Trade Show Advice for Design Students


In early October, I attended my first interior design trade show, NeoCon 2021 at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. At the event, the American Society of Interior Designers hosted a panel of professional designers giving advice to design students on how to make the most of a trade show. I found their tips really helpful, so I’m sharing my notes to assist other design students.

Why should you attend trade shows?

• Touch and feel products to see their quality
• You want to believe in materials you specify, so this is a chance to experience them firsthand
• It’s a chance to develop a relationship with a vendor rep and gain direct contact within the business


How to prepare for a show?

• Look at the directory in advance and make a list of all the places you want to visit and the questions you have for them
• Plan an itinerary based on location in the building. Elevator waiting lines can take 20+ minutes, so you want a plan that doesn’t have you switching different floors frequently
• Wear comfortable shoes
• If you bring clients with you to the trade show, be sure to set appointments with the showrooms in advance
• If you can, visit the showrooms beforehand to narrow down the list of pertinent visits


What to do at the trade show?

• Be sure to check out the temporary exhibits, especially if you attend a trade show in your hometown. For instance, Chicago designers can see the showrooms at the Mart anytime, but the temporary exhibits are only there during the trade show.
• Have a salesperson walk you through their showroom and their products to maximize the information you’ll receive. Be sure to email them a thank you after the trade show
• Don’t be afraid to sit in chairs, look under furniture, open and close doors, slide things, check sturdiness, etc.
• Ask questions and give feedback to the salespeople:

o What are your favorite products?
o What items are your best sellers?
o Do you have any award-winning pieces?
o Give feedback/make suggestions on pieces you’ve used
o Give feedback on features or things you’d like to see from them in the future


Networking Advice

• Can go with a buddy to network
• Ask if their company take interns; if so, make a connection
• Take business cards and have some of your own to exchange
• Go to events sponsored by organizations that you like or want to connect with
• Ask questions of individuals (“How long have you worked at ___?”)
• Follow-up on Linked-In connecting with people you meet and writing quick thank you notes

[Please note that that these ideas are not my own, but rather my notes from the panel event]

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