Small Business

Your Strategy for Selling at Trade Shows


Carefully pick the right events to attend, then reach out to potential buyers, prepare an order-and-return policy, and follow up on contacts

I am a jewelry designer and e-commerce store owner. I want to sell at independent designer shows and trade shows in the U.S. How should I prepare for that? —C.S., Paris Your first task is to narrow your target market and identify which events draw those attendees. If your goal is to sell product—rather than network and make contacts for future sales—make sure you attend buying shows. Extensive information is available online about trade and gift shows, including visitor and exhibitor profiles that should aid your research. You can use the search functions at The Trade Show Exhibitors Assn., the Trade Show News Network, and Tradeshow Week. Browse upcoming shows—you will find hundreds that focus on jewelry and gifts—and come up with a list of events that might fit your needs. "Visit the events' Web sites and look at the attendees to see if they match the audience you're looking for," says Margit B. Weisgal, president of the Trade Show Exhibitors Assn. If you can, visit a couple of the shows in person and make sure that the attendees fit your target audience before you take on the considerable cost of exhibiting. Susan Friedmann, a consultant with The Tradeshow Coach, says you are likely to wind up in New York, the world's jewelry capital and host of the premier international jewelry event, the New York Jewelry Show. Rather than getting overlooked as a small exhibitor at a big show, consider establishing your company as a niche player, she says. "What's the big thing that differentiates your designs? French designs tend to be avant-garde and have a distinctive look about them. Can you capitalize on that—or is it what American customers are looking for?" social networking and outreach

You might attend shows that draw buyers from specialized boutiques, rather than large jewelry and department stores, Friedmann says. They are more likely to appreciate unusual jewelry designs. Use social networking sites such as LinkedIn to connect with buyers before you exhibit at a trade show. Jewelers' networking groups might also provide you with information about pricing, inventory, and trade-show best practices, Friedmann says. You can also contact buyers with something as simple as a postcard letting them know you will be attending a show, says Weisgal. Before you leave home, educate yourself on exhibiting. "There's a lot more to trade shows than buying a booth," Weisgal says. The TSEA's Web site has good information on its education and resources pages. From a business perspective, you'll need to decide if you will have minimum-order requirements and make customers fill out credit applications. You should also formalize your return policy and make sure you can handle the increased business you're likely to get after a trade show. Most important, Weisgal says, after the show make sure you follow up the leads you collected. These are the people who will likely drive your business for many years to come.

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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