You survived the trade show. Only 100 more things to do before it's actually over

By Vikki Wiercinski May 8, 2018

Vikki Wiercinski is the Edmonton-based designer behind Mezzaluna Studio. -- (Shayne Woodsmith/EEDC)

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 third of three posts on trade shows, she helps you through figuring out if a trade show is right for your business. You can read her first post here and her second post here


IT AIN’T OVER UNTIL THE TRADE SHOW LADY SINGS

Truth time: there isn’t a singing trade show lady (that I know of) but if she existed she’d be singing way later than you expect in this odyssey we’re on. It’s definitely not when the doors close on the trade show and you’re left to pack up and head home. On that note, though, let’s start with teardown.

The forklifts are out and the carpet’s getting pulled up - the trade show is done. If you went the easiest route and just rented furniture and lighting and walls, you’ve got it easy: just take your samples, catalogues and whatever else you brought with you, put them in your empty suitcase (which you stored onsite in the secure storage room at the conference centre for the duration of the show), and roll outta there. 

Chances are, though, you’ve brought furniture, or additional display items, or even an entire booth’s worth of hard walls with you. If you shipped a pallet or crate of stuff to your booth from your studio through a freight company, you can easily arrange with to ship it right back, or store it offsite with any number of companies until it’s time to come back. The storage and shipment company reps will have exact instructions for you — ask your show rep for a list of approved companies. It’s worth asking your fellow designers who they store or ship with too.

The show will store the crate off-site for you (freight delivery to and from the show warehouse to your booth is called drayage and tends to be part of your booth fee). Keep in mind it can take a very long time — try 8-24 hours — for them to drop it back off at your booth. Teardown is scheduled over a few days — many of my booth neighbours elected to leave at show close and come back the next morning to tidy up and pack everything back on their pallets and crates. Make sure to schedule extra time in your travel plans for this if you know you’re waiting for a crate or specialized pallette you had stored at the beginning.

Trade shows are busy, and you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve lived about eight lifetimes in the weeks leading up to and during the show

In my case, when I got to New York I rented a car and drove straight to IKEA in Brooklyn, picked up the booth furniture I needed, and then drove over to NYNOW venue to drop it all off. My options at the end of the show were to abandon the furniture, try to sell it on kijiji (who has the time!) or plunk the disassembled furniture on a pallet I got from the venue’s loading dock, wrap it in furniture blankets, shrink wrap the whole thing to kingdom come and call a show storage company. 

I knew I was coming back, and who wants to spend more time and dollars on furniture the next time around? Not this guy. Show storage is quite reasonable, and is generally charged by the palette or crate and its weight. Once the delivery stickers the show provided me were on my shrink wrapped palette, I grabbed my suitcase of samples and rolled out into the city for a night on the town and the trip home.

Trade shows are busy, and you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve lived about eight lifetimes in the weeks leading up to and during the show. Once you get home and do a faceplant for a few days, it’s time to ship the orders you took onsite, and start your follow ups.

All those business cards you picked up at the show are potential leads for future sales. Email every lead a short, personalized note around one week after the show. Include a link to your catalogue and line sheet and remind them of any specials you may still be honouring after the show (free shipping or a lower starting minimum are very common). Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back, buyers get a lot of emails like this. It would be appropriate to follow up again in a week or two in a second blast of personalized emails.

There are no rules about this but generally try not to annoy a retailer with a ton of emails and followups, just remain on their radar periodically in whatever style works for you. Growing your wholesale accounts is a long game and it’s up to you to keep the conversation going until a retailer either indicates they are not interested (either they will tell you, or they will not respond to three or more emails) or they - huzzah - place an order. 

Orders can be shipped right away, or the retailer can ask for a ship date in the future. Orders can go straight out of your studio, or you may be working with a warehouse/dropshipper. If you are asked to ship at a later date, make sure the retailer pays a non-refundable deposit to hold the stock. Never ship product without payment in full unless you are absolutely sure the retailer will pay you later.
Don’t forget to follow up on your new stockists in a few months and see how the items are doing in their shops, pass on if there’s anything new to show them, or what they might want to reorder. 

Buying happens in cycles and retailers budget for particular seasons, so be sure to work around those date ranges when reaching out with new or seasonal items. For example, a calendar should be ready to ship in early September at the latest, and marketed to retailers even earlier than that.

Lastly, you’re going to get a booth renewal from your rep in the weeks after the trade show. If you know you’re going to be back, and have the cash flow to put down a deposit, it’s worth doing as early as possible as there are generally financial incentives in booking your booth back in early. 

And now, my friends, the trade show lady is singing. 

Vikki Wiercinski is one of the panelists selecting the products for our 2018 gift catalog. You can read more about her here, or you can see her wares at the spring edition of the Royal Bison Art & Craft fair.

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