The first time I participated in a business expo I had just started my distributor business. I had a few samples I collected at the industry show I had just attended, a few from work I had done, and just enough time to order a table throw and self-promo mint dispensers. I went and got a party plastic table cloth in a contrasting color to create a custom look, and printed about 100 flyers with a “show special”.

I felt that I had to do something so my display wouldn’t look so bear.  We decided to go for a “retail look”, grouping the items and using props so they would hold in place. When we were all setup we realized there were a few other promotional products distributors on the show. Lucky for us,  they all had so many items cluttering their tables, you really couldn’t see anything but clutter, so our space looked very different, in a good way.

What we thought was a disadvantage turned into a huge advantage. People were stopping by, grabbing the flyer and the mints, commenting on how nice our table looked compared to the others, and engaging in business conversations. It was a very productive show and we came out with 10 solid leads out of which 3 turned to regular clients.

The truth is, had I had more samples I would have probably had a cluttered table myself. It can be hard to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. In the end, everyone knows what branded pen or keychain is, so displaying the most common items is a waste of valuable space. Furthermore, considering you will also be putting your creativity on display this is your chance to shine. Keep in mind that the other exhibitors are potential clients and if they see something really cool, they’ll want to talk to you.

As you know, your goal is to get as many leads as possible, so you want to have some sort of an activity going on on your space where people need to “signup” to participate.  There are many options, such the Games People Play highly visible games, but this is a whole different subject and the focus of this post is your display.

Develop an Expo Display Kit

Since you want to be prepared to set up a display on a moment’s notice, you want to have a set of items for your exhibit, whether it’s just a banner, a table top, or a full blown out trade show booth. As far as the decoration of the booth, again, you want to avoid the flea market look at all costs, and go for the  “high end” retail store feel.

1) The Basics:


Roll up Banner

Very useful and easy to carry and set up. You’ll be able to use it every single time you are presented the opportunity to have a presence at an event, and sometimes it will be the only thing you can bring.

Table Runner

These are the bare minimum you need for a custom look. You can get colorful vinyl table cloths at the party items section of the grocery store to place underneath for a pulled together look.

Staging Props

A cardboard box covered in the same table cloth material will make a nice stand to give a set of items some height. We also used clear cubes in different sizes from the Container Store. We had the more expensive items arranged inside the cubes.



Group your samples in a visually appealing way, preferably an uneven number of items. As far as the type of items, displaying items that match the type of industry or businesses attending is an obvious choice, but you also want to show your creativity and variety. Include the following:

Include the following:

• Samples of your work – Especially the well-known brands. Group a few items with the same logo.

• Fun and unusual items

• High-end items

Self Promos

As a promotional products company, people will expect free giveaways, so give them what they want. A few tips:

• Have some for people to grab at their leisure, some others to be obtained as a prize.

• Avoid pens, sticky note pads, or anything else that other exhibitors at the event are more likely to be giving away.

• Have 2 or 3 different things on the “grab” category.  There are hundreds to choose from, make sure is not so common and it’s desirable. The most popular for us was the hand sanitizer, I know it’s common, but there’s something about germs…Mints were also good for us, as well as light up items.


2) Nice to Have

Once you have more of a budget you can add to your display kit to make it more interesting and fun, and to better prepare for larger booths. These are some we used:

• A 10 x 10 backdrop will dress up the back of your booth at the fraction of the cost of a pop-up display.

• A fitted table cover. Will be ideal when participating in outdoors events, dealing with the wind factor.
• A mannequin display form can be used creatively. You can not only display a nice apparel sample, but you can also add other items, such lanyards, bags, etc.


One last word of advice

Set up your exhibit in your office a few days before the event, and arrange it until you are happy with the way it looks. Take photos to make it easier for you and your helpers to set it up. This is a big time – and stress – saver.

Save your photos and notes in a folder in your computer or – better yet – an online system such as Trello or Evernote.

I hope you found this post useful and it gave you a few ideas you can implement. I’d love to hear what works for you, so let me know by leaving a comment on our Facebook page.