My First Trade Show - swimming in the deep end

Last week I exhibited at my first wholesale tradeshow - Pool in Las Vegas.

Pool is a very cool, cutting edge indie design show and branded as "the place to find emerging art & design driven trends".

The cash and carry section where most jewelry makers exhibit was full with jewelry when I applied, so I ended up in the next most affordable area called CO-OP (although, it is the most expensive per square foot piece of real estate at the show). My space was 6'X8' and really a challenge for me to work with.

I didn't have my space assignment (since CO-OP spaces are not numbered) until set up and was stoked to find I had an 'end' location. Although, the next day when the food area was set up my 'end' disappeared and I bordered the buffet line- I was still happy to have some extra inches for my signage and a little more room in my space (hoping everyone else didn't hate me for this).

The show opened on Tuesday at 9 a.m. (I set up the day before) and when my sister and I arrived at the booth Tuesday morning we already had a customer waiting for us. She wrote a $1400.00 order for her California store and my sister and I were thinking we were going to be super busy and write a million orders that day!

(we actually didn't have another customer in the booth for 2 hours)

The traffic was sporadic so I never really got into any kind of groove that day with my 'spiel'. I had planned for customers to sit down and pick from my lookbook, but they wanted to see actual products and were usually piling the things they wanted onto the table.

(the good news was that I had brought alot of product with me - way too much - but the bad news is that my linesheet pictures for the locket lids were too small for customers to decide without asking to see the real thing, so things felt a little chaotic)

I also have to admit (somebody smack me - ugh) that not once during the 3 day show did I ever say the words "can I write up an order for you?" which was, you might remember, along with my enthusiasm for my work, my entire sales plan.

Luckily, some of the buyers took matters into their own hands and said "let's write an order" or they just started telling me what they wanted.

I got great feedback from buyers and many of them wanted my display props which I am happily sending out with their orders.

Two words about Las Vegas - TOO MUCH. Too much going on, too much stimulation, too much cigarette smoke, too much ... of everything except the really important things like in-room coffee makers (what's up with that Las Vegas?), refrigerators where you can actually store things and keep them cold, a movie channel without a $15.00 charge attached to each movie.

Of course, Las Vegas did have ... men throwing escort cards at any man walking down the street, condoms in my room, a tv that reminded me everytime I turned it on that the title of any movie purchased would not appear on my bill, tvs in the elevators, a tv in my bathroom (which actually did come in handy the night of my "break-down" while I sobbed, ate cold french fries and watched Dr. Phil from the tub).

I will wrap this up on Friday. Research shows that the average blog reader spends 45 seconds reading a blog post, so I probably lost everyone at ... "the show opened" ...

Yup- that's a DJ and a bar - I told you Pool is a cool show ------->

So, to wrap this experience up:

(as much as I can right now, because alot of buyers took my linesheets and postcards, so it is impossible to know at this point what is going to happen - it may take months to know the actual dollars and "sense" of all of this)

The show had changed locations this year and although it was still part of Magic (a huge fashion industry show)- Pool was a bit more out of the way for buyers this time, so that may have affected foot traffic (as well as the economy). People who had done the show before, told me the foot traffic this time was not as good. The management were great though (thank you Ashley!).

I met alot of buyers and got very helpful feedback that I would never get mailing postcards, etc. I have 14 new store accounts so far (and hopefully they will all be reordering!). My largest sale was $2200.00 and my smallest was $150.00.

I had planned on an $800.00 show special, but when my first couple buyers ordered more than that, I took the signs down and only mentioned it to buyers with lower order totals. Also, most shops wanted the items to arrive in October- with enough time for them to test them out before placing a holiday order, but so they wouldn't have to stock and pay for them right now.

I chose Pool for my first show even though it was a travel show for me for three reasons- 1. to see family on the west coast and 2. it seemed like a smaller more do-able show for a first timer and 3. I thought my brands would fit in well

The Miss Universe pageant going on at the same time, was of course a total plus for me!

(you may remember my summer obsession with the tiny tiara reality show tots and unabashed jealousy of their trophy collections)

The contestants were walking around the casino in little lines (maybe 10 to a pack) all day long. At 7:00 in the morning they would be in full make up and hair, in the highest, pointiest heels I have ever seen, smiling and waving at us everywhere.

They had little entourages that stood on the sidelines and wore t-shirts with their contestant's picture on the front and clapped and snapped pictures when their girl walked past. It just added to the whole surreal Vegas thing for me ...

I wanted my sister to wear a t-shirt with my picture and do the whole clap/snap thing for me, too, but she just wouldn't cooperate ... I think she is just a little bit jealous of my ability to do the windshield wiper hand wave so much better than she can.

WARNING HUGE - TOO MUCH INFORMATION - POST AHEAD - proceed with caution .. and coffee

OK- so on to the my break-down. Now, there is something at a tradeshow called drayage and this drayage thing is a very important thing to think about.

World English Dictionary
drayage (ˈdreɪɪdʒ)

— n
( US )
a. the act of transporting something a short distance by lorry or other vehicle
b. the charge made for such a transport

and I did think about it, but not too much ...

So, when you do a tradeshow and have more stuff than you can carry on a plane, obviously you have to ship your stuff to the show. I used UPS ground; it cost me $240.00 round trip for my boxes. I shipped them to the business office at the convention center at Mandalay Bay - where they charged $50.00 to store them for me for the week before the show and another $50.00 after the show to hand them off to UPS. I also brought an extra suitcase with show stuff at a cost of $70.00 roundtrip.

(I am not nitpicking pricing here, because I am willing to pay for the services I get, just giving you some numbers to float around in your head)

Now, this is where the drayage part comes in because you still have to get the boxes from the convention business offices to your booth and then get the boxes back to the business office at the end of the show.

Mine were heavy boxes and I really did have a plan to take care of this (I should mention that Pool provided a freight company to do most of this for me, but they seemed pricey on top of all my other shipping charges and I thought I could save a few bucks and do it another way).

But, my plan got a bit screwed up when I arrived at the airport with a 50 lb suitcase (the limit I was absolutely positive was the maximum, but I was absolutely positively incorrect because it turns out to be 40 lbs now - wth!) which I had to unload and get down to 40 pounds, so ... I unloaded the metal luggage carrier I had in my suitcase that I was going to use to pick up my boxes from the convention business center and carry them to and from my booth.

<-----these were my little freebie wine bottle stoppers, if anyone wants one pop me an email and I will drop a free one in the mail - our wine bottles always seem to end up empty - we never need a stopper ...

OK, so I got to the business office the morning of set up (I should add that I called the business office on the day my boxes arrived to make sure they had received them, then I called them back and asked the guy to physically eyeball them and make sure the boxes weren't crushed, then I called them back and asked the guy to shake them and let me know if he heard any broken glass ... shipping test tubes is not for sissies ...)

and I asked the very nice guy at the counter if I could get my boxes delivered to my booth and he said "no, problem" - I gave him a map and my location and had my boxes within the hour ... so, this led me to "assume" (yes, I know) that when I needed the boxes picked up from my booth at the end of the show and brought back to the business office, exactly what I was doing right then but in reverse, it would not be a problem either ....

So ...

the morning of the last day I made two very early trips from my hotel room to the business center (through the casino, etc) with my empty boxes so they could store them during that last day, which they did.

That night, at the end of the show I went back to the business office to pick up my empties and asked the same nice guy at the counter how I could make arrangements to get the filled boxes back to the management office and he said "we don't do that- you have to bring them here." I asked if I could borrow or buy some kind of cart or handtruck and he said "nope". At this point I was just like, OK, I can carry this stuff myself.

(I have been doing Jillian Michael's kickbutt workout for 2 months, for pete's sake!)

"You can't phone it in Cat! Just do it!" --->

As I was leaving the business office the counter guy yelled to me "remember we close at 6" - I checked my phone and it was 5:15. I was starting to freak a little but reminded myself that I have packed up a craft show in 15 minutes or less many times.

Of course, usually after a craft show I am either - low on product because the show was good, or tossing the stuff into boxes because the show was not so good and I just want to get home. I wasn't packing the stuff up to mail.

(I should also mention that my sister, probably sensing some kind of nightmare ahead - or maybe just because she had to go back to work, had smartly left the day before and I was on my own)

I had to bubble wrap the test tubes (in used bubble wrap with the old tape still intact and if you have ever had to remove tape from bubble wrap you know how easy this is), pack everything up in pretty much the same way I shipped it so the box weights would match up to the return labels I had already purchased (again not an easy thing to do with my total lack of short-term memory situation).

(and you know how things never seem to fit back in their boxes once you take them out)

I could literally hear the clock ticking in my head. I then have to carry the 3 (two of which were heavy and one just awkward) boxes back to the business office ... through the crowds. The last box was 40 pounds, which still doesn't sound like that much to me, but trust me, it was ....

After I had shipped my 3 boxes and left the business services office at 5:59 pm I went back to the show to finish up. I still had way too much stuff left to carry back to my room in one trip.

But, I was determined to not walk what was probably 6 city blocks through restaurant lines and the casino back to my room more than once, so I totally loaded myself up with bags containing things like a metal magnetboard and a 30" corkboard, a box of jewelry and (heavy) linesheets, an awkward wheeled suitcase, a camera bag and my pocketbook stuffed with these huge bases for my floor banners (which I somehow could not fit back in the banner box for shipping).

I was kind of like a very polite homeless woman who had lost her shopping cart squeezing through the partying crowds saying "excuse me, pardon me" over and over again.

(by now you are probably thinking this has been 10 minutes of your life you will never get back but there could be a lesson in here somewhere for all of us, mostly me though)

I finally got back to my room, note- there are constant elevator lines at Mandalay Bay and no one wanted this shopping cart-less homeless woman in their elevator - so even that took me awhile - dropped all my stuff and collapsed ...

like totally collapsed. As in a great big sobbing pile on the floor. I called hubby who was watering the garden before bed and he said "just sit down and close your eyes and let me tell you what I am looking at" and he told me all about the tomatoes and peppers and melons and stars and I felt a little better.

I ran the tub and called room service.

When the waiter delivered the food, he asked me if everything was ok (yes, it was one of those big old ugly cries, that forces people to get involved even when they don't want to) and I said, "yeah, I just miss my family."

I ate dinner in the tub while watching Dr. Phil on the bathroom TV (and why, is Dr. Phil on at 8:00 at night in Las Vegas, just another strange backwards thing in my opinion) and trying to figure out what all these tears meant anyway.

My daughter called and asked how the break down went and I couldn't help laughing that my break down had created a breakdown - I mean, really wth, I have done much much, harder stuff than this, believe me.

Truly I blame Vegas

and time zones because I was waking up every morning at 4am wide awake

and the crazy constant stimulation that made me nuts. My next tradeshows will most likely be New York and San Francisco; both places I love, so hopefully I can break down the booths without breaking into the human equivalent of jello instant pudding.

I think my lessons are 1. better planning 2. I can't do everything myself 3. Vegas sucks

(I have heard from alot of people who love Vegas and I totally get that, but when a Jersey girl says a place is loud and kind of obnoxious, you have totally got to take that seriously - also you have to take into consideration that I never set foot outside Mandalay Bay, so it was kind of like living in a gigantic, crowded mall for a week)

oh, and yes, sisters are very, very important and can save your life (thank you Tori!).