Trade Shows

One of the biggest events during the year for any and all apparel and/or accessories (including footwear) manufacturers is the trade show. This is where you send out your secret weapon: the marketing pros. This is one of the most exhausting, exhilarating, and perhaps the most rewarding event(s) throughout the selling process. With the right marketing team, the right attitude, having the initiative to sell, sell, sell, and having a game plan ready to go, trade show success is in sight. This is when you initiate contact with your potential buyers and this when you can start to determine your profitability for the season.

Exhibiting at Trade Shows

Staying organized with a clear goal in mind is the ultimate key when exhibiting at shows. This is important so as not to feel too overwhelmed by the entire process. Here are some tips that will help you give it all you’ve got:


Make Notes.

You need to remember the details of everything so that you don’t accidentally skim over something that could be very important. Even if you notice something very small that you might want to recall later, write it down. It would help to keep a notebook with you to stay organized. If you do not have time to write full-fledged notes, just write down keywords that will help you remember later. It would also be a good idea to keep tabbed sections available for different parts of the show, for example: contact information, contracts, invoices, and phone conversations (including all necessary details).

Exhibitor Manuel.

Read this as if it were a “page-turning” book. This is where you can find all the information you need in order to fully understand what is needed to be done at the show. This includes show hours, sponsorship, booth services, hotel and airfare discounts, etc.

Deadlines Are There For A Reason!

If they weren’t necessary, they wouldn’t be there. If you miss any deadline, your costs are more than likely to rise significantly. If you want sizable discounts, complete all of your necessary paperwork in ADVANCE! If you don’t, you run the risk of having to stand in line for long periods of time, valuable time.

Keep Important Paperwork With You.

Do not pack anything that is even relatively important with the booth; pack it in your luggage. This would include shipment information, contracts, service orders, backups of electronic data, etc.

Trade Show Toolbox.

Create a box with necessary tools and ship it with your booth. Label this box “Open First.” It should include tools that you’ll need to set up your booth, office supplies, small first aid kit, snacks and water, shipping labels (pre-printed), AND a plethora of business cards. Make sure that everything that you ship separately is properly labeled. All contact information and booth information should be included so that nothing is lost or not delivered. No booth, no show.


The Right Show.

When it comes to picking the show in which to exhibit, especially for smaller companies, it is important to realize that exhibiting at a show can really turn out to be a killer to your budget. Nowadays especially, it becomes a rather hefty tab to fly staff and materials around the country to exhibit. Take a look at the trade shows in your industry and what’s going on before you start reserving booth space. It wouldn’t hurt to talk to a couple of competitors to find out where they show. It would be in your better interest to have a strong showing at one very large and expensive show rather than having an “okay” presence at several inexpensive and smaller shows.

Edit, Edit, And Edit Again.

One of the toughest things to do is to decide what you plan on showing. Don’t make the mistake of bringing every piece in your line to show. Focus on maybe two handfuls of your most prized pieces, the ones that you know will grab the attention of buyers passing by. No matter what market you are in, buyers are looking for something that is fresh…new. Most of what you will be doing will be order taking, so that means once you take the orders, then you can produce products based on orders received. This is not only cost effective, but it just makes reasonable sense and it also controls inventory investment, which is always a good thing. However, it is possible at some shows to take orders and/or sell directly. To find out what your options are, head to the show’s promoter; they will always know.

Developing A Budget.

There are several expenses involved with each show. You want to keep track of every cost incurred so as not to miss-spend anything. This includes booth costs, travel, food and lodge for yourself and employees, shipping costs, marketing materials, wages, promotional items, and manufacturing costs for any and all products that you are showing.

An Attractive Booth Never Hurts.

The old adage “dress to impress” should apply to you, your employees, and your booth. You want to convince potential buyers that you offer a quality product that they must have, so in order to do so, you need to show them that you mean business. It is not really effective to try and show yourself, your company, and your products as high quality with cardboard signs, tilted displays, and tables/desks and chairs that look older than you and your staff combined. This is the industry in which to be creative…so don’t be shy! You don’t have to be over the top; just represent yourself the way you want potential prospects to see you, the company, and the products. However, the most important aspect of your presentation will be the people who represent your company and products. Well-trained reps will be your greatest assets.

Know Your Goals And Stay Focused.

What is the overall outcome you wish to accomplish? Is it to sell products? Whatever the goal is, stay focused. Trade shows provide an essential outlet in which more than one task can be accomplished. This could include: - Generating leads. - Building contact lists. - Maintaining your image and contact with customers. - Introducing new products. - Creating and establishing an image and relationship with new customers. - Evaluating competition. - Attract potential staff and reps. - And…make sales.

Have Selling Tools Ready.

It is not necessary to have elaborate catalogs and/or full color brochures with you at the show. Those can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars that you don’t need to spend. The necessary: - Order forms with prices - Product descriptions - Color and style selections

You don’t want to pull a “blind one” on any potential buyers, so make sure that everything is upfront for them to see; include all necessary information that they need to know, including: - Shipping and return policies - Selling terms - Whatever else is necessary to make the sale complete.

Have a pre-printed form to cut down on time taking orders and mistakes. Have copies made of one that you typed yourself or have a standard form made and print it out. Keep it black and white…black ink, white paper.

The Cast.

Select the right people to bring with you. You want to bring members of your staff that you KNOW will be able to work in a fast-paced environment and handle all of the in-your-face and pushy buyers. Bring enough people with you to help sell effectively. Buyers are very busy people, so they won’t wait for you or someone else to finish their conversation before taking care of them. If you don’t initiate action on your part, then all of your hard work of setting up the best booth with the best products will have been a waist of time. There is a lot of tension at these shows as well, so do everyone a favor and break the ice.

Usually, there are two types of buyers:

  1. They talk to you (lucky for you
  2. You talk to them (most likely).

Your opening remark or statement will make or break your initial contact with a buyer. A good option would be to say something polite and sincere to get their attention. An impressive technique is to quickly read their badge and see their name and company, and say something positive in regards to that. Just remember: always be positive. “How are you today?” is a question that is far too often asked and is not really appealing. If you were a buyer, you would be tired of answering this question all of the time. By asking how they are doing, you run the risk of catching someone on a bad day and therefore being subject to whatever ridicule they may throw your way just because you are there, and you asked. So try not to do that. Loose statements will get you nowhere you want to be. Be direct, be different. Try “How are you liking the show so far?” or”Finding what you are looking for?” Or, an effective one: “Thanks for stopping by. What do you think attracted you to our booth/product line?” You want to anticipate all sorts of questions and be able to respond with proper answers, as well as train your staff to do the same. This is how you can see the ROI that you have been waiting for. The sole purpose of the opening question/statement is to get a reactionary response that is in your favor. Think of something creative and positive that will cause some widening eyes and smiles.

Initiate conversations.

Most of the buyers that will come buy will only be there to steal some candy/snacks, poke around at your products, glance at your printed materials, and hit the road to another booth. However, don’t let that get you down. There will be some that are looking for exactly what you are selling. Talk to this person. Start a conversation and keep them interested. If you initiate appropriate conversations, you can, not only talk to this person at length, but also initiate a longer conversation somewhere else, say a nearby conference room, a dinner meeting, or perhaps a later meeting at your company suite.

The Qualifying Process.

The encounter with a buyer varies, but the average ranges from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Your team will need to develop a series of questions to carry the conversation and determine the needs and wants of prospects, that is if your goal is to find people who have purchasing authority. Some objectives are:

  • Establish rapport in a timely manner.
  • Write down the correct information and qualify the prospect.
  • Agree on what to do next.
  • Move onto the next attendee AFTER politely leaving the other.

Remember, qualified prospects will be passing you by if you and your team are just chatting away. Act like a journalist on the hunt for a good story: ASK QUESTIONS. Also, you need to have great listening skills, maintain eye contact to establish trust, and ask open-ended questions. Examples:

  • Now why is that?
  • Could you tell me more?
  • Does that work to your satisfaction?
  • In your opinion, what would you change in this line to make it work better for your needs?

Get Business Cards.

Leave with as many as humanly possible. Say something that will make them want to leave their card with you, such as you have a market report that you couldn’t possibly bring with you for whatever reason and you will send it to them as soon as you get back to the office. Or say you are having a draw that could win them something spectacular, and if they want to be entered, they should leave their card. Something creative.

Establish A Minimum Order.

There are several ways to establish a minimum order. Set an amount, for example $50-$300, with re-orders at a different fixed amount. The amount is based off of what you need to make it worthwhile to produce, pack and ship. Another way to establish a minimum order is by the quantity in which you sell the item. Sell them in a fixed amount of groups, colors or styles. A good idea would be to follow the amount that you purchased your goods in. Retailers are more inclined to buy items that come in a variety of colors, styles, and sizes, so set up your groups in that way. Variety is key here. You could also offer special show packages when ordered, such as a grouping of a variety of products which also includes a discount, instead of buying separately. If you offer no minimum at your show, it tends to encourage buyers to try what you have to offer. It is quite possible that once they start ordering, they exceed what you originally had in mind for a minimum.

Experienced sales reps say that on average at a regional show, a vendor can expect $10,000-$20,000 spread over several orders. Make sure your delivery and production time accommodate each other. Offer delivery options that you feel comfortable to meet. Don’t push your limits or abilities.

Payment Terms.

This must benefit you, so it would be wise not to offer open accounts with new accounts. You should require either 100% pre-payment, or 50% down with the balance being paid COD cash/certified check or credit card. If you are planning to not offer credit cards, NCA is a good way to help you get set-up with a merchant account for all sorts of credit cards.

Delivery Dates.

This is also controlled by you. Set up delivery dates that are based on the volume of the orders received. Arrange delivery with production time and always make sure to allow yourself the time you need to produce and deliver orders. Stores do not expect immediate delivery; just always, always deliver when you say you will. The agreed upon delivery date is subject to negotiation with each buyer.

Freight Costs.

As a perk, some companies offer free shipping if a specific amount has been ordered. This would encourage larger orders and re-orders…a good way to keep them coming. Also, consider offering a show special, such as free freight. This also encourages placing orders immediately, and sometimes leads to bigger orders.

Follow up.

As always, make sure you come with a game plan when it comes to the contacts and sales leads that you generate at the show. If you feel more comfortable, divide sales leads into categories based on the importance of each one, and then decide what your next step will be according to their importance. For example, for an important prospect: contact in 60 days; put on mailing list; send materials, etc. Be prompt and efficient on this matter or opportunities can pass you by; you want to be fresh in the mind of your buyer. Often times, companies fax/e-mail literature requests and leads back to the office while at the show so that all necessary information is sitting on the prospect’s desk upon return. You want to keep a good impression going. Don’t let your competition get to them first; be quick and efficient. Also, don’t be afraid to make phone calls in order to make contacts. If you aren’t able to get feedback after the show from your qualified leads, then call them to reestablish your rapport with them and get some feedback. Think about developing the relationship, making a complete and detailed needs analysis, create proposals, and close the sales.

Timing is everything.

You don’t want your mail to build up with the other mail that has been waiting for the prospect since the show. You want your mail to get the time that it deserves. Use special sending options like Federal Express (FedEx). The prospect will most likely be looking for these things:

Dependability - Did you send everything that you said you would?

Image - Does you mailed materials clearly reflect the image that the prospect has of your company?

Personal Contact - Are your phone calls and questions effective? Do you have a good rapport with customers?

How Offten To Make Contact.

Make enough contact to develop relationships, keep a good image and reputation, deliver what you promise and live up to what you say! If you help people get what they want, success is inevitable. Some tips:

  • Design your follow-up plan in advance.
  • Write all follow-up letters in advance.
  • Design and print post cards early on.
  • Plan phone scripts.
  • Coordinate the timing of these things with data base management systems.

Evaluating Success Of Show.

  • Did you meet your goals?
  • Did you make the right choices?
  • Was this the right audience?

Brainstorm ideas and take notes on your success while the memory is fresh. This can help you know what to improve on for next time, if necessary.

Competitive shopping.

If there is one important thing to know about trade shows, it is that they are a fantastic way to see what is out there. Especially for starting entrepreneurs, this is the ultimate way to learn about your competition in almost every facet, from how they sell to the presentation of their booth. Take a stroll around the exhibit halls and you will be able to collect all sorts of literature on distributors, suppliers, the trade press, new concepts for products and markets, etc. It is limitless. You can also participate in surveys, be put on mailing lists, and earn complimentary subscriptions to a number of publications.