Back in February, we interviewed eCommerce guru Andy Cordina, better known by her business alias, Bettie Confetti. Andy had recently decided to leave behind her Marketing Manager day job to focus full-time on her greetings card business. Well, we didn’t want to leave her story there… We’ve teamed up with Andy to find out what it’s really like going solo. Over a series of monthly blogs, we’re going to uncover the ups and downs – and take the scary out of leaving the day job.
For a small business owner, there comes a time when you have to seriously consider how you’re going to grow your business. There’s nothing more detrimental to your income than standing still and resting on your laurels. And while a part of you may have left the big, bad corporate world to escape the use of words like ‘strategy’, you need to have one knuckled down to ensure you grow. For me, that meant seriously considering a trade show.
Growing up my Mum and Dad owned every business under the sun. They were restaurant owners, they launched and ran cosmetic lines, owned a children’s clothing store… the list goes on. The import and export of products meant that my Dad was often at trade shows, all over the world.
When I was little, I remember him going to the US for a few weeks at a time to exhibit their latest product line. To me, it was the longest wait in the world for the latest LA Gear trainers exclusively available in the United States. To him, it was hard graft, weeks of preparation and a considerable expense for the business. So naturally, when I thought about how to grow my business, trade shows seemed like the most straightforward option to consider.
But there was one problem. I had no idea what I was doing.
The thought of putting myself out there and having to sell myself and my brand to actual human beings, filled me with dread. I had absolutely no clue where to start to make sure my brand didn’t look like amateur hour. So off to Google I went, in search of 5,280,000 results in 0.72 seconds.
Choosing the right trade show for your business
For the home and gift sector, there are a few really well-established trade shows that could work for a new brand.
The boutique style trade show that is somewhat selective with the brands that they’ll allow to exhibit. Think Instagram Glam. If your product works well in a strategically positioned out flat-lay, you’re in. They also offer smaller style areas in the show for emerging brands, if you’re not ready to enter into the world of shell schemes.
- Home and Gift Harrogate
A really popular trade show that always has a great buzz around it in the maker community. There are about 850 exhibitors at the show and a massive attendance by retailers and industry bods at about 12,000 people over the 4 days of the show.
- Progressive Greetings Live
A greeting cards specific trade show (who knew that there was such a thing) that features the big boys in the industry, right down to emerging publishers in a dedicated area called ‘Springboard’. There are affordable options if you’re just starting out and as it’s only two days it’s a good entry level show for newbies.
- Top Drawer
A slightly more expensive option than some others, but a fantastic show that happens twice a year. So, if you’re thinking about exhibiting but not quite ready yet, you won’t need to wait a whole year to apply for a stand. Many brands swear by this trade show as their number one, but you might need to be a little more clued in about how to present your brand. So this one might be better for your second or third show.
After looking at all my options and doing a bit of research from other brand’s experiences of the different shows, I decided on PG Live. What appealed to me most was the emerging publishers section, which didn’t seem as daunting as other shows. And the fact that I knew buyers were definitely coming for greeting cards and nothing else, so I was in with a good chance. The free lunches and drinks reception didn’t hurt either.
Ask the show organisers for help and advice
It’s a good idea to talk to the organisers to make sure the show you choose is right not only for your brand, but for your stage of business. Speaking to Tracey Arnaud from PG Live, she gives some helpful advice to first-time trade show exhibitors:
“What I always warn new exhibitors/publishers is not to be too downhearted if they don’t take any orders at their first exhibition. Buyers like to see exhibitors for at least two years before they will place orders.
It’s a steep learning curve, get as much feedback as you can from visitors to your stand. The font or colour may need tweaking, and these changes can alter the design completely. It’s not criticism, it’s valuable feedback!”
Find help in the unlikeliest of places
Once you’ve committed to exhibiting at a trade show, you might still feel like you’re completely clueless and have a list of questions as long as your arm. I know I did. As I saw the money leave my bank account, I kept thinking that this could be a massive over-commitment on my part. But sometimes you find help in the least expected places – your competitors.
After my 6th hour on Google, reading reviews and blog posts of previous exhibitors, I came across one article by Jenny Price of Dandylion Jack. I took a punt and emailed her asking if I could pick her brains about her experience at the trade show. She was so incredibly helpful and answered all my questions and then some.