Yesterday I hosted an informal advice session about my experience of exhibiting at the Top Drawer A/W 2017 trade show for the first time last September. I learnt an awful lot from it and a lot of people have asked me to hear about it since… So I put out an open invitation to ask me all of your questions within a small group meet up and people actually came!
I love to share what I’ve learnt and it was incredible to receive such a lovely response from those who came. It has made me seriously consider hosting more events like that and whether I could even give my advice as a sideline to Sky Siouki.
Anyway, I thought it may be useful for the people who attended yesterday and for anyone who unfortunately couldn’t make it to summarise my key tips here on the blog. There were some things I didn’t get to say yesterday (a grumpy waiter kicked us out well before the advertised closing time) and some that may not have been heard by all.
1. HOW AND WHEN TO APPLY
I applied for the Spotted section of Top Drawer which is especially for first time trade show exhibitors and benefits from a 30% discount. The application process was pretty easy via an online form and I got offered a spot the next morning! I applied at the beginning of February and was able to have a fairly broad choice of stand position so I think it was a good time to apply. Trade show spots are allocated on much more of a first come first served basis in comparison with markets so it’s worth getting in early. The Spotted section is popular with buyers because they all want something fresh and new for their shops and so it’s a whole section of brands they’re guaranteed not to have seen before. It’s well positioned right next to the VIP Lounge and the Craft section too.
2. SEPTEMBER (A/W) VS. JANUARY (S/S)
I’m sorry I don’t have a definitive answer for this one as I’ve only done September but we discussed it yesterday. At the show a lot of other exhibitors told me they usually find the January edition the busier of the two shows. From what I can gather, larger retailers will be doing their Christmas buying in January and plan much further in advance. All of my orders came from small independent shops and galleries who were mostly stocking up for Christmas so it could be worth considering what type of retailers you want to attract.
3. DISPLAY EVERYTHING CLEARLY
I kept my stand layout fairly simple. You are allowed to paint the walls, add wallpaper and screw into them so I put up shelving and a rail to show most of my products. However even then, I found that in practice it still could perhaps have been clearer. Buyers often wanted to look at every design of every product all at once and I had stacked my prints in a wooden box for browsing through as I do at markets. A lot buyers ended up lining them all up on the floor in order to make their choices which wasn’t a problem but it would of course have been better for them to be able to immediately see everything together and just point out which designs they wanted.
4. KNOW YOUR PRICES
Buyers will ask you the wholesale price of everything on your stand and knowing them through and through rather than relying on skimming through sheets of paper makes it much easier for both of you. I in fact found myself blagging my way somewhat with my pricing. My listed RRPs were set as a 2x mark-up of my wholesale prices. I quickly learnt from interested shop owners that a mark-up more towards 2.5x was necessary in order to accommodate for the VAT most retailers are required to pay. In the end I verbally explained my new understanding of this to each buyer who showed interest and promised to amend my pricing accordingly. Knowing my costs well allowed me to make those promises on the spot so I was glad I’d done some memorising first.
5. PUT IMAGES ON YOUR ORDER FORMS
When a buyer decided to make an order it felt like a real whirlwind. Suddenly all of my products had been moved around and I would be rushing for my clipboard to take notes of what they were asking for. It made such a difference when a buyer would point at items listing quantities of each to be able to quickly find the matching item on my form by recognise the image rather than reading for the names. We’re all human and they were of course happy to repeat, but it’s a huge show and you can understand every buyer has an awful lot of stands to go to so time was somewhat of the essence.
6. KEEP IN CONTACT
Being my first ever trade show, I didn’t know what to expect and was overwhelmed by how many orders I received during the show. I didn’t have any stock prepared before hand and in future I will certainly stockpile a certain amount pre-show in order to shorten dispatch times. I don’t want to say I’d recommend doing that to everyone first time, as everyone’s experience will vary depending on their product. The key thing I learnt from it though was to keep every buyer well informed of the progress of their order and reassure them that it would be on it’s way soon.
I’m going to leave it there because I reckon I could go on and on and on listing more tips otherwise. Those were some of the main things I was asked yesterday and learnt though. Plus there are certain things I feel more comfortable sharing personally in a small group rather than publishing publicly on the worldwide web.
Hopefully there will be more advice sessions to come as there certainly seems to be a high level of interest for them. I’m by no means an expert but I enjoy doing what I can to help and encourage other business owners and am very happy to be honest and open about these things.
Please do leave a comment below to let me know if you’d be interested in more advice sessions and on what other topics.