With a physical product, there are several ways to meet customers and market your business. In this week’s article, I write about doing trade shows and meeting potential customers face-to-face in a convention type of setting.
I have noticed over the past couple of years that the trade show world seemed to be dwindling in foot traffic. In the face of numerous shows ‘debuting’, there are simply too many shows to attend. I remember one brutal season doing the January accessory show in New York, flying to Hong Kong to walk their trade show and meet with suppliers, then back to the US to do Magic in Las Vegas, back to NY to do Coterie, and then to Paris to do Premiere Classe. It was crazy!
A Cardinal Rule
One cardinal rule that my partner and I always had was to walk a trade show before we committed to taking a booth. All the information from trade show management about foot traffic, buyer attendance and press coverage will never provide the same insights that walking a trade show will. Just walking a trade show for a couple of hours will give you a good idea if the show is really a good fit for your brand.
I will always remember that my partner and I did a trade show – our very first one – in New York and were very much out of our element. It was clear that our product was priced too high for this particular show. A very well-known buyer from a wonderful boutique in Nantucket, Massachusetts came by and said our booth was the most beautiful in the whole show and that we stuck out like a sore thumb. She promptly placed an order and signed with her trademark signature.
Shortly thereafter, one of our neighbors came by and gave us a phrase that we still quote to this day. This character stopped by our booth, looked up and down the aisle, and said with her heavy New York accent, “Look at them, look at them, look at you! You don’t belong here!”
$5000 booth fee
$2000 fare to NYC and hotel room
$500 food and cabs
= $7500 TOTAL TRIP
In rushing to do our first trade show, my partner and I were so excited to get our product to market when we really should have waited and walked the show before foolishly throwing our money away. C’est la vie; it was one of the many lessons we learned the hard way.
Showrooms & Trade Shows
Frankly, I think there are too many trade shows and the market is oversaturated. For years, many exhibitors have complained that there should be a central governing agency to mandate a trade show schedule and prevent overlapping regional markets and shows, with the meaningless shows disappearing. The sheer volume of shows makes it hard for buyers to decide which is the best to attend. Nowadays many specialty stores hardly have a budget to travel and must be incredibly picky about which shows they attend.
As your company requires sales to survive, doing trade shows is important to grow your brand, but since shows are very expensive and time-consuming, I suggest you also try to get showrooms at the same time. If you reach the point of having enough showrooms, you can then re-evaluate whether you want to continue doing the trade shows at all.
We met all of our showrooms at the trade shows. At the trade shows, you will be able to connect with buyers and get direct feedback about your new collection, check out or maybe network with your competitors, and hopefully meet with fashion editors and bloggers.
Additionally, a trade show is a great way to build your store list. Whenever a store would stop and linger at our booth but not buy anything, I would always ask for a business card and hand them a line sheet. When I returned to my office, I would add their name to my mailing/buyer list.
Planning & Preparation
Getting ready for a trade show requires a lot of planning and preparation. You need to make sure you have handled the booth decoration, line sheets, brochures, business cards, extra lighting and, of course, your samples.
I was once at a trade show where one of my neighbors was a new jewelry company that had just got accepted into the trade show the week before! I felt sorry for the girl who was running the booth as she was so green and inexperienced. She did not have fixtures to place her product on, a rug for her booth, or paper for her walls. Our consultant encouraged me to talk to her, but honestly, she needed so much help that I could only give her a few pointers and hope she would have more time to plan and prepare herself for the next show.
Depending on which trade show you do, I have included a checklist of things you need to do in advance:
• Complete and send in contract.
• Make personal contact with sales rep at the trade show. Talk to them about your line, address any concerns, etc.
• Send in deposit.
• Decide on booth size and decoration.
• Download trade show manual and read it thoroughly.
• Get insurance if mandated by trade show management.
• Book hotel and travel.
• Decide if you will do any advertising or sponsorship to promote your booth. The sponsorship opportunities are sometimes listed in the manual. If not, ask your trade show rep about them. Half of the time we would do some type of sponsorship.
• Order food or beverages for your booth if you want to do a promotion such as a happy hour to draw in more people.
• Hire models or temporary workers for your booth if you need additional coverage. It always helpful to have at least two people, even in a small booth. The days are long and tiring, and you may need assistance during peak times or to cover during bathroom breaks. If you can’t persuade a friend to join you, a temporary worker found on or Daily Fashion Jobs might be a good option.
• Order staff badges.
• Decide if you will send your product directly to the show site or carry it in your suitcases.
• Order any additional electricity or lighting.
• Order booth cleaning if needed. Note: we never did this.
• Send in final deposit.
• Order labor if needed to put up your shelving or help with building any additional furniture you might be bringing in.
• Find out the set-up schedule and plan on being there as soon as the doors open, especially if it is your first show.
Raw Space & Booths
At the trade shows, you can either buy a booth package with the walls already in place or raw space. Raw space is for those vendors who have custom-built booths.
The majority of vendors use the booth packages. If you are getting a booth package, I urge you to consider covering the walls with drapes or fabric or, better yet, papering the walls with the backdrop paper used for photo shoots. This makes your booth stand out with minimal cost. If you are showing in New York, call The Set Shop in New York City and have them deliver the paper to your booth. It will be much cheaper than ordering it from the vendors who are contractually tied to the unions.
In future weeks, I will discuss having outside sales reps as well as developing your presence online. However, I think that spending the money and doing a trade show gives a new brand an invaluable opportunity to get their product in front of main decision makers such as editors, meet with key store buyers and most importantly, announce to the industry that your brand is a viable player.