Do you smell that?  That’s the smell of roasted coffee beans taking over convention centers and exhibit halls all over the world.  Yep, you guessed it, coffee trade show season is in full swing and the 2020 Specialty Coffee Expo will be here faster than you can say ‘sustainably grown fair trade coffee’.  So add some macadamia milk to a cup of your favorite gourmet blend, sit back and follow along as I walk you through the formula for having a successful show.  I will hit on the basics of trade show marketing and then dive deeper into some of the industry dos and don’ts.  Is this everything you need to know to be a trade show marketing manager, of course not, but if you do these things you will have a successful show.  Whether this is your first show, or you’ve been marketing at coffee trade shows since Juan Valdez picked his first coffee bean, there will be information in there that will help.

Bring your best, and make sure you bring enough for everyone!

Trade shows like Specialty Coffee have a lot of exhibitors that are promoting products that need to be sampled or products that need to be demonstrated.  If your company is one of these, make sure you bring it and make sure you bring enough.  I hear horror stories all the time from exhibitors about how they ran out of samples on the first day of the show, don’t let that happen to you.  Every industry professional that I’ve talked to agrees that it’s better to bring too much than not have enough.

Because the tricky part about the Specialty Coffee show is that you never know when the right person will be visiting your booth, and you need to be ready when they do.  I’ll say this time and time again because it’s so important, you only have one chance to make a good impression.  This is not the time to experiment with a new roast or blend, bring your best because your competition will be bringing theirs.  If you are promoting equipment that needs to be demonstrated, please make sure it works flawlessly.  I have one client that gets new equipment to demonstrate at every show because they learned early on that using a banged-up demo model was actually having a negative effect, and that’s never good.  


Anyone could be a potential lead, so make sure each visitor has a good experience at your booth.

How do you get people to stop at your booth?

The next, but most overlooked element of a successful show…the actual booth. Now am I saying this because our company designs, builds and manages everything trade show? Not really, well maybe, ok yes – actually I am. And do you know why? Because you only have 3 seconds to make an impact and that first impression is everything. Your booth represents your company and no matter what anyone tells you, things being equal, exhibitors gravitate to the better looking displays. Do you need the biggest, most flashy booth on the show floor? No. But if you think you’re going to stand out and attract your target audience with wrinkled posters taped to the back curtain, you’re wrong. People say to me all the time, “but Sean, our company is just starting out and we don’t have money for a nice display.” I understand, I get it, trade shows are expensive and budgets are budgets, but there are too many affordable options available not to have something decent. For larger companies with bigger budgets, the same holds true, take an honest look at your booth and see if it’s in need of updates, repairs, or replacement graphics because you want your booth to be looking its best.

At the same time you are evaluating your booth take a look at your graphics.  Are they impactful and eye-catching?  Does the message speak to your target audience?  If people don’t notice you or they can’t understand what you do by looking at your messaging then having the best product in the nicest booth will be wasted because the right people won’t take the time to stop.   When we design graphics for our clients, we come at it from the perspective of the target market.  The only rule you need to follow is you need to make sure someone walking by your booth can immediately tell who your are, what you do, and why it’s important to them.  That’s it.  Seriously, that’s all the messaging you need.  Mix that with eye catching imagery and the right people will stop, trust me.


3 Seconds.  That’s how long you have to make an impression.

great design helps, but it’s your staff that do the selling.

Send the right staff.  I hate to say it, but your booth, graphics and product can only do so much – it can’t sell itself.  To have a successful show you need to have the right people at the booth.  Companies large and small typically send the executives and sales staff, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but companies that want to stand out and really impress visitors also send technical and support staff.  Decision makers want to know details and if you can give them the information they need on the spot, you’re that much closer to getting the business.  Another next level piece of advice – rotate your staff.  Yes, everyone wants to play their A-team, but anyone that has ever manned a trade show booth can tell you, the days get really long toward the end of the show and having fresh staff on day 3 and day 4 can really make a difference.


If possible, send technical and support staff.

What is the most important element of a successful trade show?

Hopefully you have a little bit of coffee left in your cup, but if you don’t grab a quick refill because I’m going to end with what could arguably be the most important element of a successful show.  What separates companies that have successful shows from companies that don’t comes down to one thing:  Follow up.  Trade show leads are worth their weight in gold and are the life blood of many companies.

Make sure you not only have a way to capture those leads, but also make sure you have systems in place to follow up with them after the show.  One thing I’m beginning to see more and more are follow ups that are happening while the show is still going.  One example, make a lasting impression by having samples delivered and waiting for the decision maker when they get back to their office.  Another strategy would be to send quotes to people that request them and then follow up with them in person during the show to answer any questions they may have.  One of the best things about trade shows is the person-to-person interaction that takes place, whatever your plan – make sure you take advantage of the opportunity.


Immediate or even real-time follow-up is a game changer.

Check out how we can help you prepare for the 2020 Specialty Coffee Expo!