Trade Show Perspectives: Going Big at Trade Shows

Going Big! Is there an advantage for companies to “go big” at trade shows—to have a large exhibit versus a small exhibit?

Let’s start to answer that question by stating a well-known fact: Trade shows are not an inexpensive method to market or promote a company. However, another fact, that may not be as well known, is that the national average for the rate of return from trade shows is approximately 10-to-1, according to the last report I have seen from CEIR (The Center for Exhibition Industry Research). That is for every dollar spent on a trade show, the return is $10.

As host for Globalcon in Denver, Public Service Co. had two 20’ x 20’ island booths. They had the show carpet changed in the 20’ wide main aisle, which passed between their two 20’ x 20’ booths, to match their carpet color, making their booth space appear to be 20’ x 60’.

Ten to One

Since 10:1 is the average ratio for all shows, spanning every industry, it means that a lot of companies are probably not meeting that ratio, yet there are a lot of companies that are far exceeding that ratio. For those companies that are meeting or exceeding that 10:1 ratio, trade shows are a very good investment.

When deciding whether or not to increase your booth size, a major factor will be the show selection. Does a specific show have a larger number of attendees that would meet your criteria as potential customers? You could have the largest exhibit booth in an entire show, but if there are not enough potential customers in attendance, then you will have wasted both time and money.

So let’s say your customer, or possibly your own company, is currently using a 10' x 10' exhibit space and meeting the 10:1 ratio. If you increase your booth space to a 10' x 20', then will the additional space provide you the opportunity to maintain, or hopefully, exceed the 10:1 ratio? How are you going to use the additional 100 square feet? Are you going to include an area for demonstrations? Have you determined that you need a place to sit with prospects for a more in-depth discussion? The same scenario should be considered if the booth is enlarged to an island exhibit. Certainly an island exhibit will allow for more people to come into your booth space.

From Big to Bigger

A good example of choosing what size of an exhibit to use, were two projects that we did for Public Service Company a few years ago. Many of the exhibit components were re-used for both exhibits. The first show was an energy “industry” show that was sponsored by Public Service Company. The attendees were facility managers and engineers who were responsible for the amount of energy used in large facilities. For this booth, they used a 20' x 40' exhibit, which spanned the main aisle, making the exhibit appear to be a 20' x 60' booth.

The second show, one week later, in the same exhibit hall, was a home show, which would be identified as a “consumer” show. The attendees were homeowners in the state of Colorado. The potential to speak with a much greater number of people was very high. In addition, Public Service Company partnered with Incredible Universe, a company that sold electrical appliances and tools to the consumer.

For this show, they increased their booth size to 50' x 100', a very large exhibit for most any show. The goals for this booth were to show the consumers energy saving electrical options for every room in a house. I would guess that nearly everyone who attended that home show visited their booth… it was packed for three days.

The size of an exhibit will also be determined by how large your product or products are. Large numbers of people visiting your booth is not always a good indication of success either. A company may have a product that sells for a large sum of money, which they only need to sell a few units per year. In this case, it will be the quality of the visitor and not the quantity of visitors.

Public Service Co. partnered with Incredible Universe to present their products and services in this 50’ x 100’ exhibit.

You want to match the needs for the amount of product space, demonstration space, conference space, and the estimated number of booth visitors. The estimated number of booth visitors will greatly influence the number of people working the booth as well.

Your customers’ goals and objectives also need to be understood in order to determine how large of a booth is needed. Are they a new company wanting to make their presence known at a show? Are they an industry leader that wants to be recognized as a big, or possibly the largest, player in the industry? If so, a larger booth space will certainly be more visible than a small booth. A larger booth also provides more space for either larger or a greater number of messages and signage.

How Many Reasons to Exhibit?

I have included one of the most valuable documents that I have ever used, during he early stages of creating an exhibit. Getting the answers to why you or your customer is planning to exhibit at trade shows is critical to creating a successful trade show display, no matter the size. This document is simply identified as “97 Reasons to Exhibit.”

A key to successful exhibiting is keeping the number of reasons to be exhibiting at each specific show down to a minimum. For instance, if you or your customer is having a 20' x 20' exhibit or smaller created, you will only want to have three to five reasons to exhibit at each specific show.

Test yourself by reviewing the 97 Reasons to Exhibit, then circle each of the reasons why you may want to exhibit at a trade show. Did you circle six or more? If so, now the hard part comes. For each show you plan to attend, narrow your reasons down to three to five.

The reason this is a key to successful exhibiting is because the more focused you are at a show, the greater chance you have to meet your goals. The trick may be in selecting the right three to five reasons to exhibit for each specific show. And the reasons to exhibit will certainly reflect on how large of an exhibit you will need.

The Formula

If this all seems confusing, there is a formula that will help to determine how big your exhibit should be. Christine Christman, author of The Complete Handbook of Profitable Trade Show Exhibiting, and founder of What Now? eGuide for Trade Show Exhibitors, has a document (#A8), originally developed by Exhibit Surveys, titled, “How to Calculate Potential Audience.” Christine’s document can be found at and can be purchased for less than a dollar.

(Above) This 10’ x 10’ booth is used by Rocky Mountain Propellers when they exhibit at regional shows.

Size does matter at trade shows, but the size needs to match your show goals, space requirements, and budget. A small 10' x 10' booth at large national or international show is often overlooked by many show attendees, but can be very successful at smaller national shows and regional shows. 10' x 20' booths are much more visible at most any show and 20' x 20' island booths are generally viewed as the more successful companies. Island booths larger than 20' x 20' require very serious considerations and budgets.