The expense, both hard costs (securing the space, cost of the booth and travel) and soft costs (time spent preparing and manning the booth) of attending trade shows is such that taking the time to ensure a constant flow of traffic by prospective customers is time well spent. While there is certainly value in attending trade shows to establish a company presence, you can undertake activities that will help make the event more efficient, profitable and fun.
Driving traffic to a display booth using activities that provide the allure of money are tried-and-true ideas. These are activities that require leasing or purchasing large displays, such as money blowing machines, slot machines, money wheels and customized ATMs. Money blowing machines look like phone booths that blow "money" (coupons or monopoly money redeemed for prizes will work just as well) around and participants have a certain amount of time to grab as much as they can. Slot machines and ATMs can both be customized to the business, and to provide the prizes wanted. Money wheels have prizes attached to each slot, and whichever slot is landed on the participant wins that prize.
Providing attendees with food and beverages is rarely a bad idea at trade shows. These activities are especially successful using popcorn and pretzel making machines. Many people, even those that do not partake of the popcorn, enjoy the aroma that comes from the popcorn machine. They also provide a certain ambiance to the display booth, as they are reminiscent of street vendors for some. Chocolate is always a favorite, and a bowl of assorted bite size candies is always a hit. Much like the popcorn machine, offering freshly made pretzels, along with the aroma, is another crowd favorite. Offering coffee, customized bottled waters and other beverages will drive foot traffic to the booth as well.
Walking through a trade show, prospective customers will often grab giveaways without much thought to the company providing them. Nothing is wrong with offering attendees promotional items, these are expected. However, conducting this activity successfully should include customizing the giveaways. You can use custom-labeled candy and snacks, canvas bags, pens, magnets and calendars, to name a few. Branding them with the company name and logo will make a bigger impact on the visitors to the booth. Also, these custom promotional items can be used as prizes in conjunction with other activities.
Giving away big ticket items such as iPads, MP-3 players and PDA's can drive a lot of activity to a booth. With the expense of these items, and the certain rush of people wanting to win, these should be part of a raffle to be held near the end of the day. Also, require attendance at the announcement to claim the prize. A sure thing, as much as that is possible, to drive a lot of traffic to a display booth is offering 10-minute back and neck massages. Hiring a traveling masseuse, complete with the chair, to set up at the booth is a sure-fire means of bringing people by the booth, particularly as the day moves on and conference goers are getting tired. The massage also gives company representatives ample time to talk about their products or services.