STEP 4.3

Boots on the ground
Building your export network

Trade Shows

Participating in an international trade show is a great way to break into an international market for the first time.

“You can meet with key decision makers, you can meet with all the large companies, you can gauge the competition. Just getting a feel for what’s going on in the market is very useful, especially for consumer goods,” said Carl Pilon, a 19-year veteran of the Trade Commissioner Service.

“You’ll see a ton of customers, not just from that market, but it could be customers from all over the world. Then your challenge becomes how to take advantage,” said Trade Commissioner Service Director Duane McMullen.

However, planning for a large event like a trade show is never easy, especially an international show. You will need to make contact with potential leads, set up meetings and side trips, make a list of companies you want to approach and establish concrete goals, all before you leave home.

A trade show can cost approximately $10,000 to $20,000. That’s a lot of money to spend if things don’t go well.

Peter Biro, CEO of laser manufacturer Newcon Optik, knows what’s at when committing to a trade show, and how to get it right:

Is it Worth It?

Before even deciding to participate, it can be difficult to discern if it’s going to be worth it or not.

If the sales you make at a show are large enough compared to the resources you’ve expended, then you got a good return on your investment.

However, trade shows offer other benefits:

  • Becoming more visible in the foreign market you’re trying to infiltrate
  • Introduce your company’s products to as many potential customers as possible
  • Make contacts with distributors, reps and partners
  • Carry out market research

You can quantify a trade show as a success if it helps accomplish any of the aforementioned goals, but only if your firm can stomach walking away without financial gain. If you need to turn a profit from the show, and the promise of future business enough, factor that into both your decision to participate and your pre-show planning.

Before even deciding to participate, it can be difficult to discern if it’s going to be worth it or not.

For a comprehensive rundown of how to plan for a show, build an attractive booth, engage with leads and successfully follow up and make sales, check out this EDC whitepaper.

This video from the U.S.-based International Trade Administration provides some useful tips on making the most of your time at a trade show:


It is recommended to purchase an ATA Carnet to facilitate the temporary importation of goods, like those used for trade shows, demonstrations, exhibitions or commercial samples, free of customs duties and taxes.

Information on applying for a carnet can be found at The Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Visiting Your Market

Whether you attend a trade show, take advantage of the matchmaking services offered by TCS and EDC, or simply arrange to meet prospective business partners, dealers or customers on their home turf, visiting your target market personally is crucial. You need to be there in the flesh, and just sending sales staff won’t cut it either. Senior management needs to put in face time. Learn more:

Wheels up: Get out there and visit your target market

Successfully selling products in a foreign country requires a personal touch, so pack your suitcase

Mitchell Osak, managing director of Strategic Advisory Services at Grant Thornton, and Newcon Otpik’s Biro both believe that visiting your target market is of paramount importance:


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