During a Maine Small Business Development Center webinar, Stefa Normantas shared tips for setting up a dynamic wholesale trade booth. Normastas is a strategic event manager and managing partner of the New England Made shows. New England Made’s juried shows present the finest New England-sourced giftware, specialty food and home furnishings for wholesalers.

Retail and wholesale trade shows are very different. At a retail show, the general public attends for both entertainment and shopping purposes. Wholesale shows, on the other hand, exist for buyers looking for wholesale items to resell in their stores. “You have about five to seven seconds to capture somebody’s attention, and it’s probably even less. It’s like Dory in ‘Finding Nemo.’ You’ve just got a second to catch somebody, so it really has to be compelling,” Normantas said.

Planning for Success

At most wholesale trade shows, booths are typically an 8-by-10-foot space. Vendors set up their stand within these spaces, often building custom freestanding walls. Some install rigid flooring or use rugs. Unless provided in the contract, vendors must also bring their own furniture and accessories.

Most spaces come with power so it’s important to remember extension and power cords.

“They’re not exact measurements,” Normantas said. “When you’re building your booth, you want to have a little wiggle room – a couple inches on each side – so make sure you have the ability to adjust for that.”

Before designing a booth to fit within the provided space, vendors must home in on the story they want to tell through the booth design. According to Normantas, buyers want to know who made the product and why they made it because it will help them to sell the product in their stores.

Vendors should also consider who their ideal buyers are and design the booth with those buyers in mind. Another consideration is to know the best-selling products and focus on creating a booth to highlight those best sellers.

“After you get these pieces down, it’s time to get creative and really start to have some fun,” Normantas said.

Creating Comfort

The goal of your booth design is to draw in customers by showcasing a variety of products in an organized way. The booth must be comfortable for the buyers, so there are physical requirements to consider. The entrance to the booth should be a minimum of four feet wide. Products should be displayed at the appropriate height.

According to Normantas, the sweet spot is from the belt buckle to the top of the shoulders. “Try to align products within that zone, so it doesn’t create fatigue,” she said.

The flooring should be comfortable to stand on, and there should be a small workstation where vendors and buyers can conduct business.

The booth must also be psychologically comfortable. One example is for the vendor to use a director’s chair for seating. “People don’t want to make you get up,” Normantas said.

Avoid placing products on low shelving because it can create a sense of inferiority – as if the product were a second.

Make sure product lines are kept separate, so buyers can see individual lines. For example, maple syrup producers should keep the maple sugar and maple syrup lines separate.

Vendors should also provide plenty of touch opportunities because Normantas said people are four times more likely to buy something if they actually touch it.

Vendors should provide plenty of touch opportunities because people are four times more likely to buy something if they actually touch it. Photo courtesy of Stefa Normantas

Refining the Experience

Proper lighting is another way to draw buyers into a booth. “I can’t underscore just how important lighting is,” Normantas said. “You walk down the line and if someone’s booth doesn’t have lighting it is like a dead spot. And it really affects sales. It’s the biggest mistake that people new to booth design make.”

She recommends multi-headed track lighting because it allows vendors to spotlight different products.

Another way to pull a buyer into a booth is through the effective use of branding. Normantas is a fan of large format photographs because the images can show customers who the product is meant for and how it is used. The images should clearly point out what is being sold, being careful that the surrounding imagery doesn’t overpower the product.

“Sometimes there is competition between the imagery and the product, and you want to make sure you have that balance,” she said. The example maple producer could choose images of people sharing a pancake breakfast, but they should ensure that the peoples’ clothing and background doesn’t detract from the syrup being poured on the pancakes.

Pricing and marketing materials should be easily accessible. Vendors should also clearly display their wholesale prices because buyers know what their customers are willing to pay for a product.

A buyer should also be able to access marketing materials, such as brochures and business cards, without fully entering a booth.

Remembering the Extras

Normantas warned vendors not to rely on Wi-Fi at trade shows. She said to bring a thumb drive with key sales materials rather than counting on being able to go to an online store.

She also suggested creating a “MacGyver” box. “I encourage you to pack a grab-and-go box. Whether it’s scissors, staplers, notepads, box cutters – have that all ready to go so you can be self-sufficient when you come,” Normantas said.

by Sonja Heyck-Merlin