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Maximizing Your Tradeshow Experience: A Guide for Exhibitors & Customers


Vendors and consumers have been buying and selling goods in one form or another since the dawn of civilization. While most methods of exchange eventually run their course, a select few evolve to withstand the test of time.

Live tradeshows, for example, continue to prove their usefulness despite continuous expansion in sophisticated online solutions and groundbreaking artificial intelligence. Global business entities certainly benefit from greater reach and profitability thanks to modern-day tools like e-commerce and social media, but there remains no substitute for traditional “belly-to-belly” sales and in-person networking, says Mike Katz, vice president of sales at Keystone Automotive Operations, Inc.

“Face-to-face is still a widely effective way to convert leads into new customers and sell,” Katz says. “Plus, any opportunity to engage in person is an opportunity to deepen relationships.”

While overall tradeshow attendance continues to recover post-pandemic, the annual Keystone BIG Show is expanding in both size and scope—from an impressive venue and sensational showtime features to a boost in attendance and greater diversity of product lines. Kendra Hill, events manager, points to the company’s unwavering commitment to its customers as a catalyst for growth.

“Regardless of natural flexes in the economy and industry at large, we’re still stepping up, still investing and still hosting premier events in big ways,” she says.

The result, she adds, is a tradeshow unlike anything else in the automotive aftermarket. Expertly curated from start to finish, the Keystone BIG Show seamlessly blends elements of surprise and excitement with valuable business-building opportunities.

As grand as the event is, Hill commends the team for going to great lengths to ensure an intimate tradeshow experience, from tables and chairs discretely tucked in cozy areas to supplier-sponsored happy hours and small-group gatherings.

“It is an exclusive opportunity for the industry to connect and discover new products and opportunities in a setting that is specially tailored to allow meaningful interactions between our customers, automotive shops and installers, as well as the aftermarket manufacturers and suppliers whose products they sell and install each day,” adds Bill Rogers, president at Keystone Automotive Operations, Inc.

In addition to relevant presentations and first-class social functions, Keystone BIG Show also serves as the most influential wholesale purchasing opportunity of the year.

“Thousands of key players huddled into a single opportunity to buy and sell is not only worth attending, but also worth maximizing,” Katz says.

Crowd at tradeshow

Keystone Automotive recorded incredible attendance and peak enthusiasm at the 2023 Keystone BIG Show in Colorado. “Last year’s Keystone BIG Show was our first and such a great event! The time and attention to detail that the Keystone team puts in is on an entirely different level—what a first-class event,” says Mike Ring, half of the award-winning builder duo, the Ringbrothers. With Kissimmee and the greater Orlando region serving as one of the world’s greatest entertainment centers, company personnel express excitement to host what is expected to be a capacity event in Florida in February 2024.


Whether a manufacturing exhibitor is represented by seasoned professionals or young blood, Hill and Katz agree it is equally important to set realistic expectations, properly prepare and “aim to wow at showtime.”

“You have to go into any tradeshow with the understanding that you’re one among hundreds of competing suppliers and possibly thousands of attendees who have choices where they spend their time and money,” Katz says. “Simply showing up and standing in the booth just won’t cut it.”

He emphasizes how top exhibitors spend months—sometimes all year, depending on their level of sponsorship—brainstorming creative ways to maximize their company’s investment at the show.

In addition, Katz advises seasoned exhibitors to embrace a streamlined, less-is-more approach to booth setup and product selection.

“Accomplish more with less clutter,” he says, noting the value of digital signage and a flatscreen to portray brand messaging.

Maximizing Your Tradeshow Experience: A Guide for Exhibitors & Customers | THE SHOP

Aftermarket manufacturers are eager to woo attendees with custom vehicles and featured products that showcase excellence in design and engineering—and they spare no expense unveiling the next generation of innovative concepts.

“A-level movers must be prominently displayed in the booth as flagships of brand,” Katz says. “Compliance-oriented products are important as well. They show you’re current with industry trends and providing a clear solution to a problem or a new industry standard—that draws customers in.”

These days, it is less common for a manufacturer to delay a new product launch until a tradeshow, but jobbers and installers still long to experience a new product up-close-and-personal at the event. Tee up live demonstrations or full installations, if appropriate; provide digital downloads for continued training and education; and include debut products at the event’s New Product Showcase.

While new products attract attention, Katz says select high-volume products “make a smokin’ hot” showtime deal or power hour.

“In many ways, the BIG Show is a very large one-on-one experience,” Hill adds. “The product is a primary focus, so any way you can get customers directly involved with the product they sell and install is a success. Don’t get let them just see it, but also interact through touch and demonstration.”

tradeshow attendee trying VR

Hill says technology continues to change the game, from interaction and lead generation to follow-up. Experiential exhibits, for example, are gaining in popularity alongside the public’s fascination with the metaverse and mixed reality. These booths seek to completely reimagine the traditional tradeshow experience by physically immersing consumers in the booth content. Consider live installations, digital or interactive product demonstrations, virtual and augmented reality integration, as well as voice- or motion-activated engagement. Experiential exhibits draw the attention of attendees and encourage them to absorb the booth content in a unique way. In addition, highly interactive features are more likely to be recorded and shared via social media—thereby multiplying an exhibitor’s online reach both during and after the tradeshow. Professionals agree: the inclusion of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality within exhibitor booths is not meant to replace the in-person connectivity, but rather to enhance it by creating hands-on, memorable experiences.

From booth design and sales/marketing initiatives to staffing and show pricing, veteran exhibitors enlist company involvement from the top down to ensure strategic goals are set, customers are engaged and, ultimately, sales are met.

“You made the commitment to attend, so be memorable! Make it worth your investment and the customer’s time,” Katz says, noting how targeted pre-show sales and marketing efforts can draw traffic to the show and help drive success.

“Ask yourself what the customer wants, what wows them—and deliver,” he continues. “Roll out the red carpet and give attendees the white-glove treatment.”

Maximizing Your Tradeshow Experience: A Guide for Exhibitors & Customers | THE SHOP

Generating booth traffic is two-fold, Katz says. Once a customer is captured, he or she must then be properly engaged and convinced the brand or product is superior and worthy of the sale. Since no one claims 100% market share, he says the goal is to find new customers and convert from the competition.

“Everyone knows the products you carry, but what is your value-add to the end user? What separates you from the competition?” Katz says. “Highlight, explain, showcase that.”

Hill says it is also important for manufacturers to provide thoughtful responses to, and real solutions for customers who are facing complex industry challenges, such as ongoing supply chain constraints.

“Be transparent with customers about any challenges,” she says. “Talk with them, not around them.”

In addition to gaining prime brand exposure at the tradeshow, the host, exhibitors and customers have the opportunity to nurture existing relationships and develop new ones. With so much to see and do on the show floor in a very limited timeframe, Keystone personnel point to select sponsorships, one-on-one meetings, after-hours events, supplier product training and speaker engagements as meaningful connections outside the booth.

“It would take an exorbitant amount of travel time for any salesperson to accomplish what can be achieved in two days at the Keystone BIG Show,” Katz says, emphasizing the value of in-person touch points.


Similarly, attendees must approach the BIG Show with a plan. Hill encourages customers to peruse with a purpose, download the show app and stick to a roadmap.

Know which manufacturers will be on-site, pre-schedule any critical meetings and prepare a list of important topics, questions or concerns to reference with suppliers.

tradeshow overland products display

“Remember, not every exhibitor is in your wheelhouse,” Katz adds. “There’s only so much time in a day, so focus on what will drive your business forward and identify any gaps in your current assortment.”

The Keystone BIG Show is an ideal setting to study crossover brands and products—from RV and camping to marine and more.

“When walking the show floor, always be receptive to brands and products that complement your business model,” Hill says. “New categories, supplier partnerships and products can expand your customer base and open new revenue streams.”

Starting one’s day in the New Products Showcase, for example, can spark interest and determine what to explore in greater detail during the show.

“We know everyone is looking for that crazy, hot deal, right? It’s like Christmas!” Katz says. “But there’s also an opportunity for more in-depth product education and training, so shops should take advantage. Likewise, manufacturers have a captive audience. Customers are there—and they’re engaged. It’s really a chance to test the stickiness of your brand. Make it count!”

The experts also suggest bringing fellow shop members, if possible, so the team can spread out and cover more ground. Plan to remain on the show floor from open to close in order to maximize all business-building opportunities.

More importantly, Hill says, engage at every in-person touch point.

The Keystone BIG Show continues to swell in new and exciting ways, including the quality of on-site networking activities and speaker engagements. Going forward, Hill says the main speakers will be hyper-focused on industry matters impacting core customers, from aftermarket trends to electric vehicles and beyond.

She highly encourages attendees to connect and build bridges with others at the various networking events. Mingle with fellow business owners and sales staff, ask questions and attend the after-hours receptions.

Maximizing Your Tradeshow Experience: A Guide for Exhibitors & Customers | THE SHOP


As “big” as the Keystone BIG Show is, attendee expectations keep rising—challenging event hosts and exhibitors to continuously raise the bar.

The goal, Hill says, is to create something fresh and memorable each year.

“What draws a customer to the show and the individual show components vary annually, because we’re always looking to improve upon the year before,” she explains. “We take all things into consideration across every side of the business—from product categories and market trends to nuances in shopping patterns.”

She credits movers and shakers for consistently challenging the status quo—finding holes to plug, refining processes and pushing boundaries in pursuit of improving the customer experience going forward.

In recent years, Keystone Automotive swapped handwritten orders for a fully electronic ordering system, streamlining the process and gifting customers more time to engage in activities and conversations that move the needle. This year, customers can expect an all-new electronic order landing page, with screens that closely mirror their e-Key accounts.

Hill says the familiarity ensures comfort and ease-of-use. In addition to new and improved look-up features, suppliers will receive a secure login to the electronic order screen—allowing them to view a customer’s order and suggest items and quantities in real time.

“When integrating technology at an event like the BIG Show, it’s really important to do so tastefully. There needs to be a blend of digital and electronic upgrades combined with classic signage,” Hill says. “We have customers of every demographic, so balance creates the intimacy and makes everyone feel comfortable. It’s important to bring customers along with you, and not leave anyone behind.”

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