What Is a Trade Show? Definition and Guide

what is a trade show

A trade show is an event held to bring together members of a particular industry to display, demonstrate, and discuss their latest products and services. Major trade shows usually take place in convention centers in larger cities and last several days. Local trade shows may be held at a local arena or hotel and allow businesses in the area to connect with prospects.

Since the purpose is to bring together members of the trade—or industry—most trade shows, which may also be referred to as trade fairs or expositions, only permit industry members to attend.

Book Expo America, held annually, is one show that only allows publishing industry pros in, while the Consume Electronics Show, another major event, tries to limit attendees to professionals in the electronics and technology fields.

Conversely, SXSW (South by Southwest), held in Austin, TX, each year welcomes the public, as does America’s Largest RV Show, which restricts attendance to industry members for the first couple of days and then opens to the public for several more.

What happens at trade shows

Trade shows often provide:

  • Exhibit space
  • Workshops or presentations
  • Opportunities to interact with the media
  • Evening networking events
  • Private exhibitor events
  • Awards presentations

Exhibitors participate in the hopes of connecting with potential new customers, reinforcing relationships with dealers and distributors, and networking with influencers and the media.

Attendees come to trade shows to become familiar with the latest products being introduced, to take advantage of special “show prices” from exhibitors, and to become better educated about their industry.

Learn more: Trade Show Planning: How Retailers Can Get the Most ROI From These Sales Events

What it costs to participate

While the cost to exhibit at or attend a trade show varies greatly, typical expenses can run into the thousands of dollars and include:


  • Booth space rental
  • Design and production of a professional display space
  • Shipping of booth and equipment
  • Costs to unload booth and move onto show flow, called drayage
  • Travel and accommodations for staff manning the booth
  • Marketing materials specific to the event
  • Samples or promotional items handed out


Attendees, on the other hand, still have expenses, but they are a fraction of what it costs to exhibit.

  • Attendance fee
  • Travel and accommodations for staff in attendance

For that reason, smaller companies often opt to simply attend a show and network with the captive exhibitors, rather than setting up their own booth.

Popular trade show venues

Some of the largest convention centers in the U.S. include these top 10 locations:

  • McCormick Place - Chicago, IL
  • Orange County Convention Center - Orlando, FL
  • Las Vegas Convention Center – Las Vegas, NV
  • Georgia World Congress Center – Atlanta, GA
  • Sands Expo and Convention Center – Las Vegas, NV
  • Kentucky Exposition Center – Louisville, KY
  • New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center – New Orleans, LA
  • Reliant Park – Houston, TX
  • International Exposition Center – Cleveland, OH
  • Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center – Dallas, TX

A business should consider trade show participation successful if they returned from a show with a list of prospects, orders, media mentions, or connections.

Trade Show FAQ

What is a trade show and how does it work?

A trade show is an event where companies in a particular industry gather to showcase their products and services. Companies typically set up booths and displays to showcase their products and services, and visitors to the trade show attend to learn more about the companies and their offerings. Companies also use the trade show to network and form partnerships with other companies in the industry.

What are you supposed to do at trade shows?

At trade shows, you should aim to generate as much interest as possible in your company and its products or services. You should also strive to build relationships with other vendors and potential customers. This could include providing samples and promotional materials, hosting demonstrations, and engaging in conversations with customers. Additionally, it’s important to collect contact information from potential leads and follow up with them in the future.

Why do people attend trade shows?

People attend trade shows to learn about new products or services, network with industry professionals, discover new trends, and explore opportunities for new business partnerships. Additionally, trade shows provide an excellent platform for companies to showcase and promote their products or services to potential customers.