July 23, 2012.
I have had no motivation to blog lately. I have been overwhelmed with....well life. I have been spending my summer swimming, playing, staying up late, going to camp, having sleep overs, playing xbox....oh wait, no that is what my kids have been doing. I have been entertaining them. And, as I have mentioned multiple times I was not sure I had anything else left to blog about. Then out of nowhere I got this email today:
I found your blog about Gift Shows and wanted to ask you a question. What are the good gift shows on the West Coast? I just moved from Oregon to Los Angeles and my business has really been taking off over the last couple of years. I'm now thinking about doing a gift show and would love to know what you think. Also, I'd love to visit the LA gift show (I want to "walk" a show to see what's what!)
Thanks for any thoughts you can share!
:) Sarah Jane
Life is Rosey
Trade Shows in General
In no way do I consider myself an expert in attending and exhibiting at Trade Shows. However, I have been doing it (and by it I mean running a business) for ten....ya, ten years this November. A little background for ya, I have walked shows in San Francisco, Surtex, NY Stationary Show, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Long Beach & New York multiple times and multiple years. I have had my products in Show Rooms in Los Angeles, Minneapolis & Texas. I have exhibited at the ABC Kids Expo and the Atlanta Gift show multiple times.
If I was asked to do a word association about Trade Shows, I would blurt out....expensive. And to then to answer your question about if there were any good Gift Shows, I would yell out, "NOOOOOOOOOONNNE!" just like the guy that yells "GOOOOAAAAALLLLL!" after a soccer player scores. Harsh? Yes. Do I speak from experience? Yes.
I would love to sugar coat this post and say that Trade Shows are good, but I can't. I loathe them. They are a total suck of money and they are unnecessary. In this day of Facebook, Pinterest, Etsy, the Internet, Groupon, Plum District and Oprah - no one has to do a Trade Show. The waste of money is one thing, but the waste of time is painful. Sitting in a booth day after day for 10 hours a day, away from your family and writing itsy bitsy orders - the opposite of priceless, it sucks.
The Cost Can Be More Than Expected
You need cash to exhibit, and lots of it. Think of just flights, hotels & food. That does not even include the renting of the booth, the samples of your products, the employees that will help you man the booth, printing of catalogs, postcards, order forms, giveaways, the possible advertisements in Trade Rags and then the super fun (sarcasm here) hidden costs. Shipping your products, unloading your products by union workers, boxing up your products....it is kind of like when some contractor says, "Wanna do a remodel? Take your budget and then double it!"
When Jamie's Painting & Design exhibited at the ABC Kid's Expo years ago we spent $10,000.00. The two shows I did in Atlanta cost, um a lot of money too. For the record my average wholesale price of one of my products is $17.50 to $22.00. Do the math on how many products I have to sell to make up a $10,000.00 bill.
The Cost of Exhibiting at a Trade Show
The expression, "Do as I say, Not as I did" should be the actual title of this post. If I knew then, what I knew now - I would not have exhibited. Instead I will list what I found on the LA Gift Fair's website and these are the minimum costs if I were to go to the show:
Los Angeles Trade Show
- Shipping or Unloading Products (changes with each venue, taxes, Union Workers) : N/A
- Displays : ( $500 to $5000 depending on sophistication of booth) : $500.00
- Booth 10 x 10 Booth $20.00/sq. ft. (this includes 1 trash can, 1 chair and black curtain & rod) : $2000.00
- Hotel (4 nights for show + 1 to set up booth) $139.00 to $189.00 a night (tax $20.85 a night) : $799.25
- Hotel Parking $20.00 daily parking : $100.00
- Car Rental is $50.00 a day : $250.00
- Food $55.00 to $70.00 a day (cost of food is expensive at the show) : $275.00
- Flight on Alaskan Airlines : $160.00
Total Cost before I even ship my products, print brochures or write ONE order : $2,284.25
From what I have heard the Los Angeles Show is not what it used to be. With the San Francisco Gift Show gone, it may attract more buyers - but talk on the street is not good. When I was at the Gift Mart years ago I was not impressed, nor did I get many sales when I was in a show room there. It could have been my product or the show room - but it was not very profitable for the cost I spent (you have to pay sales reps a % of your sales, plus you may pay a fee to have your products in their showroom).
Even if you are super convinced to do a Trade Show, you have to do a reality check first and ask yourself a number of questions:
- How much money can you afford to lose?
- What is your budget?
- How many other vendors with similar (or the exact) product will be at the show?
- Does your product appeal to a large demographics across the country?
- Can you find out who exhibited last year?
- Have you done research on blogs to see if the show was worth it?
- Do you enjoy "selling" your product and yourself?
You Still Want to Do A Trade Show
If you are thinking of exhibiting a Trade Show I highly recommend walking the show first, heck even consider walking it with the idea of finding sales. I once made an appointment with 4 different stores in the New Jersey/New York area and met up with them (accidentally) in front of a competitor's booth. If she was not such a nasty person, I would not mention this - because again, it was by accident.
Walking a show (you can do this free if you talk your way in and tell them you are a buyer) can be lonely and even boring. It is hard to get people to talk when they are there to sell. Be brave, be friendly and talk yourself up something special. Also, travel with a friend, it makes you braver and gives you someone to laugh with when things do not work out as expected. Trade Show attendance and exhibition has been going down for years, especially since that super fun Recession of 2008.
What to Do Instead
There are other ways to get your product to market without spending a ton of money on a Trade Show. Search out stores, catalogs and websites on line. Sending emails is the best form these days, but back in the day I would send a catalog via snail mail. If you cannot find the contact information from an average Google search, try Linked In.
Another thing to consider doing a smaller more intimate show locally instead of a large Trade Show. An Art & Wine festival, a mini-boutique at a school or a Holiday Boutique or Craft Fair are exellent "starter" shows for you. The difference is you need inventory for these, vs. just take orders at a Trade Show. You will find out real quick if you enjoy sitting in a booth and talking to potential customers. Plan on going in with a very, very thick skin, because people will may some cruel things about your products.
Be patient and persistent, it takes a long time to get established. Take every small and large accomplishment with strides. It took me years to get into hundreds of stores, websites and catalogs and sadly with the Recession only a few months for tons of them to go bankrupt. Whatever you do don't give up, keep trying and searching for accounts. A quote I heard at a funeral earlier this seems fitting way to just to end this post, "Just keep keeping on".
Places to Research Trade Shows
Posts Where I go On & On About Trade Shows