US Trade Shows - It Seems So Easy
Thinking About Exhibiting Your Products at Your First US Trade Show? Think Again!

Article on US marketing by Chuck Klein

US Trade Shows - It Seems So Easy

Many non-US companies interested in starting to sell their products in the US invest significant amounts of time, money and effort in planning and exhibiting at a US trade show. Their reasoning - at first glance - seems to make sense. Let's show our products to the buyers in the industry and we should able to generate some orders.

For example, a China based automotive accessory manufacturer exhibited at the major automotive trade show in Las Vegas. The company had no US sales but hoped to find a US agent or distributor. A non-US manufacturer of disposable baby products sold in drug stores and supermarkets went to the Private Label trade show in Chicago. The company had no sales in the US but hoped to meet buyers from major US retail chains. A British software company which had no sales in the USA took a large booth at a US trade show to show their system to potential end users.

The Results Were the Same

In all three of these cases, the results were similar:

The company invested a significant amount of money to exhibit at the show

Americans at the show visited the booth and expressed interest. Many left business cards. Overall, the response was quite positive.

Despite their apparent success, after one year, the non-US companies had not made any sales to US customers.


Because in all of these situations, the NON-US COMPANY HAD NO US INFRASTRUCTURE OF ANY KIND AND MOST OF THE VISITORS AT THE SHOW WILL ONLY DEAL WITH A LOCAL US COMPANY. Putting it another way, as I wrote in my book Marketing to America, from the perspective of the Americans, if you are not perceived as local, you simply don't exist!

So when the British company with great software was asked by an American end user where he could get the product, he was given an address in Manchester, England. The American cooled off quickly and never answered the e-mail follow up sent to him after the show. The same thing happened to the manufacturer of disposable baby products sold in drug stores. A number of retail chain buyers stopped at the booth to look at the products. Once they saw their overseas location and that there was no US sales office, they just laughed and walked away. The Chinese manufacturer, besides their lack of a US agent, learned that their products did not meet US standards.

Are You Really Ready for a US Trade Show

Before investing your marketing budget in a US trade show, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you really researched the US market? Do your products meet US standards? Is your promotional literature appropriate for US customers? Do you know what your competitors are offering, their pricing, programs, strengths and weakness? Most potential exporters to the US simply nod their heads saying they know everything they need to know, and then become shocked when they discover competing products with lower prices and better features at the show. If you haven't done, your homework, don't exhibit at a US trade show.

  • Do you have products ready to sell? If you only have a prototype, then exhibiting your product at a US trade show is a great idea if you want to encourage other companies to copy your idea! Even patented products can be copied in some way. If you aren't ready to sell now or in the very near future, then stay home.

  • Do you have a US sales office, a US distributor or agent? If your answer is no, then you are, to a large extent, wasting your time and money at a US trade show. Some potential exporters tell us that "we are going to the trade show to find a US distributor or agent". Our experience has shown that this is a poor strategy as most of the visitors to your booth will be local dealers or end users and not the large importer/distributors you are seeking. Waiting for such importers to come to your booth in a very "passive" approach. If you are seeking a US representative (master distributor, agent, rep or whatever), it will be more effective and far less costly to identify the right companies, find the decision makers and target them via phone calls which will lead to in-depth meetings in their offices and not a 30 second discussion at trade show booth.


Going to a US trade show is a great method of generating leads which will lead to sales and we strongly encourage non-US companies to exhibit there when they are ready. If you have done your homework, you have a US representative or office and you have products to sell, then by all means invest in the shows. But if you are only really interested in finding a US representative, then invest your efforts in recruiting one directly (or call Amcon and we will do this for you - yes this is a blatant plug but hey, it is our web site!).

About the Author:

Chuck Klein is managing partner of Amcon Marketing Strategy International, which specializes in helping non-US companies profit in the USA. Amcon provides tangible marketing and human resource services in the US including market studies, competitive intelligence, strategic partner searches, rep searches and executive recruitment serving clients worldwide.

Klein is considered an expert on US marketing for non-US manufacturers and international trade. He has published over 100 articles and presented numerous seminars and lectures on marketing skills and strategy for non-US manufacturers interested in the American market. His book Marketing to America: How non-US Companies can Profit by Selling in the USA was published by the Financial Times/Prentice Hall.

Amcon's web site is:


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