What to Expect from a Trade Show

Posted on Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

Written by Kamil Chatila & Jane Ong

Jane Ong at the Willow Lake Cheese trade show booth.

If you’ve read our other blog post, Tips for your First Pitch Competition, you’ll know that we recently showcased our product at the Canadian National Exhibition. A few weeks later, we also presented at the Taste of Guelph, a smaller event highlighting the region’s culinary diversity. These were our first public events, and they were not quite what we expected! Here are some things we wish we had known before exhibiting...

1. You will have to compete for attention

via GIPHY - GIF caption: Two children pulling on their mother for attention.

No matter where you exhibit, there will always be other booths. And, you all want the same thing - people’s attention. To make sure you don’t get lost in the noise, have something in the booth to make yourself stand out. For us, the obvious solution was free samples of cheese, and this can be complemented with a beautiful booth set up. Unfortunately, our (typical) last-minute preparation left us with paper signs and a sparse looking booth. In a last-minute stroke of genius, we taped signs advertising our free samples on the floors by the entrances to attract more people. If you’re unsure what’s allowed, it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

2. The other booths are your friends, not competitors

via GIPHY - GIF caption: A 'Despicable Me' minion character with an umbrella extends a second umbrella over another minion.

Yes, you’re trying to stand out from the other booths, but that doesn’t mean they’re your enemies! Treat other booths more like colleagues who can commiserate in the long hours and sore throats. Buying coffee from Tim Hortons? See if anyone else wants some. Grabbing a snack? Offer some to your neighbours. Need a mason jar for your soybean display because you only brought an ugly paper bowl? See if the booth selling reusable straws can lend you one! Help your neighbours out, and maybe they’ll be able to help you too.

3. It's easy to forget to eat

via GIPHY - GIF caption: A woman in gothic fashion strokes her hair saying, "My stomach is as empty as my soul.'

Trade show days are long, busy days. You’re going to want to spend all the time you have hyping up your product, so it’s hard to pull yourself away from the booth and take a break. That was definitely a problem for us, and during our first couple of days at the CNE, we just pushed our meals to the end of the day. A better solution (and what we will definitely do next time!) would be to pack snacks and meals so we can take short breaks without having to go far to look for food. Remember, you’re probably not a good salesperson when you’re hangry!

4. People like to grab things

via GIPHY - GIF caption: Woman using her arm to clear everything off a grocery store shelf.

Ever walk through a trade show and unconsciously grab every card or pamphlet thrust your way? People love to take collateral, even if they know they’ll never do anything with it, so be sure you can meet that demand. We weren’t planning to give business cards out to everyone that came by, so we quickly ran out of them. By the time we went to the Taste of Guelph, we prepared cards specifically for the public to grab with our social media info and reserved the traditional (fancier) business cards for people we wanted to connect with professionally.

5. Some people suck

via GIPHY - GIF caption: Neil Patrick Harris opens his clenched hand one finger at a time to reveal 'You're a jerk!' written on his palm.

With all the foot traffic you’ll get, you’re bound to get some bad apples. As much as it was hard for us to realize, not everyone is going to be a fan of our cheese and that’s okay! You’ve just got to recognize these people and know when to cut them off. Spending half an hour trying to change their minds is probably not worth it. Know the difference between valuable advice and people who like to hear themselves talk.

All in all, we had a blast! These were grueling events, but so valuable to build a following (900% increase in our Instagram followers! But we did start with 10…), gain feedback from potential clients (we surveyed 970 people at the CNE!) and make connections with other businesses (thanks to the Taste of Guelph, we’re currently talking to restaurants that want to carry our product!). And we’ve got another show planned! Come taste our cheese at the Innovation Expo this Thursday, October 3rd between 3 and 4:30 pm at the Grand Guelph Banquet & Event Centre (formerly the Hanlon Convention Centre).


Kamil Chatila & Jane Ong are the founders of NeoPhyto Foods a startup striving to produce sustainable versions of everyday foods by combining innovative new techniques and time-tested tastes. Their inaugural Willow Lake Cheese product is a tangy, smooth, creamy soy-based vegan cheese. Follow them on Instagram @willowlakecheese

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