What You Need to Know Before Your First Trade Show

If there is one place where I see bad advice given out, it is with regards to showing your line at trade shows. This is especially true if you are a startup or in the early stages of building your business.

Here is a fact about trade shows: 85% to 90% of the money being spent is predetermined to be spent on lines a retailer is already using or has already identified and with sales representatives that they already know. That means that your $2,000 booth is only getting a shot at 10% to 15% of the money in play at a show.

Here is another fact to keep in mind: the garment business isn’t known for welcoming new players. At a show, everything is stacked against you. You will always have the worst location. You are likely to be paying more for your space than an established exhibitor. You will not know all of the tricks involved in making your booth look fabulous. You will not know the buyers. You will not know the little fish from the big fish. No matter how fabulous you think you are, you are more than likely to lose money at your first trade show.

So at the end of the day, here is the best advice anyone will ever give you about apparel trade shows: start with the cheapest show. Sadly, it is unlikely that you will do much business at your initial showing so go to school at a place where you are not dropping the rent.

Never start off at shows in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, or anyplace else that charges more than $500.00 for booth space. These shows are not geared for start-ups. Remember, the people selling the booth space will never tell you any of this. In fact, they will make it sound as if there show is ESSENTIAL.

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I have a designer friend who is fabulously talented– a skilled sewer, a quality technician– her line was absolutely drop dead GREAT. $30,000 in shows later, she was out of business.

You’ve got to get a kiss before you get married. A nice show in Traverse City, Michigan, or Des Moines, IA, or Tunica, MS is more likely than not to be the best place to start. Better than actually exhibiting at these shows, walk a show or two so you will see what effective display looks like.

You will understand the importance of optional (and sometimes costly) lighting, the necessity of which varies from facility to facility. Many shows run four or five times a year. Only one or two of those shows are likely to be the best show of the year. Again, walking the show may assist you in gathering this kind of info. Selling swimwear? The shows running in August through October gives you better access to the open-to-buy dollars that are applicable to you. Making wool coats? These are purchased by retailers at Fall-selling shows which run in the first third of the year.

Remember, keep the lid on expenses. Walk a show or two before exhibiting. Go to shows where the open-to-buy that is applicable to your product is being spent.

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