"It's not about how long you live, but how you contribute. It's about doing your best and doing the right thing. It's about recovering from your mistakes and not giving up. It's about the baton pass to a new generation. It's about the realization that you cannot go it alone. It takes a team." -My friend Geoff Hollister (1946 - 2012)
Over the years I’ve walked and exhibited at a variety of tradeshows including licensing shows (Surtex and Blueprint Shows), wholesale tradeshows (Noted, Las Vegas Market, Fancy Food Show)and retail shows (Crafty Wonderland and Unique Markets Portland). And while each individual show is unique in the setup, show days and follow up, there are a few common threads that run through all of them. And I’d like to share some of my experiences in hopes that I can pass along some of what I’ve learned along the way. I hope you will do the same for others following in your path.
In this blog post I’m going to focus on the journey to exhibiting at my first wholesale tradeshow, The Noted Expo in San Francisco, April 2022! So, strap yourself in, grab some coffee or tea and let’s go
Remember the 5 P’s. Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. The more time and focus you can spend before the show, the more relaxed you will be at the show.
Get your shit together! I say this very lovingly but seriously, have a solid plan. Review every detail of the show that you can find. From the exact measurements of your booth space, to the opening and closing times of the show, check-in, parking etc. How far is the venue from your hotel? And make an agenda. I made myself an agenda for each day. A document where I could go to see all the information I needed (flight times, hotel address, venue address, show times, etc., etc.). Pull everything you need into a folder or binder (insurance docs, agenda, hotel reservations, show manual, etc.). If you have a booth helper, send this to them as well.
Get it together. You will thank me later.
- Focus on the Product! Have a solid collection of products that buyers can use to build a nice order with. Consider what season buyers will be looking for and make sure you’ve got what they want.
- Done is better than perfect. Let me repeat that, done is better than perfect.
- Buyer Outreach and research! Send emails or snail mail to shops that you work with and invite them to come visit at the show. Let people know you will be exhibiting through your newsletter, social media, website, etc.
- Make a list of your goals for the show. Sure, sales are important, and we all want to take orders, but there are lots of other benefits to exhibiting. Meeting your paper peeps for the first time in real life! Getting a list of contacts to follow up with when you get home. Feedback on your collections. Ideas about how to set up your booth even better next time. Write these goals down and keep them handy.
- Booth Mockup! Set up your trade show booth prior to the show if you can. Do a live mockup of your booth space setup if you can at home and photograph it for setup day. If you don’t have space to do this, do a digital mockup of your booth space. Print it out and bring it with you. Include measurements. The more you can plan before the show, the less variables you will have during setup.
- Practice! Practice your pitch to buyers, know what you will say when they ask you questions about your brand, know your minimums and what they can buy to reach those.
- Get Involved! If the show organizers have Zoom calls that give you information about the show, attend those. Often you will get extra information or insights as well as meet your other exhibitors.
- Join a committee! The best way to get the insider scoop on the show is to join a planning committee with the Greeting Card Association. You’ll meet fellow exhibitors and be able to influence how the show is run. And it’s fun!
- Box of Tricks (aka your toolbox). Bring a small box of essentials you will need for setup (hammer, screwdriver, scissors, tape, box cutter, pencil/ pen, band aids, etc.). All the essentials you need for show setup. Hopefully things will go smoothly, but there is something that ALWAYS goes awry. At Noted last year, the measurements I was given for my booth didn’t match what was there for setup. One of my walls was 2’ longer than I had planned, so I had to improvise and spread things out to fill the space. It happens, you just gotta go with it.
- Make friends before the show! If you know other exhibitors, form a mini mastermind before the show. Last year I formed a Noted Study Group with a bunch of friends from my Proof to Product LABS group and we were able to help each other prepare for the show. Sharing resources and bits of knowledge along the way. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend checking out Katie Hunt’s Proof to Product program to learn everything you need to know about selling your products.
Do not succumb to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). During the show there will be tons of activities to participate in. The show itself, the Pitch Program, The Louie Awards, drinks with friends. My best advice is to do what you need to do to keep yourself focused, inspired, hydrated and rested. You don’t have to do it all! Last year when I went to Noted, I just had to do EVERYTHING and was completely exhausted. Sure, I had fun, but now I know my boundaries and can plan accordingly for next year.
You’ve already done a lot of the hard work! So, relax and enjoy the show! You got this.
- Stay hydrated and snacked.
- Get your rest!
- Get to the venue a little early. Get yourself fed and caffeinated before the show so you are fueled up and ready to go!
- Review your goals list.
- Focus on the Buyers Ask questions about their shop, their buying habits, what they are looking for, do they have anything fun planned for after the show? If you're having a conversation with a buyer and another BIGGER buyer comes in, just acknowledge them hand them a card and refocus on the original buyer. Both will appreciate your professionalism.
- Gather Information Have a notebook and a mini stapler to collect business cards and contact information. Write down any fun and important things you talk about with the buyers (Nice glasses! I'm from Ohio too! How many stores do you have? etc.) You can use this information later in your follow up.
- Know your Line Know your Top 5, highlight anything new or updated products.
- Have your Show Day Kit with you. Snacks, drinks/ water, mints, chargers, extra tape for cards or displays, order forms, freebies for buyers to take to remember you, catalogs, business cards. Don’t forget a notebook and a mini stapler to take notes and buyers business cards.
- Get to know your neighbors and walk the show a bit! One of the most fun parts of the Noted Show I exhibited at in 2022 was walking around a bit and saying hello to all the exhibitors! Trade swag with them and go home with some really wonderful memories.
- If you have won any awards or have been nominated for them, post it up in your booth! It's something to be proud of and will be a great conversation starter.
Noted @Noted Finalist for me!
- Take a breather! Celebrate the fact that you did it! Think about the goals that you wrote before the show and celebrate those wins. What can you do even better for the next show?
- Follow Up I take a stack of postcards with me to shows to write buyers I met a quick note to say thank you and nice to meet you. I pop them in the mail before leaving for home, so buyers get a quick/ fun message from me when they get back to their shops.
- Follow Up Within the first week or 2 (or before the show is over!) go through all your notes and orders and prioritize shipments that need to go out, follow ups and any questions buyers had that you need to address.
- Make sure to build in some down time after the show. You’ve been preparing for this for months and you need and deserve to do something fun or relaxing for yourself! Running a business is like a marathon not a sprint, so rest and hydrate.
Be a Tourist! If you have time after the show to visit some shops in the area, spend some time getting to know local stores. It will be a fun way to relax after the show and have some fun getting to know the area.
I hope this has been a helpful overview of trade show experience. Leave me a comment if you have any other ideas or feedback! I'd love to hear about your trade show experiences too!