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Trade Show 101 (Part I): Are You Ready?

This week we welcome Jaclyn Carlson, a Sydney-sider who by day works for one of Australia's leading trade show organisers. I'm thrilled to have Jaclyn share with us her insights into the world of trade show exhibiting for beginners this week and next. Take it away, Jaclyn!

Hello CWC… I’m so excited to be here this week!

Let me start by introducing myself. I work in the trade show industry, more specifically on the gift & homewares side of things. Over the past few years I have seen businesses, both large and small, go through the exhibiting process, some with more success than others. For many, committing to and exhibiting at your first trade show is an often emotionally, physically and let’s face it – financially exhausting exercise. With that said, when properly researched and thought out, it is often one of the best opportunities to grow your business and take it to the next level.

My aim with this post is to share some insight from an organiser’s point of view, and assist many of you that have decided, or are thinking about exhibiting at your first trade show. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover so let’s get started…

Before we go any further you need to ask yourself one question- are you ready to wholesale? For the sake of time I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of wholesale in this post, but before you consider exhibiting at a trade show you need to be comfortable and confident wholesaling your products.

Can you produce products quickly and in large quantity? Are you ready to take (potentially) larger orders and deliver your goods on time? Can you afford to set your wholesale price and still make a profit? 
It’s important to remember that a trade show is open to buyers, retailers, media, etc all within your trade – not the public – so you need to make sure you are happy selling to storeowners and not the direct consumer. Once you have confidently decided that you can work with the demands of wholesale you can now focus your energy on exploring the possibility of becoming a trade show exhibitor.

As with any business decision it is vital to research your options before committing, There are many options within Australia depending on your market, the type of visitor you are targeting, the size and location of the show and of course, your budget. I fully recommend visiting a few during this ‘research’ stage to see the competition, traffic flow and overall feel of the event. Many organisers are happy to provide potential exhibitors with a guest pass or to personally give you a tour – just ask.

Buying Cycles
Much like the fashion industry, retail trade shows take place at certain times of year to coincide with different buying cycles. Know which fairs will suit your products best and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do you sell beach or resort ware? Exhibiting in the summer might not work best when most buyers are stocking up for winter. This is the type of information you’ll want to know before you arrive so you can plan your sales strategy accordingly. It’s also important to shed some light on the sales cycle from the organiser’s perspective. 
Most trade shows open up floor space 7-8 months prior to the show date. 

Depending on the popularity or size of the venue, most new business is allocated space later in the booking cycle, meaning that you need to ensure your application and materials are completed and approved as soon as possible so that when new companies are offered space you are ready to go. To find out what references and business information you’ll need to provide it’s best to visit the show website to download an exhibitor application.

Let’s face it, trade shows are expensive. My personal advice to any of you is to look at this next step as an investment in the future of your business. At the same time you must also be sensible about you can and cannot afford; most companies start small at the beginning. Securing space is going to involve a lot of out of pocket expenses so when creating your budget, think beyond the stand. I can’t stress enough that you need to look at all your expenses. Other than the costs for your stand, walls, flooring, lighting and advertising, you need to remember to factor in costs such as insurance, travel, freight, meals, staff hire, visual merchandising and accommodation. Trust me, by managing your cash flow and sticking to your budget you’ll eliminate stress and pre-show panic.

Once you’ve chosen your show and considered all the costs, you’ll want to take a step back and look at your product offering and ranges. Attention to detail is key. Make sure you research the competition, know your features and benefits, be confident in your pricing, set minimum orders and begin to think about packaging, and how your product will be displayed in stores. 

Always remember who you are selling to – store owners. Put yourself in their shoes and your product will sell better if it is well displayed, easy to view and properly packaged. 

I completely understand that planning to exhibit at your first trade show is overwhelming, but the companies that I have seen succeed are the ones that know their business, understand their target market and look at the big picture. One trade show won’t allow you to retire in luxury, so set realistic expectations. It takes time to build up your wholesale accounts and to create lasting business relationships so understand that you’ll need to commit to more than one show to see the results you want. If you are serious I would urge you to continue researching this topic, there is a wealth of information to be found that will help you make the best decision for your business.

I’ll be back next week to talk more about preparing for the actual show and tips for a success – see you then!

All images are courtesy of Reed Exhibitions.

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Posted by: Tess McCabe
Categories: Advice and Tips | 1 Comment

One Response to Trade Show 101 (Part I): Are You Ready?

  1. Penny (Pocket Carnival) says:

    Awesome, thank you! Can't wait for more next week.