Jan. 23, 2012 (Homemadeology) -- I’ve been getting lots of e-mails since the first of the year from various trade show promoters that there is Still Space Available and it’s my Last Chance to Apply -– even from, to my surprise, the (new) owners of George Little Management (GLM), who put on the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF).
Once you do even one of these shows, all the other show promoters will solicit you to do their (bigger! better!) show, and they send their reps to walk competing shows and look for new companies that they can lure to do their show next time. At my first show in Chicago, I met reps from Atlanta, Dallas, LA, and the American Craft Retail Expo (ACRE) show, all loving my line and all sure that I will do great at their next show.
All these wholesale shows do their very best to seem exclusive and hard to get in to, but the truth seems to be that they are losing exhibitors and attendees right and left. Business has been “tough” for the retailers, and especially for the “mom-n-pop” artisan galleries and boutiques, they are lucky right now to scrape together some Open To Buy for re-orders.
They may not have the budget for a trip to the city for a trade show and will just work with vendors they already have and see their latest collection on-line. Exhibitors both big and small are re-evaluating marketing budgets, and analyzing what shows, if any, really pay off for them.
It’s hard to quantify how these shows do pay off for exhibitors. You’d like to be able to say that you covered your costs at least, so that was my goal –- to write enough orders to do so right at the show.
I was sure I knew what I was doing –- I had my Official Business Plan, my wholesale experience, my unique product and fantastic display, my Show Special, and I was so prepared to quote prices, delivery dates, offer terms, and had my order pads all ready.
At my first show, I wrote ONE order, and I didn’t see too much business going on in my neighbor’s booths, either, except for at the end when people try to buy your samples for cash. (Jewelers can really make out here if they bring lots of back-up “samples,” but be careful, this practice is officially discouraged by show promoters.) I know we were in a near Depression, but this was a disaster for many of the first-timers like me.
My hottest item was the lavender -- and flaxseed -- filled Eye Pillows that I made for a giveaway.
The buyers sure remembered me when I called after the show.
So, Lesson #2 is to have realistic expectations of what you will get out of the show. Sure, there is always one exhibitor who does tons of business their first time out -– but it will probably not be you, no matter how fabulous your work or how well you plan and execute your display.
In many cases buyers are cautious about doing business with a new resource and like to see you at more than one show, over time. Retailers want to know that you are in business to stay, that you will be able to fill reorders and be a “partner” (that means, if something doesn’t sell, they want to send it back or get “markdown money”).
The booths that were busy (even though they complained about business, too) were all old trade-show hands that do two-to-five shows each season (winter and summer, add THAT up!)
Make sure you actually set up your booth in your studio beforehand, don’t just plot it out on paper. 10’x10’ is a lot smaller that I thought!
At your first trade show, I suggest you concentrate on meeting as many people as you can. Talk to your fellow exhibitors during set-up and after hours at the hotel bar. (But not so much during the show itself, and never gather in someone’s booth to complain about how slow it is.)
Make contact with as many buyers as you can, get their cards or rent one of those snazzy badge scanners, and then follow up, follow up, follow up, when you get back to your studio/office. Befriend the show managers and installers, and maybe they will pick your pieces for a special press segment or get your crates out first at the end of the show.
You can pull the orders to make the show pay off, but it might take weeks or months, so long that some buyers might just say, “Oh, well, I’ll see you at the Summer Show, and I’ll write my order then.” Hopefully, you’ll be able to respond, “Great! I’ll be in Booth #1234. What time do you want to stop by?”
Atlanta Gift & Home Furnishings Market – Jan.13-17
*Dallas – Total Home and Gift – Jan. 18-24
Apparel and Accessories – Jan. 26-29
ACRE – Orlando – Jan. 21-23
Beckman’s Handcrafted Show – Chicago – Jan. 21-24; LA – Jan. 20-23
NYIGF – Jan. 28- Feb. 2
BMAC – Philadelphia – Feb. 18-20
* Did not mean to exclude Dallas in my previous post, they are a big market and have the nicest exhibitor reps! Also, every market center has apparel and accessories shows, too, for you jewelers and handbag makers.
Deborah Goodwin is the creator of ShapeShiftas pillows and art cushions. She has her BFA in sculpture and ceramics, and has been a buyer, a designer, and a business owner in the garment industry. She left the big city for the country life, in Vermont, where she lives with her family and produces all of her ShapeShiftas. You can also read her blog, Pillow Talk, and subscribe on the ShapeShiftas website.