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What is the Difference Between Expo, Fair, and Trade Show?

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The words ‘trade show’, ‘fair’, and ‘expo’ are often used interchangeably. It is true that all of these words, in general, mean the same thing – events where people come together to learn about new services and products, expand their networks, and potentially close deals.

That said, even though these terms are loosely used in the modern world, each of them has a historically different meaning. Understanding the precedence behind these terms will help you understand how they came about, as well as the features that distinguish each term from the others. Besides, if you are an entrepreneur looking to exhibit at an event, understanding the difference between fairs, shows, will help you pick an event with the highest potential ROI (Return on Investment) for your business.

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What is an Expo?

An expo is an event where customers and businesses interact. So, what is the purpose of an expo? An aims to attract as much attention as possible and, since it is open to the general public, usually has high attendance numbers. The objective of an expo is to reach out to as many people as possible during the brief period that the event is being conducted.

 An expo is not just open to the media, but the media actually plays a key role in creating hype and awareness about the event.

B2B and B2C:

In most cases, expos can be attended by both consumers and businesses. An expo exhibitor should be prepared to welcome the very different kinds of people who attend their booths: while some people would know about your business and what it does, others may have absolutely no clue.

Therefore, exhibiting at an expo can be quite challenging, since it is hard to come up with a strategy that will produce the optimal results. Since you will likely have to deal with many basic and often excessively detailed questions, you also need to carefully decide what you will exhibit and how.

Standing Out from the Crowd:

The massive attendee influx means that you might find yourself disappearing in the sea of exhibitors –before you even realize it. Hence, it is vital that you identify the demographics of the people you are targeting, and design a booth capable of attracting that group.

You also need to be clear about your main objective behind exhibiting. For instance, if you want to execute on-the-spot sales, you should make your products seem tempting and have plenty of stock to ensure that you do not run out. On the other hand, if your aim is to establish strong connections with the attendees or other exhibitors, you should create distraction-free zones where you can have meaningful conversations.

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What is a ‘Fair’?

A fair (also known as ‘trade fair’) is usually consumer-centric and, like an expo, does not have any attendance restrictions. The media is also invited and encouraged to market the event as far and wide as possible.

Compared to expos and trade shows, trade fairs generally have smaller booths. The main objective of businesses exhibiting at trade fairs is to close as many sales as possible. Trade fair attendees can either purchase stock directly at the fair (if the business has enough stock available) or provide their contact details (lead generation). 

A major difference between an expo and a trade fair is that the former is held in indoor settings (such as exhibition halls, art galleries, or museums), while the latter is usually conducted in large outdoor spaces.


Trade fairs almost always cater to the general public, and anyone is free to attend the event. Exhibitors stock up on their products, and aim to sell as many of them as they can within the duration of the fair. Trade fairs are also attended by SMEs and startups looking to find their feet in the industry. You can also expect to notice a lot of similar products being exhibited by the businesses – some of which you may never have seen before.

Lead Generation:

The concept of a fair was introduced by the ancient Romans; people would be given a break from their labor and pleadings. Fairs conducted during the Middle Ages were more like markets, and closer to the modern-day trade fairs. These fairs would welcome sellers from many different countries and even continents. Some fairs also included the sale and exhibition of live animals like sheep, lambs, and horses.

The contemporary trade fair exhibitor normally has one of two objectives: to sell as many products as possible, or generate as many leads as possible. The former objective is usually for product-based businesses who can execute sales at the event. The latter objective, on the other hand, is for businesses that provide services which cannot be offered at the event.

Since trade fairs are open to the general public, they often attract a lot of foot traffic in a mere few days. This makes it an excellent platform for startups and small businesses to gauge the amount of traction they are likely to get once they enter the market. At the same time, the diversity within the attendees also allows businesses to obtain feedback about the products and services they are about to introduce, and determine if the offerings are ready for market launch or if they need a bit of refinement.

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What Is Meant By ‘Trade Shows’?

A trade show event generally targets a specific industry niche, and caters larger companies. This means that the show exhibitors can set up customized trade booths.

Trade shows are beneficial for established businesses looking to join hands with other major players in the industry. For this reason, the quantity of exhibitors and attendees is less significant than their quality and relevance to the industry.

A trade show allows exhibitors and attendees to form early corporate relationships and to refine these relationships before making them official. Some trade shows, especially the more renowned ones, also conduct speaker sessions, group activities, and games and contests.

Trade show exhibitions tend to be quite competitive. Therefore, if you want to exhibit at a trade show, you must make sure that you have a standout product or service along with a cutting-edge, attractive booth.  It is also important to start marketing your presence and create a buzz about your company and offerings, well before the date of the show. Since trade shows generally do not allow sales (more on that later), the success of your exhibition will largely depend upon the number of leads you can generate.

Strictly B2B:

In general, only members belonging to the specific industry are allowed to attend a trade show. This way, the exhibitors can rest assured that every member making their way towards the show is related to the industry – and therefore, their business –in some way. These visitors usually already have a firm understanding of the industry, and are looking to acquaint themselves with the best upcoming products, services, and techs.

Also, due to the niche nature of a trade show, the media coverage is usually very limited, and little is revealed to the general public until the products or services on display are closer to market launch.

Partnerships and Networking:

A trade show allows leaders, decision-makers, and other key industry players to gather under the same roof, making it a prime opportunity for the development of networks and potential partnerships.

Trade shows, especially renowned ones, often attract an international presence, which means that the attendees can interact with like-minded individuals and companies from various parts of the world. This international exposure allows attendees to learn more about the trends and practices dominating their industry on a global level.

Presentations of Upcoming Products:

Typically, product or service sales are not part of a trade show – the primary focus is on product/service awareness and demonstration. Usually, these offerings are either close to finalization, or have already been finalized with the company using the trade show as a way to test the waters with respect to potential demand. 

Also, trade shows allow the exhibitors to determine if their offerings require any adjustments or tweaks, and if it is possible to increase revenue through partnerships.

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 Final Word:

To sum up, the difference between expos, fairs, and trade shows has become rather obscured during recent times –especially within the general public. However, if you plan to exhibit at one of these events, understanding the difference between these terms will help you determine the shows that will be most beneficial for your business. Hence, before choosing to exhibit at an event, it is important to conduct extensive research and find out the kind of show it will be, the kind of audience it will attract (B2B, B2C, or mixed), and the credibility of the event.

We hope that this blog helped you distinguish between the three types of events. To learn more about trade shows, fairs, and expos, and how each one might benefit your business, please feel free to check out some of the other blogs on our website.

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