Preparing for Success at Trade Shows

Preparing for Success at Trade Shows
"I go through my stock lists and see what products sold well and what didn't seem to make an impact. I look at the Trade Fair websites to establish which shows are featuring which suppliers, what their stand numbers are"

Trade shows are like birthdays. In the early years they’re very exciting, but the more you see of them the more blasé you get. They are a fact of life as a retailer though, and like birthdays, they’re much more enjoyable with a bit of forward planning.

I’ve been attending shows since around 1988 and in that time I’ve seen them change from fairly utilitarian affairs to the expansive, brand dominated spectaculars that they are now. The basic reasons we all go to fairs haven’t changed much over the years, but the pressure to choose the right products has increased with competition. We all want to find new suppliers, renew face to face contact with existing ones, see new products, and come away with some fresh ideas.

When you first become a retailer, trade fairs represent new vistas of opportunity full of hitherto untapped resources of new contacts and suppliers you may not have come across before.

In that formative period you may have a less focussed approach, casting a wide net over prospects. Later on you become more sanguine, seeking to consolidate rather than innovate. But while the more experienced trade fairer might have different priorities, the key approaches should remain broadly similar.

Amanda Suliman Bell from Oxford based clothing and gifts boutique Rainbow And Spoon is a seasoned retailer who starts her planning months in advance.

“I go through all the notes I have made at the previous seasons trade fairs, exhibitor and supplier catalogues, reminding myself of the labels I was interested in but didn’t buy” Amanda told me.

“I go through my stock lists and see what products sold well and what didn’t seem to make an impact. I look at the Trade Fair websites to establish which shows are featuring which suppliers, what their stand numbers are”

Turning up to a show without a plan can work on some occasions, but often just hoping that inspiration will grab you is not enough. As enjoyable as these events can be, they still take you away from the important business of running your business, so you need to make that time count. Amanda’s advice is to have this all listed before entry. As she says : “There is so much ground to cover, that you really do need a starting point”

Another good move is to go fully equipped for the day, both in terms of your buying and personal needs. Amanda’s advice is to “Wear something comfortable, you will be doing a lot of walking. Try not to carry too much, you will be collecting a lot of information. Most importantly know what your budget is and allocate how much you will be spending on what”

As always there are some golden rules to include in your pre-show checklists :

  • Do use exhibitor lists to identify where your main focus will be

  • Do check information from past shows and new brochures sent by suppliers

  • Do browse the show website, using online filters to target what you need

  • Do download and install any app available for your phone or tablet

  • Do allocate specific amounts of time to speak to each prospect

  • Don’t forget to register well before a show. It means quicker and usually free entry

  • Don’t forget to make sure you have a good supply of business cards printed especially if it’s your first show as you’ll be giving a lot away

  • Don’t plan to see too many people in one day. Trade fairs can be tiring and it’s better to spread yourself over several days rather than try to get it all into one

  • Don’t leave travel arrangements to the last minute. Some exhibitions are in awkward to get to places. Book train tickets early for the best deals or plan your travel route and parking well in advance.

  • Don’t turn up at a show unprepared. You’ll waste valuable time and energy if you just try to wing it.

  • Whether this is your first of your fiftieth trade show, preparation is the key and will mean you have a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience both during and after the event.

Ian Middleton is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Argenteus Jewellery LTD and has been to many many trade shows! Look out ‘How to Work the Show’ and ‘Post Show Follow Up’ which we’ll be publishing shortly.

Ian Middleton is a retail consultant and writer/commentator