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I’ve also just returned from spending a week in Melbourne where I exhibited at my very first wholesale trade show for iland co., where I don’t want to completely say it was a disaster. It is borderline. So today I’m going to share with you what my top five lessons were regarding exhibiting at your first trade show, because for those of you that design and manufacture your own products, perhaps wholesale is a sales channel that you want to explore and grow in your business.
It’s something for us for iland co we have just sort of been dabbling in and have been planning this, this trade show for about six months knowing it was coming up and hoping that it would be a great entryway for us to to really tap into wholesale. So like I said, it was not quite what I expected. I don’t want to completely write it off as a massive waste of time and money. But it kind of felt like that when we left (and side note that I was supposed to have some help. My right hand woman who helped organised the trade show and probably had a bit more of an idea of what it was all about than I did and was meant to be coming with her got COVID, the day before she was supposed to fly) so it ended up just being my husband and I doing the whole thing. So we packed up the car and decided to drive everything down versus fly and then air freight things. So we were already exhausted.
By the time we got there, it was an 11 hour car ride from the Central Coast to Melbourne, only to arrive and then the following day was all about setting up. And we hadn’t done a mock setup of our store yet we sort of had an idea of what we wanted to do, but didn’t get a chance to do it. And again, and I haven’t actually got this as one of my lessons. But there’s a bonus lesson, do a mock up before you get there, make sure you know how you’re going to set everything up. But it’s going to fit in the space because we ended up having to sort of do trips out to you know, in this throughout the city to go and get things like business cards that I’d forgotten to take with me and also things like you know, just hooks to hang our sign on. And we spent probably two, three hours just running around getting all the other things that we forgot. So it was a massive day of setup to then fully start officially the next day of doing a five day trade show from nine till six.
So let me take you through my five lessons that I learned by doing my first trade show and hope that these helped you if it’s something that you’re planning on doing. All right, let’s get started. Lesson number one. Position matters and not just where you’re located inside the venue and in the layout and the other on the map, but also in relation to others that are surrounding you. Because what we found was we were really focused on this, you know which store we should book what size store what colour walls, we should have, whether we should have flooring, thinking about how we were going to set it up, but not once did I consider where we were located within the rest of the trade show. What we discovered was that we weren’t in a particularly great place probably because we never asked and we never pushed for a good spot. We were sort of three or four four rows in and we found a lot of people would walk through the middle of the hallway throughout which sort of cut through like a T intersection would look down our row and sort of go no and keep walking so they wouldn’t even come down. But for those that did come down and see our tiny little three by three metre space was on the other side of us was another fashion brand selling Italian linen products and they had a space that was from corner to corner. So this space was huge. It dwarfed our tiny little store and people would you know would look completely opposite each other so they sort of looked at our stall and went how cute and then went shopping in that ginormous store. It kind of made us look like amateurs honestly.
So number one lesson for me was position matters, not just the actual, you know, don’t get bogged down on the details of your your actual store. Also consider the context of the entire store, Expo of where you’re going to be located, who you’re going to be neighbours with, whether you’re sort of dark down a dark, dingy corner where people won’t even bother sort of venturing. Or whether you’re on like a main traffic, freeway, because, you know, corner spaces, apparently really hard to get but definitely worth the investment. If you can get one as particularly close to the entrance where people come in and through the middle, maybe not so much on the back wall of the expo. But, you know, figuring out where you are is really important. And if you’re going to be in a rubbish spot, and maybe don’t go
Lesson number two, if you’re going to go and make the investment in time and money, upgrade your space to a bigger space. So like I said, We’d had a three by three metre space, which was the smallest space you could get, but was still $9,000, it’s $1,000 per square metre. So it was a huge investment for a small business like us. But it in comparison to the others that had invested $100,000, we would dwarfed and people wouldn’t really even feel comfortable coming into our store because it was quite pokey, it was about the size of what you would get at a market stall. So if you are going to go if you’re confident that you have got a real shot at growing the wholesale side of your business, and you want to go to one of these trade shows, invest in a big space. The bigger the space, the more impact you have the most real estate you take up, the more likely people are going to be to walk in and have a look around within your store, we were sort of going around, you know, thinking, we’re just going to go with the cheapest option we can to get a foot in the door. And you know, we found that people wouldn’t even come inside to our space. So if I had my time again, which I’m not sure I will go again. But if I did, I would make sure that I had I would go all in and book at least like a double sized space of what I had.
Lesson number three was to have actual things ready to sell or ready to ship outside of the fair. What we found is that we had two racks of clothes, one rack of clothes was products that we had in stock, but in limited sizes. And then on the other rack were indent products. So items that I didn’t yet have and I hadn’t yet placed the order and probably realistically, probably 45 to 60 days out from actually landing in Australia. So what we found is that everyone else, our neighbours, had products ready to sell. So they were taking orders right then and there and then having their warehouse shipped them, or shipping them the following week where we were having these, you know, kind of two racks. One, they’d come and say, Oh, I really liked this dress. And then I’d look up our inventory and say I’m really sorry, I don’t have it in the sizes that you want. And then on the flip side, they’d say, Oh, I love this, this is great. And I’m like, That’s great. We don’t have this for another 45 to 60 days. So I’ve almost felt like I didn’t have things to sell, which also just contributed to our utter frustration and what felt like a bit of a big fat waste of time and money. Anyhow, so having things ready to sell giving yourself enough runway to have all of your samples ready. Ideally, if you’ve, you’ve placed an order already and they’re coming, it’s a lot easier to sell something that’s going to be ready in a week or two than it is to try and sell something that’s 60 days out. So just keep that in mind.
Okay, lesson number four, consider your minimum buy and so we iland co is a small boutique ish label, we don’t have heaps of different styles and we don’t carry lots of stock so we’re quite boutiquey and we wanted to be somewhat selective around who we would offer wholesale to we didn’t want to offer it to anyone we still don’t, we don’t want to offer it to just any old Joe Blow you know we don’t want it necessarily sitting in a news agency or something like that we want to sell to fashion stalls ideally. So we have an order minimum of $1,000 in order to qualify for wholesale so what that means is if a wholesale customer for fashion bt comes to us and wants to stock our product in their shop. We have we tell them it’s a minimum of $1,000 order for their first order. And then the subsequent orders were $500. So they then really get in the product at just less than half price, and then they’ve got room to mark up. But we did that because we wanted to be able to sort through the time wasters and get rid of those and only deal with the legitimate fashion retailers.
But what we found, aside from having a very small space, in another very good location, and not having very many things ready to sell, is that those that were interested and happy to wait, we would turn around and say our minimum is $1,000. And then our top order minimum is $500. And they would just say, No, thank you and walk away. Because all of the other exit exhibitors in this trade show had zero minimum spend. So the fashion, the huge fashion stall across from us had no minimum. So you could go in and buy three dresses of three different styles. And we found that having that high threshold to buy with us was pretty much killed any opportunity of making sales coupled with those other lessons that I’ve shared. So consider what your minimums are, who are you willing to sell to? And maybe consider whether that particular expo is right for you. We were at a gift fair. So we found there were a lot of news agencies, small gift shops, beauty salons that just wanted a sprinkling of clothing, and not necessarily our ideal wholesale customers. So when we then turned around and said $1,000, they were like, yeah, no, thank you. And by the end of the five days, I was kind of kicking myself and having that because at least I wanted to cover my costs for being there by selling some wholesale, which I did not do. So if I’d reduced the minimum, and even if it was just for you know, this gift fair, special, perhaps I would have had a chance of recouping some of my costs.
So lesson number five, is that I would say 95% of the people that did come to our store, were tyre kickers. And when I say tyre kickers, I mean they’ll often people wanting to just buy clothes for themselves, asking whether they could buy it off the rack on the last day at a wholesale price, just you know, so they could wear it. Or these businesses that were either, you know, I had a few that were like I’m thinking about starting an online fashion store. And I thought oh, well. Okay, I’ve just spent all this money. And I’m taking a week out of my life here hoping to sell to wholesale, you know, making 10, 20, 30,000 plus in sales and up and, you know, if you have an ABN number and Australian Business Number, you could get access to this trade show. So a lot of these people weren’t real buyers or not buyers that were suitable that we were looking for. However, it only takes a good few leads to make it worthwhile. We did connect with a few buyers that have multiple shops, so if we can get a few sales from them, that will make all of that effort and all of that money investment worth it.
So there are my five lessons from doing my first trade show. Will I do another one not yet, not probably for a while not unless I have all of those other things covered, I’ve got a great position, I’ve got more money to invest in a bigger space, I’ve got lots of product ready to sell, and I’m willing to go in and sell it without any minimum orders only then would I potentially go and do it and I’d be very selective around which trade show it was the one I applied for. They knocked me back and sent me to this other trade show but in hindsight, the one that I got knocked back for would have been much better suited that was the sort of buyer it was more boutique at a higher price point there they were the buyers that I wanted to be put in front of. So just keep that in mind. It was a massive expense it was probably about because I didn’t end up having staff come and just my husband and I and we drove but by the time you add in all the sampling the brochures, the postcards, the accommodation, the fuel to get there the time out of you know my husband had to take annual leave, I was probably a good $15,000 investment, and so far for not yet a single sale so I’m kind of frustrated, but I’m glad I did it. It’s been a real learning curve and I will definitely be very diligent before I sign up for another one.
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