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Kick Start Your Business
Trade Show Savvy

By Karen Booy
 As published in  CRAFTLINK Newsletter


How would you like to accelerate your business success? Ask yourself the following questions:

Attend a Trade Show: If you answered yes, yes, yes, then it's time you invested the time and money to attend a major craft trade show! Today there seems to be a trade show for every type of business. The following are the top shows related to crafts, however there are shows that are specific to flowers, jewelry, home decor, franchises, you name it and there is a trade show on it.  

The following are the two largest wholesale craft trade shows in the United states: 

Both shows are organized by trade associations that help to foster industry awareness, education, and growth. Each organization helps the industry prosper by offering first-rate programs, events, and activities.

The Canadian equivalent is CCHA and will be held May 31 to June 2, 2003 in Calgary, Alberta. www.cdncraft.org 

Coming back this year to Portland Oregon is International Quilt Market, May 2 to 4, 2003. www.quilts.com  Quilt Market is the only wholesale trade show in the world for the quilting and soft-crafts industry. A first rate show, Market showcases quilting supplies, fabrics, decorative crafts, textile art, needle crafts, art apparel and dollmaking supplies. Quilt Market holds two shows a year and features an extensive education program. 

Mark your calendar and work toward attending one major show this year. It will be money well spent (actually invested) in your business. If one of the above shows does not fit the bill for your type of business, do some research, ask around and see what show would be a good fit for you and your business. 

The fastest way to search out new suppliers and sources of materials is to attend a wholesale trade show. Trade shoes are designed to bring volume sellers and buyers together. The number of trade shows organized each year is proof positive that this type of marketing works.

A trade show provides you with an opportunity to see that latest in craft products and trends since the show acts as a spring board for companies to launch their new products. You are able to take product and technique classes from the experts, giving you hands-on experience and allowing you to try new products free of charge. The show allows you to shop and compare the goods of hundreds of manufacturers all under one roof. One good contact from a successful show can be as good as money in the bank.

Trade shows also offer a prime opportunity to discover what the future trends in the industry will be. Indications of future trends can assist you in making sound decisions for your business. Attending a trade show will help you become aware of what is happening in your industry, what directions you should take and where your money is best spent. It helps you stay on the cutting edge!

In order to grow in business you need to stay alert, watch for changes, produce quality items, and update your product to keep pace with changing consumer tastes. Attending an industry trade show helps you do exactly that.

Who attends a trade show? Craft store owners, chain store buyers, gift shop owners, mail order buyers, interior designers, sales reps, magazine editors and yes, professional craft producers.

Who exhibits at a trade show? Craft manufacturers (large  and small), importers, service-related businesses, publishers, printers, display companies, anything related to crafts.

In the craft industry there are two types of trade shows, wholesale trade shows for craft materials and services, and wholesale gift shows that sell giftware at wholesale prices. If you have a company that publishes craft patterns, you would exhibit at a wholesale trade show. However, if your company sold handcrafted Christmas ornaments that you were able to mass produce in substantial quantities, you could market these through the wholesale gift show that deals with finished products.

The best way to keep your business alive and well is to attend as many trade shows as possible. Shows provide the craft business owner with the latest in materials, equipment, and techniques. Not only is it essential to keep up with what's new, trade shows provide the most fertile ground for networking. The contacts made during one day at a show could take days, weeks, and quite possibly years to make while operating from your workshop at home. Attending a trade show can blast your business to the next level.

If you have reached a plateau in your business, perhaps it is because you need to take the next step and become more serious about your goals and expectations. 

Investing the time and money to attend a major trade show is a commitment that indicates that you are serious about your business. This can have a positive effect on your mindset and as a result influence the direction your business takes.

You Must Qualify First To attend a wholesale trade show you must find out and meet the show requirements, qualifying yourself and your company as a legitimate buyer. Each show has different requirements, so do your research early to pre-register. If your business does not qualify, you will have the time to take the necessary steps so that it does!

In order to maximize your time at a show --- plan ahead.

Pe-Register Again, read and observe the requirements to pre-register; this will save you valuable time, since pre-registering allows you to avoid lengthy line-ups. Stories abound of buyers traveling long distances without proper credentials that are denied registration. Remember wholesale trade shows are for TRADE ONLY and you need to prove that you are a qualified buyer! Pre-registration will ensure that there are no problems with your application and proof of business.

Study Up Study and carefully read your Show Program or Guide. If you pre-register (which of course you did immediately after reading this article) then your show guide will be sent to you ahead of the show. Your show guide may be a simple flyer, a series of brochures or a 200+ page book (as in the case of HIA with over 2900 exhibitors!).

Be sure to carefully read the classes and workshops that will be given. These are invaluable presentations made by "The People" in the industry, the "movers and shakers". Why travel all the way to a show and then miss classes and seminars because your weren't informed? Register EARLY to avoid being disappointed.

Study the floor plan. With a highlighter pen mark the booths that are of a particular interest to you ahead of time. Depending on the size of the show and the amount of time you have to spend, this can save you time trying to locate specific booths and ensure that you do not miss those of special interest to you.

Dress Appropriately Wear comfortable, yet attractive shows! Ladies: It is wise to take a couple of different shoes with different heel heights and switch off during the day. It is easier to put your best foot forward if your feet don't hurt!

Dress comfortably but professionally (no sweatshirts or sweat pants!). Remember you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Like it or not, you are being sized up in seconds, so make it count.

Business Cards Don't forget to take lots of business cards with you. Yes, you MUST have business cards; you can't expect to do business without them. 

Have a look at your cards --- in advance of the show! Is it time to update your card? Be sure to have your current full address, province and postal code. Don't forget to include the area code for your phone number and include your email and web site address.

At the show each attendee receives a plastic badge that identifies who you are and what company you are with. It must be worn at all times --- it is your "pass" to the show. I always tuck several of my business cards into the back of the plastic badge, along with some money. This keeps my cards and cash handy in a hurry. You won't believe how quickly your briefcase will fill with brochures, catalogues and free samples. Knowing where my  cards and cash are at all times ensures I don't miss any opportunities. 

While at the show, gather other business cards. Immediately write on the back of the card the particular reason for picking up the card or the reason why someone gave it to you. A few simple notations on the back will save you a lot of stress later!

Travel Smart Travel Light Purchase a light nylon briefcase and only put the bare necessities in it. It gets awfully heavy as the day wears on. Make sure that you mark your briefcase with an ID tag (like you would put on your suitcase) and clearly mark your name and the hotel where you are staying while at the show., then if in the excitement of the show you should leave it behind --- it will increase the chance that a good Samaritan can return it to you.

Stay away from taking a rolling suitcase -- many shows have now banned them!

Make Contacts You might meet your favourite designer, watch your favourite craft TV personality do a demo, discuss ideas for new products with a manufactures, or have lunch with another crafter from Holland. Anything is possible. The contacts made during one day at a show could take days, weeks, and quite possibly years to make while operating from your workshop at home. The creative energy that you experience meeting so many creative people in one place at one time will be enough to keep you fired up 'til Christmas.

They're Real People Too! After attending my first trade show twelve years ago, I learned one of the most important things that has lead to my "success" as a craft business owner, After meeting the designers, manufacturers, and publishers, I realized that they were real people just like me. And if they could do it, why couldn't I? The trade show provides you with an incredible opportunity to meet the people that drive the industry.

I hope that you consider attending a major show this year. WARNING: I also should mention that attending shows can become addictive, after attending one; you will want to go to them all! 

It's time to kick start your business....see you at the show!

More information on Karen Booy & Craftlink

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