Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Beginner Trade Show Tips

by Mary Liz Curtain, retailer, Leon & Lulu

If you are developing an item or a full product line, trade shows are one of the most effective means of exposing your product to a large number of potential clients in a particular industry.

Are you ready for a trade show? Before you sign up for a booth, be sure that you are prepared. Do your homework! Research the show or shows you may attend carefully, since this not just a major expense but also really a lot of work and not to be undertaken lightly. As a new vendor, decide if you want to start at a consumer show, where you will be selling at retail, or a trade show, marketing your products at wholesale prices. If at all possible, visit and walk the show before you exhibit.

Research the market so you can make a reasonable sales projection, and write a brief business plan that covers what you estimate what your costs will be for the show, the inventory you will need, and the expenses to fulfill the orders. This list will give you a good start on what you need to know.

1. Product: Do you have the goods? If your item is brand-new, seek advice from sales reps, store owners, or a consultant to be sure that the line is market-ready. It must be large enough to make a decent order, priced correctly, and packaged for resale.

2. Inventory: If your line is a success, can you fulfill the orders? If you do not have the production capability to ship what you sell, you run the risk of alienating your new customers. If you do run into problems, be sure to keep your customers updated so they do not cancel or refuse their orders.

3. Fulfillment: Can you ship the product? If your merchandise is breakable, ship test orders to your friends and family across the country to be certain nothing arrives broken. Set up your shipping service with USPS or UPS before the show.

4. Terms and conditions: How will you conduct your business? Define your payment and freight terms before the show, establish credit policies, and set up merchant services with your bank so you can accept credit cards. Decide what your minimum order amount and minimum quantities per item will be.

5. Order forms: Have an easy-to-use order form printed with your logo, contact information, and terms.

6. Pricing: You must know both your costs of goods and the costs of running your business to be sure you are able to support the sales effort. As you consider your pricing, understand that retailers need margin. A store in the gift and home industry must AT LEAST double your wholesale cost, and many are searching for items they can mark up 2.3 to 2.5 times. If you are also selling your goods on Etsy, eBay, or at craft shows, do not sell them for less than your customers’ retail prices or you will lose your wholesale accounts. Customers will pay for quality, even in this rotten economy.

7. You cannot compete on price. Be sure that your selling prices cover your costs and give you a profit or you will put yourself out of business. It is possible that a unique, handmade item or one produced in small quantities will be too expensive to sell at wholesale, but it is better to learn this before you try to sell it at a show. Every successful company has developed terrific products that are unmarketable for one reason or another, so if your first one does not succeed, keep trying.

8. Your family and friends are terrible judges of your product. First of all, they love you, so they want to tell you nice things. Second, they are probably not professionals. The dinner table is not a focus group. Consult with some experienced merchants, sales reps, or consultants to see if your product is viable.

9. Should you exhibit on your own or with a rep? Investigate your options for each territory or trade show.

10. What will it cost? Include all these expenses in your plan: booth rental, freight, drayage, lighting, union labor, samples, catalog or price list, order forms, and travel.

11. Company image: Your booth, employees, and all collateral material must reflect the image your company wants to project. Design all components carefully!

12. Lighting: No matter where else you cut corners, do not skimp on the lighting. Buyers will walk right by a dark booth.

13. After the show, follow up on your leads promptly and ship your orders quickly. Make your invoices clear and easy to read.

This is just the tip of the trade show iceberg, of course, but I have only one page. For more Trade Show Tips and Tricks, visit www.marylizcurtin.com/countryliving.

Choose your trade shows carefully, plan them well, and always remember the most important thing about wholesale: It is not the order, it is the reorder.

Mary Liz Curtin has shopped, spoken at or exhibited in thousands of trade shows, and she still gets a thrill when she visits a new one. While this is seen as a personality disorder by some, it certainly helps Leon & Lulu, the store she and her husband own that is full of wonderful things. See the store at www.leonandlulu.com.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ABC Announces Exclusive Day For Specialty Stores

posted by Mary Gerlach, associate editor

All Baby & Child, Inc., producer of the ABC Kids Expo, announced that the first day of the upcoming ABC Kids Expo (Sept. 13-16 in Las Vegas) will be open exclusively to buyers from the industry’s specialty “brick and mortar” stores. The remaining three days will be open to all retailers and buyers.

The exclusive shopping day will be provided to offer more optimal show exposure for all show participants, help promote a more rewarding show experience and sustained growth among all industry partners. The show, organizers say, originally was created independent specialty retailers and the exclusive shopping day is intended to do just that.

This is a continuation of ABC’s commitment to specialty retailers. Last spring, ABC held it’s inaugural Conference and Trade Show, providing independent retailers with valuable time to meet with manufacturers and develop meaningful business relationships.

During the ABC Kids Expo in Vegas, look for exclusive show coverage from Baby & Kids magazine in the Official ABC Show Dailies. As the single source of daily news distributed on the show floor, daily coverage of the Expo will help retailers navigate the show for effective buying. Click here for more information about The Official ABC Show Dailies.

To register for the expo, visit www.theabcshow.com.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New Names, New Faces

by Mary Gerlach, associate editor, Baby & Kids magazine

There have been three exciting additions to the Baby & Kids editorial staff. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of welcoming colleagues Barb Wujcik, Ashley Trent and Stephanie Hunsberger to the magazine.

Both Barb and Ashley have worked for Giftware News, Baby & Kid’s sister publication, and they bring with them years of experience in newspaper journalism and magazine editing. In fact, Barb wrote for Baby & Kids when it first began and was published just twice a year. For the August/September issue, Barb will cover licensing and Ashley will add her home décor expertise to the furniture article.

Stephanie Hunsberger, our third new editor, joins us from the gourmet industry. For more than two years, Stephanie has served as the associate editor of sister publication Fancy Food & Culinary Products. For her first feature, Stephanie will interview and profile the owners of juvenile store StorkLand in the Texas and Oklahoma.

All three of these women have been respected colleagues at Talcott Communications, and I’m thrilled to add them to our masthead.

Baby & Kids' editors: Barb Wujcik, Mary Gerlach, Stephanie Hunsberger and Ashley Trent.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Twitter: Extra! Extra! Tweet All About It!

by Denise McVey, president, S3 Public Relations

What does Twitter mean to your retail business? Look at this growing social media form as an opportunity to bond with customers and drive business.

Step 1: Get a Twitter account (free at Twitter.com). You’ll need an e-mail address to get this started. I suggest having your Twitter account name be the name of your store if at all possible for maximum recognition factor.

Step 2: Populate your Twitter account with frequent updates. THIS is your big chance to connect with customers who want to know more. How much more? Whatever information you can provide that is of value to them. Just marked down last season’s styles? Tweet all about it. New shipment arriving this afternoon? Share the news. Having an industry expert or respected designer in to talk? This event is Twitter worthy. Create an inner circle your followers want to be part of. Steer away from overt hawking of goods – again, the Tweet needs to represent value to those who are following you. Their response (“Retweeting” so others hear about it, showing up, buying...) is the value you hope to derive, thanks to the creation of a relationship between you and your “followers” (those following your updates on Twitter).

Step 3: Follow and be followed. Twitter users have the opportunity to follow and be followed by other Twitter users. This is what allows all the hyper-connectivity. Don’t be afraid to follow others, but try to weed out Tweeters whom you expressly don’t want to be associated with. If you sell toddler toys, for example, and adult entertainment expert may not be someone to follow. (You can even block followers you identify who may harm your brand.) All this following and being followed gets your message out in front of others, every time you Tweet.

With the recent massive growth of Twitter, don’t be surprised if more people than the population of a small country end up following you. No, they won’t all personally purchase anything from you. But if you’re doing it right, among that mass there will be individuals who transact with you – or who influence someone else to do so. The true potential of Twitter lies within you: recognize how it best applies to you. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it’s pretty easy – and it offers excellent ROI for a minimal time investment. Just be sure to keep the momentum going, because you’re only as good as your last Tweet.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Needle In A Haystack: Identifying the best candidate for the job in a sea of applicants

by Shawn Boyer, CEO of SnagAJob.com

While the upside to a down economy might be the increasing size and quality of your applicant pool, identifying the best candidates – especially among hourly workers – can be an overwhelming task.

Time is of the essence. After all, the general lifespan of an hourly application is about 30 days. Beyond that, the application is likely “stale,” meaning that the candidate may have found a position, changed physical location or may have out-of-date contact information. That’s why it’s so important for hiring managers to keep their pipeline stocked, even when it seems like so many qualified people are looking for employment.

To combat an ever-increasing number of applications, HR professionals and hiring managers need to consider how to quickly identify the best candidates for the job. Every employer should include filtering practices in their overall hourly recruitment strategy, i.e. ways to “weed out” unqualified candidates.

Many struggle with the decision to hire someone over or under qualified for the position if the perfect candidate has not emerged. On one hand, the over-qualified applicant may bring valuable skills and expertise to the team, but he or she may soon walk away for a higher-level position somewhere else. On the other, taking on someone with a major learning curve could require extra training time and slow the rest of the staff down. In the end, you want the best candidate for the job, which is why it’s so important to refine your criteria.

To screen for the right candidates during the application process, you must ask the right questions that pertain to your retail business, a step that will require a bit of work on the front end. You’ll want to develop a combination of assessment questions that are specific enough to identify the qualities you are looking for in a candidate and broad enough to offer you a range of applicants. Done the right way, you’ll also eliminate candidates who simply are not a good fit.

The basic questions:
1. What experience level does someone need for a given position? (If you are hiring for a sales associate, you may want to require a year or two of customer service or sales experience.)
2. Are there industry-specific concerns to address? (A friendly and knowledgeable staff is absolutely critical for any retail business.)
3. What kind of applicant is needed for the culture/atmosphere you foster? (For example, an outgoing personality goes a long way when dealing with customer inquiries.)
4. From a logistical standpoint, do you need to consider a candidate’s availability to work a certain shift? (Applicants for your freight associate position should be available to work nights or early mornings when your shipments come in).

More sophisticated options may include questions about what the candidate wants from the job? (Are they realistic about expectations? Will they leave too quickly for what you need?)

Some job sites can be helpful in screening applicants ahead of time, allowing you to interview only the best candidates. At SnagAJob.com, we usually offer our clients a 60-day pilot program to test filtering questions and adjust as necessary. For example, if a manager is getting too many applications, we may add one or more filtering questions so that applications that do not provide the desired answers will not be sent to the client, thereby reducing applicant overflow. And if applications are too few, we will strip away questions to broaden the field. (Of course, we always allow hiring managers to view all applications that have been collected, even if some had originally been filtered).

Simple steps like coming up with the right mix of questions will save your company time and money in the long run. Filtering will dramatically reduce fruitless interviews with ill-suited applicants and will allow you to focus on what’s most important: running the business.