Do you see any reception counters at the apple store? This is for good reason. Even the Telstra store has cottoned on and usually only have a counter at the back of the store because that first impression matters.

If you want to instantly break down barriers for communicating with visitors at trade shows, just don’t include a reception counter in your exhibit design. This may be an unpopular opinion of mine but I’m going to share why I think it’s one of the best kept secrets to winning over potential customers at trade shows.

Seriously, going back to the apple store and their fantastic approach to customer service – Next time you visit, take note of how you are treated from the moment you enter the store. This is exactly the winning mindset you need for your exhibition stand.

Why do people include reception counters at trade shows?

Simple answer: They’re expected.

Us V Them

When you include a reception counter you are starting on the back foot with your customer because you are up against years of customer conditioning. We are all familiar with entering a store and being asked “Can I help you?”.

The person asking this is normally standing behind a service counter. The customer is also conditioned to politely decline or say they are “just browsing” (not what we want on an exhibition stand).

9 times out of 10 people want to make it as easy as possible for visitors to wonder onto their booth and start a conversation with staff. A reception counter on an exhibition stand instantly creates an “Us V them” attitude for both staff and visitors.

One of the biggest myths is that every stand needs a reception counter. It may be a branding opportunity and that provides you with a little storage but I encourage you to really think about why you want to include one in your design because it might be dulling down that all important first impression. Are you after a professional image or a great discussion?

If people are looking at the reception counter, they aren’t looking at your stand.

… Or your key messaging.

… Or your staff.

If you want to make this exchange open and friendly, the goal is to get people looking up from the aisle and into your booth.

This makes starting conversations at exhibitions so much easier because it instantly creates an environment that prioritises interactions as people, not just doing what is expected.


Alternatives to counters – The “kitchen bench” theory

Think about when you entertain at home. Guests always gravitate to the kitchen bench. Many people can feel more secure standing up against the kitchen bench rather than in the middle of the room. They also want to be near other people and settle into the heart of the home.

This is why we love to include the following in our designs: Break out areas with or without seating, plinths, product blades, interactive kiosks, benches with storage built into them – They are people magnets!

When you might like to ignore this wild rule and include a counter

If you are in a consumer show and dealing with high traffic exchanges and need to place orders swiftly. My gorgeous friend, Nina, has an organic tea business (Nurtur Tea) and she swears by having her counter on the aisle.

If you are a traditional business wanting a corporate look you might opt for it as a meeting place and your team member can usher people to other team members. But in my opinion, there are more creative ways to do this – If it’s part of your strict brand guidelines, I would encourage staff to interrupt people before they even reach the counter!

This may be an unpopular opinion, but if you want to increase the number of conversations and improve the ease at which they take place, this is one very easy tip to implement that has a knock-on effect with how you manage your exhibition stand. Think of it as the first domino.

If you have found another occasion where a reception counter has been a useful addition to your exhibit, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Yours in Exhibiting,