BUSINESS TIME: MY FIRST TRADE SHOW January 29 2016, 0 Comments

(That's my nervous, first thing, day one face. You can see the look of 'please buy my jewellery' desperation.)

Earlier this month I attended my first ever trade show at Top Drawer. It felt like a real landmark for me, a deadline to get my sh*t together and start selling to retail. (Which was supposed to be my priority when I left my full time job 10 months ago...)

Trade shows were a big part of my job when I used to work in marketing, so I'm familiar with the process, but it felt quite different when it's all about your own brand (and out of your own pocket *flying money emoji*).

Until then I'd only sold direct through my own website and marketplaces, so it's a big change for my business. There's a fair amount of risk involved in trade shows, it's expensive to attend, you've then got to furnish your stand, and you've got to pay up front for a whole load of new promotional material ranging from price lists, packaging, and postcards. So between big upfront costs, and smaller margins selling to retail, there's a lot of pressure to make it successful. (I had a lot of anxious dreams the week before about arriving and my stand being wrong, stock being stolen, or my sign falling on a buyer.)

Here are a few things I wish I'd done before exhibiting, or was glad I did. Apologies if it's common sense, but if you've never attended a trade show before, hopefully it's of some help.

LIMIT YOUR EXPECTATIONS

I didn't know what to expect. I had friends who had attended before, but they were stationery or home rather than jewellery, and most of them said each show was different anyway. I was exhibiting in Spotted which is a curated area for small creative businesses that are new to retail. There were definitely pros and cons, I wasn't sure specific jewellery buyers would come to Spotted as well as the jewellery section, but being highlighted in a 'New Talent' zone definitely meant people who might have overlooked you before would see you. 

You're told not to expect orders on the day, so I tried not to get my hopes up. But I also know from experience that lots of independent buyers will make orders on the day, and I would have been disappointed if I hadn't had any. But you shouldn't be, it's a show room, and honestly, If you were a buyer, would you buy things on the day? I'm guilty of panic buying, so I would collect the info of the brands I liked, go back to the office, look at my budget and then make any decisions. This is especially relevant if you have higher price items, or you have high minimum orders. And lots of small orders are great, but you could have just as profitable show by just getting one national store on board.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

I failed at this. With the show coming just after Christmas, I was too busy (erm, managed my time too badly) to contact buyers beforehand, but you should, if only to let them know you're going to be there. The worst that can happen is that they ignore you (nothing lost) but it might just be that one little email reminds them to pay you a visit and then they fall in love with your new range. Also, loads of buyers will hide their badges, and also use the line 'I forgot my business cards', but don't fret, they'll get in touch if they like you. And it does give you the opportunity to play guess the buyer. (Or you can always stalk them on linked in beforehand...)

HAVE FUN

I was so grateful that my boyfriend took a couple of days off work to come along with me. Although you'd be fine by yourself the majority of the time, it was so nice to have someone cover the stand when you need to eat or wee, and having an extra pair of (long) arms to paint the far corners of my stand, and help move the chest of drawers I thought it was a good idea to bring. Not to mention having him keep me company over dinner and in the hotel. (He also went to the shops to buy me socks as I'd forgotten to pack any.) And I loved my little Spotted family too, it was so nice to feel like I had colleagues for a few days! And you genuinely support each other, I was really willing them to get the retailers they wanted. There are slow periods when you need someone to be silly with, to get you through the last hour of each day when your feet are burning and your back aches... Hence the creation of 3pm lunge club with our neighbours Paper Plane

MAKE THE MOST OF IT

You're there to sell, but you're also amongst 100s of successful brands who started exactly the same way as you, as well as 100s of potential customers. After working alone for so much of the year, I found it really helpful to talk to people and get their feedback on the products, the pricing and new packaging. If there are any particular brands you want to chat to, it's worth getting in touch beforehand, and it's best to visit them before the show opens or as it's closing when things are a bit quieter so you're not preventing them chatting to buyers.

THE AFTERMATH

The most important time is after the show, more orders will be made, and you'll need to follow up on all those new contacts you made. Don't leave it too long and let them forget about you. Add them to a mailing list and keep them updated with any new launches. All those price lists and post cards you had printed? (I ordered waaay too many.) Don't waste them, send those to the stores and buyers you didn't get to meet at the show. And maybe book yourself a little time off and a treat a week or so after the show. You've earned it.