Trade show hits and tips for first timers

I've just got back from showing at a craft trade show, I tend to do a few trade shows a year. I thought I'd write some tips and advice for those who are thinking of doing a trade show for the first time or are planning one now. The first few i did were a steep learning experiences, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but had researched a lot and spent time planning everything to a tee. After a few years, I’m now familiar with the process and it is a lot easier!

1. Location

If you can – choose your stand to be somewhere in an open space, near a staircase, café or seating area. Buyers will spot you through the gaps and will walk past you a few times if they are heading to a café or up and down the stairs.

2. Stand design

Personally I like to keep things really simple so that the work stands out, but minimalism is part of my brand so it works for me. Others like to put it in a home or shop setting so the buyer can imagine how it will look in their shop or home. Be careful not to over decorate the stand with any products that you aren’t selling like vases of flowers etc, if you can use your products then that’s great.

Take a tool kit with you, I always take: an electric drill (charged), a hammer, nails, pins, screws, a level, scissors, sticky velcro, blue tac, hooks, clips, pen & paper, white paint touch up paint. I also take lots of snacks and water as it can get really hot.

3. Be approachable

You want the buyer to feel comfortable approaching your stand. Personally I don’t like the ‘hard sell’ approach. I smile and say “Hi, let me know if you have any questions”. If they lingerer around a particular product I’ll eventually ask something like “Do you like bone china mugs?” This opens a casual conversation and lets them know it’s bone china – a conversation starter. Remember, if they place an order you might have a relationship with them for a few years, so create a friendly foundation.

I think it’s best not to be chatting to your neighbours too much. It’s easy to do, as it can get a bit boring, but you are at work and need to be paying attention to your stand.

Neighbours can become your new best friends but try not to let them stand in front of your display. If you need to talk to them ask to stand to the side insuring they are not blocking the view for buyers, and if possible best wait until the afternoon when it gets a bit quieter.

4. Know your figures

You need to know off by heart your:

Wholesale and RRP prices

Lead times

Minimum order

Where things are made/who made them. If you are a designer-maker, they like to ask you about your story and inspiration. Keep it to the point though, it’s easy to try to fill silences by talking, but they are probably thinking, so don’t ramble on.

The tricky bit for me is adjusting to buyers styles of questioning. Some are very business like and simply ask “lead times?” or “prices?”. Short and sweet answers are best here. They are obviously busy and probably in a rush. Others might be really excited to meet you, have followed you on instagram and want to know all about how you got started, where your studio is etc etc… Here I relax a bit, can be enthusiastic about my products and the achievements the business has made since start up.

5. Something to remember

Give them something to take away. Your price list, catalogue, a postcard with a photo and contact details, or even just a business card – but give them something. Be sure to have a product on your business card not just a logo. A picture will help jog their memory when they get home.

6. Be social

Reach out on social media. Get there 20 minutes early and take some photos, tag the event/venue. Remember to state your stand number. If someone you admire is near you or your neighbour is doing really well, tag them too so it shows up when people search for tweets, for example.

The most important thing is to not put too much pressure on yourself. If it’s your first trade show you might only get a couple of orders, and maybe not even one. But if you take peoples business cards and write down what your conversation was about you can chase it up after with a friendly email. I find orders often come after, but as time goes on i get more orders at the show. You might need to try a few out to get a feel for what works for your brand. It’s a lot of money to spend, but once you’ve found one that works for you, you can stick with it. Buyers like seeing you there year on year, it gives them faith in your business and you can build relationships. It’s worth it in the end!

Good Luck xxx

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