Exhibiting at trade shows is a great way to build your brand, meet new customers and strengthen the relationships you’ve already made. Unfortunately, small businesses often avoid trade shows because they cost too much. Maybe you’re a startup business that has never exhibited before, or maybe you’ve managed a show before, but it didn’t produce the results you expected. In the first of two parts, on this episode, we talk to Candy Adams about best practices for putting on a profitable show. Candy is so experienced at producing trade shows, she affectionately known as the Booth Mom.

Candy Adams

Candy was affectionately nicknamed the Booth Mom by a booth staffer in the early ‘90s for her nurturing personality and knowledge of the trade show industry. First and foremost, she thinks of herself as a mama bear, protecting her clients against unscrupulous individuals at trade shows who prey on rookies. Always looking for value for her clients, Candy never spends a penny where she doesn’t have to. When she began freelancing in 1996, she realized her nickname was actually her brand, so she officially registered her nickname as the Booth Mom.

Duties of the Booth Mom

Candy says her primary duty is leading clients through the trade show maze. Do they understand their target market? What is the brand they want to project? What trade shows are where their customers are? What kind of exhibit will be the client’s face and how will they display the brand? What is the key message to people who come to the show? What will the staff to say, and what will be the company’s return when the show is over?

Candy believes the biggest mistake companies make at shows is in the pre-planning. It starts with what is the return-on-investment (ROI), the return-on-objectives (ROO) and the return-on-relationships (ROR)?

ROI is the company’s goal at a trade show. Is the goal to sell product and if so, how much and is it worth it? Most companies go to shows to build relationships.

ROO refers to a company’s marketing objectives. Are you at the show to educate, do you have a new product or are you trying to get to the press because you have a great story to tell?

ROR is what you need to do to get to the people with whom you already have a relationship with or want to create a relationship with.

According to Candy, if you haven’t solidified the ROI, ROO and ROR in your mind, and prioritized them, you shouldn’t spend a dime on a trade show.

Another duty of Candy’s is acting as the exhibit manager on behalf of a client at the show and auditing the bills after the show. Most people don’t know what goes on at a trade show. Candy is there to not only get the exhibit up, but to work with and understand union rules so she can coordinate with all of them and make sure the laborers are at your booth at the right time. It’s pricey to have labor hanging around your booth at $130 to $250/hour. She also watches the labor force, keeps track of the paperwork on site and signs off on tasks. Candy says 75 percent of the bills given to her at a show are erroneous.

Booth Mom’s Secret Weapon

Candy learned early on that having candy bars to hand out at a trade show isn’t enough to get people to do what you want. Homemade cookies are her “friend-maker.” Candy makes 40-dozen cookies before a show, including oatmeal, peanut blossoms and chocolate chip cookies, with or without chips. She also makes turtle brownies, peanut butter brownies and soft, buttermilk sugar cookies and then packages them in small plastic snack bags to bring to the show. It is not surprising her exhibits are up and running smoothly before other exhibitors.

Trade Show Training

Candy orchestrates two types of training at a trade show. The orientation involves getting the staff ready for a show and making sure they know where everything is and how they work.

The other training is boothmanship. To Candy, every show is a play with a script. The company has built a stage, the staff are the actors and the props are the videos, graphics and other tools onsite.

Training involves knowing:

* What to say when people come to the booth

* Why the company is there

* Icebreakers

* The company elevator speech

* The what’s new elevator speech

* The qualifying questions

* The 3-minute presentation

* The recap

* The close, which involves saying just enough to get people to schedule a follow-up meeting.

* Entering and prioritizing leads

Training is necessary because the booth staff’s biggest competition is time.

Available Resources

Candy is someone who will tell you everything she knows. Her website has an exhibitor’s resources page with everything from surveys and checklists to templates and show plans.


Candy charges $140/hour, with a 4-hour minimum of $280/hour. Most of her clients save more than her fee when outsourcing her services.

Final Advice

Candy has two words: Strategize and Prioritize. Why are you going to the trade show? Keep focused on the ROI, ROO and ROR and then prioritize spending. Know what is going to happen at the trade show before you go to see an exhibitor company. If you don’t, the exhibitor is likely to sell you something that is aesthetically pleasing, but functionally awful.

Connect with Candy

Phone: 760.271.0366

Email: candyadams@boothmom.com

LinkedIn: @candyadamstheboothmom

Twitter: @theboothmom

Website: www.boothmom.com