I've talked about how wholesale is a great way to diversify your income streams and build your business.
Have you wondered how to up your wholesale game for your creative biz?
What's one way that can turn your business into a million dollar company in less than two years?
(It has happened to a few of us.)
Trade shows are like craft shows except you don't sell product right then and there.
Instead, you take wholesale orders (this is called “writing orders”) and ship your orders after the show is over.
In this post, I'll talk about a few of the pros and cons of doing a trade show.
I'll also walk you through my experience doing my first ever trade show The National Stationery Show (NSS) in New York.
Pros of doing a trade show
- You spread the word about your business to people that matter
- Tons of VIPs walk the show – journalists, magazine editors, multi-location store owners and more
- You get orders
- That's the point of doing a trade show – you'll get into a few shops at the end of the day
- You open up incredible opportunities for your business
- Licensing deals, sales rep hires, the chance to work with a awesome and big stores like Uncommon Goods and Anthropologie
- You get direction and feedback about your product and biz
- You get to see and hear first hand how people react to your business
- You connect with other vendors and exhibitors and exchange resources (like what other awesome trade shows to do or which packaging supplier to work with)
Cons of doing a trade show
- It's super cost prohibitive
- I spent almost $8,000+ for the entire gig
- Although a few costs are one-time expenses, it's still an expensive endeavor to take on
- It's risky, especially if you're not ready
- I'll mention this later on, businesses exhibiting at trade shows are very polished – their branding, packaging and products are impeccable
- If you aren't ready to present your products well, it'll be a major flop
- There's no guarantee of making your money back
- Trade shows are an investment in your business
- Many people I've asked have never been able to tell me confidently that they've profited from a trade show, even though they always say it's worth it
- You really need the extra help
- Besides scaling up your business for wholesale, you'll definitely need help setting up and manning your booth
- So if you're used to working alone and haven't thought about hiring help, now's the time!
Trade shows sound really scary, don't they?
That's what I thought.
These crazy what-if's kept me worried, and I'm sure they're running through your mind too:
- My freight company won't get my crate (which has my booth in it) on time
- My booth set up will take too long
- I forget to bring something important
- Delta Airlines loses my luggage bag which has my inventory in it
- I'm in a terrible location at the show
- I won't know how to talk to wholesale buyers
But I'm here to tell you that my first show at the National Stationery Show in New York went absolutely fine.
It went so well that the day after I returned home, I made some calls and found that I don't have to wait a whole year to do another trade show.
I could do two really big ones in just a couple of months from now.
My first trade show experience
When it comes down to it, it's all in the numbers.
How many orders did I write? 21 – that's 21 new stores carrying my work!
How much money did I make? $8,000+ (I broke even!)
How many leads did I get? At least 50!
That's not even counting the bigger deals that can't make orders at the show because they need to pick which designs to carry.
That's at least 4 stores with over $2,000 orders each.
I met a dozen reputable sales reps that are dying to sell my products.
I also met a couple of interested licensing companies.
That's all considering it was “unusually slow” in the later half of the trade show and “the worst trade show” one other vendor I talked to had ever done.
I consider my first trade show at NSS to be very successful.
Here's what contributed to a great show for me:
Do a TON of research
Tons of blogs (including mine now) talk about doing NSS and other trade shows.
Learn from other people's experiences so you don't make their same mistake.
Someone said they brought 1000 catalogs and didn't even come close to giving out that many.
They said to only bring about 300 – which I did and I have a handful leftover, but it was just right.
The construction of my booth walls was also a result of my research.
Because you're not allowed to use power tools at the convention center, we needed to prepare the hardwood walls ahead of time for easy installation.
Do a dry run set up and tear down
This being my first time doing a trade show, it was prudent to time and test setting up and tearing down the booth.
We did the trial in our garage.
And on the day of the trade show, everything went 10 times more smoothly.
Do pre-show promos
I sent 400+ postcards to a custom-made list of stores that were attending the show.
I also took advantage of the exhibitor online portal that let me upload products for possible features.
A few people who made orders with me came saying they saw my product in an email blast or they got my postcard.
Have a show special
- Free shipping off all orders made at the show.
- 10% off orders over $300 and a free display.
- 15% off orders over $500.
Where I would normally make minimum orders ($150), I made between $400-600 orders at the show because of my attractive show specials.
For anyone that shows interest in your product or if someone grabs a catalog, ask them for a business card in return.
These are valuable leads that could turn into sales in the future!
A lot of people ran out of cards so be ready with pen and paper to write their information down.
After the show, be sure to follow up. The magic is always in the follow up.
Put on your A game
I had already spent $8,000 on this trade show, I knew I had to give 200% to my prospects.
Getting people's attention by saying hi or welcoming them to touch my products helped break the ice for most.
It was important to be aware of people who were “hovering” and had questions or appeared curious.
I stood 95% of the time (and having lived in NY for a week, I think I need bed rest for a month to recoup!)
I was always present.
My exhibiting neighbors were complaining about what an awful show it was.
But these were the same people who looked like they were dying.
Or who weren't even in their booths because they were too busy chatting with their exhibitor friends elsewhere.
Smile. Be of service. Know your product.
What to do for a better show
Shop around for the best prices
Shipping my entire booth walls, furniture and flooring was $1400 round trip.
I later found a company that could cut that cost in half.
Make sure you're a perfect fit for the show
It's so important to know that you are a good fit for the show.
I was pretty confident with my fit at NSS but I feel I would have done even better at a trade show specifically geared towards gift shops (NSS is mostly stationery and paper).
I only collected the names of the person and the business because that was readily available on the badges that attendees have to wear.
But I failed to write down their contact information (email) because that was an extra step and I would have to ask for it.
I completely forgot and now that I need to follow up with them, I have to spend the extra time to hunt down their contact info.
Should I do more shows this year?
Now that the National Stationery Show has come and gone, I'm still super stoked to take on more trade shows.
The cost to do them are significantly lower than the $8k I had to shell out for NSS.
There are two gift shows happening in Atlanta and Chicago in July.
I would love to do them and I think they will be so amazing for business.
Do you think I should more shows or take it easy for the rest of the year?