how to make the most out of a small trade show display

How to Make the Most of a Small Trade Show Display

By Nicole Tropea

If you’re a small organization catering to a niche audience (like a local florist or a small tutoring company), you might go to a different kind of trade show than, say, a nationwide auto manufacturer or industrial printer supplier. It’s easy to dream big and create an experience for potential customers when you have a convention center space and unlimited budget to work with.

But what if you only have a few hundred dollars and a folding table in a high school gymnasium for your booth? This writer has been there and done that.

It may not seem like a lot to work with, but trust me: by buying the right combination of these key products, you can create a small-scale, easy-to-transport trade show exhibit that will look sleek enough to catch leads. Without further ado, here are the products and how to make them work best together:

illustration of a retractable banner display with purple graphic

Retractable Banners

These are the true heroes of small exhibitors everywhere. They’re relatively inexpensive, they’re good for visual or informative graphics, they assemble in seconds, and they pack up small enough to carry under one arm. Best of all, when extended, they provide a lot of vertical display area without taking up much floor space, which is perfect for crowded conventions.

We recommend displaying your retractable banner either beside your table or behind it. Just make sure that your table doesn’t block an important part of the sign!



purple hop-up backwall trade show display with generic logo

Hop-Up Backwalls

One step (or hop?) up from retractable banners in terms of size and price, hop-up backwalls are a bit more cumbersome, but they definitely make up for the difference in “wow” factor and square footage.

These displays are 8 feet wide by 8 feet tall, so they create the effect of enclosing your display and establishing the borders of your area. Place one at the back of your designated display zone, and suddenly you have a miniature branded space! They also make great photo backdrops, in case customer interaction is your goal.




Branded Table Throws

When your trade show space consists of only a table, that table needs to look as good as possible. You can’t count on the venue to provide a nice table or a tablecloth, so it’s important to have your own cover with you.

I can’t stress this enough – often the nicest venues (think big luxury hotels that are used to hosting conventions) have the worst looking tables. Why? Because they’re always covered!

Even if the venue is nice enough to provide a plain cover, there’s a chance that the color will clash with your branding. Relying on them is a risk you shouldn’t take if you want to look professional.

Printed table throws do double duty by both covering whatever table you’re provided AND turning it into a branded surface. This is an especially good option if, for whatever reason, you are unable to use large free-standing graphics displays such as those listed above.

Branded Table Runners

If you’re looking for a more versatile branded table covering, allow me to submit for your consideration the humble branded table runner. Not only do they come in multiple widths (ranging from 24 inches to 60 inches), they also aren’t meant to fit a specific table size in the first place, so any width can work with any type of table.

Of course, you still need to pair your table runner with some sort of all-over table cover for best results, but that cover can be as plain or as elaborate as you want it to be.




Custom Printed Stickers

No professional trade show booth is complete without some great promotional swag to hand out. Some expo crowds actually get upset if they can’t get anything for free from an exhibitor!

Depending on what kind of trade show you’re attending, visitors to your booth might even be willing to fill out a lead form on the spot in exchange for a sticker. Plus, if your design really rocks (we can help make that happen), people will put them on their stuff, giving your brand more exposure!

With promotional materials, the more effort you put in, the more good you get out.

How to Put it All Together

For the best possible small booth, we recommend a combination of one standing display (retractable banner or hop-up backwall), one branded table cover (throw or runner with a plain throw underneath), and a set of stickers to hand out. This gives you branding on two surfaces, plus branding that follows your audience home (and wherever else they decide to take it).

If you can only pick two branded items, go for one standing display and one table cover. Alternatively, if you really think the stickers would work best with your audience, you could get them and pair a standing display with a non-branded table cover in a coordinating color.

If it comes down to just one branded item for you, we recommend the retractable banner for its price and versatility. Based on this writer’s experience, you can send a determined representative into the fray armed with a plain table cover, some lead forms and business cards, and a retractable banner under their arm, and they’ll do just fine.

Do you have any tips or stories you’d like to share related to running a small or low-budget trade show booth? Let us know in the comments!