I exhibited my KAHRI Dolls and accessories at my first tradeshow NY NOW on August 10-13 at Javits Center in NYC. It was a fun, exhausting, and successful experience.
I've been asked to share my experience to help others and give insight into the whole process of being a creative entrepreneur.
Here are my tips for a successful show:
Make sure you pick the right show for your products. Do your research on all of the possible tradeshows and tradeshow locations to make sure your products will be the right fit. You also want to make sure the right buyers will be coming to that show. You can do research online, through links on the tradeshows website or actually walk the show in advance.
Once you pick the show, pick out the appropriate size booth and booth location in the show. You want to pick a booth that makes sense both financially and for your product offerings. Make sure you secure your booth months ahead of time and then start planning for the show.
Tradeshows are NOT cheap and you want to make sure you are making a sound investment in your business. You can also share a booth with an appropriate business if you have friends with a product that would work well with yours and not compete.
Don't go crazy designing a fancy expensive booth for your products if that doesn't make sense financially. When you walk a show you will see all kinds of booth designs, from simple tables and banners to fully built out solid walls and beautiful product displays. If you are a small business, buyers will not expect a fancy display and will not hold that against you or your product. Your product should sell itself. However, your booth should still be inviting to buyers and clearly show your products merchandised properly. Buyers need to know how they will look in their stores and how they can display them in their store.
Also keep in mind that you have to put up your booth display either by yourself or hire someone else to do it. You can rent some display items that can be delivered to your booth, but they are not economical. The less you spend on your booth, the more profit you will make.
Make sure that you contact all of your current buyers (if you have them) and invite them to visit your booth and if possible schedule appointments. Also contact potential buyers and invite them to check our your collection.
Tradeshow websites have opportunities for buyers to view your work on their website and express interest in your work. Contact these buyers and make sure you have as many people coming to your booth as possible. Don't just wait for buyers to find you at the show. Reach out to them before the show.
Tradeshows have some free opportunities to showcase your work to buyers on their website and sometimes at the show itself, including online portfolios and special exhibits at the show. They will also try to sell you on lots of other paid advertising opportunities in email blasts and in the printed brochures to try to lure more buyers to your booth. You can pay for additional advertising if you like, but tradeshows are expensive enough, so it's not necessary.
Tradeshows are very exhausting. They are long, sometimes 9am-6pm 3 or 4 days in a row. That's a lot of standing on your feet and smiling and engaging with potential buyers. That's also a lot of downtime wishing that there were more buyers stopping by. For an introvert like me, that much people time is not easy. You can hire a sales rep to actually work the show for you, but if you want to save money you should do it yourself. No one knows or cares about your product like you do.
Make sure your booth always looks inviting and have a giveaway for buyers, like a tote bag with your logo or candy. Something that relates to your business and makes buyers remember you is always good. I made hand painted sugar cookies to give to interested buyers. You don't have to give stuff away to everyone. Not everyone is going to buy your work.
Make sure you have lots of postcards and business cards to hand out. Also keep plenty of linesheets on hand, but don't just give them out to everyone. You want to write orders at the show, so keep the linesheets for buyers who are ready to buy. Make sure you have a way to take and process orders. You can either use an Order Form book or use an app or software.
You will receive lots of business cards and leads at the show. You need to follow up on all of these potential orders. Email buyers linesheets or more information about your brand.
Hopefully you will have received lots of orders that you will need to process and ship after the show. Make sure you follow up with the buyers after you ship the orders and see how your products are performing in their store and if they would like to reorder.
Some times people have different goals from exhibiting at tradeshows. If you just want to get lots of contacts and introduce your products to buyers and are not focused on writing orders, then that is a successful show. If you are focused on writing orders, then the goal should be to make at least twice the amount it cost to exhibit. That includes the cost of the booth, display, transportation, hotel (if you are out of town), and sales rep (if you don't sell yourself). You should at least be able to break even and gain leads. If you didn't meet your goals, then maybe it wasn't the right show for your products or there may be other factors at play, like the weather or the economy. Don't be too discouraged, just evaluate your work and your target market and adjust your business plan accordingly.
Be smart with money. If you are investing your own hard earned money, spend it wisely. Sometimes tradeshows don't make sense financially and you can be more successful selling through other avenues, including online. Sometimes you just need to take the plunge and try the show, even though it's expensive. It might just be the best thing you could do for your business. You never know if you don't try!