No longer just for interior decorators and landscapers, home shows are teeming with thousands of attendees hoping to check items like outdoor lighting and home automation off their home improvement to-do lists. Never exhibited? Summer is the season. Marleen Rust, director of exhibitor sales and services for the Midwest Home Expo in Chicago, gave us a to-do list for succeeding on the show floor.

Go without going — Trade show staffing companies can supply sales people to take your place if you don't have the time but want the exposure. And don't worry about turning them into experts on your company — they only need the basics. “You're not selling an actual item in the booth,” Rust says. “You're selling them on coming back for a one-on-one sales call.”

Be patient — You're destined for disappointment if you expect an immediate and sizeable ROI. Rust says it could take 18 months for a lead to pan out, so establishing quality leads should take precedence over closing deals. And that means you have to…

Find the right show — Study the exhibitor list and pay attention to its advertising campaign to make sure you'll target the right customers. And beware the shows with free attendance — foot traffic will be high, but serious shoppers could be in short supply.

Send invitations — You can't rely on the expo to do all of your advertising for you. Send direct mail to your customer list to let them know where you'll be. “If someone expects to just come to the show and not do any marketing on their own, they're just going to pick up other exhibitors' customers,” Rust says.