Before committing to a wholesale market you haven't exhibited at before, it is vital to walk the show. Walking the show means to attend the market allowing you to see who is exhibiting and who else is walking the floor. While there, take note of how many handmade exhibitors there are and how many are in your same product category. Will your products stand out or become lost in the crowd? This is invaluable information which will help you select the best show for you.
Another thing to consider is the enormity of some wholesale markets. The American Craft Council wholesale/retail show boasts 350 exhibitors, the National Stationery Show highlights 800, and NY NOW hosts 2,500 exhibiting companies with 600 in the Handmade section alone. With these types of numbers, it's important to do everything you can to set yourself apart and you can start doing this before the show even takes place.
Pre-show market prep
Katherine Watson, an artist and printmaker from Hyde Park, Vt., sells her block print stationery at the National Stationery Show (NSS). Before exhibiting at NSS, Watson will send out a pre-show mailer to stores that already carry her line, as well as stores she believes would be a good fit for her products. This mailer lets the stores know about her participation at NSS. ''I've always had a good reaction [to the mailers],'' she said, ''Not [from] a huge number of stores, but the people that do respond are usually really excited and seem more motivated.''
You can also look into a wholesale show's specific marketing to their buyers. For example, those exhibiting at NY NOW can opt to email or send a mailer to NY NOW's buyers via clearinghouse. Scott Kramer, NY NOW co-director and vice president, explained how this works. He said that exhibitors can choose a certain geographic location, store size, or interest in product type, which the clearinghouse will then mail your information to retailers matching the selected demographics from their list.
Along with alerting buyers to your presence at a particular wholesale show before the show takes place, you can also notify them of any show special you may run during the market. This could be free shipping, a percentage discount, or free item with a minimum sale purchase.
Show specials can entice buyers. ''It helps people make a decision right then and there,'' Kramer said. But Watson has a differing opinion: ''My first year [doing NSS] I offered free shipping on all orders placed at the show, and my second I believe I offered a free product if you ordered over a certain dollar amount, but I haven't offered any sales since then.'' After her initial success with show specials, Watson realized her show specials weren't enough to make a sale. ''I haven't found that they motivated buyers enough to make it worthwhile,'' she said.
Do you have what's new?
Kramer also advises the use of lighting and simple signage to draw in buyers. ''Lighting is what makes the difference that will always draw people's attention,'' he said. Kramer also believes that simple signage is key. ''If your signage isn't simple and attractive they may turn and look the other way,'' he explained.
Carefully consider the layout of your booth and construct an inviting atmosphere. Kramer likes booths that buyers can walk into versus those that set up their display along the aisle. When a booth's display blocks the space, it keeps buyers on the aisle. When you do this, Kramer explains, ''You're not inviting the buyer into your personal space. You want it open, you want it inviting.''
Sell service with a smile
Follow-up to avoid a flop
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