March 24, 2013

Trade Show Horror Stories

By Ed Avis

Trade show season is getting into full swing, and unless this is your first year, you know that everything doesn’t always go smoothly. In fact, I used to tell people attending trade shows that things would go much better if they simply accepted the fact that at least one thing would go wrong!

In that spirit here are a few horror stories that I’m sure you veteran show goers will appreciate:

1) What’s that Smell? El Restaurante Mexicano editor Kathy Furore was at a restaurant show a few years back when a strong odor wafted in from the next booth – turns out they were frying up platefuls of fish! Worse than the odor was the line of people waiting for the fish, which completely blocked the el Restaurante Mexicano booth. Talking to the fish people didn’t help, but show management did take action and rearrange the line. But Kathy’s neighbors were cold fish the rest of the show!

2) Land of the Lost. You’ve surely exhibited at shows where your stuff didn’t make it. At one show I had scheduled a book signing with a prominent author in the industry related to the show…but the carton containing her books never showed up! Her assistant was naturally peeved, and I scrambled to copy off a bunch of order forms for her book. Fortunately, the author herself was much more gracious than her assistant, and took it all in stride. She spoke for far longer than I had expected, explained the ordering situation, and chatted with customers in our booth for an hour afterwards. We probably sold more books through the order forms than we would have had we actually had copies there!

3) Six-Month Delivery. Speaking of losing things, one time Kathy arrived at a food show at the Javits Center in New York and the el Restaurante Mexicano display was missing. The tracking information showed that it had arrived at Javits, so Kathy knew it was there somewhere. But show management couldn’t find it. Fortunately the magazines did show up, so Kathy had something to hand out to people wondering what her blank booth was all about (in fact, she says she probably attracted more people than she would have with her normal booth). The show ended and the booth was never found...but six months later it arrived back at our office!

4) Empty Your Wallet. Shows in New York are notoriously expensive. I planned to sell books at a show being held in a hotel and New York, and was told the fee to move the cartons of books from the loading dock to my table was $2 a pound. Well, our profit on each book was probably about $5, so our profit was immediately slashed by 40 percent just getting them to the booth! I avoided this nightmare by dodging the official move-in procedure. I shipped the books to my brother’s house in upstate New York rather than to the hotel. Then I rented a van, loaded up the books, and drove to the front door of the hotel. When the bellboy came out with a luggage cart, I loaded my 25 cartons of books onto it and asked him to take them to the appropriate floor. I met him up there, helped him unload the boxes near my table (which fortunately was outside the door of the exhibit hall, thus away from the domain of the Teamsters), and gladly tipped him a $50 bill. Even with the van rental, this trick saved me over a thousand dollars!

Do you have any trade show nightmares to share? Please email them to me,

March 24, 2013