101biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: trade shows 101

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post is from Carina Murray of Crow and Canary, the travel-based repping agency that focuses on handmade products, eco-friendly practices and a talented line up of local and national designers. With the New York International Gift Fair coming up at the end of January, Carina thought it was prime time to discuss the basics of the trade show world. Thanks, Carina, for this helpful guide to trade shows! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Taking the Plunge

Perhaps you’ve been toying with the idea of participating in your first wholesale trade show. If you’re ready to expand your wholesale accounts, this is definitely the next step. Good press, licensing opportunities and the chance to meet with buyers and store owners from all over the world are indisputably attractive opportunities.

The very first question to consider is “Do I have a comprehensive wholesale offering?” Be sure your collection is truly ready to debut. When it comes to card lines, I would advise exhibiting with no less than 30 unique designs, unless you are offering some other items such as custom albums or higher-ticket gift items.


If at all possible, walk the show before becoming an exhibitor. This is a luxury not everyone may be afforded, but it is well worth the time and expense if you’re granted the opportunity. There is much to be learned in seeing trade show lighting, wall options and displays in person. The cost of trade show exhibition can add up fast, so don’t take the decision lightly. Do your research and find the show that will best fit with your line and the type of buyers you’re trying to appeal to. The initial investment can be a bit staggering, but there are many items you can re-use in future shows, and ideally, you’ll continue to receive business from contacts you’ve met at the show. It’s truly a long-term investment, and you need to look beyond the orders you secure during the three to five days you exhibit.

I highly recommend mocking up your booth before finalizing all the components. It’s really helpful to see the space you are working with and have the opportunity to troubleshoot any logistical problems before the actual show set-up.

Pay attention to discounts for electrical, lighting, furniture rentals, etc. Most shows offer a price reduction if the orders are placed before a given deadline — typically a few weeks prior to the show dates.

You can never have too many business cards at a show. Be certain that your booth branding and collateral branding are cohesive. This detail will help overwhelmed buyers connect the dots when revisiting your catalog or website later.

Get Creative

Good booth design is a key element to trade show success. If you’re working within a limited budget (like most of us), you may not be able to execute all the fanciful ideas you have in your head, but don’t fret. The point of exhibiting is really to sell your line of goods, so think creatively, and you’ll find a way to properly showcase your products. Don’t be tempted by gimmicks; you’ll spend half the show talking about your clever display. Unless it’s directly related to what you sell, you really want your product to shine.

The Master List

I’m a big believer in lists, and when it comes to trade shows, a well-organized list will be your best friend. Create a timeline and categorize your tasks. If you’re working with a business partner or group of people, you should delegate appropriate tasks and plan to check their progress regularly. Remember: Nothing is too small to be included. I’ve added things like “buy plane ticket” to my list. Anything related to the show planning and expenses is fair game.

Social Networking

Social networking can be a powerful tool for small businesses, and when it comes to trade shows, it’s a goldmine. Exhibitors and buyers alike start blogging and tweeting about big shows weeks in advance. Typically, there is a hash tag associated with a given show. Be sure to include the appropriate hash tag in your tweets, and you’ll begin amassing an audience before the show even begins.

Follow Up

The power of a swift and organized follow-up post-show is often overlooked. Make sure you’re getting business cards from leads and start a mailing list right away. Not all buyers attend shows with the intention of placing orders. Some buyers plan to place orders post-show, so be sure you are on their radar if they showed interest in your products. Direct mailings, newsletters and personalized correspondence should definitely be part of your multi-prong follow-up attack.


This is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trade shows! There is a wealth of information and countless resources available to first-time exhibitors. Here are a few of my favorites:

Rob Fortier and Meryl Hooker’s book Showtime is a great manual for first-time exhibitors and seasoned trade show vets.

I’ve been a speaker in the Tradeshow Bootcamp sessions and have heard from many participants that this series is an immense help in planning for a wholesale show. San Francisco and Los Angeles in-person intensive workshops begin in February, and the Spring 2012 teleconferences run February through April.

I also found that this post by Lisa Jones of Pigeon Toe Ceramics provides an excellent overview.

Find a willing mentor. Some wholesale shows offer mentor programs. If yours doesn’t, reach out to a seasoned trade show veteran for advice.

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  • Great post. Although I don’t exhibit at trade show’s, I attend all the ones relevant to my business. It is a really good point about the follow up. The first trade show I attended, I went with the intention to place my orders after the event so I could process what I had seen. Unfortunately for me, nearly all the stockist’s I was interested in, had out of date websites, brochures etc which made my life extremely hard so I had to try to explain what I wanted to order from their new stock. I would very much recommend making sure brochure/website is up to date from the first day of the fair.
    There are also some really good points that can be applied to fairs and markets selling to the public as well. Thank you.

  • I’m currently a marketing coord for my company and I attend many a tradeshow…I found this advice helpful for those willing to take the plunge;)

  • Great info, Carina! I fondly remember the various trade shows I exhibited at a few years back when I had my paper line. While it was not without stress and expense, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and this post really is a great start to taking that next step!

  • Do you see many booths use QR codes at tradeshows? I’m just interested in how and when these are used best.

    Nice post – tradeshows aren’t in my near future but this is definitely a post to come back to.


  • what are good trade shows to look in to for selling leather accessories. bags, wallets, etc?

  • My daughter and I are attending the New York show for the first time. This is in anticipation of opening a small retail establishment and at this point, we’re really just looking for “inspiration”. Thank you for your insight.

  • Great information. I just opened my online shop in december on Etsy and trying to take in as much information as possible to make it a success. This will come in handy for the future when I’m ready to present my work at a trade show. Thank you!

  • I’ve been overwhelmed getting ready for my first NYIGF. After a big move (from Cape Cod to Austin, TX in 2009) and leaving 12 years of customers behind, I’ve decided that the Gift Fair is the best bet to introduce my new line of porcelain.

    I’ve been reading as many posts and tomorrow I go from research mode to execution mode! Looking forward to getting back up to NY and seeing what happens.

  • This is such a helpful post! I am in the beginning stages of starting my own (very) small business, and I have been wanting to learn more about shows. Thanks so much for this information!

  • Thanks so much for this post, I just exhibited at the Home show in London and can identify with a lot of things in here. So much to consider and learn about it, I think one of the most important ones, is to be honest to yourself and really make sure you can do wholesale at all, is it profitable for your business? or are you going to end up killing yourself in order to fulfill the orders in order to make next to nothing? I think this would be the first point when thinking of trade shows.
    Thanks and hello from London

  • @Kate That’s an excellent observation! Making things as easily accessible to buyers is insanely important and I consistently encourage the designers I work with to keep their websites and PDF catalogs updated. Thanks for pointing that out!

    @Kadee Seems to me that QR codes have yet to take off for smaller manufacturers yet. There’s a bit of a work on the front end to get it set up, but could potentially be quite time saving. I definitely believe in having a back up plan, so if one were to go that route I would advise having some good, old-fashioned purchase orders on hand – just in case!

    @Amee I would recommend looking into the Pool trade show that is held twice a year in Las Vegas. The New York International Gift Fair may also be a match. I’m sure that there are more great venues, but apparel and accessories are not really my area of expertise. :)

    @Margarita That really is a vital consideration…I think that new businesses can easily get swept up in the fun of designing a new line and not necessarily give enough thought to what the production may look like when multiple volume orders start coming in. Paying close attention to your profit margins and making a scalable plan for growth is absolutely imperative.