Savvy Tradeshow Tramp

How do you walk a tradeshow without looking like a novice? How do you keep your artful act together when reaching for your personal effects?

If you have vexing visions of your fifth grade awkwardness, follow some of these tips to streamline your tradeshow floor savvy. After all, we’re all tramps, we just don’t want to appear like one. Oh and as for the definition of tramps, I mean nomads, not hussies people!😉


As a Savvy Tradeshow Tramp, you’ll want to lighten your load and increase your stamina with a only a few personal accessories on the tradeshow floor:

SpotLight Savvy: A Sturdy Passport Case
We found these cases from a street vendor during a Spring street fair. There always happens to be a street fair during the same week as NSS, Surtex, & ICFF near Mid-Town Hilton. I *think* they were about $15 each and they’re definitely worth their weight in gold.

Passport Badges Turned Show Badges

Each case has 2 sides:

· One side for your tradeshow badge (in some cases you may have to fold an edge of your paper badge to slide it in)
· The opposite side contains a pocket for your business cards and pen

You can make your own or you can search a street fair or even eBay -I’m sure you’ll find one to meet your needs.

SpotLight Savvy #1: Always keep your last attendance badge from the previous show tucked in your new badge holder. You may need it again to verify who you are at the check-in desk because one never knows when a technology snafu might occur –it happened to us last week.

SpotLight Savvy: A Journal
Journaling Your Trek

While I did keep a journal during my tradeshow exhibits (to tape business cards on pages and make notes) and I also carry one while walking a tradeshow. My favorite kind of journal is a Moleskine (surprised?) that allows me to make notes and also tuck in businesscards and postcards in the back secret pocket. As a walker, I don’t tape collected business cards to the inside of my agenda (eats too much time), I will make notes on the back of them -that’s a must- and tuck them away.

SpotLight Savvy #2: Since my handcrafted journal covers also adds yet another 2 pockets (front and back), I separate my own postcards from the collected postcards -makes it yet another savvy spotlight on efficiency.

SpotLight Savvy: Your Phone
Along with my phone, I also carry a few of my business cards in my mobile phone sleeve. Because one time I got caught without them, I now make sure I insert a few w/my phone.
Mobile Phone Holder

Since we’re all tethered in one form or another with phone usage, think of the vendor’s boothspace as a library. The tradeshow floor is already bustling with mania and interrupting phone rings just adds to chaos. Unwelcomed distruption to the vendor who is already attempting a discussion will instantly chafe your relationship. Learn how to stop calls in mid-ring (many people don’t know how to do this!) and put your phone on vibrate for an amicable courtship.

Organize vs Monopolize
The idea is to be organized on the tradeshow floor. The vendors who have invested thousands, yes, thousands of dollars into their position on the tradeshow floor don’t want to eat their time with novices.

SpotLight Savvy #3: Memorize where your belongings are and your nimble attendance will be admired. Holding the vendor hostage while you dig through your backpack is annoying, at the very least. If you must pack more print collateral than you think, use your passport holders & journals as satellites for your pieces -one can always reload collateral during your personal breaks.

SpotLight Savvy #4: Resist starting conversations with other booth visitors. Because this space is provided by and paid for by the vendor, they own the floor time. Every minute is costly and they struggle to recoup their fees through sales.

These vendors are waiting for buyers to form new or renew purchasing relationships –please please please consider their time first. It’s about them, not you.

If you’re curious about how much money is invested for even the smallest of companies, here is a brief breakdown of a vendor’s typical tradeshow expenses:

Floor Space – Tradeshow floor space begins at $4,000+ per show (space that begins ~10′ x 10′)
Booth – Professional outfits can range from $2,000+ (that’s usually for the small guys)
Travel – Depending if you’re shipping your booth and product or hauling it yourself, it’s begins at about $1,000
Travel 2 – Flying or driving? While the ticket of flying may be more cost effective, flying may be more economical (read: no bathroom, driver or food stops, no tolls, no traffic, no delays, no bad company = less taxing). Flights begin ~$150 (one way)
Hotel & Food – Finding hotels through the tradeshow Web site will help alleviate a few hundred dollars and one still needs a safe place to sleep. Rooms begin ~$199 (per night) x 6 nights.
Travel 3 – One must to get to the tradeshow floor in the morning. In some cases, a hotel is associated with the tradeshow, the management will have complimentary buses (close to the hotel) to transport to the center. Taxi begins ~$6 (one way). Add $.50/person
Print Collateral – Current business cards, postcards, catalogs, signage, and other unactualized POP display is printed and organized long before one arrives on the tradeshow floor. Design and printing begins ~$350
Product – This is vendor’s choice.

Overall, the sum of this business endeavor ranges ~$10-$15k per show. As you can see, these shows aren’t part of the artists’ hobby, it’s their livelihood.

Trendspotting, Stalking, & Respect
In addition to visiting my partners on the floor to gauge our customer’s response with our new product, I also like to walk through some of the specialty sections to review how the economy is treating them and what new products they’re introducing. In some cases, I’m a silent observer watching (stalking) competition to understand the new directions they’re taking. Watching their growth and reading industry publications helps me understand if I’m also moving in the right direction to build my empire.

SpotLight Savvy #5: If you’re walking the show to determine if this show is a right fit for your business, tell them immediately -they’ll appreciate it that you did. Compliment them on their work, empathize if you can and wish them well.

SpotLight Savvy #6: If you’re walking the show to do some trendspotting, tell them. If you are trendspotting, consider including them in your write up -they’ll appreciate that you did. Please don’t ask them to review their products on the floor, just ask for their business card and let them know you’ll get back with them after the show. Compliment them on their work, empathize if you can and wish them well.

SpotLight Savvy #7: If you’re walking the show to steal ideas, move along. These artists have worked very hard to harmonize the right product for their customer and their customer’s customer. Compliment them on their work, empathize if you can and wish them well.

If art & design is your goal to build your own business, reading, breathing, and walking various venues will aid in your understanding of what is popular (vs what is actually selling). Determine how you can apply some of the influence, but for the love of hardworking artists everywhere, rethink your position as a fellow copycat.

If you decide you want to string beads like the past four vendors you just reviewed, ask yourself ‘why?’ Getting on the same wagon as other artists doesn’t make you unique and it dilutes their position -that’s a huge disservice to both you and your competition. Not to mention, buyers will ask you why they should buy from you and not the artist they’ve already established a good relationship with. (Do you hear crickets chirping?)

Artists respect fellow artists and many collaborate due to complementary skillsets, but they won’t continue relationships with you if you don’t know where you’re headed in your own business.

Update: May 10th: After exhibiting at a networking table this past week, I’m adding another tip:

Resist Faux Engagement
If you’re walking the show, resist creating faux interest in the seller’s products only to sell your own. The vendors who have invested thousands, yes, thousands of dollars into their position on the tradeshow floor don’t want to eat their time with someone who doesn’t have any interest in the product or services on display. I had this happen a couple of times and it was annoying, to say the least. My attention is fixated on them (good rapport is built on the one-on-one) only to watch other potential buyers walk by without notice.

SpotLight Savvy #8: If you’re walking the show just to introduce your product or service to vendors, move along. These entrepreneurs have very little time to engage with the right people (galleries, media) and monopolizing their time with your product immediately renders you rude and now you’re categorized as a shark. If you feel your product or service can benefit the vendor, take her card and contact her after the show.

Master Your Savvy
If you’re looking to sharpen your skills as a fellow tradeshow tramp, you can find the following pieces on lisa-stewart.com:

Paisley Moleskine Journal (available in assorted colors & blank, lined, & agenda)
Bacchus Die-Cut Leather Moleskine Journal (available in assorted colors & blank, lined, & agenda)
MidTown Mobile Phone Cases (available in 2 colors & various sizes)

Congratulations! You’re Now a Savvy Tradeshow Tramp!
I hope this outline of savvy tradeshow tips has helped you become proficient in your attendance, whether you’re exhibiting or not. If you have additional tips or questions, please contribute to the conversation -I always look for an enriching discussion.

NOTE: For more tips for creatives head to INDIECreatives.com: Coaching and Strategy for Creative Entrepreneurs.

17 thoughts on “Savvy Tradeshow Tramp

  1. Flowersbyfarha says:

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

    If only everyone who ever attends an art (fine or craft) show were aware of these tips–and the rationale behind them!

    Even at smaller shows where it costs “only” $300-$1000 to be there, it is frustrating for the artist when:

    1) a group of friends run into each other and stop in front of your booth to catch up, leaving the artist to find a delightfully charming way to convey “Shut up & Shop, or Move the Party.” Even the most delicate suggestion or offer to show one’s wares results in either the group’s embarrassment as realizing their inadvertent rudeness–or feeling fussed that they’ve been interrupted, and in either case, the risk of offending is high, and the likelihood of drawing them into actually viewing your wares very slim.

    2) customers from another artist’s booth come to one’s booth to use your mirror without so much as acknowledging your presence or taking at least a cursory look at your display. While there are some potential advantages to being such a good neighbor, when the “booth” is only 4’x6′, there isn’t room for your own customers if a non-customer is utilizing your space.

    Re: Spotlight Savvy #5

    While there are aspects of “qualify your customer” that I detest (both as a customer and as a vendor), I do understand and appreciate the “time is money” aspect of sales and tradeshows.

    I always tell artist upfront when I’m scouting a show & that if a “real” customer comes by, I will not be offended if they interrupt to take care of business. Then, as much as possible, I try to help generate interest in the booth by acting like a potential customer: looking at or pointing to items. That way, if someone passing by might be interested, they won’t feel like they are “interrupting.” I also make a point of not blocking the booth entrance.

    Again, THANK YOU! Great tips!

    • creativegoddess says:

      YOU’RE WELCOME!!🙂

      re: #1) So true! If the one of the persons just bought from you, she will understand. The others that don’t just need to be reminded that you’re trying to run a business.

      “Ladies, could I ask you to move your party to the end of the row to prevent blocking our customers line of sight? I’ve see a customer who is trying to make her way through. Merci!”

      re: #2) Right on. I’ll tell folks up front that I’m acknowledging their time to bail should a customer walk in. I’ll even point out a customer who shows the smallest amount of interest if their back is turned.

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your 2 cents.

  2. Patrick McIntosh says:

    This is sound practical advice. I like the piece about not using tape and writing on the back of the cards. I expect that you killed the show with your prowess. BTW thanks for not being a hussie!

  3. Tara Reed says:

    You are one savvy tramp! I hope every artist walking a show reads and memorizes this information – it is so vital to good relationships and networking both with artists and manufacturers. (Of course everything goes through the art licensing filter for me!) Looking forward to seeing you at SURTEX – say hi when I’m not chatting up licensees!😉

    Tara Reed

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