Are You Ready to Exhibit in Wholesale Trade Shows?

If you’re new to the wholesale market and want more exposure for your products, you may want to consider exhibiting in a wholesale trade show. A booth at a trade show can quick start sales to numerous interested retail buyers looking for new products.

So, what exactly is a wholesale trade show?

Trade Shows are temporary marketplaces, generally two to five days in length, where buyers (usually retailers) and sellers of wholesale products, come together. Most exhibitors at industry shows are producers (people who make or manufacture things), but booths may include sales reps, distributors, and importers. They may also include suppliers and service providers who target both retailers and producers.
Depending on industry, attendees and/or exhibitors may vary widely. For example, in many sectors, there are equipment trade shows which involve manufacturers selling to manufacturers, e.g. food or soap or supplement machinery manufacturers selling to manufacturers of those types of consumer products. Or the primary buyers might be service companies, for example, construction companies might be attending a show for construction equipment.
The primary business purpose at the vast majority of these shows is to check out new products or lines and/or place orders (buyers) and develop prospects and take orders (exhibitors).
Most shows are held at the largest convention center in a particularly large city where shows are held. Shows of national or international scope are often held annually in hotbeds of the trade show industry, for example, Las Vegas, Chicago, or New York.
Attendees (non-exhibitors) at a true wholesale show are usually limited to “members of the trade” who represent legit buyers. Often, you cannot get in to check out a show if you are just a producer or rep. Show management works to protect their exhibitors from pure competitors who are not potential buyers.
If you do want to attend a show as a buyer, proof of your buyer status might include a retail store or website (and your companion business card and/or marketing materials), where you offer goods for sale which are not your own. Or you might provide copies of invoices from your vendors for merchandise you purchase from them.
Just like marts or showrooms, trade show events are not open to the general public. Some shows will offer a couple of days of wholesale-only sales before opening up for the public at large in a “cash and carry” format.

Trade Show Schedules

Wholesale gift trade shows are typically scheduled one to four times a year in every large city where a gift mart or showroom is also found. Plus, shows are located in smaller, but still fairly large, cities. For example, in our area, the nearest gift marts are found in Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.
Wholesale gift trade shows are held in those five places, PLUS at “in between” locations including Billings, Montana; and Portland, Oregon. Again, most sites hold two shows a year, one in the late winter or spring and the other in summer or EARLY fall. The Billings Market used to show four times a year, but recently they dropped to three times, probably a sign of the times.
In other industries, shows might be annual, or twice a year in different parts of the country (e.g. Supply Side East and Supply Side West), or any combination.


Wholesale shows are not for amateur producers or hobbyists. The cost alone can scare away anyone who is not serious about the potential opportunity a show represents. Your line needs to be large enough, and your packaging professional enough, to take full advantage of this type of prospect-generation system. Of course, if you offer one product and either the market or the cost is high enough, that one product might be worth exhibiting at a trade show.
From a business perspective, a wholesale trade show is a very different animal than a small retail show or fair where you sell directly to consumers. Because you are selling to an entirely different market (store buyers), your planning, booth design, and sales strategies will be completely different. If you want to learn more about how to successful exhibit and gain new wholesale customers from a trade show, check out my comprehensive guide Trade Show Exhibiting Secrets. It’s got everything you need to know to properly prepare yourself for optimum success. Happy exhibiting!

What questions do you have about trade shows? Let us know in the comments!



Sandy Dell

Experienced Sales Rep and Wholesale Consultant at Selling to Gift Shops
Sandy Dell, or 'Gift Rep Sandy', is an experienced independent sales representative for the gift industry. Having operated her own business for over fifteen years, she has gained valuable knowledge in working with gifts store buyers and producers. She is also co-owner of Gourmet Innovations which makes gourmet foods and gifts. Since she has worked as a retailer buyer and manager, a gourmet food and gift producer and a sales rep, she has excellent knowledge and experience to share with other professional crafters, producers, artisan and manufacturer's who would like to enter the wholesale market.

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  1. Shauna

    Hi Sandy. I am curious to know if there are a certain number of SKUs for successful participation. Also, for someone participating in a trade show as an attendee and not an exhibitor, what advice would you give? Thanks.

  2. Melissa Bolton

    Awesome info, as always, Sandy. Thanks for sharing your insights with our readers. You really know your stuff.


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