New Kid on the Block: Cracking Trade Shows

Buying is 90% numbers and 10% art. That’s why when you keep hearing “make it easy for the buyers”, they’re not kidding. Being a buyer is a really, really hard job, especially when you consider that you frequently have to shut off what you love most yourself in favor of what you know your clientele will love most. Buyers look at so much stuff in such short periods of time… You know how when you go to a gem show, all the strands start to meld together at a certain point? It’s worse for a buyer, because at least with beads there’s a common point of reference, a set of criteria. No always so with jewelry.
This is why your linesheets and your photography are so critical. It’s also why trade shows are really pretty much just meet and greets now. They’re still vitally important – but you need to be realistic about what function they fulfill, and what your immediate ROI is likely to be. In my experience in the last few years, the first few times you do any given show, you’ll most likely lose money at first blush, but if your follow up is thorough you’ll recoup. By the third or so time at the same show, it seems like buyers get the idea you’re “for real” – which going back to my buying days, is a tough one, because I bought in NY, not at trade shows, with the exception of the JCK. But I was absolutely wary of new lines, because if the order didn’t make it, or came in wrong, yada, yada…. I liked to stick with the lines whose names I recognized, if not by personal experience then at least by reputation and word-of-mouth.
You’re fighting the inertia of the unfamiliar
So when you do a show, and you only get a few orders on your first shot, please, please, please don’t get discouraged. You’re fighting a lot of things here. You’re fighting the math, the inertia of the unfamiliar, the buyers tired feet and crossed eyes, an economy that still has store owners nervous, regardless of what cheerleaders say (light on the horizon, but it’s still nervous making) The thing is that you have got to keep coming. If you’re serious, and this is what you want to do, you honestly have to give any given show at least three shots IF you are convinced it’s the right show for you. Don’t let a poor performance at your first outing discourage you.
You have to learn to listen to your gut
On the other hand… If the show turns out to not feel right, cut and run, and find the right one. Here’s where you have to listen to your gut. It’s not always the attendance pure and simple, although a show hall that echoes when you talk to your neighbor, yet the organizers insist they had 50,000 attendance… If the show in general is busy but you’re not, then it’s you, and you can tweak. If the whole show is crickets there’s a problem. Talk to the other exhibitors, talk to the organizers, keep your ear to the ground, and ask a lot of questions. Follow up on every lead.
“Know when to walk away, know when to run”
Most importantly, ask a lot of questions – and listen to that small voice inside. If after you’ve gotten some distance from a bad show you feel like it’s not for you, cross it off your list and look for a replacement. But do try to figure out WHY it wasn’t good so you don’t simply repeat your mistake at another venue. You will find your arena, but you may have to play a few duds first. Don’t get discouraged, just curate your list of questions and criteria, and become just a little bit ruthless. Learn when to hang in a bit longer, and when to run. Like the song says, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Along the way you’ll be smoothing out your entire show gig – your displays, your shipping, your show-kit; pretty soon you’l have it down to exactly what you need , nothing extra, nothing missing. 


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