Many small businesses use trade shows, exhibitions and fairs to get their brand in front of larger buyers such as wholesalers and big retailers. Alison Lewy, founder of Fashion Angel and author of Design Create Sell, offers her tips for making the most of the trade show experience.
Put simply, trade shows are a great showcase for small businesses selling to wholesalers or big retailers. Yet, despite the high cost of showing at a trade show, it’s surprising how many brands simply don’t make the most out of their investment. So this seems a good time to highlight what I’ve learnt during 15 years of showing at trade exhibitions.
1. Define your aims and expectations.
As I explain in Design Create Sell, trade shows give you access to new national and international buyers and build brand awareness with stockists that wouldn’t normally know about you.
Trade events offer opportunities to:
- find new trade buyers
- find agents/distributors
- meet, press, bloggers and industry experts
- see what your competitors are up to
- get inspiration and new ideas.
It’s helpful to be clear about what you hope to achieve and why you are showing. Some shows are more about PR than actually taking orders. If it’s your first time exhibiting, don’t expect to recoup all your costs at your first event. Buyers often want to see you for a few seasons before having the confidence to order.
Set yourself measurable goals – for example, five new stockists, re-orders from existing customers, 20 new leads.
2. Prepare properly.
- Contact existing and new potential target customers. Send them an invitation for the show and follow up with a call. Try to get them to make an appointment to see you on the stand.
- Use your social media presence to promote where you are showing. Post information, pictures and/or videos (perhaps a preview of a new product or video invitation to visit the stand). The goal is to let prospective customers know the who, what, where, when and most importantly, the why they should visit you at the stand.
- Be constantly in touch with your suppliers to make sure they are on schedule and you’ll have fresh product to display.
- Plan carefully the product samples/examples of your work you are taking with you to the show. Don’t take too much as nothing looks worse than a cluttered stand and think about featuring something that will attract attention (even if it’s not your major seller). Ideally you should exhibit examples from entry, mid and high price points to attract a broad base of customers.
- Design your stand ‘fit-out’ in advance. Check what is included in the stand package and order any extras you may need in advance. It’s often more expensive if you order on the day.
- Make sure you’ve organised the delivery of any product samples to the venue and ensure they are insured on site, in storage and in transit.
- If exhibiting overseas, choose reliable couriers and shipping agents and check they have all the relevant customs/import documentation in place.
3. Get your stand display spot-on.
- Don’t have a physical barrier between you and the buyer.
- Keep your display simple and minimal.
- Maximise space, especially vertically.
- Ensure you order enough lights.
- Have some display above head height so it can be picked out over a crowd.
- Keep the look of your stand consistent with your brand identity so that buyers recognise you at subsequent events.
- Allow for a space to sit and write orders.
- Think about taking a computer display or tablet to show off your website/videos and to give access to your social media pages to allow users to “Like” your brand on Facebook or follow on Twitter.
4. Remember to take the right paperwork and other information.
- Order book.
- Catalogue/marketing materials.
- Line sheet/wholesale price list.
- Business cards.
- Press packs.
- Information on lead times and delivery dates/minimum orders.
- You will be selling your products at wholesale price, so it is customary to show prices exclusive of VAT. If showing abroad, it is helpful to have prices in local currency, such as Euro or Dollars. You may be asked for the Recommended Retail Price (RRP), which is the price the retailer will sell the product at including their mark-up.
- Bulk prices for large orders.
- Information on your trading terms – for example, pro-forma, 30 per cent deposit, balance on delivery or credit?
- Notebook to record comments and enquiries from/about (potential) buyers next to business card stapled to page as an aide memoir for follow up phone calls after the show.
- Make daily notes on the day’s events and feedback from customers so you remember what you should take into consideration when planning next season’s events.
- Deadline for placing orders.
- Stationery, including plenty of pens, stapler, staples and sticky tape.
5. Be sure your stand staff do the right things.
- Take water – it’s often hot and dehydrating at exhibitions
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothes.
- Brief all staff (as they may be temporary) so they are knowledgeable on the product and terms.
- Staff should always smile be friendly but not overbearing – they should not stand at the edge of the stand and make a barrier.
- Keep your stand clean, tidy and dust-free.
- No eating on stands! Arrange someone to cover breaks.
- Always, always ask for business cards from visitors.
6. Follow up after the event.
- Follow up order confirmations and chasing new leads. Contact everyone you saw and thank them for coming.
- Continue to post pictures and video from the event. Again, social media can also assist with your follow-up. It provides the opportunity to present images, messages, video and other branded content in such a way that will allow potential customers to learn about your brand.
- Produce a final budget working out expenditure versus sales – was it worth it? Remember, though, that with a trade show can’t tell for a while as takes a while to generate orders.
7. Finally – make sure you enjoy it.
This was adapted from a post originally published on Fashion Angel. Fashion Angel hosts a wide range of workshops and training events for small fashion businesses.
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Design Create Sell: A guide to starting and running a successful fashion business will lead you through all of the issues involved in setting up a small fashion enterprise. It’s available as a print book or a downloadable ebook from the Enterprise Nation shop.
Photo credit: Fashion Angel