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.

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