If you are looking at expanding your business internationally, then international trade fairs (or international trade shows as they are called in the US) offer excellent opportunities to present your brand overseas and search for new partners. However, attending a trade fair abroad is considerably more complex than attending a fair or exhibition in your domestic market. It requires a longer time frame for the preparation and considerably higher costs. In this mini-series I will be looking at some of the points you need to consider when you think about participating in trade fairs with this first part covering preparing for international trade fairs. I’ve actually divided the preparation phase into 2 parts as it would otherwise be such a monster long post! You can find part 2 here.

Why should you attend trade fairs?

According to Evoexhibits there are five main reasons for companies to attend international trade fairs:

  • to raise brand awareness amongst consumers and industry experts
  • for networking and new business relationships (don’t forget trade fairs often have a large number of social events which you can participate in)
  • to obtain highly targeted sales leads
  • to learn more about the competition and how they are marketing their products
  • to educate yourselves about the newest developments and technology in your industry

Some useful Resources for Finding Shows:

Trade Fair Dates

The Trade Show Network

The Trade Show Calendar

There are many other information sources out there, and your local Chamber of Commerce will probably also have relevant lists of suitable trade fairs.

Decide what is the right trade show for you

If you are new to international sales it can be difficult to decide amongst the myriad of trade fairs offered, what is really the best one for your company at the present stage of your international development.

It also depends on the type of product that you sell. There are all kinds of products that are suitable for basically any consumer and they could be sold theoretically from the stand at a trade fair eg food or beverage products. There are events which are suitable for these kinds of products, but if you are selling production machinery or hydro-electric power plants you’re going to have different requirements. Many exhibitors at international trade fairs are actually looking for B2B channel partners who will act as an importer or distribution partner for their products.

It can certainly be worthwhile to consult your chamber of commerce or commercial service for their advice on this topic (& realistically you should get to know the staff there anyway). They may also be able to recommend trade fairs where there are national pavilions or for which subsidies are available for small and medium companies. This can be a deciding factor if your budget is tight and you plan to attend an event abroad for the first time.

Working with a service provider who will take care of basically all the details for you can relieve a lot of the stress of being an inexperienced participant. However, it’s not your only option & certainly not always a cheap one.

It’s not a one size fits all answer

You need to do the desk research to find out which trade fairs have the best recognition within your industry. It can also depend as to what your goal is for attending such a trade fair. Are you looking to expand your connections and perhaps find new distribution partners or do you have other goals?

Trade fairs are really expensive to attend as an exhibitor so it’s important that you’re clear about your strategy before you actually go ahead and select your trade fair or set your targets for the event.

Check the details of the trade fair you are thinking of attending

These days you can find a lot of information online about any trade fair which is worth you attending as an international participant. For example,

  • The number of visitors in previous years
  • The reach of the show within your industry
  • The number of exhibitors and potentially also their names
  • The details of the nuts and bolts of participation such as timelines and costs

These days, many international trade fairs have several versions so to speak. There could be the main worldwide version, which is often based in Europe, and then local versions of this which could take place in say Shanghai or Rio de Janeiro. Eg. Biofach. It depends on your individual situation which of the shows could be most useful for you.

visitors to the Anuga trade fair

Visit the fair

If you are a completely new exporter, it probably is too much to attend a trade fair as an international exhibitor the first time. You can also obtain many of the benefits simply by being there as a visitor. You can walk the exhibition floors, you can check out the competition and how they are exhibiting, you can learn new ways to market or showcase your products and of course you can arrange meetings in a nearby café or in your hotel lobby.

It also allows you to study how the traffic flows of visitors to the exhibition work. You can then think about where would be ideally the best location for a stand for your company. Some really big fairs have five or six halls (or potentially even more) so it’s important to be in the right building for your niche in order to be easily found by your visitors.

This can be a good option if you would like to investigate a particularly expensive trade fair for the years ahead. You can analyse whether the investment involved would be worth it for the potential return.

Of course, this also means that you are thinking up to 2 years ahead in order to be able to visit a show before you ever exhibit there.

set clear targets when preparing for international trade fairs

What do you want to achieve?

It’s essential that you define your strategy and objectives for attending an international trade show. Preparing for international trade fairs is both intensive in terms of time and resources so you need to be very clear as to what your aims are.

For example, I’ve attended trade fairs in the past where the KPIs may have been defined as:

  • Target new distributors from Kenya, Thailand and Armenia
  • Meet with all existing distribution partners
  • Launch a specific new product line
  • Educate local and consumers about your brand and products potentially also sell your products, depending on the type of trade fair you are attending

I’ve also attended more local shows with my regional distribution partners to support them. In those cases, I’ve been a guest on the stand and probably also at a social dinner organised for their distribution partners. Sometimes I’ve spoken at side events if they’ve been launching a new product into the market.

Speaking at side events at trade fairs Kathryn Read
Kathryn Read speaking at an industry trade event. Photo: (c) Tianjin DCTA

If you don’t have a clear strategy well in advance of participating in any trade show then you will end up wasting huge amounts of money and time resources.

These objectives will depend on your company internationalisation strategy and also the level of your existing export sales. If the fair is taking place in a country where you are already distributed, as I’ve mentioned above, you may have the additional goal of supporting your local distributor in educating his potential target clients.

You need to be realistic about what you expect to achieve. If this is your first time attending such a trade fair and expanding overseas you may need to attend for several years before you were taken seriously as an international player. 

Design the stand in line with the objectives above

Having defined your objectives for the trade fair, you need to also design your stand (or booth if you are from the US). As stand space is extremely expensive for international trade fairs then you certainly need to consider what you really need and work with an expert to ensure that the stand combines both the practical aspects of being able to meet with potential clients as well as transporting your brands core messages.

Don’t under estimate the time, energy and costs which may be needed for this. The three main aims of your stand are:

  1. to support your trade show KPIs that you defined above
  2. to promote awareness of your brand
  3. to differentiate your products and core values from those of your competitors

For me, it’s usually important to have some quiet area where I can have a business discussion with my existing partners, or potential new partners. One or two meeting rooms on the stand are always a great idea for this if you can afford the space.

Space = money

I’ve seen a lot of very large brands treat the main international trade fairs as displays of their power and importance. They inform all of their distributors in advance that they expect them to be at a particular trade fair for meetings (indeed it might be the only time of year that for example an international sales director meets with some of the smaller partners). In such cases, the stand owner often would like the regional partners to spend as much time as possible on their stand so that it is obviously busy, making them look important. The consequence of this is that they need to have space for those partners in turn to have their own meetings on the stand, or just to have a fairly quiet area where they can sit & relax a little slightly away from the noise of the exhibition.

eg. I’ve visited partners at trade fairs in Germany before now, because my partner was on the stand of one of his other suppliers & it was a good opportunity for a meeting in Europe.

Think about how you will get your stand to the trade fair.

Will you buy it in your home country and ship it to the location of the event? This can be worthwhile if you are attending a lot of events and expect to use the stand several times. If you go this way, then you should ensure that the elements of the stand are robust enough to be shipped overseas. You also need to consider all of the small elements of the stand such as lighting and the screws to put things together as these may not be standardised across the world. So, you need to consider if those have to be shipped together with the rest of the stand.

You could also commission a stand to be built in the country where the event is taking place. This can be a good option if you have a local distributor who can use the stand repeatedly in the future for his events and if building locally would be considerably cheaper. You need to consider the cost versus the quality control aspects as well as the difficulties of international shipping for such stands.

The third option would be to rent a stand. If it is your first exhibition that you are attending then this could be the most cost-effective option for you. You are unlikely to be looking for a huge stand with a lot of personalisation but rather for a smaller, simpler option where you can display marketing materials/products and explain to potential clients what your brand is about.

PRepartion is key to success quote

Preparing for International Trade Fairs is the key to success!

In this post I’ve covered the initial topics that you need to consider before you attend an exhibition overseas. However this is only the beginning of the process. Like with many other topics, they may be relatively complex in your domestic market, but as soon as you move them abroad that complexity is greatly increased!

As you can see, there are really a lot of moving parts to think about when preparing for international trade fairs, at least if you want to do things well. This is only part one as I realised when I started preparing this that even just the preparation part was too large for one post, never mind all the things to think about when attending, or all you need to consider for the timelines and budgets! So there will be a few more posts on this theme during the coming weeks.

You can find the second, more tactical part, of this preparation article here. Part 3 of this mini-series covers the show itself – participating as an exhibitor. Part 4 covers following up on international trade fairs & in the final part I talk about timelines and budgets.

Thinking that working with a consultant would accelerate your international expansion?

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  1. […] These might be for consulting services, localising your marketing, being global digitally or attending a trade fair. In Austria for example smaller exporters can get subsidies for the costs involved in entering new […]

  2. […] and exhausting experience. I’ve mentioned a number of points to do with preparing for shows (here and here) as well as what you should take especial care of during the fair itself, and […]

  3. […] mentioned a number of points to do with preparing for shows in my last 2 posts, which you can find here and here, so I’d like to move on to how you can effectively manage the week or days of the […]

  4. […] why I decided to prepare this mini-series to offer as many ideas as possible. You should also read Part 1 of this series if you didn’t […]

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