Overseas exhibition checklist and action plan

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Mike Josypenko, Director of Special Projects for the Institute of Export, shares this handy checklist and action plan if you are attending an exhibition or trade show overseas. 

If you haven’t done so already, the Open to Export article on why trade shows and exhibitions are useful is also worth a read, as is the three part guide to making the most of an exhibition in the planning stage, at the exhibition itself, and after the fair as well.

Taking part in an overseas exhibition can be a great way to generate international interest in your products and new develop export business.

However, exhibiting abroad can be more complicated than in the UK and shows are usually considerably more expensive to take part in. The checklist below is designed to help you to get the best return for your time and money.

6-7 months before the show

  • Book your space at trade show. If you have not previously visited the show, ensure that you know the most suitable area of the show by speaking to other exhibitors, to your trade association, as well as the show organisers or their UK representatives.
  • Check whether a trade association or other body is organising a group stand at that show, as there may be benefits to participating as part of a larger group (but only if the stand is located in the right area of the show for you).
  • Push for the best possible space, but be realistic – as a new exhibitor in a large and well established international show, you are unlikely to get your choice of prime locations.
  • Check with your trade association or local DIT adviser if there is any funding available towards your stand costs.

4-5 months before

  • Look into flights and hotelsfor the exhibition: don’t leave this until the last minute!  Hotel rooms in the major exhibition cities are quickly snapped up during large shows and prices usually double in comparison to quiet periods. Leaving it until the last minute can leave you with a choice between paying inflated prices or a long commute from more reasonably priced locations.Get recommendations wherever possible from other exhibitors, your trade association or the show’s agent. The show organiser may also be offering some deals.

TIP: Check out options for short term apartment rental – it can often be cheaper than hotels (especially if you intend to have several staff present) and usually offer more home comforts.

12-16 weeks before

  • Obtain a copy of the exhibitors’ manual and read it!  Many procedures and practices at overseas trade shows are different from UK domestic events and you may not be able to “wing it”.
  • Make your own check list of the exhibition organiser’s deadlines, such as catalogue entry, ordering of lighting, electricity, furniture, and so on. Many shows hike up prices for furniture rental and other services when ordered at the last minute.

 Marketing

  • Start planning your marketing activities to promote your presence at the show. Get a copy of the exhibition organiser’s marketing catalogue, as they usually offer a range of options for you promote your presence and your products, although they can be expensive.
  • Check out trade press, both in the UK and in the country of the show – they often do a “Tradeshow Preview” edition in advance of the show; however production and copy schedules may mean that any content has to be submitted 8 – 10 weeks before the show. If you are exhibiting in a UK group stand, speak to the group organiser, as they will usually provide some group marketing activities.
  • Check the exhibitor manual for catalogue entry deadlines and take maximum advantage of all free or compulsory marketing options.
  • You may wish to prepare specialist literature and consider translating into the local language where necessary. If you do this, always use a native language speaker and preferably a professional interpreter experienced in specific styles of translations such as marketing materials and technical translations. Don’t cut corners to save money – an unprofessional translation containing spelling and grammar mistakes will create a bad impression. See the Reaching Customers section for advice on translation and engaging a local interpreter.

Products and market research

  • If you have not exhibited previously, start considering what products you intend to show. As a rule, most companies have smaller stands at overseas shows than for UK ones so you need to decide which products you intend to display.
  • If you have not already done your market research, you should do so now, either through desk research, a short visit to the market, or by commissioning a market introduction (OMIS) report from DIT. This will allow you to decide which products in your range are most likely to sell and allow you to select your stock to display. Your trade association can also assist with market knowledge and advice.

8-12 weeks before

  • Start to plan the layout of your stand, your requirements for furniture, lighting, electricity, graphics and other facilities (water, drainage, overhead banners). Check what you receive with your standard package and consider topping up from external sources as well as through the official rental agencies.
  • If you have rented a hard wall stand package and are planning to use graphics, shelving or furniture around the wall area, you will need to check whether the walls have any pillars or panels which disrupt the space. Some systems, such as octonorm, have protruding pillars so check the actual width and height of any wall panels.

TIP: Some exhibitors save money on furniture rental by buying furniture from IKEA or other external retailers but this may require considerable extra work. At some shows in the USA, where exhibition contractor labour is highly unionised, there may be strict rules on what “construction” can be carried out by non-unionised exhibitors. You will usually have to employ official labour to carry out some work, such as electrical connections or large construction work.

8 weeks before

  • Look into options for transporting your product samples, literature, point of display materials, furniture and equipment to the exhibition (and home again afterwards). Although this might seem a long time ahead, lead times for transport can be fairly long, taking into account time to clear goods through customs at the destination country and to deliver to the show ground. Transport by sea to long-haul destinations can take 4-6 weeks up to arrival at the show. Airfreight is quicker but more expensive.
  • The easiest solution is to employ a specialist freight forwarder who will transport the goods from your own warehouse right to the stand at the show and take care of all formalities on the way. It may be more expensive but this price will include all of the costs for delivering straight to your stand, including fees imposed by the exhibition organiser, and use of specialist equipment where necessary. Specialist exhibition forwarders also take into account the deadline for delivery of the goods and factor this into their price and transit times, unlike “mainstream” forwarders. In the long run, the small additional expense is usually worth it for the peace of mind.

TIP: A specialist forwarder can also advise on the best way to clear goods through Customs, depending on whether the goods are to be returned afterwards – often the cost of a return shipment may be higher than the “real” value of your samples.

  • For “short-haul” exhibitions in Western Europe, some exhibitors choose to transport their products themselves by car or van. This may be done for convenience or to save money, although any savings need to be weighed against the additional time and workload involved. If you choose this option, check out rules for vehicle access and parking in the exhibitor manual because you may have to purchase unloading or parking permits in advance.

TIP:  If getting comparison quotes from freight forwarders or transport companies, double check whether the price includes all of the costs of delivering to the exhibition stand, and whether the freight company has all of the necessary permits to enter the show grounds during set-up. Many standard freight companies (especially small parcel carriers) are unfamiliar with rules and procedures surrounding exhibitions and may quote you in good faith, but be unable to deliver the goods to the stand, leaving them stranded in a Customs warehouse!

 Marketing

  • Send out mail shots, electronically or by post, to encourage existing or potential clients to visit your stand. Try to arrange fixed appointments wherever possible. Mail shots can focus on new product launch or special offers which may be of particular interest.
  • Alternatively you might consider some form of incentive offer (such as a discount) to encourage them to visit.
  • Mail shots will need to be repeated in the run-up to the show.

 Travel

  • Check and confirm travel arrangements for all staff attending the show. Ensure all passports are current and valid. Check whether visas are required for entry into the country and don’t forget that non-EU passport holders may be treated differently!

6-8 weeks before

  • Check whether you have ordered all necessary equipment (furniture, lighting, exhibitor and set up passes, parking permits).
  • For some overseas shows, where English is not widely spoken, it may be helpful (or necessary) to employ an interpreter. Fees for interpreters vary greatly and good ones are often booked up long in advance. An interpreter or host will be your first point of contact with a client and can be crucial in making a good first impression. It is worth getting a good person who possesses interpersonal and general communication skills as well as language abilities. See this article for more tips on interpreters.
  • Check progress on any specialist literature you are planning to produce – will it be ready in time for the shipping deadline?
  • Prepare price lists in suitable currency – either local currency, euros or US dollars may be good alternatives to sterling prices. Consider options to offer delivery/shipping. Consider any discounts you are planning to offer for bulk orders, as well as distributor prices and commissions for agents in applicable.
  • Ensure all staff are briefed and aware of your pricing structure and policy.

3-6 weeks before

  • Send out follow up mail or email shots to existing or potential clients to encourage them to visit. Reach out personally to your top 10 or 20 targets and follow up with a phone call.
  • Prepare shipment of goods and literature (depending on forwarder’s cut-off deadline).
  • Prepare necessary documentation – if in doubt send a copy of your documentation to your forwarder, so they can check everything is in order. A good exhibition forwarder should be happy to take a few minutes to check documents to avoid delays at a later critical stage.

2-3 weeks before

  • Order your currency requirements, including floats for all staff attending.
  • Check whether you need to pay interpreters in cash.
  • Ensure you have exhibitor and set-up passes for all staff, plus parking or delivery permits.

1 week before

  • Send out final email shots to clients to secure meeting appointments.
  • Check with forwarder that goods are in transit and will arrive safely and on time.
  • Double check with the show organiser about times and deadlines for set up – some organisers allow you to work through the night if necessary during set-up, other may impose strict deadlines for completion of set-up, removal of tools, equipment and packaging.

Good luck!