My Top 5 Tips to Prepare for A Wholesale Trade Show

So you are interested in taking your business in the direction of wholesale and have decided you will do this by exhibiting at a trade show. Here are my top 5 tips to prepare for your first wholesale trade show:

  • 1)  Research Trade Shows -  First of all, you want to research the trade shows available and figure out which one is the best fit for your business. Think about who you want to sell to. Is your product something you can see at a gallery or museum or is it more of a gift item that could be sold at a gift store, a spa or small boutique? Is it suitable for almost any type of store? Once you have narrowed down which trade show has the audience of buyers who you want to sell to, then first thing you want to do is walk that show. Walking the show will give you the best idea of how much traffic that specific show gets and what type of goods are sold in that show and wether those products are like yours and targeted to the same type of business. Find out what the application process is like. How far in advance do you need to apply? Is it a juried show?
  •  2) Take a Good Look at your Business Finances and Make a Trade Show Budget - Once you have figured out which show you are going to exhibit in, it is important to create a budget for your trade show and start to save money before applying. Trade shows are expensive and depending on your product and the audience it might take a few tries before making the connections needed for the orders to start pouring in. Remember, you cannot truly judge a show’s success until after the show is over. Aside from the application and the actual show fee, there are many other expenses to account for: 2) Show services: electrical, drayage, union fees; 3) Travel expenses: meals, transportation, lodging; 4) Booth design: signage and furnishings; 5) Printable: line sheets, catalogs, order forms, price forms, marketing materials; 6) Shipping: cost of getting everything shipped to the show; 7) Promotions: pre and post-show mailings, etc.
  • 3) Pricing your work: Before you go ahead and submit that application, make sure your pricing is right for wholesale. There are two reasons why this is so important: First - You do not want to underprice your work! If you do that from the start, you will not make a profit selling your work at wholesale prices or you will not be able to offer the standard 50% off your retail price to wholesale buyers. Second - You do not want to compete with stores carrying your work! Yes you want to be able to have a sale and offer your loyal customers a good price but you do not want to miss out on the business a store can bring you by competing with them with lower prices on the same items you sell to them and they are selling at retail. This might not be such a big deal if you are not in the same city as your buyers but most of us do business online, so this is something to keep in mind. Research retail and wholesale pricing and adjust your own prices if necessary. An option you can contemplate is creating a wholesale line of product. This way, the products you sell wholesale are just for wholesale and you can do whatever you would like to do with the products you sell direct to customers on your website or at a craft show. 
  • 4) Create a Line Sheet/Catalog, Order and Pricing Forms - For the show, you would want to have a line sheet or a catalog to hand out to buyers interested in your work. A line sheet/catalog is a document with all the necessary information for your prospective buyers. The line sheet or catalog should include the following: 1) Photos of each style; 2) Style numbers; 3) Color and/or fabric information (so variation information); 4) Delivery  dates (turn around time) and order cut off dates; 5) Order minimums; 6) Season; 7) Company and/or sales rep contact information and (optional) 8) Prices and 9) Information about the maker and company.  I personally have a separate sheet for ordering which also contains prices because this way a new catalog does not necessarily needs to be printed if my prices change. You can find many samples of line sheets and ordering forms online. 
  • 5) Research best lay out options for your booth - Buyers and store owners walking a show do not have the time to leisurely stroll down aisle after aisle of product so it is important to captivate the buyers attention and help them decide right away if they should stop at your booth. A good booth design will help attract buyers attentions and get them into your booth and place an order with you. You want to have clear signage and photos of your products that are visually appealing and of course easy to spot. Buyers make split second decisions and know their customers so if you have something that will be a good fit for their customer base, they will likely place an order with you. Use the space wisely, create levels on your display tables to attract your buyer to look around your table, etc. Perhaps, shell out some extra money for a corner booth to increase the traffic into our booth. 

Etsy Speaker Series: Handmade Marketplace Panel Discussion

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the third in Etsy's Speaker Series, which this time around was a panel discussion inspired by a book I'd just treated myself to: The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin. Kari was joined by illustrator Jennifer Judd-McGee, jewelry designer Betsy Cross, sculptor Liz Smith, and writer Kim Werker.

The discussion was simulcast in the Etsy Virtual Labs, and I could have attended from the comfort of my couch, but I had heard a rumor that refreshments would be provided by Ninecakes. Needless to say, that encouraged my in-person attendance.

Kari Chapin was inspired to write The Handmade Marketplace because, in her words: "I was working in an adorable home goods boutique as the manager and buyer. The shop already had a strong focus on handmade goods when I came on board, but I saw an opportunity to add even more to my tiny shop's shelves. I started contacting Etsy sellers asking if they would be interested in selling some of their goods in my store, and lo and behold, these amazing sellers had a lot of questions for me. I found myself on a weekly basis writing up long, descriptive emails, guiding these fine folks regarding the ins and outs of working with a brick and mortar store."

The Handmade Marketplace
tackles these questions in a clear and concise manner, and is presented in a beautiful and pleasurable to read format.

At the panel discussion, questions broke down mainly into three areas: pricing, selling, and marketing.

PRICING Determining what to charge for your work is often difficult, especially when you add to the mix wholesale versus retail. The panel emphasized the importance of not undercharging for your work, both for your sake and for the sake of other artisans.

There is a great blog post by Jill Hannah on pricing your work.

SELLING Jennifer Judd-McGee called Etsy "an introverts paradise," which made me nod in recognition. In The Handmade Marketplace, Chapin explains both online and in-person retail selling, including the typical yearly calendar of shows, and how to start a new craft fair.

MARKETING How to stand out from the crowd? Chapin devotes a good deal of her book to this, and a leitmotif of the panel discussion was the importance of community in the success of a home-grown business.

Diane Gilleland's great e-book Social Media for Your Crafty Business helps sheds light on this topic further,

It was an incredibly inspiring evening led by women who work hard and seem to be living out the dream many of us have of taking the leap toward self employment in our crafty business.

-MaryAnne LoVerme