Friday, 21 November 2014

Tips for a Successful Trade Show

Now, I don't claim to be a trade show expert - Top Drawer was my first experience as a standholder at a trade show, but I learnt a LOT from my experience and thought that sharing some of what I learn might help others who are thinking of exhibiting. (please note, none of these points cover building a stand - this is because I posted a specific blogpost about this topic on Wednesday, so be sure to have a read of that too!)

- trade shows are NOT craft fairs - yeah, I know, pretty obvious right? But I went into my Top Drawer experience sort of expecting it to be like the experiences I'd had at craft fairs. It wasn't. Firstly, it's a lot more business-y. People are making big decisions, and spending lots of money, and talking to lots of people, so there is a lot less chit chat than at craft fairs. That's not to say I didn't talk to anyone - I had some really lovely chats with some really lovely people, but don't feel upset if people just take a catalogue, ask a few questions about minimums and lead times, and then move on!

- have a helper - not for all day, but even if someone can come a relieve you for an hour in the middle of the day so you can go and have a spot of lunch and relax for a little bit. I was lucky enough to have help for all three days of Top Drawer, and it really did make a difference. I think like most makers I find it difficult talking to people about my work, and even harder to 'sell' my work, so having someone else to help with this was awesome! Why not persuade a friend or family member to help in exchange for some freebies?

- make sure to have your stand number somewhere on the catalogue/business card/postcard or whatever it is that you're handing out to interested visitors. This way they will easily be able to find your stand again should they want to come back and place an order.

- know your stuff - remember that the vast majority of people that visit your stall will have never seen your products or your brand before, so they will probably have lots of questions. It's so important that you can answer these in a professional manner. The obvious questions are of course prices, lead times, minimum orders, and payment methods, but I found that most people would also want to know which butterfly necklaces were the most popular, what style of cufflinks most men bought, what colour banner necklace sold the best. Know your bestsellers and be sure to offer input to buyers.

- take a clipboard - trying to write out orders leaning against a wall, on the floor, or balancing on a corner of your display is not only difficult, but it looks pretty unprofessional! Oh, and take lots of pens (because they always get lost) and take a stapler to attach business cards to order forms (most people when placing orders will give you a business card with their address/email/phone number etc on, rather than writing everything out, and you don't want to lose this information!

- trade shows can be boring - in my mind I imagined it would be a constant flurry of activity, talking to crowds of people, handing out hundreds of business cards, filling in order forms left right and centre. But the reality was that inbetween talking to people or taking orders there were long periods of standing/sitting around. Taking something to do (business-related if possible) not only combats boredom, but looks productive and can be a conversation starter. Don't take along anything messy, or that requires lots of concentration though!

- if someone asks for a catalogue or a price list, give them one, but also ask for their card in return. This way you will know who is interested in your items, and you'll be able to follow up with them after the show (don't harass them the day after, but leave it a few weeks then send a friendly email along the lines of 'hello, we met at Top Drawer, I hope you're well. I just wanted to see if you'd had a chance to look through our catalogue, and whether you had any questions I could help with at all?)

- have a trade show special offer - I offered free shipping on all orders placed at the show, to encourage buyers to place orders on the day. I definitely think this helped. Next time I will also be offering some sort of 'new stockist' introductory pack, which will feature a selection of our best selling products at a special show price. Lots of buyers struggle to make on the spot decisions, especially if you offer one product in several options or colours, so having a pack like this helps save a lot of hassle.

- take drinks and snacks - make sure to keep your stand stocked with bottles of water, packs of dried fruit and nuts, goldfish crackers, or anything easy to eat, not messy, and not stinky! You'll be working from 9:30am till 5pm (may be different for different shows) so it's important to keep hydrated and keep your energy levels up. Also keep some mints or gum handy - nothing more off-putting than talking to someone that has smelly post-lunch breath!

- and remember, it's NOT all about the orders on the day - yeah, sure, orders are awesome. Every businessperson is looking to get orders and make money, but do remember that people will take away catalogues and get in touch at a later date (we had just as many orders placed after the show as we did at the show!) Also, you never know who has seen your stand or picked up a card on the day. Lots of press and freelance journalists visit trade shows looking for brands to feature, so you might end up being contacted to be featured in a magazine.

If you have any specific questions about trade shows then do leave a comment, or drop me an email, and as always I will try my best to help!


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