow, Booth Blunders, common mistakes

I just returned from a convention where I was an exhibitor myself.  This was an industry related show so the exhibitors were knowledgable and experienced.  Some of the mistakes I saw on the show floor confirmed my assumption that even the most seasoned exhibitors need some training or review about what to do and how to look at a tradeshow.  The veteran exhibitor is pretty resistant to suggestions or training and that is a shame. They will tell you they have been exhibiting for years and know what they are doing, but the honest truth is, they were never trained on exhibit marketing techniques and strategies so they have been doing some of the same WRONG things for all those years. Here are a few of my observations. Are you guilty of any of these mistakes?

1.  You know that black and white sign that hangs on the back wall of the pipe and drape in your booth?  That is not your company sign. Unfortunatly, many exhibitors did not get the memo.  That ugly cardboard sign is there to identify which company is to occupy that booth space. Before you set up your display, take it down and throw it away.  At the last show eight out of ten exhibitors keep it hanging.  There is was, peeking out from behind their beautiful displays putting a dent in their professionalism. The exhibitor across from me actually took the sign off the drape and hung it on the front of his beautiful $3000 pop up mural.  I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask him why in the world he would do that.  He said because his graphic only had the company name at the bottom so he wanted to repeat it at the top.  I tried to tactfully talk him into taking it down, but he kept it there the entire three days. 

2.  I guess many of the exhibitors were tired from hitting the roulette tables until 3 in the morning because so many company representatives were sitting down in their booth.  You are not very approachable when you are sitting down and certainly not when you are in deep conversation with your booth mate.  Get up, get engaged, get some energy going.  Greet each passing attendees with enthusiasm whether it is 9 am or 4 pm. Next time, take the chairs out of your space.

3.  What is the most important message you want to tell your prospective customers?  Is it the long list of every service you provide? Is it the four paragraph mission statement from your brochure?  Is it every feature your product contains? NO! The most important message your booth graphics and signs should convey is what you can do for the attendees at the show.  They need to know first, that you understand their problem, then they need to hear how you can solve it.  Can you remove their pain, resolve their challenge and give them what they need?  You have about 10 seconds to make that message very clear.  Use your display or banner stand graphics to tell them what they want to hear. Minimal text with the right message addressing their needs and large pictures to capture their interest will compel them to stop and talk to you.  That should be the goal of your marketing messages.

4.  Nearly every exhibitor had a table full of really cool give-a-ways. There were many fun freebees and some were relatively expensive. The most popular method of distribution seemed to be to leave them there free for the taking.  Some exhibitors handed them to attendees as they opened conversation. I did not observe one exhibitor that used those give-aways as a reward to obtaining a prospect’s contact information. They just left them there to grab and go.  Use your premium gifts as a reward for getting what you need from the attendee.  Give them as a thank you for listening to your sales information, playing a game or watching a demonstration. They are an ideal thank-you gift after the prospect gives you their contact information.  Your give-a-ways are a tool to help you engage the prospect and leave them with a reminder of you and your company. Use them, don’t just give them away.

5. I was a bit shocked at the end of the show when a number of exhibitors began breaking down their displays 45 minutes before the show closed.  The conference manager was pretty upset because once one exhibitor starts to take apart their booth, others follow. It is very uncomfortable for those of us who follow the rules and stick it out until the end.  It is disrespectful to the attendees, ruins the flow of the tradeshow floor and makes the organization look bad.  Sure it was slow and yes it was boring, but before you consider packing up before closing time, first ask permission from show management.  If things are winding down they will often make an announcement giving all exhibitors permission to break early.  You might want to take a look at your exhibitor contract because there is usually a clause that says any company taking down an exhibit before the published closing time will be banned from exhibiting in the future. 

Are you a show producer who wants to bring added value to your exhibitors or an exhibitor yourself who wants to know how to turn your booth into a powerful profit center?  Contact Susan Ratliff, The Exhibit Expert, to speak to your group or consult with your show management team.  Susan Ratliff, 602-828-1177,


Simple tweeks for making a good display better

Written by Susan Ratliff on April 2nd, 2012. Posted in Booth Blunders, Uncategorized

I had a terrific time at the Shredder Convention over the weekend.  That’s the conference for the National Association of Information Destruction.  A friendly group and a fascinating industry consisting of companies that shred confidential documents and crush and pulverize hard drives, CD’s and computer parts, just to name a few of their services.   I had the pleasure to present two seminars.   How to get and use free publicity and another the NAID staff titled The Wealthy Exhibitionist. I covered the five key strategies for turning your booth into a powerful profit center at tradeshows.  The exhibit hall was busy and it was obvious that many of the exhibitors spent a substantial amount of money on their displays.  Some were terrific, but others made me cringe. There is a fine line between what makes one exhibit good and another exhibit great.  Either something is missing or something is added that takes away from an exhibit’s effectiveness or professionalism.   A lack of attention to detail can really mess up a good image. Here are five of my pet peeves.  I would love to hear what you think.  

  1. Take down that horrible ID Sign!  That ugly black and white cardboard sign with your company name on it that is pinned to the curtain on your back wall drape is there to show you which booth space is yours.  After up set if up upir display get rid of it.  8 out of 10 exhibitors left that two dollar sign up, peaking out over the top of their $6000 display.  Yuk!!  It completely distracts from your beautiful presentation and is a tell-tell sign of inexperience.  I was compelled to suggest it’s removal to at least 10 exhibitors at the show, but only a few bothered to remove it. 
  2. Get rid of the candy bowl.  What is the purpose of having candy at your booth if you are not selling candy or if you are not tying the candy into your theme or marketing message. You might think that it draws prospects to your booth.  Yes it does. They come by, grab a handful of chocolate and rush off. No exhibitor I have ever encountered that has a bowl of candy at their booth has ever engaged me when I come by for a piece. Save the candy for Halloween. 
  3. Is that table necessary?  I know that your booth space includes a 6’ table, but do you really need it?  If you do need it do you have to place it like a barrier across the front of your booth space? If you are spreading out your five stacks of brochures and one stack of business cards across the tabletop trying to fill that space you don’t need the table. Purchase a free-standing literature rack and a small podium counter instead. Keep your booth space open and inviting. Draw attendee into your space.  If you have lots of samples to show or need the table for a demonstration or other important items, then think twice whether you want it positioned across the opening to your display as a barrier between you and your customers.  Sometimes that configuration works perfectly, but it’s more likely not necessary and more importantly it usually blocks the attendee’s view of your marketing message and beautiful graphics on your display that you spent a ton of money on.  Consider placing the table perpendicular to your back wall or you can just put the table in the aisle during set up and they will take it away?
  4. Can you spring for a custom table cover? If you plan to keep the table in your space, please purchase an imprinted table cover that coordinates with your other display elements.  When you have a gorgeously designed display in your booth, nothing stands out like a sore thumb more than a table covered in the drape that the show provided.  It’s
    a simple fix that will provide a more cohesive look to your company image.
  5. Do you need all those chairs? Are you really going to let your employees sit down in the booth?  Do you want your exhibit to be a rest stop for attendees or encourage them to sit for twenty minutes and chat with your team?  I didn’t think so. If you are not hosting a demonstration or consultations at your booth please remove those chairs.  Not only are they taking up valuable space in your booth, but most of the time they are blocking your graphics from the customer’s view. 
  6. Why is your literature so messy?  Stacks of flyers and brochures spread across your counter look sloppy and detract from your professionalism. Spend a few bucks on a couple acrylic tiered literature holders or a collapsible literature rack.  Elevate your important information, keep your display counter tidy and minimize the time it takes to straighten stacks of paper.  

 Thanks for letting me vent.  I hope you will implement these six suggestions when your next tradeshow rolls around.  Give me a call if you’d like an evaluation of your existing layout or want ideas for turning an average exhibit into a powerful profit center. Susan Ratliff, The Exhibit Expert,  602-828-1177

Harris,out of Baxley Georgia has been in business selling shears, balers and shredders for 100 years. The booth staff were professional and attentive and their banners look great. Just few inexpensive changes like removing the id sign, taking out the chairs, elevating the literature, adding a red table cover with their logo on the front and moving the table perpendicular to the back wall would improve their image 100%



Tradeshows are like the circus

Written by Susan Ratliff on November 12th, 2011. Posted in Booth Blunders

Tradeshows are like the circus.  At the circus you see things that are amusing, astonishing and sometimes hard to believe, just like at some tradeshows I’ve been to.  Like the other day when I actually saw the sales rep for a well known pest control company having his dinner and a beer while seated on a bar stool behind the counter located at the front of his booth.  He smiled to passers-by as he chomped on his stir fry and swigged a cold one. 

Then there was the women at the Pet Expo reading a novel in the back corner of her ten foot booth, right next to her pop up display where her graphics promised personal attention to detail and stellar service.  

My favorite, was the Bank at a large financial tradeshow that had four men in nicely tailored suits, standing shoulder to shoulder, across the front of their display chatting to each other.  I actually stood there for a few minutes watching people pass by without even a nod from any one of the four representatives. They continued their intense dialog with each other as I saw three people stop, pick up a few pens and sticky pads and walk off.  I was so agast I went over there myself, stood there fingering the freebees and counted ten seconds before one of the idiots said anything to me.  I glanced at their name tags as I politely declined assistance.  Everyone had Vice President before their name.  That night I could not get that experience off my mind. 

The next day I called the local branch to speak to the Bank manager.  I prefaced the confession with a warning that I knew this would be upsetting, but, as The Exhibit Expert, I was compelled to tell him what I had seen and how he might want to make some changes in the future.  I said my piece, as kindly as possible and we hung up.  I was surprised when I got a call back from that manager the next day.  He said it took him the night to calm down.  He wanted to thank me for my report, insight and suggestions and promised he would speak to his entire staff and that would never happen again.  I told him his brand and the bank would benefit from that change.

So, what do you think?  Are these rare occurances?  Not!  Protect your brand image.  Remember first impressions are critical, especially on the show floor.  I suggest training your staff and have a discussion about booth etiquette.   Get on it because you never know when I  might come by and snap a photo of your top saleperson sleeping on the job (yes, I have seen that too)   For tips on training your exhibit marketing team, contact me, Susan Ratliff, The Exhibit Expert


Biggest Booth Blunders

Written by Susan Ratliff on April 12th, 2008. Posted in Booth Blunders

When I walk into any show, whether it’s a business tradeshow or a consumer retail show I am compelled to stop at any booth where I see an obvious, detrimental mistake being made that causes that exhibiting company to look unprofessional or unproductive. I know it’s a bold move, but I rarely have anyone react to my suggestions in a negative way.  Most people remark that they wish someone had told them about the problems sooner.  It really is a shame that more companies don’t train their staff.  Just a few simple changes can make all the difference in the world to the success at a show.

Here are a few of the Biggest Booth Blunders I come across most often:

1.  WASTING YOUR REAL ESTATE: If you are lucky enough to get a corner booth space in a show, or paid a premium for the privelege, by all means remove the side rail on the open aisle and give attendees the chance to come into your booth from the side and the front.  I just love showing an exhibitor how they can just lift that pole and drape out of the back upright and have show services cart it away.  They are amazed at how much room they now have and how people actually come into their exhibit more readily.  It’s your real estate. You paid for it. Use it.

2. LOOKING LAZY:  Nothing makes your staff look less attentive and approachable than sitting down in the booth.  Take the chairs away, unless you are offering consultations.  Actually, unless you are in a very large exhibit space with a conference area and a plan for closing sales you shouldn’t even be sitting down talking to people. You should be getting them in, getting a lead and getting them out.

3.KEEPING YOURSELF A SECRET Have you ever stood in front of a booth for more than 15 seconds looking everywhere for some clue as to who the company is and what they do?  What a waste.  Put you company name and logo where it is easy to see.  More importantly, make sure they understand what you do.

4. NO IMPACT GIVE-AWAYS:  Don’t waste your money on any old give-away.  Select something that ties into your theme or compliments your product.  Pens are cheap, but if I was a pest control company I would spend my money on an imprinted fly swatter instead. 

Think about these for awhile and I’ll share some more next time.  For more resources on how to exhibit better, visit my resources page at or