Wholesale 101 for Makers
Financing your first trade show, standing out in the crowd and getting the support you need to be successful – even just figuring out where to begin – can be a daunting task. That's why we've created wholesale showcases intended to incubate small brands and show you the ropes so you can get it right the first time without breaking the bank.
Here are the Top 15 tips and tricks we share with our makers to help get them ready for their first show and double down on their second, third and beyond.
1. Set Goals & Plan Ahead
This sounds like the most obvious tip of all, but you wouldn’t believe how often it’s missed. There's a lot of competition out there and you shouldn't just show up and hope for the best. Get serious and commit to your own success. Don't wait to the last minute to start preparing for everything we're going to lay out for you here. What do you want to accomplish at the show? Do you have new lines to launch? A new look to reveal? Are you testing new packaging or merchandising? Know what you want to accomplish so you can plan accordingly and make it happen. Book your flights and hotels as soon as you can too. Not only do rates go up as the show nears, but often room blocks are limited and the one you wanted may be long gone fast. Have a mailing list? Tell your subscribers in advance you'll be at the trade show and be sure they know where to find you with a location and booth number.
2. Know Your Buyer
Before you start planning for any trade show, take some time to research the buyers who frequent the show. Who are they and what are they looking for? When you can, schedule pre-show and show meetings so people plan ahead to connect with you. Are there major retailers in your town or local retailers in the area you've wanted to crack and haven't been able to? Track down their buyers and let them know to find you at the show. Often times, a buyer you've never had luck with will suddenly take you seriously when they see you at a major show, so make this time your time to shine. Many shows will make a list of their registered buyers available to you in advance so take advantage of that, do a little research on where your product would be a good fit (nobody likes spam!) and reach out with a personal note.
3. Prep Those Line Sheets & Order Forms
Having a great line sheet (aka catalog and order form) is one of the most critical tools you'll need in your wholesale arsenal. They can be daunting if you've never created one before, and there are a number of ways you can lay them out, but they should all include some of the same basics – small but clear images of your products, wholesale pricing and MSRP, a SKU (or item number) if you use them, and your terms for payment and delivery. If you're unsure about your pricing and margins, check out this primer on pricing here. https://www.launchgrowjoy.com/how-to-price-your-products/ If you can, find or create an order form with carbon copies and you'll thank yourself later. Line sheets are so important because many buyers take them home and make their decisions and orders after the show, so you want yours to be as clear and concise as possible and you want to be sure you have plenty on hand for everyone who'd like one. If you feel like you need some help with yours, there are some great resources online for building these like Linesheet Maker and Stitch Labs. Once you've got yours done, it should also live on your website so you're always ready to do business. Need some inspo? Check out a great example from one of our makers, Kesley at Piece by Paz.
Pro Tip: As a smaller maker you can and should be clear about your limitations to keep expectations with your buyers realistic. Don't be shy about asking for cash on delivery so you're not in a constant cashflow crunch. And don't jump at the first mega order that comes at you. Know your abilities and limitations and state your terms.
4. Get Your Messaging on Point
Have your elevator pitch ready and be prepared to answer all of the questions that may come your way. Have helpers working your booth? Make sure they're clear on your brand's talking points and messaging too. And keep in mind, relationships with buyers are a two way street. Have some questions in mind to ask them since you're vetting them to see if there's a mutual fit too. Sounds silly, but if you have a friend who's done a trade show before, or if you know a buyer, ask them to hit you some questions so you can get a little practice in before you go.
5. Bring What You Need & Use the Space
Maximize your space! Whether it's large or small, and you've got hard walls or pipe and drape, shelves, display cases, custom sticky vinyl lettering, frames (for art, press features and more), battery operated lights (so you can skip the electrical fees), plus clear labels for indicating SKUs and pricing are all your friends. Easels and ladders make great (and functional double duty) displays too. Attention spans are short and a picture tells a thousand words. Images – framed or mounted – that tell your story, show off your products, represent your business, and communicate awards and accolades you've received are key. Be sure to spend some time researching past vendor displays too. A little inspiration can go a long way. And remember, trade shows are very different from a consumer or craft market. You're going to want to focus on your displays since you'll be packing light on inventory. Rolling solo and know you're going to need a pair of hands for set up and tear down? Task Rabbit and Takl are your new BFF!
Pro Tip: If you're not packing up to head straight to your next trade show and you want to travel light on the way home, check to see if cash and carry is permitted on the last day of the event. You can also do product trades with fellow vendors to make sure you don't have to carry much home. And you should always have a few key items on hand for media samples. You never know who you're going to meet and you don't want to part with one of your needed display or demo items to shmooze the media.
6. Tell Your Story
What makes you and your brand special? Do you have a source no one else does? Are you mission based? Does your business empower or employe others in a meaningful way? Are you woman owned, POC owned or an LGBTQ business? Certified organic, non GMOm or fair trade? Do you have a great origin story? These are all key elements that are critical to many buyers and you want to be sure to communicate front and center.
Have you received awards, press, other major accounts? Tell that story visually and verbally too!
7. Got EPK?
What's that you're asking? An electronic press kit! Everyone should have one. Buyers aren't the only ones working the trade show floors, there's a lot of media folks on site too looking for a great story and the next big thing. If you're lucky enough to run across a media person at a trade show, they're going to ask you for a press kit or EPK. You can do this online (as an EPK) that's easily downloaded on your website or you can have press kits printed up, on hand and ready to go. Whichever approach to you take, make sure you've got something ready so you don't miss out on any opportunities.
8. Don't Be Shy
Don't be afraid to demo. New products are all about experience so be prepared to demo and let people engage with your product – smell it, taste it, try it on. The most successful brands at trade shows are the ones that are proactive. The people you'll never find sitting on a chair staring at their phone in their booth. As we often say, if you're sitting, you're not selling. Know you're an introvert and this is not your forte? Bring a knowledgable salesperson and be on hand to tell your story and lend support. Sometimes it's ok to let someone else do the things you know you may not excel at.
9. Don't Forget the Basics
Know what people always forget? Plenty of business cards, brochures and promotional materials! You're going to want lots for a multi-day show, so come prepared. Nearly everyone you meet will want to trade cards and you may need more than you think. Prep your "Show Bag" in advance so you can add to it as you think of things leading up to the trip. You're going to need lots of pens and a notepad, but ours always includes measuring tape, exacto knife, binder clips, fishing line, zip ties, hammer and plaster nails, picture hooks, command hooks and strips, all of the tape (painters, gaffers, electrical, clear double sided and clear mounting) a level, an extension cord, a level, a label maker, stapler (for stapling business cards to order forms so you don't lose them), when possible a power drill and step stool, and an extra linen. We also pack a brick charger for our devices, plenty of aspirin, bandaids, Emergen-C, Nuun, instant matcha or tea, deodorant, a pair of flip flops or other comfy shoes for the end of the day, and some extra lady things, so we're always prepared. Even if you don't need everything, odds are someone around you will, and they'll be so appreciative, they may just cover your booth for you! Trade shows are long and hard and can really take it out of you, so don't forget to plan for some self care. Schedule in some breaks, have plenty of water at your booth to stay hydrated, prep some snacks in advance, have a plan to get lunch and step away from the booth now and again, and treat yourself with at least one special dinner or massage night – better yet, both! – while you're there.
10. Plan Some Giveaways
Speaking of those promotional materials – plan for a fun, on brand takeaway to make visiting buyers your walking brand ambassadors and keep them thinking about you when they get home and unpack from the show. Fun pins that can go on lanyards do well. So do bags since buyers always have lots to carry. Want to keep them really interested? Get creative with an ice breaker. Bring in fresh donuts in the morning and let buyers know on social media to stop by your booth and say hi. Plan something fun like a little bubbly bar at your booth with some prosecco, upscale disposable glasses and some artisan flavored bitters from another maker (we love these!). This only takes a little time and space to execute well and buyers love to loosen up and shmooze. We've even seen some of our makers do slushy machines with margaritas – and guess what – their booth was always packed with buyers wanting to linger and talk more.
11. Think Next Steps
Let's assume you have a great show, write lots or orders, and maybe even land that dream account. Yay! Now what? Don't forget to plan ahead and think through your next steps – are you set up to successfully fulfill your orders? Have you thought through shipping and packaging? Production timelines? Make sure you've got a solid foundation in place to build on before you start writing orders.
12. Take Lead Notes
Have a system for leads? If no, now's the time to create one. Some people work best with old fashioned pen and a notepad. Some of are more tech minded and prefer a mobile app that'll let you photograph and scan data for later. Whatever system you use, make sure you're collecting business cards so you can add people to your mailing list late and follow up with leads. And if you don't, now's a good time to set one up and get familiar with using it.
13. Don't Neglect Social
Take a little time before the show to research important accounts you want to tag in some posts and let . You'll also want to research the most heavily used hashtags for the show you're attending and be sure to incorporate them in all of your posts for maximum exposure. Don't forget to geotag your location and include your booth number so people know where to find you. Know you're going to be too busy to plan great posts during the show? Use a scheduling tool to save the tags and plan and schedule your posts in advance, so all you have to do is focus on stories on the fly when you're there busy hustling. Don't forget to share your posts to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – you may regularly focus on one channel or another, but you never know where people will be looking for you. Use LinkedIn? You should be! Share stories there too, and make connections with people you meet while you're still at the show and you're fresh in their mind. Check in to answer questions, respond to comments and stay on top of engagement in the evenings when you're kicking your feet up before bed.
14. Follow Up!
Many orders come in after the show, not during, and post show follow up with all of the buyers you met (you collected their cards in a notebook or mobile app, right?!) is a critical part of ensuring overall success. Have a CRM? Make sure all of that lead info goes in there for future use. Strike while the iron is hot and send leads a personal follow up note the week after the show when they've had time to get home and settled but haven't forgotten who you are.
15. Get Ready to Do It Again
This is another one that seems obvious, but isn’t. Don't forget to take notes on everything that did and didn't work for your next show too. Don’t count on remembering when you get back. You won’t. This is where taking lots of photos to replicate next time and of booths that really inspired you helps too.
Let’s Do This!
Need more help? Inquire about Sauce for Makers.
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