1) Decide how you want to measure your return on investment
Participating in trade shows is not always about getting direct sales, right there on the spot. In fact, it rarely is. The real benefits are more about brand awareness, lead generation and relationship building.
With that in mind, start by setting some specific, targeted and measurable goals. If you decide that your main objective is to generate some sales leads, set a number in advance that you feel would make the event a success.
If you decide your goal is about building brand awareness and relationships, decide how many people you want to meet and chat with. If they’re new people, this is increased brand awareness. If they’re existing relationships, then you’ve built on those.
In this way, trade shows can give you a new selection of warm or hot leads to follow up on, where instead you might have been making cold calls to find new customers. Back this up with an actionable work plan. You still have to put in the hard work, no one can follow up and qualify leads for your company but you.
2) Do pre-trade show marketing, invite your existing leads & customers
Reach out to your existing customers and your email list in advance. Tell them you’re attending, invite them along too. Call ten or 20 of your best clients and get them to attend, it’s a good opportunity to connect with them again. Use this as an opportunity to deepen the relationship and to update them on what you’re doing, how far you’ve come as a business, where you’re going, and what new products or services you have to offer.
Also, if you get people there vouching for your company, that might attract other leads too. It’s sort of herd mentality, but people want to work with companies that their peers have recommended. Feels more like a safe bet.
3) Image is EVERYTHING
How you present your company and your products is absolutely vital. As most people working in fashion are highly visual, having top quality imagery is super important. We cannot stress this enough.
If you want to capture the attention of retail buyers and major press, then take into account that they are typically creative people and will be enthused by something that looks beautiful and well-designed.
It may be an outset investment for you to do a professional photoshoot of your products or put together a slick looking website with strong a company logo and branding, but it will go a long way in supporting you to make sales.
Here are 7 fashion brands who have great images and present what they do in a really effective way. We’d recommending looking to these examples as best practice.
4) Be prepared for any question
You need to show that you have experience in honestly meeting customer demands – in terms of your product quality, production capabilities, your costs, ability to deliver on time, and to handle export and import logistics, regulations and payment.
We’d advise you thinking – in advance of participating in a trade show – what questions customers might ask you and making sure you have pre-determined answers ready to go. Better yet, write them down and be able to hand or email these FAQ’s out to attendees. You’ll feel more confident and you’ll get more buy-in from potential customers too.
At our upcoming online brand showcase event, SOURCE Brand Preview, visitors will also want to know about your company story and what you’re doing around social and environmental issues. Some visitors will be very knowledgeable and some won’t, but you can expect some hard-hitting questions about your practices. Make the most of this opportunity to share the inspiring story about your work but be able to back that up with your commercial strengths too.
5) Trade shows are really about networking
Don’t be a passive participant. The way to make the most of a trade show is to engage with anyone and everyone you can. You never know where a lead is going to come from or where it might take you.
You may meet potential customers but you might also meet agents, brand reps, press, future partners or collaborators and consultants that can help your company too. There will be thousands of people participating in the trade show, use it as an opportunity to connect with like-minded people who are willing to talk to you about your business for free. You may even get lots of new useful ideas.
6) Get advice, gather market insights, test your products
Trade show events are the perfect place to get deeper insights into the market and advice on your products. Use this as a learning opportunity not just as a selling opportunity. You might find that this was actually far more useful and productive than had you made a few orders.
Ask for feedback about your products from everyone you meet. At SOURCE Brand Preview, we recommend you use the chat box function to ask participants about your products and concept. Find out what they think about what you do. Ask participants more generally about what they’re looking for.
The way companies find suppliers is changing too. There are more digital tools than ever before. We’ve been told that Instagram is becoming a more popular way that buyers discover new suppliers.
Trade show attendees behaviours are not the same they were ten or even five years ago. Take every opportunity to find out what buyers expectations are about products or doing business with suppliers.
Take notes of what attendees have to say. Save those notes, reflect on them. They are worth their weight in gold.
The great thing about our March buying event, SOURCE Brand Preview is that this is all done online. So rather than spend upwards of £2,500 on exhibiting in a physical space, you can network, get new leads and build relationships without leaving your desk and at less than a fifth of the cost (probably much less than that). And we help facilitate these conversations and opportunities to learn without the hassle of going it alone.
7) Follow up with your leads with something enticing
Remember that many visitors are taking the time to visit the trade show because they’re shopping for solutions to their problems that your products can solve.
Get as much info as you can about attendees, especially the ones that inquire about your company or products, or visit your booth. This will save you time following up on leads later on. You won’t need to chase them for extra information about their contact details or who they are. This means less wasting time on leads that aren’t really relevant. Put it all into an Excel spreadsheet or use some kind of digital tool to help you manage all your leads information.
The great thing about our SOURCE Brand Preview is that we put together a visitor spreadsheet for you, so it takes away that first step of organising your new leads. But you still have to do the work to follow up and further build the relationship from there.
Practice the process of engage, qualify, present, and close. The ‘close’ may not be a direct sale, it may just be a follow-up action – like an email with further information, your product catalogue or an invitation to visit your company.
We’d also recommend you set up a promotion that attracts or rewards attendees – i.e. your potential customers or collaborators. This could be something like a special discount on an order over a certain size. It might be sending them something else of value, like if you’ve conducted any market research you could share and would be useful for your customer too. This makes them feel extra special.
Promotions help you initiate further conversations, speed up the likelihood to make a sale or maybe even help further weed out sales leads that aren’t relevant.
8) Be in for the long haul
There is no such thing as instant pay-off, not at any trade show. One NY Now® exhibitor told Forbes that “most of the developers I met at the show have been doing this on average for five years. Some broke even by year three. Hardly any were profitable before year five. When polled, most companies sunk anywhere from $25,000-$15,000 into a product line before seeing returns!”
Artisan Resource® at NY Now®, which exhibits handmade and artisanal products from overseas, recommends to their exhibitors that it will probably take at least 3 seasons before orders start to come through.
Nicola Woods, the founder of British luxury womenswear brand Beautiful Soul, advises that “persistence is key. You have to be smart and innovative in your approach.”