Trade Shows – By Louise Mulgrew

Why exhibit at trade shows?

Trade shows are a brilliant way to launch or to begin to grow the wholesale side of your business. They are the perfect opportunity to meet other publishers as well as potential customers and are an authentic environment in which to sell your brand (if, like me, you are not a natural salesperson or a hard-seller.) And, as you become a regular exhibitor, you are validating your brand for the buyers who like to see you a few times before they commit to a purchase.
As a designer, trade shows are also great for providing you with a deadline to work towards. Being my own boss, I don’t have anyone telling me what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. I find myself procrastinating over designing, burying my head in the sand to all the work that needs doing and just generally lacking structure and focus. So I always like to launch a new range or a number of new designs at each show to give my design-time a bit of structure and to make sure I never go too long without producing new work, which can be really challenging when you’re juggling emails, accounts, sales, fulfilment and a million other adminy stresses that come with a business.

Similarly, it’s fun to change up your display each time and consider it a little temporary shop front; a bench mark for where you’re at with your business and an opportunity to reflect upon the growth and development of your ranges and products. Getting better at putting up the display is also a small victory worth celebrating and the worse you are the first time the more scope you have for improvement. I feel rather seasoned at shows now with my compact battery-powered screw driver compared to previous efforts with an industrial-sized drill, for example.

Trade shows are also likely to be the most social times in your business calendar and it’s fab to have a few days amongst many other creative and entrepreneurial people. They are an industry hot spot and you’d be silly not to take the opportunity to make friends with other Publishers and potential suppliers. The greetings card industry is an unusually friendly and welcoming one and people are quick to pass on valuable advice and experience. It’s nice to have a little reminder as well that we’re all winging it to a certain extent; we’re all dealing with bizarre requests, negotiating without any negotiating skills and taking professional phone calls in our dressing gowns.

Why not to exhibit at trade shows?

This won’t take long. I think that trade shows are very valuable for growing your wholesale business, but they aren’t all fun and games. They’re exhausting and they’re expensive and if you haven’t prepared correctly, it could be a very disappointing and disheartening experience to put yourself out there but to not receive very much attention for your work.

Below I’ve come up with a few things to help when prepping for your first show.

Trade Show Prep Tips

    1. Do your research. They are loads of trade shows out there. UK-based shows and international ones. Shows that are geared towards licensing like Surtex, shows that attract a very international cliental such as Spring Fair and Top Drawer, shows that are (arguably) for making more local sales, such as the Scottish trade shows, smaller, more specific greetings card shows like PG Live or more general lifestyle events like Pulse and Harrogate Home and Gift. I think probably the best way to know which ones are best for you is to visit them, although I’ve honestly never done this which is silly. Perhaps a good place to start is to pick one close to home or one that isn’t 5 days long!
    2. When you’re booking a stand, make sure it’s in the section of the show that is most suitable for your product, which sounds obvious I know. But I’ve had salesmen in the past trying to sell me a stand in the ‘design marquee’ or something similar, because there weren’t any stands left in Greetings. Buyers won’t be able to find you here and chances are the footfall will be lower and you’ll feel out on a limb.

  1. Budget! It is more expensive than it first seems and it already seems super expensive! There are loads of additional costs aside from the cost of the stand. Don’t forgot to budget for the display itself: furniture, shelves, velcro, vinyls, flooring for example, then there is the cost of lighting your stand, and of course the printing of your cards. On top of this, you will also have travel expenses and parking and accommodation to pay for if you aren’t local. You might need help from friends or family who you’ll either want to pay or reward with treats. Venues rarely offer discounts to exhibitors for food and drinks either so prepare for a hefty coffee bill!
  2. Keep it simple. The display, the admin, the organization. You’ll see some pretty extraordinary displays at the shows that can be very intimidating, but it’s more important, certainly to begin with, that you actually have some good cards. There’s no point having a beautifully designed ‘brand’ but when you get up close you can’t even find five good designs.
  3. Know your numbers. So you’ve chosen a show, you’ve arrived in one piece and built your beautiful display with minimal swearing and now it’s show time. Don’t fall at the last hurdle – when customers start crowding round to make orders, you need to know the wholesale price of your cards, the recommended retail price, minimum order value, carriage paid, lead times etc. For my first show I didn’t know any of this and it’s really off-putting for customers who might be spending hundreds of pounds with you if you haven’t researched and prepared the ‘business’ side of the business.
  4. Lastly, be true to yourself. Be careful not to take too much inspiration from people who have already forged their little space in the industry. Try to do something different and unique.

Author Profile

Louise Mulgrew
Louise Mulgrew
Fluffy animal-drawer at Louise Mulgrew Designs. Louise loves walks on the beach, listening to Harry Potter audio-books, cuddling kittens and the full moon. Her favourite yoga posture is Happy Baby and her favourite colour is rainbow.