Here we are once again in the throes of tradeshow season. The unlimited miles of walking the tradeshow aisles, the millions of products across all sectors looking for a new shop shelf to be stacked on.
It’s a tough game and has many businesses questioning whether the investment in tradeshows is worth it. I have lost count how many times I have been asked this over the years by businesses, should I exhibit at a tradeshow?
For this blog post, I thought I would tap in to my network and ask one person who is in the know, the great Paul Alger, International Director of UK Fashion and Textiles Association. UKFT brings together designers, manufacturers, agents and retailers to promote their businesses and the industry throughout the UK and internationally.
Paul Alger is currently in the midst of a marathon of visiting and supporting tradeshows around the world and in the UK. He has generously taken time out to respond to some of the questions with his up to date knowledge of the tradeshow scene.
With So Many Ways To Promote Your Business, Are Tradeshows Still An Important Channel To Grow?
The role of trade fairs has changed beyond all recognition over the past five years. We now work in a multi-channel world and the role of tradeshows has changed accordingly.
Ten years ago, all a new brand had to do was design a collection, get the samples made, show at a tradeshow, take the orders and handle the follow up processes. There was a plethora of multi-brand independents and some of the larger stores who were happy to take a risk on and support new brands. All this has changed!
Nowadays, it is much more complicated and requires a lot more planning and financial investment. Tradeshows are every bit as important as they used to be for meeting new customers but there are many fewer multi-brands out there, who will support new brands, and with the exception of markets like Japan, most of the department stores will not take a risk on new brands – they like risk-free sure bet sales.
Tradeshows are one of the best places to meet online retailers and market places. This is where they do their new research. The shows are now much less about order-writing and much more about meeting new and existing contacts and investing in a brand.
How Can Brands Make Themselves Stand Out At A Tradeshow?
Investment is key! The days when you could rock up at a tradeshow with a sample collection and a smile have gone. This industry now requires deep pockets, great product and a keen understanding of running a business and brand building.
Knowing who your customer is comes first. There are no off the shelf lists for this, so it is down to companies to research their buyers and build up their own database. Once they have this, buyers HATE being emailed by people they do not know. They also HATE being added to a designers’ newsletter without their permission. Buyers usually HATE being contacted with offers of products through LinkedIn, even if they have accepted your connection request!
Buyers will usually be happy to receive relevant offers through the post as long as they are relevant to their business needs – there is no point in sending a womenswear buyer your men’s lookbook as this will merely confirm to them that you haven’t done your research properly and if you cannot manage even to do that, why would they want to invest their time and energy in you?
Some stores will allow you to ask for details on buyers, especially outside the UK where buyers pride themselves on doing their research very thoroughly indeed. Always remember the assistant buyers, they are on the lookout for new things and ways to make their mark!
Timing is key, there is no point mailing an invitation to a fashion show or a tradeshow when the buyer or assistant is already travelling. Plan ahead and get the right communication out to the right people at the right time. Don’t pester them… Once a season or maybe twice a season at the right time is better than a constant barrage – that just makes you seem desperate.
A special word about selling to the US… Remember when I said don’t pester buyers? Ignore it, US buyers EXPECT you to hustle but it is probably only going to work if you can get them on the phone! Get used to using the phone – don’t assume they read their emails!
Finally, on the stand, make sure that your stand, like your website and shop, tells buyers what you stand for! What is your elevator pitch? They need to get that message within 10/20 seconds max. Have eye catching elements at the back of the stand to train the eye to the back. Give buyers space to look at the collection without being jumped on – sometimes it is better to stand just off the stand rather than always being on it. If the show is quiet or if you are bored, NEVER have your head in a book or newspaper! The buyer will rightly assume you are not really interested.
In The Past 5 Years, What Changes Have You Seen On The Tradeshow Scene?
Over the past five years, I would say there have been five main changes:
- It has become much tougher – there are fewer buyers around with smaller budgets and they are no longer allowed to take risks.
- There is much more product and competition out there than ever before, so you have to work harder than ever before and research, research, research!
- Multi-channel means it is more expensive than ever before. Brands have to have deep pockets.
- Even though the market has shrunk, there are more and more tradeshows and showrooms willing to take money in exchange for the promise to show in Paris, New York etc and not all of them can deliver on that promise.
- As we transform from a predominantly wholesale business to a hybrid where online, offline and wholesale have to coexist, very few people really understand that we are now in a state of constant flux. Everyone knows that someone has moved and is moving their cheese, but very few people out there understand how the cheese has been cut up, where it is and how long it will be before it gets gobbled up or moved again.
Top Five Tips To Get The Most Out Of Tradeshows?
- Research – who are your buyers, where do they go? What are their challenges? How do they buy? How do they use tradeshows? Which ones and why?
- Research – Visit the main tradeshows and their competitors, speak to exhibitors to find out how it works
- Research – How does the market work? Do buyers work to appointments or prefer to work through an agent (as they do in Scandinavia, Germany and some of the US shows) or do they prefer to buy direct as they increasingly do in Japan? Do they like to visit regional shows in their own country or do they prefer to travel?
- Plan ahead – apply in good time. Most of the better shows have a vetting panel and a waiting list and the better ones will never offer you a discount or special deal – asking for one merely makes you seem desperate. Some shows (Pitti Uomo, Copenhagen) will offer you a free deal if they really want you for a season or two, especially if you have a good product or social media story
- Deliver – Deliver a great stand with a friendly and welcoming layout. Be professional with your follow up and order confirmations. Remember, not all buyers will agree to pay deposits (USA for example) and that you will probably have to quote in landed US dollars for the US and, as we approach Brexit, need to offer Euro prices and have at least thought about how buyers will be able to trade with you post-Brexit. This will be especially important in the Spring/Summer shows where buyers will be considering buying products scheduled for delivery shortly before March 2019 to reassure buyers.
My sixth tip is always speak to UKFT before you book for a tradeshow. Whether you are a member of UKFT or not, through our work with Department for International Trade and separately, we visit most of the key shows, know how they work, how to apply and the pitfalls to avoid. We are always happy to talk to anyone to make sure they make the right tradeshow decisions!
To find out more about tradeshows and the great events that UKFT provide please contact
Paul Alger, Director of International Business
UK Fashion & Textiles Association
3 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AR
T: +44 (0)20 7843 9463, E: email@example.com
Tradeshow Funding Support – Find out what international tradeshows have funding support from the Department of International Trade 2018-2019
Fashion tradeshows around the world – Find out the dates of the tradeshow and fashions worldwide
Keep up to date with the latest news. Follow us on: