Trade fairs are an important part of marketing efforts for many small and mid-sized exporting companies. However, is also the most expensive tool to promote products overseas. The cost can range anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 or more. Costs can be minimized by joint participation in DOC-sponsored U.S. pavilions or in shared state booths.

Attending trade shows can be a great opportunity for prospective exporters to conduct their market research; they’re able to see their competition and competitive products, and they can check out other industry trends and cutting-edge developments and breakthroughs. Visiting a trade show prior to actually exhibiting products could be helpful to gain knowledge on particular market and to plan a full-market entry.

The decision to participate in a trade show needs to be done well ahead of time, since deadlines for final commitment run from six months to a year prior to the event. And the company of the potential participant has to allocate a realistic budget to cover show expenses, and it must allow time in crafting an overall marketing plan that includes product adaptation, country targets, travel plans, samples and follow through.

Selecting the right trade fair is crucial in terms of product, territory and cost. There is no reason to target large and expensive fairs unless you have competent professionals to handle prospects who are visiting your booth. Selecting small regional fairs may give you the edge to be visible and face less competition. Also, considering your objectives and the nature of an event can be helpful in your preparation stage. For example, trade shows in Europe focus more on buying and selling. In Japan they are seen as an opportunity to meet industry people and colleagues.

The advantages of exhibiting are:

  • Exposure to new prospects.
  • Industry credibility.
  • Chance to meet potential buyers, sales agents, brokers, importing wholesalers, trading companies, distributors, and independent sales reps face to face.
  • Both participants and visitors read your listing in the show directory. Your exposure can be tripled when copies of the directory are passed onto friends and business associates of participants.

The promotional effort aimed at reaching prospects through direct mail to previous and current attendees, as well as having access to media opportunities in generating publicity, should be started several months before the actual show.

Pre-show press conferences are extremely helpful in sharing your new product or some other newsworthy item with your audience. Also, sending your story to major press and technical journals with large subscribers allows you to gain recognition in the show.
Sometimes technical symposiums are held while fairs featuring high-tech products are displayed. Papers are presented and new techniques are discussed by prominent experts. Your participation in this part of a trade show will allow you to launch a new product, to get free publicity and/or to be covered by subsequent trade journal publications.

Things to consider in managing your booth well:

  • The staff responsible in handling the booth should be personable and knowledgeable about your products and your company. At least one person with authority should be present at the event in case an opportunity to do business on the spot arises.
  • The booth itself should be attractive.
  • Have ample supply of business cards in your language on one side and the language of the host country on the other.
  • Your sales literature must be printed in bilingual format and easy to read.
  • Keep plenty of product samples on hand for display, trial and handout purposes.
  • Prepare special export pricing schedules. Show FOB factory prices and CIF prices (referring the host country’s international port of entry).
  • If you do not have special export pricing, use domestic pricing and offer a reasonable discount as an incentive to your customer who wants to place an order at the show.

ATA carnets ease the temporary importation of your commercial samples, professional equipment, and goods for exhibitions and fairs. They facilitate international business by avoiding extensive customs procedures, eliminating payment of duties and value-added taxes. ATA carnets are issued by the United States Council for International Business (USCIB; and are accepted in 75 countries. The ATA Carnet demonstrates to customs officials that you are bringing in the merchandise only temporarily, as is the case for trade show display.

The U.S. Department of Commerce offers the “Certified Trade Events Program,” which offers excellent opportunities for new exporters. Companies exhibiting in certified events benefit from extensive exposure in local markets as well as U.S. Embassy assistance before, during and after the show.

The Department of Commerce also sponsors the “Foreign Buyer Program,” which promotes selected large U.S. trade shows overseas to attract attendance from abroad. Participating in such shows is an inexpensive way to explore the international market for your products without going overseas.

For more information on government-sponsored events see:

Ayse Oge is President of Ultimate Trade, International Trade Consulting, Speaking and Training.