Trade Show Best Practices

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Trade Show Best Practices

According to the Trade Show News Network (TSNN), an organization that keeps track of North American trade show statistics, the top 10 trade shows based on attendance are:

1. SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show
2. CES (Consumer Electronics Show)
3. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants)
5. Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market (January)
6. Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market (July)
7. MAGIC Market Week (February)
8. NRA (National Rifle Association) Annual Meeting & Exhibits
9. MAGIC Market Week (August)

Since the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market and the MAGIC Market Week shows appear twice in the top 10 due to multiple successful shows, I have listed two additional trade shows to provide a full 10 different trade shows.

11. NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show
12. OTC (Offshore Technology Conference)


To identify these top trade shows, I found a list of 2017 Top Trade Shows as compiled by the Trade Show News Network, an organization that tracks trade shows in North America. This list was organized based on the net square footage (NSF) of the trade shows, so I searched through the list of 240 trade shows to identify the 10 events with the highest attendance. I discovered that two shows had multiple listings in the top 10 because they hold more than one show per year. As such, I expanded my search to the top 12 events with the highest attendance to provide more variety.

Once the 10 different shows were identified, I searched each show's website to find a description of the event, along with who it attracts and any unique characteristics that make it highly attended. The results of my research are below.

1. SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show

2017 Attendance: 162,756
Industry: Automotive
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Description: The SEMA show is the top "automotive specialty products trade event in the world." For three days at the end of October, It draws in more than 160,000 people to the Las Vegas Convention Center each year. There are more than 70,000 domestic and international buyers at the event and includes a new product showcase that in 2017, debuted more than 3,000 new "parts, tools, and components." In addition, the show "provides attendees with educational seminars, product demonstrations, special events, networking opportunities and more."

Who it Attracts: The SEMA show attendees are 40% executive management, 20% general management, 20% general staff, and 11% skilled trade. In addition, 57% of attendees make buying decisions and 30% make buying recommendations. A huge 93% of attendees say it was worth the time and cost to attend, 87% of buyers plan to order products from show exhibitors after the show ends, and 73% of buyers are more likely to buy from a show exhibitor than elsewhere. According to the website, "The SEMA Show is the largest annual gathering of small businesses on the planet."

What Makes it Highly Attended: One outstanding feature of this show is that it unveils thousands of new products each year. In a highly competitive industry, automotive professionals need to be up to speed on new technologies, products, and innovations immediately and this event promises to deliver this with its New Product Showcase. The show also provides numerous networking opportunities outside of the exhibit halls in the form of "industry receptions, banquets, and award presentations." In addition, it is held in Las Vegas, Nevada, which seems to be one of the most popular destinations for trade shows.

2. CES (Consumer Electronics Show)

2017 Attendance: 116,958
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Description: The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the "world's gathering place for all those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies." It features 4,000 exhibitors and vendors and 1,200 speakers. It has been existence for 50 years and It is "owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™ — the technology trade association representing the $292 billion U.S. consumer technology industry." Exhibitors include "manufacturers, developers and suppliers of consumer technology hardware, content, technology delivery systems and more." There are more than 300 conference sessions available to industry professionals.

Who it Attracts: There are no statistics available as to who is targeted for this trade show. However, on the website, it says that the attendees are "business leaders and pioneering thinkers from around the world" in advertising, entertainment, content, the Internet of Things, automotive, product design and manufacturing, health and wellness, robotics and machine intelligence, home and family, sports, and startups.

What Makes it Highly Attended: The show is 50 years old, which makes it a mainstay in the industry. In addition, the consumer electronics market is worth $292 billion, which means there are thousands of companies with an interest in this trade. Moreover, it is owned and presented by the industry's main association, lending it credibility among professionals. Again, it is held in Las Vegas, one of the more popular trade show destinations.

3. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants)

2017 Attendance: 106,773
Industry: Music
Location: Anaheim, California

Description: The NAMM is the "definitive platform for the music, sound and event technology communities to unite with the mission of strengthening the music products industry and promoting the pleasures and benefits of making music." It showcases the latest products from more than 7,000 brands and provides "cutting edge industry education" in hundreds of sessions. There are also special events held each year that are available only to attendees.

Who it Attracts: The NAMM show attracts an international audience that includes 24% NAMM members, 17% retailers, 16% MI/pro audio/event technology buyers and influencers, and 13% artists and celebrities. It also draws more than 1,500 "major TV, radio, newspaper, and digital media outlets" for the most media coverage of any trade show.

What Makes it Highly Attended: This trade show provides "a global base of music retailers and distributors" who are able to see "the latest products and strengthen relationships." In addition, the show includes the TEC Awards that help "draw a global collection of pro audio and sound professionals, as well as studios from across the world."


2017 Attendance: 92,836
Industry: Construction
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Description: This event is "North America's largest construction trade show representing asphalt, aggregates, concrete, earth moving, lifting, mining, utilities and more." There are 2,800 exhibitors to go along with 150 education sessions. This show is held just once every three years, which means the next event is not scheduled until 2020. Exhibitors come from all construction segments, including asphalt production and paving, hauling equipment, infrastructure support, land clearing, safety and traffic, pumps, rail equipment, trucking, and many more.

Who it Attracts: A large majority of attendees (67%) are contractors, compared to dealers/distributors/renters (16%), producers (5%), manufacturers (5%), miners (3%), service (3%), and government (1%). In addition, the show targets 42% executives, 19% foremen/operators, 15% project/fleet managers, 13% salesmen/marketers, and 11% engineers. Companies with 11-50 employees make up 28% of attendees.

What Makes it Highly Attended: The fact that the show is held just once every three years makes it unique among the other trade shows on the list. It is likely that construction professionals make a point to attend this show since it occurs less frequently than others. Moreover, as with other popular events, it is held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

5 & 6. Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market

2017 Attendance: 92,120 (January), 86,871 (July)
Industry: Retail
Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Description: AmericasMart, otherwise known as the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market, is a permanent showroom located in Atlanta, Georgia. However, it holds regular events such as the trade shows in January and July that connect "buyers with top furniture, gift and apparel brands from around the world." It is considered the "nation's no 1 wholesale marketplace." There are more than 1,400 permanent exhibit and nearly 3,000 temporary exhibits located in the 7 million square foot facility.

Who it Attracts: There are no statistics available as to who is targeted for this trade show. However, the website does say it welcomes "international attendees from 80 countries, buyers from the majority of the Top 100 retailers in the U.S., and a record-breaking number of new buyers." With a 6.8% increase in new buyers in 2017, "more retailers choose AmericasMart than any other market in the U.S. to find newest trends and product."

What Makes it Highly Attended: This show is unique in that it is held at a permanent location that buyers can attend year round. However, its trade shows are must-attend events because it showcases the largest number of products for retailers in one place. There are 36 product categories represented at this show, including bath accessories, apparel, bridal, fashion accessories, fine gifts, floral, furniture, gourmet foods, jewelry, pet products, technology, and more. The event also includes the "ICON HONORS celebration," which is the home and gift industry's award show.

7, 9. MAGIC Market Week

2017 Attendance: 81,425 (February), 80,560 (August)
Industry: Apparel
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Description: This event is actually composed of several trade shows in one; however, since all shows are accessible with a single badge, TSNN considers it a single event. Among the shows are the following:

FN Platform: An international showcase of branded footwear.

WWDMAGIC: A showcase of the "largest selection of women's apparel and accessories in the industry."

Sourcing at MAGIC: A show that attracts attendees from 40 countries to gain "inspiration, education, innovation, and resources" regarding the entire global apparel supply chain.

Project Women's: A show where buyers have access to "an unrivaled collection of the best emerging and established women's brands."

Pool: The "top breeding ground for emerging fashion brands seeking retail customers for 16 years." The apparel in this show is designed for boutique retailers.

The Collective: A showcase of "everything from classic collections to lifestyle-driven and licensed apparel for men and young men."

Who it Attracts: There are no statistics available as to who is targeted for this trade show; but it appears to attract apparel retail professionals. According to TSNN, this show is designed for the "international community of apparel, accessories and footwear professionals." Attendees from more than 80 countries "meet more than 5,000 emerging-to-established brands to spark the strategic connections that become the relationships of tomorrow."

What Makes it Highly Attended: Another multi-date event, the MAGIC trade shows make it convenient for all apparel professionals to see products in one place. Since it is several shows combined, attendees can decide which ones they want to attend to make the most of their time. The wide variety of products available makes the MAGIC shows attractive to a wide variety of attendees. It is also held in Las Vegas, a hot spot for trade show events.

8. NRA (National Rifle Association) Annual Meeting & Exhibits

2017 Attendance: 81,370
Industry: Firearms
Location: Atlanta, Georgia (2018 location is Dallas, Texas)

Description: The NRA trade event "features 15 acres of the most spectacular displays of firearms, shooting and hunting accessories in the world." It is open to all NRA members at no charge. There are 800 exhibitors and more than 80,000 "patriots" in attendance. Members gain access to "free seminars, workshops, book signings, and the annual Meeting of Members," but attendees also have the option of paying to attend "premier member events."

Who it Attracts: The NRA Annual Meeting primarily attracts American gun owners who are also members of the NRA. According to the attendance profile, 85% of attendees are men compared to the 15% that are women. Of the 80,000+ attendees, 81% spend more than $500 a year on hunting and/or shooting equipment and 69% spend more than $100 at the event itself. Moreover, 94% of attendees plan to purchase products from show vendors at a later date.

What Makes it Highly Attended: This is a unique trade show because it is open to anybody who purchases an NRA membership. However, since attendees to have to belong to the association, TSNN considers it a trade show. With the current debate in the country over gun rights, this event is likely attended by people who are 2nd Amendment supporters and want to show that support by attending the premier event presented by the NRA. Another unique feature of this trade show is that it changes location each year, making it accessible to more people in varying geographies.

10. Mid-America Trucking Show

2017 Attendance: 72,271
Industry: Heavy Duty Trucking
Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Description: the Mid-America Trucking Show is the "largest annual heavy-duty trucking event in the world." It has been in existence for 48 years and attracts more than 70,000 attendees from across the United States. There are 1,008 exhibitors in more than 1 million square feet of space showcasing their products to more than 12,000 fleet attendees and nearly 26,000 driver attendees. Exhibitors come from 47 states and 13 countries.

Who it Attracts: This show is marketed to company drivers, dealers/distributors, fleet administrators/purchasers, fleet maintenance managers, fleet and safety operations professionals, fleet owners and executives, manufacturers and suppliers, mechanics and technicians, industry media, owner-operators, salespeople, and students and instructors. According to the website, over 80% of attendees do not attend any other heavy-duty trucking trade show and 75% are people who have purchasing power or final decision-making capabilities.

What Makes it Highly Attended: The show's longevity has given it credibility in the industry. This is evidenced by the fact that 87% of attendees rely on the show to "inform their purchasing decisions." As one attendee stated, "Everybody turns out for the Mid-America Trucking Show and this has been going on for many many years in our industry. It’s really become an institution. Everybody knows MATS." The show has established itself as the premier event in the industry and professionals know they will receive significant networking and sales benefits by attending.

11. NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show

2017 Attendance: 68,902
Industry: Media
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Description: NAB is the "ultimate event for media, entertainment and technology professionals looking for new and innovative ways to create, manage, deliver and monetize content on any platform." There are 1,700 exhibitors and more than 200 education sessions. Attendees from more than 160 countries represent $20.5 billion in purchasing power. Attendees can expect to see the debut of "ground-breaking technology" and "innovative solutions" as they "explore aisle after aisle of awesome tech, cool gear, smart software, capable cloud solutions and limitless ideas and inspiration." At the education sessions, attendees gain access to "the world's most inspiring and celebrated thought leaders" who gather together to "share their stories, solutions, techniques and personal journeys."

Who it Attracts: Buyers in attendance are from a variety of industry segments, the most of which are from broadcasting/carriers (22.5%), video production/post-production (16.5%), and content/channel (13.3%). The majority of attendees are executives or corporate management (26.3%), followed by technical professionals (25.7%), creative professionals (22.3%), and sales and marketing professionals (9.1%). The primary interests of attendees are acquisition and production (25%), distribution/deliver/online video (18%), and post-production (16%).

What Makes it Highly Attended: The show is sponsored by the preeminent association in the industry, the National Association of Broadcasters, which automatically gives the event credibility. The association has been in existence since 1922 and is "voice for the nation's radio and television broadcasters." As with most large trade shows, this event represents the one time of the year that industry professionals can gather to learn about new technologies affecting their business. In addition, this event is held in Las Vegas, as are many prominent trade shows.

12. OTC (Offshore Technology Conference)

2017 Attendance: 64,700
Industry: Energy
Location: Houston, Texas

Description: This trade show is in its 50th year and is "where the world’s energy professionals meet to exchange ideas and opinions to advance scientific and technical knowledge for offshore resources and environmental matters." It features over 2,000 exhibitors, 300 journalists, and 100 global speakers spread over 500,000 square feet of exhibit and conference space. The event is owned by 13 industry societies, and is a non-profit organization that "reinvests proceeds back into the oil and gas industry." The technical program associated with the trade show includes "350+ peer-selected technical presentations, leveraging 13 societies’ collective knowledge and covering topics from the wellbore to topsides and everything in between."

Who it Attracts: The primary business of attendees is engineering and construction (23%), followed by equipment and supplies (18%), service (16%), operating (14%), and consulting (10%). Attendees come from 42 countries, but the majority (79%) are from the United States. There are more than 40 oil companies and 110 integrated and independent oil companies in attendance.

What Makes it Highly Attended: Along with being the major trade show for the energy industry, its audience base comes from the membership of 13 energy societies, so the show itself is well advertised. It is an opportunity for smaller companies to interact with the giants in oil and gas and allows professionals to learn from industry experts through the more than 350 peer-reviewed technical presentations at the event. Finally, a high school energy challenge is held at this event every year, which provides even more exposure for the show.


After analyzing the top 12 trade shows in the United States based on attendance, I have concluded that trade show best practices include unveiling new products, having numerous education sessions to choose from, aligning with an industry association, hosting awards programs or challenges at the event, and holding the event in Las Vegas, Nevada.