Top 5 Tips for your first Trade show
If you’ve ever visited an industry trade show, you probably came away from it inspired and energised but also overwhelmed at the sheer choice and scale. My first show was Spring Fair at the NEC in 2015. Up to that point, the only physical events I’d attended were local craft markets – Spring Fair was on a completely different awesome scale!
I remember feeling daunted; in way over my head and not having a clue what I was doing. But it was also a lot of fun! For all their shortcomings, not least on cost, trade shows are a fantastic place to let the industry know “I’m here!” It’s understandable that you may feel anxious and overwhelmed about attending your first show - and with how much money you have to fork out, you’ll want to make sure you’re making the most of the opportunity. Having now attended 23 Trade Shows with Wraptious, I hope these few tips may help a little.
TIP 1: RESEARCH
Before attending your first show, it’s worth putting some time in to researching which show may be best for you. In the Gift Industry alone, the choice is vast: Spring and Autumn Fair, both Top Drawers, British Craft Trade Fair, Harrogate Home and Gift, Scotland, Giving and Living, to name a few.
Although there is some overlap, each show has its own feel and demographic of customer. For example, Top Drawer is more trend-conscious and urban, while Spring Fair attracts a strong international crowd, and Harrogate caters more to ‘rural’ independents for Scotland and Northern England. Most shows are happy for you to attend as a visitor for free by registering your interest online – while those that aren’t are usually happy to give you a guided tour if you contact the show organisers.
If you were spending the same amount on a holiday as you do on a trade show, you’d thoroughly research where to go first. A trade show should be no different. Visit them. Speak to the exhibitors and ask their opinions (best to pop along on the last day – exhibitors will have more time and willingness to chat than on the busier days!).
If you were spending the same amount on a holiday as you do on a trade show, you’d thoroughly research where to go first.
Some shows cater for first time exhibitors. British Craft Trade Fair is fantastically supportive – offering a reduce rate, shallow stands and a ‘New Exhibitors’ zone to make your first show more cost-effective and welcoming to attend. Ditto for PG Live in London, the leading greeting card focused show. Also for greeting card exhibitors, The Greeting Card Association has a wonderful Debut Zone at Spring and Autumn Fair that cater for first time exhibitors. The choice is vast. Spend time looking into which show is right for you and the type of customers you are hoping to attract.
TIP 2: DON’T PAY FOR MARKETING
Ok, so you’ve signed up to your first trade show. Awesome! It is inevitable you will now get pestered to spend your hard-earned money on marketing. Don’t.
I’m not saying marketing doesn’t work, because it obviously can make a difference. However I always advise to not spend a penny on marketing but grow organically until you become more established and confident in knowing what works for you. In the meantime, concentrate on all the free opportunities available to you in shouting about your presence at your first trade show.
Each show will offer a wealth of free marketing tools and you’d be a fool to not use them. Every exhibitor gets their own page to populate on the show website. It always amazes me at just how many companies don’t use it! If you fill this in with strong photography and text, you will already stand apart from those that don’t. We have received orders from new trade buyers purely from them visiting our profile page, while many visitors will plan who to visit at the show based on which online profiles interested them. Tap into their social media too. Each show will have its own hashtags and pages on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, that attendees will follow.
Trade show organisers will often ask you to send in photos for free. I sent a few photos over for my first Spring Fair many months before the show and forgot all about it. It was only when I then attended that I saw that they’d printed a huge 2x2m sign of one of our mug photos along with our stand number, at the entrance to our Hall. Wow! Great publicity and it didn’t cost me a penny.
Lastly, be creative and stand apart in whatever ways work for you. Before my first show, I wrote long letters in the post (remember those?) to one hundred shops that I admired but had never heard of Wraptious. They took forever to write, but I knew buyers would appreciate the personal touch and many came out of their way to visit our stand and order as a result. It is not just exhibitors that get overwhelmed at shows, buyers do too. Many will only have a day to attend and will come well-prepared knowing what route to take and which stands to visit. Be one of those stands!
TIP 3: MEMORABLE DISPLAY
This is your chance to shine on the big stage. Please, make your stand memorable. Be different. Be yourself. Celebrate your art and your products. This is no time to be shy!
For attendees, trade shows are filled with distractions. There is something exhibitors laughably (and frustratingly!) call the ‘Corridor Effect’. It happens all the time – you’ll see buyers aimlessly walking down the aisles, often talking to their colleagues or looking at their phone, hardly gazing up at the stands they are walking past! Do all you can to make them notice your stand. Having a unique stand, with colour, good lighting and a clear uncluttered display will help. As will cheekily popping a sample into their hands - or even just saying hello.
Practice building your stand at home before attending. Not only will this uncover any potential issues, it will give you a lot more confidence going into the show. Know the specs of your stand – its size, height and wall-type, for example. You don’t want any surprises during setup. Good lighting is important too, and in my opinion worth spending the money on. If you’re confident you’ll be attending shows regularly, it may be worth investing in your own lighting.
Make sure you have something tangible for your visitors to take away with them – a brochure or a catalogue for example. At Wraptious, we swap a catalogue for a business card, and also allow them to choose a free greeting card to two to take from our spinner. At our first show, I put together little logo’d goodie bags filled with freebies, a catalogue and sweets. You want visitors to remember you at the end of their visit!
It is finally worth remembering that YOU are part of your display too. You never know who will walk past your stand when. Keep smiling and look interested. Be present. Try not to eat on your stand or use your phone. The days are long and it’s understandable you’ll want some downtime, so try and get some help covering your stand if you can. But make sure your stand is attended from opening through to close. It sounds obvious, but so often I see people leave their stands before the show closes, and I never understand why. Some of our best orders have been taken after the official close time when a buyer is rushing to finish off their ordering.
TIP 4: GREAT CONVERSATIONS
Trade shows are about building relationships. They are not about selling. Sales are of course lovely and necessary for any business, but an order is the bonus of building a relationship with a potential customer and getting to know them. If you see someone browsing your stand, be proactive and say hello. Maybe ask them what they are looking for and have an open mind.
Shows are a fantastic place to meet not only buyers, but distributors, suppliers, media, artists, licensees etc. Be prepared for the types of questions you may be asked – and for the types of questions you will want to ask them! Know your numbers. For example, how much margin can you make on this product? What are your cost prices? How many of a product does a buyer need to order to hit carriage paid? If you’re unsure about any questions or negotiations, remember that you don’t have to commit at a show. Take some time to think a decision through to make sure it is right for you and your business – never feel pressured.
Our art and gift industry is a wonderfully friendly industry. It is a close community and if you attend shows often, you will inevitably bump into people again, especially at the drinks evenings the shows put on! Get to know your neighbours. ☺
TIP 5: POST-SHOW FOLLOW-UP
The work from a trade show doesn’t end when the show closes. If you have some orders – fantastic! But now is the time to consolidate and focus on those leads. It is therefore vital that you take good notes at the show. What do I mean by good notes? Any details that allow you to write a personal, targeted message to them afterwards – their name, what they were looking for, any price negotiations, if they took any samples, their business news etc. (“Congratulations again on opening your new store last week!”).
Be timely in your responses too. There’s no right or wrong here – find what works for you. Often writing straight after the show may be a good thing, but equally the attendees may be overwhelmed in messages from other exhibitors that it could be worth waiting a couple of weeks. At Wraptious, we always include photos of our stand as a wee reminder and if I know what designs or products they were interested in (good notes!) then I can attach a PDF of these for them too. Similarly, we post flyers out to everyone so that again, our visitors have something tangible to hold on to – emails so easily get overlooked, but something in the post will stand you apart. We include a photo of our stand, a thank you for visiting and occasionally a show offer to tempt them into making their first order.
Finally, please be mindful that success from a trade show rarely happens overnight. Be patient. The old adage ‘It’s not you, it’s them!” is so often true at shows. You may have amazing products of cats, but the visitor to your stand just recently did a cat display and is now looking for elephants. There are endless reasons why a visitor may not be ready to buy from you today, but would love to buy from you tomorrow. It took 18 months and visits to five of our trade show stands before a European Distributor eventually placed their first order with us. They are now a really valued customer. Jeremy Corner, Managing Director of Blue Eyed Sun, wrote a fantastic blog post about how to value a trade show, taking into account not just orders from a show, but the entire life span of a customer, along with added value from meeting new suppliers and other opportunities that come your way. So don’t be disheartened if your first show was slower than you expect, be patient and determined and you may be surprised at what leads will develop months or years down the line.
Have you attended Trade Shows? If so, what advice would you give? If you’re preparing for your first show, what are you focusing on, or would like to know more about? Please let us know!