Mezzaluna's Vikki Wiercinski on how to get your business trade-show ready

By Vikki Wiercinski April 3, 2018

Vikki Wiercinski is the Edmonton-based designer behind Mezzaluna Studio, a line of modern textile and paper goods that she has grown from a craft fair experiment to a wholesale line carried by retailers across North America. She has also coordinated Edmonton’s primo maker fair, the Royal Bison Art and Craft Fair, for eight years. In this, the first of three posts on trade shows, she helps you through figuring out if a trade show is right for your business.

SO YOU WANT TO GO TO A TRADE SHOW, YOUNG GRASSHOPPER?

I’ve been designing my own line of colourful modern textiles, Mezzaluna Studio, for eight years now. Name a craft fair in western Canada and I’ve probably sold my wares at it multiple times.

Online shop? Check.

A great list of local and regional retailers? Check.

A bit of national recognition? Check.

A mailing list full of design-hungry textile and pattern fans? Check.

What was next for my company was to snap up new stockists located further away from my home base, get more frequent wholesale re-orders, and find opportunities to collaborate with bigger brands on design projects. Sound familiar? Maybe it’s also time for you to — gasp — book a booth at a trade show.

IS A TRADE SHOW RIGHT FOR YOU?

Here’s some questions you can use to check in with yourself to see if you’re ready for a trade show:

  • Do you have at least 10-15 steady stockists in your roster who reorder periodically? This shows retailers have found success with your work and likely new stockists will too. A solid stockist list also signals to new retailers that you are an established company.
  • Can you fulfill a high volume order? For example, if you can only handmake 2 leather bags a week, a large wholesale show may not be the right choice as you could get an order for 50 bags and be asked to deliver them within 30 days. If you’re able to supply larger volumes of a single item somewhere between 7-60 days of the order being made, you’re in the right spot for wholesale.
  • Are your items priced in a way where wholesale prices still make a profit for you? Some makers simply can’t afford to sell their wares at wholesale prices, and a trade show may not be for you if you if that’s the case.
  • Is your line diverse enough? Buyers will expect a good selection of products, variations, and price points to choose from. In my case I had 12 tea towel designs, 20 greeting card designs, several additional paper goods and four other textile items and that was on the smaller side as a collection compared to other booths at NYNOW.
  • The hard truth is that showing at a trade show is an investment into your business, and it’s very possible you won’t break even on your costs immediately, let alone turn a profit. Can your business’ cash flow roll with the costs of a booth, flights, accommodations, catalogue design and printing, furniture rental/storage — and do so potentially twice a year? (And do you qualify for the Alberta Export Fund to help with these costs?)

Your investment should come out in the wash over the course of several show cycles — remember, it’s not "one and done" — you want to be planning to be back with new products and incorporating the lessons you’ve learned over a few show cycles. 

Larger buyers will look for you to be back over a few trade show cycles in a row to ensure that your products are consistent and you’re established enough to create new work through new seasons.

YUP, I'M READY TO GET MY TRADE SHOW ON. WHAT TRADE SHOW SHOULD I CHOOSE?

I did a lot of research to figure out what trade show was best for my line, which is higher on the design quotient and does well in a museum gift shop or independent boutique.

If you don’t have an idea yet of what trade shows are out there that would be compatible with your brand already, one way to do this is to see where comparable makers and indie brands are showing. The brands you’re a huge fan of (and what maker/designer doesn’t have a design crush or ten) usually mention their shows on their social medias.

Consider visiting the trade show as a civilian first — most trade shows have a “non-buyer” registration fee you can pay for entry. I walked NYNOW a few years before I exhibited there to get a grip on the show and see if investing in a booth was really a good idea — plus a quick trade show research trip to New York is totally a tax writeoff!

Consider visiting the trade show as a civilian first — most trade shows have a “non-buyer” registration fee you can pay for entry

From this visit and knowing of some of the other brands exhibiting, I knew NYNOW in New York was for me, and expanding my line to the United States was a big additional reason that I chose to do the NYNOW trade show. Showing there had been on my mind for a long time before I actually went for it — NYNOW (especially the juried Accent on Design section) is the holy grail of design-forward trade shows in North America and you’ll find buyers from across the world flying there to discover new products. Newsflash: there’s a lot more people and businesses in the USA than there are here in Canada, and if there’s one show buyers seem to make time for, it’s NYNOW.

Combined with buyers from as far away as Japan and New Zealand, plus a strong contingent from Canada, the opportunities for exposure, collaboration and new wholesale accounts is high. There is also a handmade section, so if you’re not manufacturing your items quite yet but are able to make multiples and work in volume, the handmade section is a great place for you.

Before signing up, I was lucky to have support and guidance from a few fellow designers who have already exhibited at key trade shows. Remember, it can’t hurt to ask around to your fellow independent makers and designers for tips, you’re in this design thing together after all. Most people are happy to share a tip or two over email or a quick coffee date (pro tip: you’re buying the coffee!).

Ready to dip in to the trade show world? Good, I’m with you. In the next post coming next week we’ll figure out how to prep and strategize prior to the trade show, on site setup and tear down, and what days on site are like.

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