10 More Things I Learned about Trade Show Selling from the New York International Gift Fair

I have a new series percolating on manifesting for our maker businesses, but just realized I hadn't posted anything about my exhibit at NYIGF last month!

(my bad)

So here are my top 10 lessons learned (most the hard way) that anyone considering a tradeshow to offer their handmade whoseewhatsee to industry might find helpful.

(I am all about being helpful after all ... and perky ... I am all about being helpful and perky ... or wait that might be what Olive is all about, but some of her habits have rubbed off on me over the years - luckily not her habit of trying to impregnate the beach towels)

NOTE - wholesale selling is not an absolute step for growing a handmade business (in fact it can put you out of business) and trade show selling is not an absolute step for growing a wholesale business - I am rethinking this myself.

1. Location is very important.

Your customer will not walk this entire show - it is huge. I had a good location - not a great one. Next time I will have a great one.

(now you get what you pay for with this and I have been told you have to pay your dues a bit- will have to let you know about that one - with smaller venues where customers walk the entire show this is less important)

2. Display your items the way a store would.

This is the first show where I set up display packages to show customers exactly how my makings could work and look in their stores and it made a huge difference. I am very sure it doubled my sales.

(also don't expect buyers to buy things you haven't displayed - they come to the shows to see the real thing, not pictures)

3. Buyers don't just want to hear how great your whoseewhatsee is - they want to hear how well it sells.

Wholesale requires a different pitch. This time I focused on my proven selling track record first before I talked about how cool and amazing my makings are. Buyers and store owners have almost certainly made buying mistakes with new sellers in the past and can be gun shy about placing first orders - you want to make things easy for them.

4. Brick and Mortars have different needs than our own retail websites

I sell picture jewelry. Online I can have hundreds of images - stores can't carry that kind of variety. They need just the right customer to come into their store to purchase my whoseewhatsee - things have to be a little more wide-appealing for them (they may not get a customer who just has to have an orange octopus on a cork walk into their store). You may need to think about this.

5. Your show neighbors are not your competition - play nice

I have done shows where it is obvious that everyone feels in competition with everyone else - this was not one of those shows. I do not feel the need to compete with anyone (maybe because I am old and tired - ack!) - I believe in setting up my business to draw my right customers to me and I do. I make jewelry. So do alot of other people. There is no store that is selling my jewelry that is not selling alot of other people's jewelry, too - we are not in competition with each other.

6. Get credit card numbers

Buyers do not want to pay until their items ship, which is usually weeks and sometimes even months after they order. I get it. I am OK with that for the most part. I still need to be more proactive with credit card numbers so I am not playing phone tag for weeks.

7. Follow up. Alot of this show is about connections - make the most of them. I believe in multiple contacts with the same store (rather then contacting a bunch of stores then moving on to a new bunch of stores).

(I know from my banking days we had much greater success with traditional advertising campaigns when we targeted the same customers again and again - maybe they got familiar with our name and felt more comfortable, maybe we just wore them down - I'm not sure, but I know it works)

At previous shows I got overwhelmed with my contact list and didn't follow-up like I should. This time I have and can already see results.

8. Be yourself. This is what branding is all about. I have been told my display is too busy (could be), that my banner makes people at a distance think I sell dog products (could be), that my display is too eco (as in eco-friendly) but since I am a busy, dog-loving, eco-friendly maker I stick with being myself. 

9. Lighting. You need great lighting. Next time I'll have great lighting. 

(Suzanne from Tanner Glass had great lighting)

10. Never take antibiotics on an empty stomach - I was on antibiotics during this show and knew this warning - always thought it had something to do with the medicine digesting probably - but running late one morning without breakfast I took one and found myself running to the restroom 15 minutes later and continuing to be very nauseous for about an hour - of course when you think about what antibiotics actually are this makes perfect sense. When I am old and gray (or maybe I should say older and grayer) this is the lesson that will stick with me best from this show ...


KJ said...

I could kick myself on the lighting issue. I was at a show and saw these great tiny bright lights that sat on the tabletop and focused on the jewelry. I don't recall seeing any cords so they were probably battery operated. The lights were in a metallic tube about the size of a garden hose and maybe 5 inches long. They were bright yet unobtrusive. I didn't look closely enough and I did not ask the vendor where the heck she purchased them. Make friends, ask questions, and jot it all down in your smart phone so when you forget 5 minutes later you will be able to pull that information right up.

I think no matter what you do, wholesale, retail, service jobs, hermit, etc... you have to do it in the style that best fits you. You cannot possibly reach your goals if you drown out yourself with a bunch of silly rules because they fit someone else's interpretation of the universe. Thank you for saying so and giving me a chance to agree with such hard won wisdom.

Stacey Merrill said...

Fantastic post. I've worked tradeshows for the day job (games) & everything you say is true regardless of the product. I will be forwarding this onto some folks who are thinking about moving from etsy to wholesale - thanks for sharing

Barbara Lewis said...

I really enjoyed your post! Lots of good information that can only be gained through experience! Thanks for sharing!

Catherine Ivins said...

thanks Kathy, Stacey and Barbara! xo

Monique said...

If you only knew how much of a life saver you and your blog have been in my trade show preparation. The tip on displaying stuff the way a store would has made me go back to the display drawing board.