I have ust finished up my second trade show ever. I have shown and sold at smaller venues such as art galleries and at design shows before. These are my observations and what I learned the first and second time around. Please add useful and informative comments so that we can all learn and navigate the big, crazy yet amazing world of trade shows. Here's what I have learned so far...
Be Authentic I don’t know how to be something or someone that I am not because it would make me feel really uncomfortable. The reality is that people can see through the facade. Be yourself and represent your brand and what you are selling and people will feel the authenticity that you are bringing. Whenever I walk a show (which has been many-a-convention) I can always tell when someone believes in their brand and their product; it comes naturally to them. Stand behind your product and brand or why bother going at all? People always tell me how passionate I sound to them about women's travel and what we stand for: making travel accessories that make women feel safer, protect them and overall make them feel good about travel!
Don’t Worry So Much You have paid a lot of money to be there. Or maybe you haven’t. Whatever the case is don’t worry so much. If buyers love your work you will get picked up and maybe not right away. I’ve had buyers contact me after shows with really great opportunities. I didn't even know these people had been at my booth! Oftentimes potential buyers need to bring back the goods to their teams in order to make decisions about what you have to offer. If the sale doesn’t happen right then and there at the show, it may happen later. Try to stay focused and don’t worry about the peripheral things that are happening around you. There are plenty of exhibitors who will complain about the show. Find the one’s who aren’t and take note of what they are doing.
Follow Up! For designers and artists this may seem really tedious and difficult. I know it was for me. It has literally taken me years to feel comfortable writing an email without deleting it five times until I send. You’ll get used to it and maybe (I'm sure you will) even get good at it. The most important thing to do is to do it...follow up that is. If you ask for a business card at the show then email those people right away. I like to send thank you cards inside my orders afterwards. I also like to send a “hey, thanks for stopping by my booth” in an email... I’m not a sales person but you need to remember that these buyers have seen so many products during the show that yours could easily get lost in the mix. You have to reach out somehow and remind them of who you are, what you do and why you rock.
Smile or be Exuberant or emit Positive Energy (whichever you prefer) This goes along with being authentic though so don’t fake it. Smiling makes people smile. Make eye contact too. Your body language is saying something about you. You should always be aware of that. It is not easy waking up early every day, after long, long days, of the show trying to maintain a positive vibe when things are slow or you are dog dead tired. You have to do it anyway. The upside is that smiling will actually tell your brain that you are happy, awake and alive even. On the positive vibe thing...I actually burned dried sage in my apartment before the second day of the show to get rid of the negative energy I had felt the first day! Call me crazy but it worked for me. What works for you? Find it and do it.
About a...Booth One section of my booth completely broke while I was setting up this year. Maybe it was karma for not using it the first year because I was on a corner and only needed two walls. Whatever the case, all I could do was improvise at that point. I had lost my third wall completely. So I used my designy brain and decided that two walls were actually better than three. No one else (in their right mind) was going to put their walls into a V shape. My walls were actually facing buyers when they walked by which I realized gave my product a huge advantage after-all. My cuffs are small so it is easy to walk by without understanding what they are. But my walls have huge images of the cuffs printed on them. If the walls had been facing one another how could someone have seen them? If they had been hidden in the depths of three-wall-hell, how could people see? I noticed also that when someone in my booth was blocking one of our walls that people would just pass on by, not even looking at our products, but when it was unblocked people did a double-take and would come by to check us out. Design wisely, it’s all about the space and showing your product. A girl I met at the show made her entire booth out of thick foam core walls and decorated it with coffee filters. She brought her own lights. She spent $2,000 less than I did. I didn’t use my whole booth. I barely used any of it. My advice is to design your space wisely and be frugal. My plan is to design a booth that I can carry with me anywhere on earth. I don’t care if that sounds crazy. I am a small, actually tiny, start-up and I need the extra money. Note that I am not suggesting that your booth looks like it was made of cheap materials and put up by monkeys. I am saying that we are designers and artists and we can be super creative. We can plan things to be efficient, beautiful, and budget-friendly if we want to. And we do want to. Actually, think of your booth as your piece of art or your product. Design and create accordingly. It’s all in the details.
Walk the Aisles I did not do this beforehand. But I did it this time! I realized that maybe I want a better location. That was after I was already exhibiting (aka gave away my left arm, which is the one I actually use). After speaking to some exhibitors, many of them having years of experience (and I did some online searches as well), they all said that they walk the aisles of the show before they had made a commitment to a space. Not only do they choose and request the location they want, they also decide if they are a good fit for the show at all! I never knew this. I learned this my second time exhibiting. Now I plan on attending a few shows this year to see if I would make a good fit and if I do, what spot do I worship most? I personally like corner spaces. Traffic is criss-crossing so you get buyers coming from multiple sides and you are not hidden in some three-caged-wall-thing. But whatever floats your boat and whatever sells is good! As long as you are happy and sales are up. Also I’d stay away from locations that are too far from entrances. People get so tired walking around these shows. They are HUGE! I’d pick a spot up close to the front where people can see me.
Talk to Exhibitors Last year, or last time, I spent all of my time in my booth. This year I was determined to figure out the trade show world. I don’t know what came over me but I spoke to many, many exhibitors. I went crazy almost (I mean, I am crazy so how could I almost go crazier?) I asked exhibitors if they liked their locations, how well they were selling compared to last time, if there was a last time, how many years had they been doing this show, do they always pick the same spot, why, why not? Let’s see what else did I ask? If there was a lot of foot traffic, did buyers that they wanted come by, actually come by (like if you want to get into museum stores, did those buyers come by), would they do the show again, why, etc. etc. etc. My thing was to understand the nitty gritty of the show world. I needed to know how it worked. I yearned to know. And so I asked. I pried even. I was probably the most annoying person in the room, asking all these questions, prying into peoples business. I did it cheerfully. You know why? Because not only do I care about my company but I do care about others. I want others to succeed as much as I do and I am not afraid of other peoples ideas. So I ask because I want to know how other people are really feeling. It’s a camaraderie thing. You want to make friends. Or at least you should want to because these people are doing what you are doing. Honestly if a booth friend helps me out I will do the same. I helped redesign the entire front of a booth-friends booth to help her get noticed more. I loved every second of it. She handed me fresh flowers on the last day of the show because it was my birthday. Or because my mom and I helped her. Either way it doesn't matter. Be friends with everyone. I am a designer first and I want people to succeed. That’s who I am.
Don’t Drink too Much Coffee or Eat Weird Things or Spend Too Much Money on Food For real. I had one cup of coffee every morning (at home, but you can do that in a hotel too) and then drank tea. I get jittery after a few cups of coffee and no one wants to see the crazy come out. Eat well too. I noticed that the prices were absurd at the show so I made my way to the nearest food store and bought muffins for the week. I also made sure I only purchased the cheapest thing on the menu for lunch. Honestly the empanadas at the NY Gift Fair were so yummy, and for $4 how can you beat that for lunch? I also brought my own water because where I was a bottle of water cost $4.00! Too much for my tiny/non-existent budget. Bring your own water. Bring as much food as possible. We even brought chocolate for the moments where we were too tired to move. It immediately picked us up and felt like a reward. And of course don’t eat food that will bring you down...to sleep that is. Nobody wants to see you drooling in your booth, unless its over an amazing sale. I will post more as I do more! Please leave comments!