Trade Show Booth Design Truths: Lessons from HD Expo


So I’m back home from Vegas once again after clocking 30,000 steps and two days on the HD Expo show floor. As expected, I was truly inspired by this year’s showing of high-design and innovation in the world of hospitality design wares. Competition is fierce in this industry. Manufacturers are upping their game, bringing more options and value than ever before. But of course, every booth didn’t deliver on the razzle-dazzle.

Most companies strongly guided by their Fear of Missing Out when it comes to trade shows, choosing to exhibit to follow the herd rather than making a solid strategic case for it. If FOMO is the primary motivation, it’s easy to see how and why companies get such poor results from the shows they attend.

It just can’t be overstated that trade shows require a huge investment. For many companies, trade shows are the biggest marketing investment they make each year. The cost to secure a space, the booth itself, printed collateral, shipping, travel costs, and all that time prepping, planning, setting up and manning the booth is easily a six or seven-figure investment over the year. Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, this post is intended to help you avoid some pitfalls. There is nothing more disheartening than spending all that time and money, to then arrive and literally watch potential customers pass you by.

Size matters

And bigger isn’t better. Giant booths with no traffic are the kiss of death, and the reps inside those booths felt it. Think about it, show attendees want to casually peruse without being attacked with a hard sell. That’s hard to do in a 20’ x 40’ booth. Big booths without walls are difficult to discreetly duck in and out of. Attendees that do take the plunge feel like prey and behave accordingly. They smile and listen to your pitch while noting the exits and looking for an opportunity to run.

So how do you get around it when your product is big? Northland Furniture Co. had a smart solution. By creating miniatures of select pieces from their collection they filled the booth in a creative way that is easy to navigate for both reps and possible buyers. And who doesn’t like cute tiny things? Attendees were drawn in out of curiosity, and the display offered an instant conversation piece. The Northland team looked smart, had great traffic, spent less on the booth than many of their competitors, and even took home an award.

Northland Furniture Co. | HD EXPO 2019

Northland Furniture Co. | HD EXPO 2019


Learn the art of curation

Too many companies approach trade shows like farmers do, bringing their harvest to market and setting up shop with all their wares. If that’s your mindset, it’s time to change it. While we do sell goods, a trade show is more akin to a massive speed dating event, rather than a giant store. When designing a trade show booth, the goal is to create a space that invites conversation.

Many assume that more product offers more opportunity to begin a conversation, but as we’ve noted above, a big booth with too much stuff is an obstacle. And the problem with Too Much Stuff goes deeper still, particularly if your products are suited for high-end projects. Mass-retailers like Walmart have a “pile it high and let it fly” merchandising philosophy. This approach works if you want to sell thousands of cheap knock of Yeti cups and compete in the market only on price. Cramming a booth with too much product gives a flea market vibe, forcing the attendee to sift through to find a treasure, and leaves no space for visitors to remember the one thing that makes your company different. When the human mind is overwhelmed with too much choice, the answer is always “no!”

Instead of the Walmart approach, Kaldewei took its cues from Apple. By creating a sleek, minimal refuge, the booth highlighted their strengths and allowed space for conversations. Product was limited but the possibilities seemed endless.

Kaldewei | HD EXPO 2019

Kaldewei | HD EXPO 2019

Your one thing

Do you know what makes you different in the minds and hearts of your customer? Not in your terms, but in theirs? Most booths at the show talked about themselves in ways that are only relevant to their internal sales teams. “Established in 1912!” and “Quality Assurance!” are hardly memorable messages. Effective messages connect with the wants, desires, and problems of the attendees.

Lovinflame had the most basic of booths - just pipe, drape, pull up banners and tables. And yet they drew crowds each day. Standing out from the sea of fireplace vendors—these guys sell fuel that is resistant to wind and water. This simple, smart message is a quick read and was clearly compelling for prospective buyers who want to add drama to exterior spaces but are worried about how to make it safe and weather resistant. Well done.

Lovinflame| HD EXPO 2019

Lovinflame| HD EXPO 2019

Fit in with the cool kids

There are a lot of residential product companies that decide to exhibit for the first time at shows like HD Expo because they dabble in hospitality and think that by simply showing up, their contract sales will skyrocket. Often these vendors bring the same booth they use for other industry shows and stand out like a sore thumb. Specifiers at these shows often keep their distance because residential products are typically associated with less durability, inferior materials, and lower quality. Manufacturers can only win if they understand the demands of this industry.

The Shade Store is a well-known, established brand for residential buyers that fit right in among their peers that focus on commercial sales. Their booth was beautiful in both construction and detail, featuring a large video screen with images easily imagined in a boutique hotel. The booth spoke the verbal and visual language of the attendees. Quite simply, they raised their game.

The Shade Store | HD EXPO 2019

The Shade Store | HD EXPO 2019

It’s Vegas baby!

Las Vegas itself sets the tone every trade show on the strip. Attendees from around the world head to Vegas for the experience. They can sit in a lunch and learn and see Our Town at their local repertory theater right in their hometown. They come to Vegas for Cirque du Soleil and want to be wowed with high-drama at the expo. They expect to be pushed out of their comfort zone—even shockingly so. This show isn’t about sophisticated restrained chic, this is Vegas. So if you choose to exhibit at HDExpo, KBIS, IBS or the like, you better bring the drama.  

Believe it or not, while it’s hard to stand out in Vegas, it’s remarkably easy at HDExpo. In a sea of similarly scaled product in black, white, and gray, Some of the most successful booths pushed the boundaries of expectation by making the ordinary extraordinary either through color or scale. The folks at the booths that surrounded Floquem looked on in despair as every head turned away from their booth and focused on the color pops that included a hot pink statue of David. Still, others used scale to draw attention away from the trade show floor by hanging giant lights.

If there is one piece of advice you should take to heart when it comes to trade shows it should be this: if you are going to bother exhibiting, don’t waste your time by being shy.

Kosta | HD EXPO 2019

Kosta | HD EXPO 2019

Floquem | HD EXPO 2019

Floquem | HD EXPO 2019


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Kenya Gibson

If you have a question that hasn’t been answered or would like find out more about how Epiphany can help you get specified, give me a call: 804.377.0106.