Dear Design Doctor
In the last three years I have been creating ceramic giftware and homeware. Last year I did my first trade show in a ‘new comers’ area, where I made some good contacts, but no sales. This January I will be doing that show again, and I wonder what I can do to encourage them to visit my stand again and to stock my work.
How can I get more sales from trade shows? I have followed up by email and occasionally by phone but without much response. Should I get in touch with them, or is that too soon?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine January/February 2016 (page 26) where it was titled ‘Making the most of trade shows’:
‘You have discovered that selling to retailers isn’t a quick fix, especially not when you are starting out.
In the last couple of years the craft retail environment has changed dramatically, with more specialist trade shows competing for business, and more designers like yourself selling. Retailers face stiff competition from online market places, and it has become very easy for consumers now to buy from makers directly.
So it’s not surprising that many trade buyers take less risk with new suppliers, preferring to focus on their best-selling creative products with suppliers they already know.
Especially big department stores will take their time, and it is rare that they order from a very new creative business. Therefore focus your marketing in the first three years on galleries and the smaller independent shops so you can build your reputation, systems, commercial market understanding and cash flow organically over time.
The purpose of trade shows seems to have changed in the last couple of years, as they are now as much about networking, specialist seminars and learning, and trend spotting as they are about buying.
Trade buyers used to place orders at a show, but they are now more likely to place orders after reviewing their budget and discussing the various options back in their office with their colleagues.
In the first three years of doing trade shows you might barely cover your cost, but you need to view them as a long term investment.
They are still the best way to meet lots of potential buyers in a short period of time, to raise your professional profile, to invite buyers and the media, and to launch new collections.
You have made a great start with being at a good trade show. If you want to sell successfully to wholesale, and get more sales from trade shows, then you need to continue building relationships with those shops that are a ‘good fit’ to what you offer.
Start to identify potential retail clients by reading blogs and (trade) magazines, find out where your competitors sell, and do some (online) research. Think about galleries and boutiques, but also about other trade buyers such as interior designers or hotelware buyers.
Aim for a list of at least 50 buyers you want to work with, and create a database which includes the name of the buyer and business, their job title, full contact details, website, info about who else is selling there and the average price level. Also start collecting articles or blog posts in a folder, and subscribe to their newsletter, private view list and their social media. All these activities will help you to get to know them better.
Identify for each of these potential trade clients WHY they would be interested in stocking you, what the best way is to contact them, and WHEN to do that. Is it best to talk to them at a private view, to send a personalised package in the post or to invite them by email to your next trade show?
Very often it is a combination of all of the above!
Selling to retailers is a process that takes time.
It’s very unlikely that they will buy from you the first time they see your products.
My marketing mantra is that ‘people only buy from people they know, like and trust’, so you will need to continue to work on your profile, credibility and trust, especially with the 50 buyers you selected.
Contact the buyers that showed an interest last time. Invite them to the show in early January (after the busy Christmas period has passed) with an invite in the post, or a personal but professional email with images of your new collection. How can you entice them to come and visit your stand again?
But there is so much more you can do throughout the year (without harassing them):
- Can you get a referral from somebody you know?
- Are you doing the right shows and promote yourself via your newsletters and social media?
- Are you creating exciting products and collections that your trade clients want?
- Have you got a visual price list or wholesale brochure that looks professional and makes ordering very easy?
- Is your pricing viable for them (and for you!)?
- Can you deliver the higher quantities that retailers need? In time?
- Have you got nice packaging for your gift products?
- Does your branding tell the right story?
Selling wholesale is now about so much more than just turning up at a trade show.
But if you have done your research, and continue to let them know what you can do for them throughout the year, and keep building your credibility then they will start to come to you. Again, and again!’