Tradeshows are a mini-vacation for some. It’s a time to get away, network with other people in your industry, make new friends, and promote your business. For other vendors, tradeshows are simply a way of life because it’s the lifeblood of their business.

No matter which category you fall into, you must take trade show security into consideration. If you don’t, all that fun can go away in a moment because of one little security slip. You forgot to lock a display case. You were careless with trade secrets lying out in the open. Or perhaps you trusted somebody you shouldn’t have to watch your things while you stepped away from your booth for a few minutes.

In this article, we’ll look at the who, what, when, why, and how of tradeshow theft. The “where” is already established.

Trade Shows Are a Different Animal

In many ways, trade show security has many of the same issues as any other business where valuables are left unattended overnight. Think about scrap yards, for example.

They are rarely operated overnight and thieves know this. It’s a prime opportunity to sneak in and take a small fortune in copper or other valuable materials.

Construction site security is always on the minds of contractors. On larger projects, there are tens of thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment left on-site. Even though they are often chained up or locked in trailers, it doesn’t always dissuade the most determined burglar.

But there are some things particular to tradeshows that put them into a special category. Not only do you have unattended items overnight, but the sheer volume of traffic generated also makes tradeshows and exhibits a picnic for thieves. In some ways, trade show theft is even more likely than at other businesses.

Who’s on the Take

When we talk about preventing theft from your trade show booth, most of us think about the shifty-eyed criminal walking around in a hoodie and casing all the displays. While tradeshows are a common target for criminals, you should also think about the risks from others.

Smaller, localized tradeshows often have a group of loyal vendors. Over time, they build relationships with one another and tend to be protective of the group. At larger shows, however, the risk of theft from other vendors is real.

None of us wants to think that another vendor might try to steal our stuff. But sometimes it’s not the stuff they’re after. Think corporate espionage.

Depending on your industry, tradeshows and exhibits are the perfect scene for corporate spies. Make sure you think about digital property as much as physical property. You have as much responsibility to protect customer lists and trade secrets as you do company property.

What They’re After

Theft at tradeshows isn’t always the big stuff. We’ve already mentioned valuable items and corporate spying. But small items that are easily slipped into the pockets of smalltime criminals are also at risk.

Freebies and giveaways are common incentives to show visitors. We don’t often think of it as theft, but we know freeloaders are out there and they don’t mind filling their bags with your promotional items and samples. That is stuff that you paid for with your money, but it never occurs to some people that it’s not free to you.

Also, consider your trade show “hardware.” Things like tablets, smartphones, credit card swipers, and small cash boxes are often a quick and easy target to grab while you are busy with a potential customer.

When It Happens

The most obvious time to get free stuff is when you’re away from the booth. This happens during the trade show when you eat need to grab a bite to eat, visit with other vendors, or use the restroom.

The cardinal rule is this: never leave your booth unattended during the show. If you didn’t bring a partner with you who can watch your table, ask another vendor that you feel you can trust to keep an eye on things. If you go to tradeshows often, you will naturally develop relationships with other vendors.

Make an effort whenever possible to get your booth located close to theirs.

There is always a big concern about nighttime security—what happens after the trade show ends for the day and before it begins the next day. You can’t always be certain about the security team at any given event, so your two best bets during this time are lock-and-key and video surveillance.

If you watch professionals—the guys going to dozens of tradeshows every year—they always keep their valuable items under lock and key. Some valuable items like guns are often in a lockable carrying case. But that’s not enough.

You have to be able to prevent the entire thing from being carried off.  A good deterrent is a steel cable going through all the handles of carrying cases.

A good investment is locking display cases and cabinets. Although they can be bulky, they serve two different purposes: they display your items, obviously, but also protect your items under lock and key at night or if you need to leave your booth for a few minutes during the show.

If you attend trade shows on a regular basis and have theft-worthy items, it might be good to invest in video surveillance. That way, if something happens, you have the evidence right there.

An even better option is monitored video surveillance because sometimes it comes with really cool features like strobe lights when it senses motion, or even audio, where the monitoring service can speak to the would-be burglar.

Why You’re Vulnerable

Like it or not, tradeshows and exhibits are a major target for bad guys.

And certain types of tradeshows are more likely to be targeted than others. Think about gun shows, where all sorts of weaponry are on display. Trade show attendees are not vetted. There are no background checks for attendees.

How to Improve Your Trade Show Security

The first ingredient in tradeshow security is common sense. To recap a few of those:

  • Never leave your booth unattended.
  • Keep high-value items under lock and key if possible.
  • Hide trade secret items and non-display valuables out of sight.
  • Have a plan to protect your things overnight.
  • Form a “neighborhood watch” with other vendors that you know.
  • Mislabel your boxes on purpose. On boxes with valuables, mark them as sales brochures or something else unappealing.
  • Talk to other vendors to see what methods they use to safeguard their things.
  • Remember that competitors can pose a security risk in certain industries.
  • Talk to security staff and ask them what they see most often. Ask them for any tips that might offer.
  • Consider overnight video security. Having visible video cameras with signage indicating 24 seven monitoring can be a powerful crime deterrent.
  • Use GPS trackers on expensive items.
  • Whenever possible, have at least one other attendant at your booth for times when you get busy with customers. Another set of eyes on merchandise can make a big difference.
  • Keeping your things organized makes it easier to notice if something is wrong at a glance.

It is also important to consider security outside the trade show booth. Your valuables are also potentially exposed on your way to and from the show. Whether you have a locking trailer or exposed containers in the back of a truck, they are at risk every time you stop to fuel up, go to a restaurant, or overnight at the hotel.

Be sure to plan ahead by checking the neighborhood of the venue as well as the hotel. Talk to tradeshow hosts and any local law enforcement to inquire about the safety of those areas.

Planning Is Key

In the end, one of the biggest assets you have in protecting your assets is awareness. It’s worth taking some time to think about trade show security risks before your next event. Just being aware of the risks will force you to be more alert on the floor.

The more you know about what happens inside the mind of the criminal, the better you’ll be able to throw a wrench into his plans. Talk to other vendors, the tradeshow contractor, and anyone else that might help you gain some insight.

Taking some time to think along these lines will go a long way toward helping you get a security plan together—no matter what business you’re in. It’s much better to be proactive than to be reactive.

At Mobile Video Guard, we specialize in monitored mobile video security. For more useful tips on securing your building, facility, or event, check out our other articles here.

If you are already involved in the security industry, why not consider partnering with us? Get more information about that on our partner page.