I get asked ALOT about selling at wholesale tradeshows so I thought it would make a great blog article (a long blog article). I've been selling my beach jewelry line at wholesale tradeshows for over 10 years now and I've learned a thing or two. Consider this your guide for selling products at wholesale tradeshows. Make sure to bookmark this page because you will want to use it as a reference. I'm not going to teach you about selling your products wholesale. I'm assuming you already sell your products wholesale and are just starting out on the tradeshow circuit. You also could be someone who has been selling your products wholesale for a while and you're looking for ways to improve. Keep reading, this blog article is for you.
There are two types of wholesale product exhibitors. There is one that is at the show to get orders and make money. The other exhibitor is there for marketing purposes only. They need to spend money, be visible, and meet and greet with their customers regardless of getting any orders. These exhibitors end up making money in different ways. I am the exhibitor who is there to get orders and make money. At one point, my business sales were made up of 80% wholesale and 20% retail.
If you are going to sell your products wholesale, these are some shows to consider. There are other shows that are not included in this list. I haven't included them because I haven't exhibited there so I don't know much about them.
- Surf Expo in Orlando: This show happens in January and September. The January show has fewer buyers walking around, but the majority of the buyers are all from big box stores. The September show has more buyers, but they are mostly mom and pop stores getting ready for their snowbird season. September is also hurricane season in Florida so sometimes they will cancel or postpone the show.
- Atlanta Market in Atlanta: This show happens in January and July. It has great attendance, but you have to hustle to get orders. Location at this show is everything. Building 3 Floor 2 is the area where you want to be. It's literally the most foot traffic you will find at the show.
- Magic in Las Vegas: This is one of the best and it's been my favorite show. It happens in February and August. It's mostly buyers from the west coast and middle America. It's a fun crowd and atmosphere and you will be busy. Plus you get to hang out in Vegas after the show which is pretty great.
- NYNOW: This show happens in February and August as well. It hasn't been getting as much foot traffic as it used to. I exhibit at the Accessories Show in NYC instead of doing this show. I wouldn't be surprised if one day they stop doing NYNOW. Exhibit here at your own risk.
- The Accessories Show in NYC: This is another one of the best shows and one of my favorites, especially if you sell jewelry. High turnout of buyers always. Everyone is there to buy jewelry so if you sell jewelry you're going to crush it!
- Always exhibit at your smaller and local tradeshows that are located nearest you. For me, it is the Boston Gift Show in Massachusetts and the NE Made Show in Maine. The buyers who are local all want to support the businesses who are from their own state.
Now that you know which shows to attend, the next thing to consider is your display. Your display is so important and it needs to be product focused, not retail focused. Buyers want products that are going to look good in their shop. They don't care if your walls are blue and you have a gorgeous boutique rug in your booth. You also need to keep your costs down as well. Here is a photo of my display at the top of this article. It all fits in a suitcase and total costs were $400 that I can reuse at every show I attend. The best feeling ever is breaking your display down in 30 minutes at the end of the show, having tons of paid orders in a folder, and walking by the other exhibitors who are going to be there all night breaking down and cleaning up.
As you consider your booth display, you need to figure out how much money you are going to spend on it. Here is the best guide to follow. Your total expenses for exhibiting at a wholesale show should never be higher than 15% - 20% of the total wholesale orders you plan on receiving. Total expenses include the booth fee, extras like lights and power, your display, travel expenses, meals, and payroll which includes your time sitting in that booth. If you spent more than 20% on the wholesale show, it wasn't a good show for you. After all you still have to make your product which is usually marked down by 50%. 20% should cover the show expenses. Now you have 30% leftover which hopefully covers your business overhead including payroll. It's a business and you'd be surprised how many folks don't keep track of the wholesale part separate from the retail part.
At this point you should be ready for the show. Here are some tips to keep in mind to get you the most bang for your buck.
- Bring marketing materials such as a postcard or catalog. You want something to give to people that they can look at later and be reminded of your business. You're also going to take these materials and put them everywhere. Tape them to the bathroom, put them on the tables where people eat, any flat surface you can find where people hang out. I have received lots of orders from buyers this way.
- You're there to sell your products, not sitting down and smiling at everyone who walks by you. You have to talk to every single person who walks by your booth. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, get someone else to do it. If you can't find anyone, go to the nearest Starbucks and find someone sitting in front of a laptap and offer to pay them $100 for the day. I've had to do this quite a few times and you'd be surprised how well this works out. Plus you are making a new friend.
- Make sure the orders you are writing are paid for. You'd be surprised by the amount of buyers who walk around and don't want to pay for their order, or want to pay when it ships, etc. Unless they are a repeat buyer who you know, ALWAYS charge the credit card when it's a new buyer. You aren't a bank. If it's not paid for, the buyer can still get out of it. If a Denver gift shop places an order and wants to pay when it ships. ok. Then you get another Denver shop owner who wants to order, but because of zip code exclusivity you can't. Then the first Denver buyer bails out. Now you have nothing because the second Denver buyer found something else. In my experience, if a buyer wants your product in their shop badly enough, they will have no problem paying upfront for their first order. You can discuss terms after that.
- Always follow up with everyone you meet. As you talk to people always get a business card and when they leave, write on it somewhere what you talked about. It will help you collect more orders after the show is over. It's a really kind gesture and I think it really matters.
Those are my tips for having a successful wholesale tradeshow. I hope you found them helpful. If anything, I hope it makes you think about your wholesale tradeshow experience differently. If this article has helped one business, I'm happy!