A Penny for Your (Gratuitous) Thoughts

July 30, 2015

In a few weeks’ time, Scott and I will head to San Francisco for the annual California Dental Association (CDA) Northern California Dental Conference to show off Supply Clinic. We both attended Chicago Dental Society’s Chicago Midwinter Conference in February, but this will be our first time as exhibitors rather than attendees. We’re both quickly learning just how challenging planning a booth can be.


The constraints seem simple enough at first glance. One square booth, ten feet long by ten feet wide. A curtain on the back wall is eight feet high. Of course, it gets a bit more complicated. If your booth requires setup, the convention center’s union has to take care of setup and cleanup- for a fee. If you want goods delivered to the center, the union has to take care of it- for a fee. Signs can’t be more than eight feet high. No balloons; anything electrical needs to be pre-registered; here’s a little bit of paperwork and your tablecloth options. Oh, don’t forget- your booth needs to be carpeted- for a fee.

But the real dilemmas are just beginning. How does an online dental supply marketplace design a booth to showcase itself? One long table in the front, decorated with freebies and a random assortment of dental supplies? Three circular cocktail tables, complete with iPads open up to our website? Maybe just a drum circle? (There are actually decibel restrictions, so the drum circle idea was nixed pretty quickly.)

We want to showcase a website without looking like an AT&T store selling tablets. And we need to do it on a startup budget. So we’ve been looking around for some ideas.

As with everything else in life (and especially in the startup world), we’ve been offered mounds of advice, some solicited and some, well, not-so-solicited. And as usual, much of it is contradictory.

“Keep the booth sharp, clean, and completely professional.”

“Set up a basketball hoop or mini golf putt to attract attention.”

“Give out pillows, or nice T-shirts, or nice baked goods.”

“Don’t spend money on expensive freebies; offer discounts instead.”

“Conferences are a total waste of time.”

“Conferences are the very best places to meet your potential customers.”

And it goes on and on.

But the conflicting advice has certainly got me thinking, and looking into various different booth options. It’s becoming a bit of a problem, actually- I’ll walk into a small clothing shop, and instead of finding what I need, I’ll immediately take in the store layout and see if it makes the most sense. Is it too cramped? Too empty? What’s featured in the window, and right by the door?

I’ve even started looking at magazine ads differently, after having helped design ours. What is the optimal amount of white space? Does this line’s kerning look funny? Is that the same stock photo model I’ve seen in a hundred different places? (Probably.)

Image title

After all, just because we’re a startup doesn’t mean we can have a bad kerning on a banner.

If you’ll be in San Francisco on August 20-22, stop by the CDA Conference at the Moscone Center, booth #527!


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