Here we are once again in the throes of international fashion trade show season. The unlimited miles of walking the trade show aisles, the millions of fashion businesses looking for new shop shelves to be stacked to secure domestic and export sales.
It’s a tough game and has many small and medium-sized fashion businesses questioning whether the investment in trade shows 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 trade show?
For this blog post, Onwards and Up thought we would tap into our fashion network and ask one person who is in the know, the great Paul Alger, International Director of UK Fashion and Textiles Association, (UKFT). UKFT brings together fashion 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 many fashion shows around the world and in the UK. He has generously taken time out to respond to some of the questions which fashion businesses regularly ask, with his up to date knowledge of the fashion trade show scene.
Tradeshow Essential Q&A with Paul Alger
- Are trade shows still an important route to market to grow?
- How can brands make themselves stand out at a tradeshow
- How have tradeshows changed in the past 5 years
- Top 5 tips to get the most out of tradeshows
- Useful Resources
With So Many Ways To Promote Your Business, Are Trade Shows Still An Important Route To Market And Grow?
The role of fashion trade fairs has changed beyond all recognition over the past five years. We now work in a multi-channel world and the role of trade shows has changed accordingly.
Ten years ago, all new fashion brands had to do was design a collection, get the samples made, show at a trade show, take the orders and handle the follow-up processes. There was a plethora of multi-brand, independent stores and some of the larger stores who were happy to take a risk on and support new emerging brands. All this has changed!
Nowadays, the fashion international sales process is more complicated and requires a lot more planning and financial investment. Trade shows are every bit as important as they used to be for meeting new customers, but there are fewer multi-brand stores out there. The fashion stores who will support new brands and with the exception of markets like Japan, most of the leading department stores will not take a risk on new brands – they like risk-free sure bet sales.
Trade shows are one of the best places to meet fashion buyers, online retailers, agents, market places and taking international sales. 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 Trade Show?
Investment is key! The days when you could rock up at a fashion trade show with a sample collection and a smile have gone. The fashion 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 fashion companies to research their fashion buyers and build up their own database. Once they have this, fashion buyers HATE being emailed by people they do not know. They also HATE being added to a fashion designers’ newsletter without their permission. Fashion buyers usually HATE being contacted with offers of products through LinkedIn, even if they have accepted your connection request!
Fashion 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 fashion 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 fashion 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 trade show 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 fashion 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 exhibition stand. Make sure that your stand, like your website and shop, tells fashion 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.
Just to add my two pence to this The biggest pet peeves that buyers complain about when walking trade shows, is the British fashion businesses are always sat down on their stand, preoccupied on their phones and not paying attention to the wider scene and opportunities.
To reinforce what Paul is saying, be proactive, look interested and welcoming no matter how dull or empty the show is. You only need one buyer to make your day!
In The Past 5 Years, What Changes Have You Seen On The International Trade Show Scene?
Over the past five years, I would say there have been five main changes taking place at fashion trade shows:
- It has become much tougher. There are fewer buyers in the fashion retail market 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. Fashion businesses have to have deep pockets.
- Even though the market has shrunk, there are more and more trade shows and showrooms willing to take money in exchange for the promise to show in Paris, New York etc international sales and not all of them can deliver on that promise.
- As we transform from a predominantly wholesale fashion business model to a hybrid where online, offline and wholesale must 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 Trade Shows?
- Who are your fashion buyers and stores, where do they go? What are their challenges? How do they buy? How do they use trade shows? Which ones and why?
- Visit the main trade shows and their competitors, speak to exhibitors to find out how it works
- How does the market work? Do fashion buyers work to appointments or prefer to work through an agent (as they do in Scandinavia, Germany and some of the US shows). 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?
- Apply for your trade show space 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 in Florence and CIFF 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 a great stand to increase stand traffic, with a friendly and welcoming layout. Be professional with your follow up and order confirmations.
- Remember, not all buyers will agree to pay deposits (the for example) and that you will probably have to quote in landed US dollars for the US and as we approach Brexit. You 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 speaking to UKFT before you book for a trade show. Whether you are a member of UKFT or not, through our work with T for International Trade and separately, we visit most of the key UK and overseas trade shows. We know how they work, how to apply and the pitfalls to avoid. UKFT are always happy to talk to anyone to make sure they make the right trade show decisions!
To find out more about trade shows and the great events that UKFT provide please contact.
Paul Alger, Director of International Business
T: +44 (0)20 7843 9463, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tradeshow Funding Support – Find out what international tradeshows have funding support from the Department of International Trade 2019-2020
Fashion tradeshows around the world – Find out the dates of the tradeshow and fashions worldwide
UKFT Rise fashion networking events – M the UKFT team and fashion businesses, providing a great support network.