Tradeshow tips from Life Instyle pro, Sonya Michele

If you had told me 2 years ago I’d be preparing for my 3rd retail tradeshow, I’d have laughed my head off after telling you what a totally outrageous idea it was.

But as I type this, I am indeed preparing to exhibit at Life InStyle Melbourne in August – Australia’s premier boutique lifestyle tradeshow – a whole lot more learned, and hopefully a little wiser than when I started this journey 2 years ago.

I was delighted when the team at Life InStyle asked me to share some pearls of wisdom as part of an experienced exhibitor panel at Life InStyle’s Training Wheels event recently – a business education event for new wholesale businesses and exhibitors to Life InStyle.

Being accepted into a tradeshow like Life InStyle is a big deal. It is a curated event with a specific targeted audience and if you’re in, then they think you’ve got something special. You need to make sure you maximise every opportunity.

So if you’re embarking on your journey into the world of wholesale tradeshows, or just thinking about it, here’s some advice gained from my experiences exhibiting over the last 2 years…

LOOK BEYOND THE SALE

Many new exhibitors have asked me what sort of target to set for sales at their first tradeshow.  My simple advice, don’t set any.  
Of course, you should at least cover your costs of participating in the tradeshow, but lose the mindset that you will be an apparent, ‘overnight success’ like the stories you read about.  In reality, these stories are often an anomaly and there are a lot of other factors at play.

As a new brand to a tradeshow, exhibiting is not about how many sales in your first exhibition, it is about showing and showcasing your brand and what it stands for; it is brand awareness.  It’s about shouting to the world ‘HEY I’M HERE AND I’VE GOT AN AWESOME STORY TO TELL!’.

THE 3 P’s – PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION

But before you start shouting to the world you’re at the tradeshow, you need to get them excited with a whisper.  You need to start generating some interest.

The advantage you have of being a new exhibitor is that retailers love whatever the newest thing is.  If you are new to market, take advantage of it and tell the world where and when you’ll be exhibiting.

Don’t assume that you can turn up to the tradeshow put out some sample stock, some gorgeous business cards and a few order forms and expect to be fighting off the wholesalers wanting to place orders.  Yes, you have invested to exhibit at the tradeshow, but do not mistake, the trade show organiser is a facilitator and it is not their responsibility to get wholesalers to your stand.

That’s your job.  

  • Media pitches about new collections or product releases  the team at Flaunter love spreading the news. Give them something to talk about.
  • Invest in some advertising through the tradeshow organiser.  They have a huge reach through social and traditional media.  Pitch them an idea.
  • Call/email current/past stockists; past lead lists; target lists. Talk to them all.  
  • Announcement in email signature
  • Selling to retailers is very different than selling to consumers.  Their motivations are quite different.  Communicate with this in mind.

Hopefully, the reason you launched your business is to make some money, so make sure your backend processes support this and they are in place well before the tradeshow.

Retailers are going to want to know 2 key things – how much and when can they get it.  

Be clear on your pricing and ensure you have calculated it to exclude/include GST, freight or any other factors.  Tradeshows are not the time and place for negotiating or changing pricing.

If you produce after the tradeshow, have your process sorted so you know when you will be receiving stock and you can tell this to the retailers.  Be sure to build some buffers in – inevitably things do happen!

BE ADAPTABLE

Every season, every collection.  And most importantly, constantly seek feedback.

The retail industry is ever changing, and each tradeshow is different.   That doesn’t mean you change your product every collection.  It means you constantly refine it. Your product offering should be evolutionary.

When I did my first show, I was the epitome of a newbie exhibitor; idealistic, full of determination and energy, but after my first day I knew I had to change my mindset. Rather than trying to ‘sell’ retailers my product.  I started asking retailers about their store and customers.  Or if they told me, ’It’s lovely, but not for my store.’, I’d immediately ask, ‘Tell me why?’.  Retailers love to talk about their store and customers.  You will gain tremendous insight from this simple question.

I wrote enough business at my first tradeshow to cover my costs, but the feedback I gained was so much more valuable.

And finally…..

HAVE FUN

Tradeshows are hard work, but they are fun.  Connect with other exhibitors.  They are a wealth of information not to mention the amazing support you will receive.

And most importantly, be kind to yourself.  Small business is a journey; it’s not a race to the end.

dog&boy (@dogandboydesigns) • Instagram photos and videos

Sonya Michele is the founder of dog&boy, creating limited edition oversized scarves inspired by the simple beauty of everyday.

Follow Sonya on Instagram and shop the collection here.

Discover and download dog&boy images on Flaunter here.

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Images: David Grr & dog&boy stockist, The Resort Store