Conquering chaos: a guide to maximizing your trade show experience
—an opportunity for you to meet with buyers from around the globe and form valuable face-to-face relationships that are hopefully long term and lucrative. But they are a big investment to attend, from both a financial and energy perspective. Before you put dollars and hours into a tradeshow, take a few minutes to understand and prepare for the various dynamics that come along with tradeshows so you can optimize your investment.
Before You Officially Purchase a Booth
Attending the right tradeshow is just as important as making the most of your time once you get there. We can’t stress enough: Don’t overlook the simple, but sometimes time-consuming, step of choosing shows that are appropriate for your brand. Tradeshows tend to attract a certain style of buyer. Who is your target audience and does that audience attend that tradeshow? If possible, walk the tradeshow a season before to see the types of buyers and brands that attend. Take in the scene: Does it look like there is a lot of business occurring or is it more marketing? Are your competitors in attendance?
Sharifa Murdock, seasoned tradeshow professional and partner at Liberty Fairs, recommends creating a wishlist of the top 100 stores you’d like to see. “Cross reference your wishlist with each show’s list of registered retailers, and determine the right show from there.”
For smaller brands, it may be advantageous to attend a smaller, curated tradeshow rather than compete against established brands at national or global shows. Remember, buyers are limited on time and they often have a pre-planned list of brands they want to see.
All About Relationships
Your tradeshow representative can be a key player in helping you promote your brand. Strive to keep the relationship positive, friendly, and open. This way, the rep will likely be more apt to consider your requests, including the critical step of providing a list of buyers that will be attending the show.
Once you obtain that list, note the buyers you want to see, then contact them weeks in advance to set up a booth visit. Buyers’ tradeshow schedules are often busy, so make appointments where you can.
Murdock adds, “Utilize online research tools (i.e. Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram) to find out more about your buyers. Knowing more about their personal style and interests will leverage your relationship with them.”
Also, don’t be afraid to request prime booth placement, or to be placed next to brands that attract high foot traffic.
“It’s important to convey the essence of your brand, so set aside a budget to customize your booth in a way that helps you tell your brand story” says Lauren Fitzgerald, former sales associate at Project Global Tradeshow. “There is no need to do specially designed build outs like larger, more established brands. You can get creative with signage and size-specific graphics to complement your product.”
The key word is complement. “It’s very important to remember that your product should speak louder than its presentation,” explains Sharifa Murdock of Liberty Fairs. After all, your product is the star of your booth. “Understand the scope of your line and work within its realms. It should be presented the way it would be in a retail store.”
When it comes to the product itself, do not go overboard. Brands often bring too many items to shows. By bringing less, you’re making it easier on yourself and saving money on shipping, plus buyers are able to focus on each piece longer
when there are not duplicates in many colors. A high quality digital photograph of each piece in various colors is an acceptable substitute.
Moreover, you can utilize wholesale platforms like NuORDER, which allows buyers to view and order your product right from your iPad or laptop at the show. Buyers can use the platform to take notes, draft proposals, and submit orders in a few easy clicks. Fitzgerald elaborates, “All the while, you get to collect their information digitally and privately. The need for printed lookbooks, business cards, pens, and paper is completely eliminated, saving you time, which is so valuable at a tradeshow.”
During the Show
While it’s important for your sales team to be well versed on the brand and its product features, it’s crucial to also be observant. If certain styles are getting a lot of attention, re-merchandise your product so that those styles are at the forefront of the display. Be able to recognize key buyers and take the opportunity to snag their attention between appointments. “Nowadays, you can Google any buyer from Bloomingdales and see a picture of what they look like,” Murdock points out.
Also, be visible. Don’t hide inside your booth. “At Liberty, the tables are higher so that reps are less likely to be sitting inside their booths. Brands reps need to make their presence felt by standing in front of the booth, making eye contact with people walking by, and making sure people are in their booth at all times,” Murdock adds.
If you have down time, embrace the opportunity to be flexible. Walk the show to get a vibe of what else is happening. Is it busy near the food stands? Is it slow everywhere? These observations can help you decide how to plan for next season’s show.
After the Show
Sales are all about follow-through. Follow up with everyone you met during the show. The faster you follow up with them, the more serious you are about doing business and building your brand.
Murdock explains that it’s critical to have a customer service mindset. “It’s a big part of anything you do in life. Keep the lines of communication open and even send a visual follow up. You can use online tools to customize linesheets or lookbooks and create list of styles that were best sellers.”
On the logistics end, buyers like to see that brands can keep up with demand. Make sure your manufacturing, inventory, and shipping processes are smooth and efficient. Murdock adds, “Don’t get discouraged if you don’t sell the first time. Be persistent – make them remember you. If they don’t buy now, they may buy future collections. Stay consistent, friendly, and positive.”