Working a Trade Show

Deborah Goodwin, creator of ShapeShiftasä pillows and art cushions, wrote a two-part post on ” How (not) to do a Trade Show”.  Deborah shares her experience exhibiting in the large New York International Gift Fair.  Great article in my opinion — since she is willing to share what NO to do as well as what worked for her.

In part one, she writes:

I think most Etsy artists would do best starting off with the Buyer’s Market of American Craft or the American Craft Retailer’s Expo. The work at BMAC and ACRE is beautiful, (almost) all US artist – made, and you will love meeting your fellow exhibitors. The buyers that attend are mostly galleries and individual boutiques, so the orders are smaller and easier to finance. Neither show is cheap, but they are a lot less than NY and Atlanta. And with an ACRE booth you also get to be in their on-line catalog.

So lesson #1 – you should definitely “walk” the shows before you consider exhibiting in them. You will probably have to pay to get in, unless you have a friend who’s exhibiting that can get you a badge, or you are better than I am at convincing the show organizers that you are press (have a blog?) or a retailer (they will require credentials).

I wholeheartedly agree with Deborah on this point.  Gift Show can drain your pocket book very quickly — especially a large show.  Better to get your feet wet first, before investing in a large show.

In Part Two, she adds lesson #2:

So, Lesson #2 is to have realistic expectations of what you will get out of the show. Sure, there is always one exhibitor who does tons of business their first time out – but it will probably not be you, no matter how fabulous your work or how well you plan and execute your display. In many cases buyers are cautious about doing business with a new resource and like to see you at more than one show, over time. Retailers want to know that you are in business to stay, that you will be able to fill reorders and be a “partner” (that means, if something doesn’t sell, they want to send it back or get “markdown money”). The booths that were busy (even though they complained about business, too) were all old trade-show hands that do 2-5 shows each season (winter and summer, add THAT up!)

Unfortunately, trade show attendance has declined over the last years.  Deborah does address that point in her article.  One of my vendor who does fairly well with shows has been doing them for numerous years.  Her customers know when and where she will be and place their orders with her at the shows she attends.

My advice:  Do your research BEFORE you consider exhibiting at a show!



Another excellent resource on Trade Gift Shows is Meryl Hooker and Rob Fortier Book, SHOWTIME!

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