Many of you have emailed me to ask about how you should prepare for your first trade show, so I asked my amazing former sales rep Cathy Downey, if she’d answer some of my questions about trade shows.  (FYI–even if you don’t plan to attend a trade show anytime soon, you should read this post–Cathy gives invaluable tips & resources for “product moms”.)

Why should mom entrepreneurs attend trade shows? What are the benefits?

Exposure, Exposure, Exposure! Just as in real estate it is location location location, in retail it is exposure. A trade show puts you out there and it legitimizes your brand. Your exposure is not only to retailers but also to publications and publicists. Just as you have come up with a brilliant idea, you will be someone’s AHA Moment at a trade show. Retailers are looking for that next great thing that will generate sales in their store. The importance of the see , touch and feel can not be under estimated. Products that are seen and touched strike a cord that all of the emailing and web site positioning can’t evoke. It is your WOW factor.

Publicity Publications in your industry attend trade shows to see the latest too. An editor’s enthusiasm for a product can result in a positive editorial that can sway a retailer to take a look and make that purchase. Publicists are also looking for product and companies to promote. A good publicist can be a great asset. Listen to what they have to say and follow up with them after the show. Like any good business decision, review your options back in your office after the glow of the show is over.

Representation Sales reps attend shows to work with their manufacturers and customers. They too are looking for the next great product. Be realistic. If you are at a very early stage with your business and have limited production capability and capital, it may not be the time to expand your horizon with a sales rep. However, if you are seeking representation, talk with them and do your research. Again, a good business decision made back in the office.

What should you bring to a trade show?

First and foremost, your product in pristine condition. Think Christmas morning–it is all shiny and new.  Bring more than one.  Not only do you need enough to make a presentation in your booth, things happen. I have arrived at shows only to find that an item broke in transit, a garment has a spot on it. While customers may be sympathetic,  you only have one shot to make an impression.

You will also need business cards. Include all information for people to contact you.  Phone, fax, email, website.  Most importantly, your name.  When I went to have my first cards printed, I was so focused on the data and the logo that I had omitted my name. Thankfully, the printer asked me if I wanted my name on the cards.

Order forms, with a copy for the customer, brochures, credit card forms and any other marketing materials you have are essential.

In addition this is what you need with you:

    • Stapler

 

    • Calculator

 

    • Pens

 

    • Paper clips

 

    • Push pins

 

    • Straight pins

 

    • Suction cup hooks

 

    • Masking tape

 

    • Gorilla tape (you can fix anything with that stuff!!)

 

    • Packing tape for sealing your boxes at the end of the show

 

  • Tide To Go

If the table does not come draped, bring a pressed table cloth. Not only does it finish your booth, you now have storage space under the table.

If you are bringing your own lights to a show, extra light bulbs, extension cord and a power strip.  Some venues will not allow this so do check beforehand.

A sign for the booth with the company name on it.

Comfortable shoes –they can be cute too. Those 4″ heels are adorable but after 10 hours standing on concrete you will thank me. However, no gym shoes.

Bring an expandable file for orders and business cards . You will have all of your post show work in one neat handy place.  Be sure to write any follow up info on the back of the customer’s business card. Things like, “took catalog”, “ordered”, “call in two weeks”– any information that will assist you in prompt follow up after the show.

Wrapped candy in a candy dish or a pretty basket. Chocolate will slow them down every time. They may not buy, but they have stopped and they have looked.

WHAT NOT TO BRING

Product that is not in perfect condition.

Your children. This is your business. Children are fabulous but long hours and the attention they deserve are not a good combination. You are the face of your company and product.  Both of you need to shine.

How Should You Prepare for a Show?

Prepare a sales pitch.  Have a story about your product. What inspired it. What does the product do. Be prepared to talk about the features and benefits of this product. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. If there is a similar product on the market, educate yourself.  Point out the features of the product. This is your baby you have to be able to clearly articulate the point of difference.

Side note: For instructions on how to craft a perfect pitch for any occasion, check out Get Famous.

Never ever negative sell by bashing your competition. I represent a product that is quite similar to something else on the market. When customers tell me that they are carrying the other product, I tell them that the one I carry is an organic product and if at any time they would be interested in picking up my item, we are in stock and ready to ship. I happen to know that the other product has terrible shipping problems but I have not bashed the other product. Nine out of ten times, they will purchase mine.

Do an email blast about your product. Be sure to include a “Come see us at XYZ show” with the dates and your booth number below your signature. Do the show information in a different color. This is advertising that does not cost anything. Do a postcard mailing, too.

Do wholesalers like to see press coverage?

They do like to see press coverage in magazines. Celebrity press is good but not of as much interest as ads or editorial press.

Side note: For instructions on how to get a feature in a major publication, on television, rasio, etc., you can again reference the Get Famous guide.

Do I need a booth, display, TV, video, etc?

You do need an area to show product. If your item or items come in multiple colors and sizes or you have more than one product then a booth is probably best.

Remember that you are trying to get your company noticed and product shown in its best light. Having said that, if this is your first show or you have one item, some shows do a first time exhibitor space which is usually a tall table with bar stools. The area is highlighted as a new or first time exhibitor area and this can work quite effectively.  A video works if there is a use or multi-function or assembly that may be difficult to demonstrate or explain in a very short period of time. Remember that as a buyer is coming down an aisle you have seconds to make an impression.

When thinking about your booth,  know who your targeted customer is. The class of trade that I represent is specialty/boutique.  When I set up my booth I make it look like a boutique. I want the buyer to be able to “see” the product in their store. If you have a product that is peggable, set up the back wall that way. Think of your booth as one of those staging shows.  Don’t just sell the steak–sell the sizzle!

How should I dress?

Dress professionally.  Business casual is perfect for most shows. I would still be more dressed up in New York than say Las Vegas.  The only exception would be if you are selling apparel such as jogging suits. Then I would think that wearing your product is fine. Wear cute, comfortable shoes. The concrete floor will do you in if you are wearing heels. The way your feet feel will be reflected on your face. No funny hats buttons, leis, etc. You will not be remembered in the way that you want to be.

Share with us some basic “trade show etiquette” –are there dos & don’ts?

DO:

    • Show up on time and don’t leave the booth early. It sounds simple but you would be surprised at how many people do not do this.

 

    • Keep your booth neat and clean.

 

    • Have brochures/catalogs on the table so that a buyer may just take the literature if they choose not to stop for the sales pitch.

 

    • Keep all banners and display materials within the booth proper.

 

    • Greet buyers when they stop at or enter your booth.

 

    • Thank buyers for stopping in or writing an order.

 

    • Work on your hand shake. There is nothing unladylike about a firm handshake. It exudes confidence and a business like impression.

 

  • Get a manicure, along with your personality and enthusiasm, your hands are a salesmen

DON’T:

    • Buttonhole: This means no snagging buyers in the aisle, soliciting buyers at the elevator, another booth or the food court. They have to come to you. It is tempting to want to snag someone but this is absolutely not tolerated at shows.

 

    • Leave a show early or break sown your booth early. There is a fine for this at shows.

 

    • Sell samples. Most shows do not allow this.

 

    • Place merchandise outside of your booth. This is only permitted if you have purchased showcase space or purchased the vanity space in the ladies room.

 

    • Eat in the booth. This is tough if you are doing a show alone. However, if you must ,do it discreetly and eat something that is easy to eat and not aromatic. A burrito would be a no. Bring hand wipes so that you can clean your hands.

 

  • Have your children in the booth.

 

Are there any trade show resources?
  • Review the packet from the show. The Chicago Gift Show has an excellent handbook. There is information on booth equipment rental. They will set up the grid wall shelving etc. There should also be info about any out posting of product for a nominal fee.

 

  • In the children’s business the James Girone web site is THE place to be. Get your company listed. If you are in a position to do so, place an ad on this site.

 

 

  • Use Facebook and Linkedin.  Advertise that you will be at a show.  Be sure to link the ad to your web site.

 

Are there any ways to save money?

 

      • If a show allows it,  share a booth.

 

      • Be realistic about your signage. Will a great banner on the back wall tell the story? Do I really need a $500 easel sign?

 

      • Use Priceline.  Review any show specials for hotel deals and then compare with Priceline.

 

      • Sign up for the hotel rewards programs like Hilton Honors. You are going to be doing a number of shows, you will be able to redeem those points for future stays.

 

      • If you have a time share, consider switching it to the city where you are doing a show. In addition to the room, you will save on food since you can choose to eat in.

 

Anything else that you’d like to add, Cathy?

Have fun!  You have worked so hard to birth this company—this is the payoff. I love doing shows. My eyes fly open the morning of a show & I say “IT’S SHOWTIME!” Yes, you will be exhausted but it is the best kind of tired. Maybe you didn’t sell as much as you thought–revel in the positive feedback. You did this–it is yours and it is wonderful. Have a fantastic show season and enjoy the ride!

TMM recommends the following resources for trade shows, reselling, and wholesaling:

Trade Show Exhibiting

Reseller Toolkit: A Guide To Boutique Wholesaling

Find & Manage Sales Reps

Selling to Retail Stores

Selling to Retailers Mastermind Group

Get Retail Ready

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Heather Allard

Heather Allard is a mom of three kids + one big rescue dog. She's a wellness buff, an essential oil educator with dōTERRA, and a self-professed “entrepreneur to the core”.
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24 Comments

  1. Rob

    Awesome info thanks so much for this guide! We are attending our first major tradeshow in Las Vegas this August and we are super excited so having something like this is amazing!

    Rob
    RichieHouse.com

    Reply
  2. Mary Kastle

    Fantastic article! I am about to do my first big consumer show this Fall and it is so great to have a checklist like this to work through beforehand. Many thanks for sharing your expertise!
    http://www.wizardbabybooties.com

    Reply
  3. J Kelly Mayes

    Hi Heather,
    Just saw your post on TME site. LOVE your site!!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge! I’m early in my journey and cherish the many gems of advice that have come from Mom’s who’ve been there already. Your journey is remarkable! Thanks for the info and the inspiration!
    Blessings,
    Kelly
    President / C.E.O.
    Sniffle Buddies, LLC
    http://www.snifflebuddies.com

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Aw, thanks so much Kelly! I’m so glad you’re enjoying The Mogul Mom. Let me know if I can help you along the way. 😀

      Heather

      Reply
  4. Erika Berry

    Perfect! Just what I needed and the list will help calm me down! I needed these tips for an expo I am doing. You may have talked me out of my stilettos and can a manicure be a business expense?! Loved it, thanks Heather!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      I’m so glad the post was just what you needed, Erika! And of course a pedicure is a business expense. LOL.

      Heather

      Reply
  5. Derek McLennan

    Anything that will draw trade show attendees to your booth the better. The candy dish is priceless. If it is done right you will have booth owners stopping by for candy as well. I’ve use mints and chocolates with our name and logo imprinted on them. Bottled water works great too.
    Great info Cathy! Thanks Heather.

    Reply
  6. dayna

    Great info!!! Thank you Cathy! I will be attending my first tradeshow in Vegas (ABC)… I am just so excited to be launching a new line! I cant wait to see/hear what prospective buyers think… I am going to print your advice and make sure I dont forget the gorilla tape! Thanks again for all the great insight!

    Reply
  7. Samantha Fowler

    This couldn’t have come at a better time we are getting ready to go to our 2 & 3rd show’s in the next month and our first one was horrible. It wasn’t run well and things were just chaotic, for a first show I wanted to be the only chaotic one not the people running it. This info was really helpful thank you for a great post.

    Reply
  8. Renee

    I am so glad I saw your tweet with the title of this post. I am pondering trade shows as I look to open a wholesale channel. I must really catch up with your other posts. Every time I visit I find something useful.

    Reply
  9. elizabeth

    All I can say is, WOW. Great post. I’ve been to the trade shows and everything seems so daunting. You just don’t know where to begin. It’s so much easier when you break it down by checklist’s and do’s and dont’s. Thanks you!

    Reply
  10. Heather Allard

    Elizabeth–I know! I wish I had this post from Cathy all those years ago when I did a few trade shows. Would’ve made things so much easier!

    Heather 🙂

    Reply
  11. Ros-Ficklets.com

    Today’s post is definitely going to be bookmarked; wish I had this to refer to a couple years ago. Attended my first trade show late 2007 and although it was stressful and intimidating, I walked away feeling not only relieved that I got through it, but a sense of accomplishment. I made many mistakes being a first time exhibitor, but the most important thing and to reiterate Cathy’s advice – HAVE FUN! It’ll help calm your nerves and engage more effectively with your prospective customer/attendees. Funny thing… I said the same thing on the first day “IT’S SHOWTIME!”

    Another great tip – plan several months ahead. I started preparing about 3-4 months prior and felt like I needed another month or two. Ordering displays, signs, etc. takes several weeks not including any delays, and longer if you don’t have your graphic designs/artwork complete.

    Reply
  12. a.larson

    Great article! Thank you for all the insight. I look forward to my first show next week, and yes, three more in the following 5 weeks!!

    Angela

    Reply
  13. Heather Allard

    Cathy,
    You’re awesome! Thank you SO much for not only this great post but also for all the additional information you shared here in the comments. I love, love, love you! Mwah! 🙂

    Heather

    Reply
  14. Cathy Downey

    Michelle, The womens’ market in Chicago is called Stlyemax and is held at the Apparel Center at the merchandise mart. For boutiques I think you are looking for Gift Shows. Chicago’s in Living & Giving at the Merchandise Mart held in Jan & July. There is the New York Gift Show at the Javit’s Center, Atlanta has a huge Gift Show. I am not familiar with a green show although I am sure they are out there. The Gift Shows all have a green section. Hope this helps.

    Reply
  15. Catherine Choi

    This is invaluable – thank you!I have also kept this one in my files

    Reply
  16. Stephanie Lindquist

    WOW! Thank you SO much for sharing this! I definitely bookmarked this one!

    Reply

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