If you are a product creator of any kind, or have a retail store, either online or bricks & mortar, then you will know all about trade fairs.
The most important dates on the retail calendar, trade fairs are events ranging from a couple of hundred visitors to tens of thousands, where store buyers (i.e. the people who choose and buy the goods in stores) get to see the latest products and designs in their industry.
They tend to happen around September and January every year. Many shows have two dates, some just happen once a year.
If you are making a new planner or launching a greetings card collection, you will want to exhibit at a stationery show to get your paper goods designs in front of stationery buyers – both for tiny independent stores and national – and international – chains.
Whatever kind of product you make, from babywear to marble countertops, there is a trade fair for you to get your work in front of the people who count.
So what happens at a trade fair normally?
Because it’s such a big investment, you should do your best to visit (or “walk”) a show before you actually hand over cold hard cash to exhibit at one, just to see if you will be a good fit there and to see what the quality of the other exhibitors and their stands is like (spoiler alert: it’s going to be HIGH). Try to visit a couple of fairs in your niche if you can, because they’re all quite different and have their own vibes.
Shows to check out:
Before the big event, you will often be asked to book your “extras” – in reality, these are usually all absolute “musts”! Lighting, electricity, cladding for your stand, plug sockets, scanners to scan visitor badges – it all adds up. You might need to arrange for your own tradespeople to help you set up before the show opens – if cladding is not provided, you can do it yourself (if it IS provided, it can be cheaper to DIY, but more stressful, so you have to balance that out!), painting, putting up shelves, installing furniture etc – some shows are really full on.
Others provide everything and you just turn up with a box of samples and flyers!
You will probably need somebody to come and help you – your stand can be silent as the grave for an hour, and then 5 people come along at once! And I can tell you right now that the moment you go for a restroom break, the Anthropologie buyer will swing by!
But it’s all different now, isn’t it?
Show season is CANCELLED.
So what does that mean for you?
But this year is different. Right now, all those buyers who WOULD have been heading off to the shows to be dazzled by your competitors are at home or at their offices because all the shows have been cancelled because of the pandemic.
The playing field just got levelled.
Here is how to make the very best of this opportunity because it won’t happen again (we hope!).
Make your list of retailers. You can often get a feel for who WOULD have been attending a big show by looking at the show’s Instagram account and checking out their followers. Sure, Anthrologie probably isn’t following them, but I bet that a good chunk of their followers are small independent retailers, and THEY are where the big money is.
Kick off by following those retailers first! Low hanging fruit, right?
Do more online research and get a list of about 100 retailers you want to target.
HOT TIP: One quick way of doing this is to check out your closest competitors and see if their website has a stockist list!
When you have made your list, follow them on social media and start engaging with their posts.
Then email each one individually. No mail blast! You’re going to send a personalized email to each one, referencing at least one specific fact about that store (i.e. “I just love Wayne! I went to Villanova and remember your store really well.” and telling them why YOUR PRODUCT is a perfect fit for their buying strategy this year.
The top 10 retailers on your list, the ones you REALLY want to get in front of – send them a beautifully gift-wrapped sample or set of samples of your product.
FOLLOW UP with a phone call the day after it arrives with them.
Keep following up until you literally get an email saying “We don’t want to stock you! Stop emailing us!”. You have to be tenacious!
This is all advice that I would give you for pitching to retailers in a normal year, but this year with the shows all cancelled you have such a huge opportunity to be the brand front and centre of a buyer’s mind, so SEIZE IT and make that sale!