February 12, 2013

7 Time, Money and Sanity Savers for Doing Trade Shows

trade shows

It’s trade show season, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite trade show tips. While I’ve seen lots of great articles online about doing trade shows, there are several insider hints that I haven’t seen other trade show veterans talk about, so here are 7 things I’ve learned with experience that I wish someone had told me before I ever did my first trade show:

1. Do not do it without a car
If you are staying in a hotel right near the convention center hosting your trade show, you might think you can get by without a rental car. While getting by without a car can be cheaper, it can also be a serious hindrance. In most cities, a car is indispensable for several reasons (some of which I will talk about in a minute). First and foremost though, if you forget to bring something with you and you need to get out and replace it you are totally screwed if you have no way to get out and procure the replacement.

When we did our first trade show in Las Vegas we realized we were short on Command hooks and forgot our display for our belts entirely. Thank goodness we had a rental car, we were able to find a nearby Target and collect the items we needed to complete our trade show booth.

2. Be strategic about sustenance
Convention center food is overpriced and gross. Save your taste buds and your wallet by stocking up on non-perishable food items at a grocery store (again, having a car comes in handy in case you need to drive to a supermarket). Think about things like apples, carrot sticks, pita chips, nutrition bars. You want food that’s easy to carry, easy to eat quickly and neatly, won’t smell funky and will hold up okay if it’s in your bag all day. Energy drinks are also helpful, especially since trade shows often involve schmoozing at after parties that can go fairly late into the night after you’ve worked all day.

Having some bottled water and mints on hand is a good idea too. You can get dried out and your breath can get smelly if you are talking to people all day. Avoid offending by staying hydrated and minty. (Select mints over gum, you don’t want to be chomping on gum in front of customers.)

3. FedEx is your friend
If you are flying out of town to do a trade show, the cheapest way to get your booth gear out to the show is in your luggage. That said, for most exhibitors that’s not going to cut it. I know we end up having to ship stuff when we do trade shows. If you need to ship items keep in mind that the trade show will try to sell you on using their shipping and receiving services, but those conveniences come with hefty fees. Even shipping your stuff to your hotel or a FedEx location in a hotel or convention center gets expensive. They charge handling fees on every box and it’s based on how much those boxes weigh. The costs really add up.

You can save yourself some money if you are willing to pick up your shipments at a FedEx location nearby. (Again, that rental car is making itself useful!) FedEx will hold shipments for customers for 5 days at no additional charge. (Unless it’s a FedEx in a convention center or hotel, they will charge you a small fortune.) You just have to pay the shipping costs (way cheaper than paying for shipping AND handling fees at a hotel or convention center). When you ship your items, just indicate that you want your shipment held for pick up and then retrieve your items once you get into town.

4. Do a dry run booth set up
Set up your trade show booth at your home/office before you leave for the show. This accomplishes two things: First, it helps you actually see what the booth will look like, sometimes things look different in our minds vs the real world. If you’re stuck on how to set up your booth google for pictures of other people’s booths to get ideas. For example, if you are showing a Pool Trade Show in Las Vegas you can google image search “booth at pool” and find some photos of booths to see how other people did it.

The other thing that a practice set up accomplishes is helping you build a list of what to pack for the show. Which brings me to…

5. Make a pack list
You want to make a list of every little thing that needs to come with you to the trade show. This can be stuff like scissors, pens, an exacto knife, packing tape, samples, promotional materials, etc. Write everything down so that as you are packing for the show you can check the items off your list and make sure you didn’t forget anything. (Honestly, there’s a good chance you will forget something but if it’s something you can’t do without, having access to car means you can likely go buy another one once you get into the city where the trade show is.)

6. Don’t buy stuff before you go
If you need more clothes hangers, Command strips, tape, photocopies of your price list, etc. don’t buy it before you leave and then pack it to send out to the show. It’s a total waste of money to pay to ship something you can just go buy when you get to the show. Make a list of what you need to buy and then once you get into the town where the show is being held go buy it there. Every town that’s hosting a trade show is full of Targets, Home Depots, Office Depots, etc. You can get hangers and photocopies in Las Vegas or Orlando or wherever you are going just as easily as you can at home.

7. You cannot live without these three tools: notebook, pen and stapler!
While lots of stores write orders at shows, there are just as many that do not. You’ll have people who come into your booth and seem interested but for whatever reason don’t pull the trigger. Here’s what you want to do with everyone who gets into your booth:

First, determine if they are a buyer. If they are not, get them out of your booth. You are there to meet buyers and you don’t want a buyer passing you up because you looked too busy to pay attention to them. People trying to sell your SEO, manufacturing, PR services, etc will talk your ear off if you let them, so do not let them. You say “thanks for stopping by but I’d like to make myself available to buyers, feel free to leave me your card and if we’re interested we can follow up after the show.”

If you are talking to a buyer you  want to gauge their level of interest in your product line. You can do this by chatting with them a bit. You want to get a name, where they are from, what products they seem to like and a little bit of info about their store (i.e. where is it, what are their customers like, etc.). In a perfect world, the buyer will write an order during the show. You can incentivize with show-only promotions like free shipping or discounts, etc.

If the buyer still won’t buy at the show, here’s where the notebook, pen and stapler come in. If you got a business card from a buyer staple that into the notebook with notes about what they liked, what their store is like, etc. If you didn’t get a card, still make a note of who you talked to, where they are from, etc. When you get back from the trade show you’re going to want to spend your time contacting these warm leads and trying to close those sales. You want to be armed with as much info as possible to help make that happen.

Even if the buyer does buy at the show, you still want to write down any info you were able to glean from chatting. These details can come in handy when you are trying to get them to re-order. It shows that you are really paying attention and giving them personalized service. For example, if a buyer tells you their customers are mostly teen girls and you have a new product that’s perfect for teen girls it’s helpful to know that is who the buyer is shopping for so you can steer him or her towards that product.



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October 1, 2012

How to Cope with Net 30 Terms

Filed under: Wholesaling — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 7:53 am

If you sell a product to wholesale customers, you’ll routinely be expected to offer net 30 terms. (This means your customer doesn’t pay for the goods until 30 days after you’ve sent them out.) This can be a real strain for a small business, since at any given time you may be owed tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that you can’t collect for weeks. Meanwhile, you might need to pay rent, production expenses, employees, etc. How can you survive with net 30?

1. Get terms from vendors
If you have good credit and a working relationship with suppliers and vendors see if you can get net 30 terms from them. (For example, if you buy blank t-shirts from the same supplier all the time, see if they offer net 30 terms.) This buys you some time to collect on the cash owed to you. While you might still have to pay the suppliers before you collect on the invoices owed to you, the gap in time will be smaller.

2. Sell your invoices or get PO financing
There are companies that specialize in fixing this problem for businesses. They will loan you money to finance the production of an order (Purchase Order financing) or buy your net 30 invoices from you. Imagine you did a trade show and Bloomingdales wants to buy $100,000 worth of product. Let’s say producing the order will cost you $60,000. If you don’t have the $60,000 you need you can turn to PO financing. They will lend you the $60,000 and when you get paid by Bloomingdales you pay back that lender. This of course means you’re paying interest on that loan, so instead of netting $40,0000 you might net 35k or 37k (depending on the terms and interest rate). You’ll want to keep in mind that in order to get PO financing you’ll need good credit.

Another thing you can do is sell your invoices. There are companies that will buy a net 30 invoice, pay you up front and collect on the invoice when it’s due. Again, you are giving up a portion of the value of that invoice to do this, but it’s a way to get cash right away if you’re strapped.

3. Early payment incentives
You might be able to get your customers to pay their invoice before the invoice is due if you give them an incentive. You can offer a deal like 3% off for paying within 7 days, 2% off for paying within 14 days and 1% off for paying within 21 days. Not all customers will go for this, but some will and it gets you paid faster. Again you are giving up some income to get paid faster, but sometimes this is cheaper or more viable than the alternatives.

4. Personal credit
If you’re totally strapped and you can’t get paid fast enough falling back on personal credit is also an option. Check your credit cards to see if any have a low or 0% APR balance transfer option. This would allow you to pay for the production of an order with credit card A, balance transfer to credit card B and then pay off credit card B when the invoice is paid. (Still a better deal than paying 18% by just leaving the balance on card A.) Make sure you read all the fine print before attempting something like this so you aren’t hit with unexpected expenses.

You might also be able to draw cash from a home equity line of credit if you qualify. Interest rates for that cash are typically low and any interest you pay is tax deductible in the US.

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September 25, 2012

How to Properly Budget for a Trade Show

Filed under: Wholesaling — Meredith @ 7:02 am

If you’re thinking of doing a trade show for the first time and the price tag for the booth has you nervous, you’re not ready to do a trade show. Trade show costs are about more than just the exhibit space, in my experience that is usually only a small portion of the total investment. Here are some additional costs you must prepare for:

1. The Booth
While the fee to the show promoters might be a few thousand dollars, actually getting the booth ready can easily cost you as much or more. You’ll need to pay for booth decor, product samples (you typically show one of everything in your wholesale catalog at the trade show), marketing collateral and product catalogs. If you cheap out on these costs it’s a recipe for a bad trade show.

The main audience at a trade show is professional buyers for stores. The last thing a buyer wants to do is write an order and not get the merchandise. If you appear underfunded (meaning your booth and marketing materials look bargain basement) the buyer is going to suspect you don’t have the money to actually produce their order and that will send them in the opposite direction.

2. Travel Expenses
Unless the trade show is in your town you will need to budget for travel. This can include costs such as air fare, hotels, rental cars, fuel, and meals. If your trade show is in an expensive city like New York on San Francisco expect to shell out a pretty substantial amount of cash for these expenses, even if you plan to eat at cheap restaurants and stay in a no-frills motel.

3. Purchase Orders
The main objective of doing a trade show is to get purchase orders. You want stores to place wholesale orders because that’s how you are going to make your money back and earn a profit. So why would I consider this an expense?

Unless you are selling to small boutiques, your wholesale customers are going to want to buy in large quantities and pay you on net 30 terms (meaning you get paid 30 days after you ship). Are you prepared to produce an order for 10,000 units for Neiman Marcus or Macys and not get paid for that inventory until 30 days AFTER you ship it?

While you can get purchase order financing (a loan to cover production costs, based on having a purchase order), you’ll pay interest on that money so you have to be sure that you’ve either got the money to bank roll the production of inventory or margins that allow for you to finance those expenses.

4. Time
To an entrepreneur time is money and to see any ROI from a trade show, you have to invest some time. The show itself can easily eat up a week. It’s also important to note that a lot of buyers do not place orders at the trade show, so if you want them to buy you’ll need to invest the time to follow up with people who expressed interest in your line. This process can take months.

I’ve personally seen buyers we met at trade shows take 6 months of follow up to write an order. If you can’t dedicate the time to routinely follow up with trade show contacts until they write orders, you will definitely miss out on some business.

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April 11, 2012

5 Clever Ways to Build Your Store List for Wholesale

Filed under: Wholesaling — Tags: , — Meredith @ 2:30 am

I’ve said before that I’m not a big fan of buying store lists for doing wholesale. So how can you go about getting a good list of stores for pitching your wholesale line? Here’s some great resources:

1. Yelp
Yelp is an indispensable resource for finding brick and mortar businesses. You tell it what area to search and what kind of business you’re looking for, it gives you the list. It even tells you about similar businesses in an area. So if you find one boutique on Philadelphia you want to pitch and then you plug it into Yelp, it will give you a list of a bunch of other stores just like it that are also in Philadelphia. Just check the right hand column for the list titled “People Who Viewed This Also Viewed…”

2. Other People’s Store Lists
Some designers share their store list on their website. If you know of some brands whose products you can see your own products sold along side with, check to see if they’ve got a store list on their site.

3. Trade Shows
Trade shows are a great way to discover stores to pitch and meet with buyers face to face. They can be pretty expensive to do, but it will save you some online sleuthing time if you’ve got the cash to do trade shows. Be prepared to not make a ton of money right off the bat with trade shows. Some buyers take months to place an order so it’s much more of a long term investment.

4. Similar Web
Similar Web is a great tool for building both your press list and your store list. You plug in a site you know of (like a store website), it gives you a list of websites that are like it.

5. Fans
Your customers know their home town best. So if you sell online and have a bunch of customers on Facebook or your mailing list ask for their help. Let them know you’d love to have your products sold in their home town and ask them to suggest stores for you to try. Super fans might even be willing to lobby stores in their area on your behalf to get your stuff on the shelves.

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November 30, 2011

The Case Against Buying Store Lists and Media Lists

Filed under: PR,Wholesaling — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 10:53 am

I’ve noticed recently that a lot of fellow biz bloggers and biz coaches are selling press or store lists (or offering them as a value-add for premium products). I’m pretty much against buying/using pre-made store or press lists, and here’s why:

1. They might make me lazy
It’s tempting to use someone else’s list. Making a list of stores or media outlets to pitch is time consuming, so why not let someone else do the work? Because working from someone else’s list is like working with blinders on. I promise you, there are more stores and media outlets that are great for your company that are not on that list you just bought. If you’re relying on a pre-made list, you might not go hunting for them.

2. They don’t give me an edge over my competitors
If someone is selling a list of store or media contacts, you have to wonder who else bought the same list. Are those stores or editors being bombarded with pitches from your competitors? That’s going to make it tougher to get them to focus on you.

I love when I find a hidden gem of a contact and it pays out for me. I’m great at thinking of unconventional places to pitch my work that competitors might not be trying. As a result, I can stand out and probably get a better response. Some of my best media placements for Ex-Boyfriend haven’t been Good Housekeeping or Elle or Design Sponge, they’ve been outlets that focus on niches relevant to my products, like geek culture blogs or outlets with a focus on animal lovers. Other tee labels might all be fighting for a placement in the same dozen or so coveted outlets, but personally, I prefer to skip ’em. I’d rather go where my competitors haven’t thought to look.

Case in point, earlier this fall my company was featured in a magazine about cheese. We saw quite a few orders stemming from the placement. The average clothing company might not think about working with an outlet about cheese. By working with a media outlet that isn’t the first one our competitors think of, we were able to score a win.

3. They probably aren’t perfect for me
Even if I take competitors out of the equation, if a friend who had a jewelry line or a handbag line offered to give me her press list or store list, I’d still say “no thanks”. Media lists and store lists have to be highly customized to be valuable. The press contacts and store lists that are good for another business are not necessarily useful for mine. Even if I could get lists another clothing company was using, it probably still wouldn’t have all the stores and media outlets I should be pitching.

There’s more to your products than being a shirt or a necklace or a bag. Our products have so many niches they could appeal to that it’s important to build our prospect lists with those niches in mind. Hopefully there aren’t a lot of businesses out there with your exact combination of product types and niches, which is why the best store or press list is going to be the one you created yourself.

Purchased Lists as a Jumping Point
The case can be made for using pre-made lists as a starting point. You could use them to get ideas for your own custom list and cross off the ones you don’t need. This can work okay if you understand that the list you’re getting isn’t “your” final list and you want to spend the time checking out each contact on the list to see if they’re a fit for you. It’s not my preferred approach, I’d rather spend the same hours just making my own list, researching my own niches.

If you do decide to start with someone else’s list, make sure you’re not taking their list as gospel. Be prepared to spend the time checking each contact to see if they are suited to your business and then spend the time adding your own contacts that aren’t on the list initially.

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June 16, 2011

Secrets to Successfully Getting Your Products into Tons of Stores

Filed under: Wholesaling — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 5:12 am

Today I want to let you know about this amazing find I discovered from Justine Grey: The Wholesale Action Ecourse. This ecourse will teach you every single thing you need to know about selling your products wholesale. I know because I used this course myself, since my clothing company is about to start doing wholesale. We learned about a zillion useful things from the course that we’ll be using for our own wholesale efforts. This ecourse is like having your own personal coach guiding you through every step of the process! Justine’s ecourse is incredibly detailed and full of insider tips you can only get from first hand experience doing a lot of wholesale business.

Here’s what you’ll get from this ecourse:

  • Help defining your target audience
  • Tips to determine what makes your products unique in the marketplace
  • Must-have advice on how to avoid getting taken advantage of by wholesale customers
  • How to select the right products for wholesaling
  • How to price your wholesale line
  • Invaluable advice on developing your line sheet and wholesale terms
  • Advice on finding the right stores for your product line
  • How to sell your products to wholesale customers via phone, email and face to face
  • Nitty-gritty, actionable checklists and workbooks that will get your products into boutiques and larger retail stores

Here’s why you can’t afford to go without Wholesale Action:

  • Wholesaling leaves you with about a million opportunities to make mistakes that can cost you a fortune or even ruin your business! Wholesale Action tells you how to avoid those mistakes that you’re likely to make without the benefit of Justine’s experience.
  • Wholesale customers will throw you curve-ball questions. If you don’t have the answers ready, it could cost you sales. Wholesale Action prepares you for selling to even the pickiest and trickiest of wholesale clients.
  • Just picking up a few wholesale clients will easily more than pay for the cost of this course. Justine got over $8,000 in sales in just 4 months!

Wholesale action provides you with your path to success in an easily-digestible format that even the least business-savvy “dreamer” can handle and accomplish. You’ll finish the course with a well-organized and manageable step-by-step plan for getting your products into tons of stores in a short period of time.

If you’re ready to get started, head over to Wholesale Action now to sign up!

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May 18, 2011

Getting Your Products in Stores: Consignment, Wholesale & Drop Shipping

Filed under: Wholesaling — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 7:29 am

Today I’m addressing three popular ways to get products into stores. Even if you have your own online shop, getting products into stores can be a good additional source of revenue or a great way to get your brand in front of more customers. None of the solutions for getting products into stores is perfect, each has pros and cons.

1. Consignment
When you offer products to a store on consignment, the deal is they take the products and put them in their store, and they only pay you if/when the products sell.

This is a low risk proposition for retailers, which means if you’re having a tough time getting wholesale buyers, this alternative might get a store owner to take a chance on your products. Once you’ve got a proven record of selling your products in their stores, these shops might consider switching to wholesale buying.

The other potential pro, is that the revenue split may be more favorable. With wholesale, shop owners typically get a 50% discount on merchandise because they are assuming the risk. If it doesn’t sell that’s their problem. With consignment, the deal is pretty risk-free for the store owner, and more risky for the designer, thus the designer might only offer the shop owner a 30% or 40% commission on sales.

With consignment, the risk mostly falls to the designer. You are handing over product you might be able to sell on your own, to another business, that may or may not be able to sell it. If they merchandise your items poorly or don’t get much foot traffic, you might wind up with no money and missed opportunities to sell your products for 100% share of the retail value.

If you enter a consignment arrangement, choose the stores carefully. Pick a place with a lot of foot traffic that you think is likely to sell your products effectively. You should also consider limiting the amount of time the shop has to sell your products (for example, they can hold the product for 3 months). Otherwise, they could hold your inventory indefinitely and never pay you a dime.

2. Wholesale
When you sell products wholesale, you typically sell the products to a store owner for 50% off their retail price. Usually the agreement is that you do not accept returns on these items unless there is a defect. In exchange for the discounted pricing, the store owner agrees to a minimum purchase (i.e. 12 units or $500 or 3 case packs, whatever terms you establish).

You are offering your product at 50% off so you need to make sure your production costs and materials are such that you can offer a 50% discount and still be profitable.  Wholesale terms also need to be crystal clear and cover a lot of important details such as exclusive territories, shipping terms, order minimums, etc.

Wholesale is really an enterprise for a more serious business owner. You may need to hire sales reps. You will definitely need to produce buyers packets with line sheets. If your goal is to sell wholesale, talking to an experienced expert on the ins and outs of the process is a good idea. (I recommend Nicole at Retail Minded, if you are looking for a consultant on this subject.)

If you get your wholesale terms right, and your production budget is structured such that you can afford to offer a 50% discount, wholesale can be pretty profitable and low risk. Your wholesale buyers are usually guaranteed to not send returns, spend a minimum amount of money and they are likely to be repeat buyers if you’ve got a good product that sells well.

The other nice thing about wholesale is that your buyers will tell you exactly what they want and how much of it. With retail you have to produce products based on guessing what you think retail customers will buy. With wholesale buyers, you know exactly what they are buying, so you can plan your production accordingly.

3. Drop Ship
Drop ship is an arrangement that works best with custom made items or online boutiques. With this arrangement the store doesn’t actually hold your products. They may have a sample or two, but the products that end up with customers remain with you. As the retailer sells the products, you ship them to the buyers and the store owner pays you a commission.

This is a nice middle ground between wholesale and consignment. The shop owner doesn’t have to give you money unless they sell your product. But you don’t have someone else holding product you might be able to sell on your own. It’s a relatively low risk proposition for both parties.

For this relationship to work well, the designer has to be pretty reliable and responsible.  The shop owner’s reputation is in your hands, so you need to strictly adhere to ship times and policies that you’ve agreed to.

You are also parting with a commission to the shop owner (usually 50%), so it may be less profitable than selling your own products retail. On the other hand, the additional exposure you can get having your products distributed in more stores, may make it worth sharing the profits.

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January 15, 2010

Link Love: A Round Up of Links About Wholesaling

Filed under: Link Love,Wholesaling — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 9:02 am

Since selling to retail is a common interest among artisans, I’ve compiled a collection of links that you may find useful that cover this topic (some I’ve shared in past newsletters, some are new)

Places to Look for Wholesale Reps*

*I am not endorsing the services above. I am just sharing these sites as a resource, but can’t speak to their effectiveness since I have never used them personally. If any of you have tried the services above and want to share your experience with them, please feel free to do so in the comments.

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