14 Ways to Avoid Trade Show Theft, Thieving, and Other Types of Chicanery

Posted by John Hamari on May 8, 2018 10:51:44 AM
John Hamari

You don’t need to go to Las Vegas to gamble, all you have to do is bring something of high value to a trade show. Everyone is faced with the common problem of theft on the show floor. That being said, I wanted to share some of the tricks of the trade that we have employed over time to take preventative action:

14. NINJA PHILOSOPHY:  Don’t make yourself a target… wear black like a Ninja would. Use a black shrink wrap on all of your materials, so as to embrace the common saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” This may seem obvious, but it is actually a fairly effective deterrent against thieves because they generally want the easy score. Generally, thieves are not terribly motivated and will avoid a lot of extra work when they can easily move on to an easier target.

13. NO PASS ZONE:  As simple as this may sound, it works. Rope off your exhibit space when you leave so if someone crosses the line it draws attention to the would-be thief. This also has the added benefit of keeping forklifts, foot traffic and carts from cutting through your exhibit.

12. DUCK DYNASTY METHOD:  Use camouflage for your high value items. For instance, if you need an AV case fabricated, you might consider having it built out of wood and don’t label the case AV. People are not used to seeing an AV crate built out of wood. Also, when it is being built, have the builder put some of the corner braces on crooked, so it does not look like a high value item would be inside.

Linear Designs

11. BAIT AND SWITCH: Incorrectly label your high value giveaways and your literature… and any other high value items as well. Label the high value giveaways as “literature” and converse to this, label your literature as a “giveaway” (all of this under your black shrink wrap, of course). When the bandits open up to find the spoils of their labor, they are sorely disappointed. This ties in to point number #10 and is an effective deterrent.

10. HIRE MUSCLE:  Hire security to stay in your exhibit space 24/7 when you are not present.   Keep in mind that security could be the culprit when things go missing.  This can be a sufficient deterrent for most would be thieves.

9. PLAY THE ODDS:  Reduce the amount of time that valuable items are on the show floor and have the shipment go direct to show or your hotel room (if it is a small shipment), instead of going advance to warehouse. This reduces the number of people that touch it and amount of time that someone could target your items. It also reduces the likelihood of damage.

8. UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT:  Understaffing a show based on the number of attendees can spell disaster on many levels. If there are people swarming around your trade show booth, your staffers are indisposed taking care of conversations they are engaged in, and someone comes by with intent to swipe something, you may have some of your valuables come up missing. Worse yet, if there is not enough staff, you could miss valuable leads that could result in sales for the company.

7. ABANDON SHIP:  When you are at a show, make sure to have someone in your exhibit space at all times… especially if you have high value items laying out like iPads, laptops, giveaways, purses and the like. If you are staffing a 10’ space and must leave, make sure that you have your neighbor keep an eye on your exhibit and create a buddy system, if you will.

6. SMOKE SCREENS:  At the breaking of the show is when many items get stolen. If you have computers, flat screens, or similar… take them down at the conclusion of the show and put them under your counter until the dismantle is ready to occur.

5. GRAB AND DASH:  Blind spots are going to be the target times when thieves come knocking. A blind spot is when you are not present and can’t apprehend the thief. In the evening, take all portable technology with you. It is a pain in the “you know what” to do this, so set the expectation early with your booth staff that this is what they are to do each night.

4. LOCK DOWN:  Purchase the appropriate sized AV locking system and attach your flat screen or iPad to the bracket, counter, table, or wall. There are many versions that can be purchased and a simple cable lock can be an effective deterrent against theft. An example of this can be found at, and there are many more like it ranging about $45+ and up.

3. SPY VERSUS SPY:  If the item you are attempting to protect has a high enough value, you might consider using a tracking device that you can put on the inside housing of the unit. If it is stolen, the police can drive directly to the location where the signal is being emitted from. GPS tags are a great method for tracking high value items; however, they are not as affordable as the other solutions suggested here. Even so, if you have a high value item that must not be stolen, because it is a prototype for instance, it would be a good idea to use a device like this.

2. WHO HAS THE KEY:  Not to sound overly obvious, however making sure you have a locking space or cabinet in your exhibit is a great deterrent. Have a locking space in your exhibit space also allows the side benefit of additional storage as well to keep your space clean.

1. MONKEY BUSINESS: Hire a crate monkey. This is exactly what it sounds like, you hire a chimpanzee to hang out in your AV cases and when someone unauthorized opens the crate, then “Ka-powee,” he clubs them with an aluminum bat and the chimp can call the police to do the clean-up. Problem solved. Laughter is the universal elixir for the soul; you can never have enough. Never take life too serious – don’t forget, it’s temporary.

In the final analysis, someone who is bent on stealing from you will find a way. The good news is most thieves are looking for a quick score where they don’t get caught. The tips above allow us to insulate against such individuals.

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Topics: Nashville trade show marketing, trade show marketing, trade show exhibits Nashville, Tradeshow event, trade show leads, protecting your trade show booth, theft deterrent

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