10 Ways to Make Your Outdoor Retailer Booth Stand Out

Some of the foremost experts on trade show booth design share their tips for achieving maximum impact with your booth setup.

By Lindsay Warner December 28, 2015

Outdoor Retailer is coming right up, so we sourced a few tips and tricks from trade show pros to help you either put the finishing touches on your booth for this year or inspire ideas as you’re roaming the floor and brainstorming your next booth design. Top among the advice we received? “Don’t be afraid to zig when others zag,” coming from Travis Stanton, editor of Exhibitor magazine. “The worst thing you can do at a trade show is blend in,” he says. “If you can get people to do a double-take as they walk by, they’re twice as likely to step inside.” Here are the some other tips we picked up along the way.

 1. Above all, to thine own self be true.

Every single one of our experts repeated this advice over and over: You’ve got to know your brand. “Know your own story and who your customers are,” says Kaylee Goldhammer, content marketing manager at Czarnowski, a Chicago-based exhibit and event marketing company. “Ask yourself, ‘where are we going? What’s our purpose here?’ When you can answer those questions, it becomes very clear what your story is.”

Also, figure out what you want to get out of Outdoor Retailer. “Do you want a huge quantity of leads? Maybe skip the seating option, and go with a quick activity or a simple giveaway,” says Stanton. “If you want only qualified leads and more in-depth conversations, then you need the space for people to linger.”

2. Restrain yourself.

Color and graphics are cool—but try to restrain yourself to no more than three colors to avoid overwhelming people. “Make sure the color pops, and make sure it’s brand appropriate,” advises Sofia Troutman, customer engagement and industry relations manager at the Saint Paul-based Skyline Exhibits. “Look around at the prevalent color in the industry. If everyone else is using bright yellow, go for a contrast—but again, only if it’s brand appropriate.”

Same goes for messaging. The sad truth: “Most people don’t have time to stop and read your copy. Fewer, larger words are better,” Troutman says. “And go for an easy-to-read type font,” adds Julie Heck, director of services and marketing communications at Skyline Exhibits. “You’ve got to be able to read it from far away. Are you going to read a whole paragraph from 30 feet away? No.”

3. Eco-friendly is always in. 

Just ask Rob Roth, founder of Greenspace design, a Portland, Oregon-based exhibit design company that’s a major player on the Outdoor Retailer exhibit floor. You’ll find plenty of booths exhibiting a green vibe via an exuberant use of plants and barn board—but he says that being green goes way beyond your color scheme.

“Materials only make up about 30 percent of it,” he says. “It’s also about reducing transportation costs, reducing weight and sourcing more locally. And then there are all the things you can’t see, all the way down to the adhesive, paint and graphics you use, or choosing to switch from PVC to a more easily composted material.”

4. So are reclaimed materials.

Yep, reclaimed materials are trendy—just flip through a home & design magazine for proof. And hey—who wouldn’t want to use natural materials to inspire people to get outside and appreciate nature?—but they can also save you some money and make a big impact. Just look at Greenspace’s retail designs for Keen, which have included pallets made into walls, discarded car hoods made into tables, and old license plates and road signs turned into shelves. So, no; wood grain isn’t out, even though you see a lot of it on the tradeshow floor.

5. Get creative to save money 

There’s nothing wrong with the DIY route—and sometimes, it might even be better for your brand. “You can do something impressive on a small budget, but you have to think it through,” Roth says. “You’re going to pay a designer big bucks, so if you can figure out what to do with a $4 pallet to make it cool, you’re going to create a great look without breaking the bank.”

6. Flaunt what you’ve got. 

Not much money to spend on fancy LED displays? No cash for iPad giveaways? Figure out your strengths and play up your existing assets, says Fingerhut. “Use what you’ve got—if you have sponsored pros, you can offer demos, or Q&As, or maybe just a fun info session that will bring in an audience.” And be selective about what you put your money into, adds Goldhammer. Maybe instead of putting all your money into your booth on the trade show floor, consider putting a chunk of your budget into an offsite demo before or after the show to give retailers and media an opportunity to test your product.

7. Be choosy about what’s on display. 

“Don’t clutter up your booth with too much product. You don’t have to bring every single SKU to Outdoor Retailer,” says Christine Dodson, managing director at the Vermont-based design studio Solidarity of Unbridled Labour, who worked with Greenspace to design Black Diamond’s exhibit the first year it rolled out apparel. “BD’s product is gorgeous, and their black and white aesthetic really sets it off without overwhelming people.”

Troutman agrees: “Less is more. Pick your top two or three products to display, plus one of your newest pieces and leave it at that,” she says. “You have only about three seconds to catch peoples’ eyes and draw them in.”

8. Avoid the anonymous giveaway. 

If you’re giving out a cheap pen just to give something away, don’t bother, say the experts. “The most ridiculous giveaways I see are the ones where zero thought has been put into them and zero strategy has been deployed in their execution,” Stanton says. “You want to lock your brand in peoples’ memories, not just be a disposable product.”

9. Introduce yourself first—and have the last word.  

Think that the most important interactions happen on the trade show floor? Think again. Preshow and post-show communication is key to a successful trade show, whether you’re reaching out with a flyer, a preshow package or just an email after the fact.

“You’ve got to capture peoples’ attention in advance,” Heck says. “More and more attendees are plotting out a specific route before going out onto the trade show floor. Cut through the clutter and introduce yourself first. Then, once you’re back home, follow up.”

10. Know the rules...

…Especially if you’re going the DIY route. “To do so successfully, you need creativity and elbow grease—but you also have to be very cognizant of show exhibit guidelines,” notes Stanton. “You don’t want to get to the show and find out you’re violating regulations and can’t exhibit.”