Recently I have had received a few emails from fellow designers and start ups looking for advice on trade shows and how the company has been building steadfast over the last year. Oddly enough we are a start up ourselves so just until recently, I didn't find it appropriate to give out guidance to people who are mostly older and more experienced than I am.
However I feel a little more relaxed and generous today after my visa has been extended (please read my previous post here for details). I am about to give you the absolute unrevealed keys to a successful seller-costumer relationships. Not the general trade stands' setting and selling advice that are all so ambiguous on the net, here I am with the core secrets that every successful business owner knows but have too little time to share.
However, before you read on, please make sure you and your business are qualified for a simple list below:
A coherent range of products that doesn't have to be intensive but must have a unique appeal.
A back up funding sufficient for at least 2-3 trade shows.
An intensive work ethnic.
Some lovely clothing garments that fit your business' brands.
If the are all yes, please read on to achieve a successful trade show:
National trade shows, as everyone knows, cost a lot but very few know why. Rather than complaining about its expensive cost to enter, you should understand what trade events offer and why they are allowed to charge so much. It's because they are serious - everything about a trade show such as Top Drawer and National Stationery is serious : the buyers, the business, the products, you. Presenting yourself at a trade show is to say "my business is serious, if you want to buy, I will be able to satisfy your needs" . As much as I appreciate little markets and handmade events, business owners won't tend to take you seriously if they haven't seen or known about your brand at a serious trade event.
Realizing that will help you with the next step of utilizing a trade show to its most benefits which include:
The Before Show
1. Having an eye catching directory entry on the organizer's website. Actual trade attendants have fallen but that is only because why bother traveling so far if the Internet allows you to visit every exhibitor’s website? I have had numerous of leads getting in touch from seeing my entry on Top Drawer's listing. So make sure you upload sufficient contact details and lots of beautiful shots of your products as soon as a stand/booth is booked.
2. Send out actual postal invitations – the organizer does give you lots of printed invitations for your clients or wish-to-be clients but design-led businesses know they have got to send out their own designed invitations. It is an extra cost but again, it's worth it as even some costumers won't make it to the event, they know you will be there and thus take you more seriously, hence more likely to order from you via email or online.
3. Invest in a quality printed catalogue. Yes, sadly it is another cost to bear but should not be undercut: I didn't have enough products and was too stingy to invest in a catalog until last September, and my after show orders were record high comparing to the half year only sending out little leaflets and business cards. The world may have gone online, but there will always be room for physical contacts of lingering through the pages and circling the products people would like to purchase...
The During Show
I won't go into stand building as this is pretty obvious a stand needs to look bright and visually appealing! Let's leave that to your creative imagination and go straight to the marketing points:
1. Dress appropriately- don't over or under dress. A suit is a bit too unapproachable if you're selling candles or cards but a slogan T-shirt doesn't say 'I'm serious' either (unless you're selling slogan T-shirts). Costumers at trade events, more than often middle and high brow people, are too nice to judge you from the way you look – but first impression always, always counts. A nice dress, a casual cardigan and flat shoes and you're good to go.
2. Open a conversation about them, not you. If you haven't read How to Win friends and Influence people by Dale Carnegie, I urge you to get a copy. Mostly at events and markets, I find exhibitors always start a conversation about themselves, how they make things, how the products work, etc. Though it's interesting to hear, trade costumers are at your stand to look for things to sell to their costumers – so make sure you ask about their shops, the locations, their costumers range so when necessary, you can recommend a range that suit their costumers' needs. Besides, it would make you feel a lot better if someone else is interested in you rather than just trying to sell their products first, think of this when you try to make a sale.
3. Don't ever prevent people from taking photos of your stand: I know copyrights is important but imagine how turned off you would be when seeing a beautiful display, planning to take photo to write about it on your blog and get shut down by the owner. For me, I actually find it offensive when people do this, it's like saying I'm going to copy their work or something. Therefore, rather than being afraid of getting copied, you should focus on building up a business so that even when someone copies you, costumers will recognize your trademarks and avoid buying from them.
4. Learn to remember all of your current costumers and greet them when they come around: Again another sales tactic that most designers/ start ups fail to remember, make your costumers feel special and appreciated. I know they are, but if you don't show them that through the slightest courtesy of remembering their names and shops, how do you expect them to place a repeat order? It's not easy, as I learnt this skill while working in a coffee shop my friend owned and thus saw the amazing difference in reaction just by memorizing someone's name. People started to open up to me and tell me all their stories and life experiences. I even learnt to memorize the shop owner's husband or wife so I can greet them as they come together – remember all the small things will lead to big differences.
The After Show
1. Wait up to 14 days before sending out follow up emails: Orders will often come within 7-14 days after the show when costumers have made up their minds about purchasing your products, so there is no need to become desperate and send them reminder emails straight away. Besides, a lot of emails will probably come to their inbox right after show so if you wait a bit, you have more chances of shop owners opening it without deleting your email straight away.
2. Send your printed catalogs (and samples) to contacts made at show: Emails follow ups work on a tiny percentage for me, whereas postal delivery with a few samples and hand written notes appear way more effective. Again this is due to the enormous number of emails business owners receive per day. All this extra effort will put you in a much better position than just writing repetitive emails.
3. Make sure you are booked for another trade show: Again, working business-to-business may be less stressful, but it requires an enormous amount of effort (and funding) to prove your business' ingenuity. If you only appear once and disappear for another two years, costumers will not be obliged to remember you and your products: a trade stand is a simplest way to say “I'm here, and my business is growing (or at least staying constant).” Remember, a lot of my current costumers only enquired when they saw me first time and didn't place orders until we met again at another event.
4. The market is competitive, so stay fresh at all times: If you look at successful trade businesses, they are always on their working wheel and launching new collections at every trade fair. Costumers, both businesses and retail consumers, are constantly searching for novelty goods so your designs and products must evolve all the time. This is where the requirement for the work ethnic kicks in, if you would like to run your own business, be prepared to work super super hard.
All the rest is now up to you, I hope this has been helpful for start ups looking to do trade events and I would love to see you someday.
Thank you for reading. X