Down the Aisle: Practical advice for trade show novices as you navigate the most important shopping trip of the year
If you're there with a colleagues you can split up and send groups out on fact finding expeditions to seek out interesting stands you may want to look at together in more detail later
In my last article I dealt with preparation for attending a trade show, now we’ll look at how those tips and golden rules play into your experience come the big day, or days.
Having taken my advice, you’ll be sailing past the queues of less well informed folk who didn’t bother to register beforehand and may even be being charged for their tickets.
These days you generally have to print out your ID badge in the entrance lobby after scanning your invitation, although some organisers do still send them out beforehand. Either way, you grab a lanyard, install your badge and head into the show.
Your next decision is how you’ll move around the stands to ensure you don’t miss any of the good stuff. My customary practice is to take start at one side of the hall and zig-zag up and down the rows methodically. It can get tricky when the layout is not completely uniform, but you need to establish a rationale to ensure you don’t miss anyone.
If you’re there with a colleagues you can split up and send groups out on fact finding expeditions to seek out interesting stands you may want to look at together in more detail later. A common trick is to photograph the stand number on your mobile phone and either text the pictures to the rest of your team. Be careful though as many stand holders might not like you photographing actual products in their displays.
When you arrive at a stand that piques your interest you should take a good look around before finding a sales representative to get down to the nitty gritty with. I spoke to Rachel Parkin from designer jewellery wholesalers Mercy Jewellery to get a few insights from the supplier’s perspective about these points of ‘first contact’.
She says not to worry asking too many questions – “You are a customer, and you need to know whatever you need to know” she says. She also suggests preparing a list of questions in advance to run through with each potential supplier. Questions on exclusivity, minimum orders, delivery dates, carton sizes, discount levels, point of sale displays, packaging and delivery arrangements.
Exclusivity is a big question if it’s a unique product. You want to make sure that you’re not going to be in direct competition with another store in your area. Sometimes this has already been given to a competitor, but Rachel advises it’s always worth asking to be notified if the situation changes.
Discount is another thorny issue and I’ve always followed the old maxim ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’. Rachel explains that from a supplier’s point of view it really depends on if you’re placing a large enough order, buying up old stock, or offering some other kind of a deal. Some suppliers expect to offer a discount anyway and build this into their prices. I’d advise it’s worth asking when placing your first order as at that point they are generally more motivated to get your business. But if they say no, don’t be offended. It’s something you can always come back to once you’ve established a better relationship.
On a first order you’ll usually find the terms are pro forma meaning you’ll have to pay in advance of shipment. Once you’ve been doing business for a while you may get credit terms. If you want to avoid pro forma payment from the outset Rachel’s advice is to have an A4 sheet already prepared with all your bank details and references.
This will enable a credit check to be carried out immediately. This of course assumes you have a good trading history. If you don’t, it’s best to be upfront about that. Honesty is always the best policy says Rachel.
If you’re in a hurry for the goods it’s Rachel advises it’s usually best to accept pro forma in the first instance as there’s often a delay in confirming references. You can also ask if the supplier will accept a credit card. Many do these days, some in preference to setting up credit accounts.
It’s also a good idea set a budget when you start to place an order. Unless money’s no object, you want to make sure you can spend a sensible amount with each supplier. Rachel suggests you ask to be notified when you’re approaching your limit so you don’t get any nasty surprises later.
You also need to make sure you buy enough of a range to get a decent idea of how well it will sell. Just buying a few bits may not enable you to make an eye-catching display. Some companies may also offer you a free or discounted display stand if you place a large enough order. It’s always good to ask the wholesaler for advice on which lines are good sellers.
Some final dos and don’ts
Do wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes. It’s also a good idea to take a bag or rucksack to carry the copious amounts of brochures you’re sure to pick up. They’ll be much more comfortable to lug around than the bags you’ll be offered at the show.
Do bring business cards or something printed with your details on. If you don’t have them suppliers will usually write your details down, but it’s quicker and more professional looking if you have cards.
Do take frequent breaks for food and drink and a chance to rest those aching feet. It’s easy to get tired and jaded and you need to be fresh and in the right frame of mind to find those great new products.
Don’t forget to make notes after meeting a new supplier or contact. What’s fresh in your mind now probably won’t be by the end of the show.
Don’t let time run away with you. Try to ensure you get to each new prospect and avoid too much chatting with suppliers you’re already in frequent contact with. Nice as it is to catch up, it also uses up valuable time you could be spending finding new things.
Don’t be wedded to your plan. Make sure you keep an open mind for new ideas you may not have expected to find. Allow yourself some time to simply browse.
Finally don’t forget to enjoy yourself. This may be work, but it’s also about exciting new ideas, brands and products that will inspire you and your business. Have fun on the journey!
The next shows you can see Inside Retail Live at, at Autumn Fair and Glee. Both take place at the NEC in Birmingham, are free to attend and offer wholesale gift and home products, and garden products respectively.
Ian Middleton is a retail consultant and writer/commentator