So I’m sure the world needs another blog like it needs a hole in the ozone layer, but just like the fast & furious franchise imma keep going (seriously when will they stop?)
I’ve been wanting to write a blog for a while but I’ve not had a clear starting point in mind, that is until I exhibited at The London Stationery Show. OOOOO but what is that…
The London Stationery Show is held at the Business Design Centre over a period of 2 days and is the largest stationery show in the UK aimed at buyers and press. Over two-thirds of exhibitors and brands are solely exclusive to this show and there’s no shopping just order taking. Making it a pretty epic deal to exhibitors in the stationery world.
Let me be honest outright and say that if I hadn’t of won a place in the Launchpad competition for best new emerging brands ? there’s no way I could have afforded to exhibit here. So it’s pretty bloody lucky I did. With only 2 months to plan for the event and a full-time job, you can understand how the fortnight leading up to it was beyond stressful. My newly formed white hairs developed ulcers riddled with angina. That being said this show was a spectacular all singing, double jazz hands kind of event in the world of Foggish, so much so I’ve decided to write two posts about it:
1. What to do when you’re exhibiting at a trade show but you don’t have a fucking clue
2. Why trade shows are important – from the p.o.v of a small business
As someone who is frequently late and heavily invested in various floordrobe’s (a wardrobe made up of clothes on the floor), you may be surprised to find that I am actually quite organised. Me too because that last part was a big dirty lie. Doing a trade show when you have no idea what to expect is stressful af, you don’t want to add to that stress with shitty mistakes so read this blog and learn from some of mine. Just like a well-balanced meal, there’s good advice too.
10 Top tips for a successful trade show (from a complete novice)
1. Stay late during set up and get there early during trade days
This isn’t a rule but if you want to meet your fellow exhibitors (and you really should) then these are the best times to do it. Along with any kind of after party at the bar #freedrinks. During set up, I found that the display team/delivery men were running a couple of hours behind. Stories of exhibitors arriving at 9am but not receiving crates/shelves until 3pm were quite common. Mine was installed at 4 and I had it finished by 7, so there’s plenty of time to mingle and learn the layout or just stress out about your empty booth, whatever tickles your pickle. One of my favourite parts of the trade show was getting to meet and actually talk face to face with other creatives in the industry. They have the low-down on which trade shows are best along with helpful advice and if you’re super fortunate a very detailed physical description of key buyers. I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by some genuinely awesome and inspiring people who helped shape my experience just as much as the positive feedback from buyers. Even though I am shockingly shit at staying in contact with people, I
am making it my priority to stalk stay in contact with as many exhibitor friends as possible. So if I was chatty with you at the trade show and you’re reading this now – brace yourself.
2. Bring a buddy
I was working alongside plenty of first-time solo exhibitors who were definitely making it work for them but even so, I couldn’t help but notice how much harder it seemed. These events are all about *say it with me now* N.E.T.W.O.R.K.I.N.G. Now the only people I know how to network with are the gatekeepers to my happy place, also known as barmen so if this isn’t your strong point bring someone (preferably who is) with you. I was lucky to have a guru with me who imparted this warning short, memorable advice: Don’t be where I am; if one of you is manning the booth the other should be walking around the event meeting people and driving them towards the booth. This turned out to be immensely helpful for me as footfall was often at a bare minimum in the Launchpad section. It also means you can attend any beneficial workshops/talks of which there are plenty and more importantly you can pee when you want #teamwork.
3. Business cards, product catalogues, receipts & wholesale information
Hands up if you’ve ever had that dream where you’ve wet the bed and then you wake up panicked, realise it’s just a dream but remain embarrassed and on edge. Turning up without these items is akin to that. If you run out of business cards and there’s nowhere to print them in time or you can’t afford it then you need to think creatively, because going without them isn’t an option. This was my workaround.
I would recommend bringing 2/300 business cards and at least 50 product catalogues – I was in a quieter area so if you’re in a more prominent position I would suggest more. I hear you; product catalogues are expensive to print so make sure you have a PDF, an online catalogue or at the very least your wholesale prices on a line sheet and tattooed to the inside of your brain. I mean it, you will be quizzed. Repeatedly, possibly in different languages. The Internet is also insanely expensive at these events (there is free temperamental Wi-Fi) so bring carbon copies of order forms – you will need to give them out for every order placed if you don’t want to pay for the Internet. What’s your wholesale cost again?…tattoo it to your brain!
4. Check you have everything and then check again
(Especially important for those flying) No one wants to reach their destination only to realise that they’ve left their card reader, a tube of prints or cool af reversible wrapping paper on the plane/train. Aside from being annoying and costly, the UK takes unattended baggage almost as seriously as queuing (which is pretty fucking serious) and your items will be treated like a suspiciously suspicious package in need of blowing up. KABOOM that’s the sound of regret winning.
5. Product first
You’re here to exhibit your work and take orders, an amazingly designed booth is great but just like that crazy hot fantasy of you and Jake Gyllenhaal, it shouldn’t be your main priority. I was terrified mine would look rubbish if I didn’t brand it so I bit the bullet and spent roughly £380 on black foam walls with my logo and slogan. I soon learned from one of the display assembly guys I fondly referred to as Jiminy Cricket, that my cost was incredibly cheap compared to some of the other booths, with medium size booths averaging around £7000+. However, a quick walk around soon showed me that booths with simple posters looked just as good (when done right) if not better. Plus unlike a lot of the American shows you can’t reuse your walls next time. So remember Jake Gyllenhaal products first.
5. Confidence is key
Having grown up binge watching Clueless, SATC, Clarissa & Gok Wan I know the importance of the right outfit. Shallow maybe, but if I’m going to fail at least I’ll look fabulous doing it. I can feel the disapproving eye rolls from here. I’m not saying you should turn up in a Chanel dress (unless you have one…in which case can I permanently borrow it?) what I’m saying is wear something you feel your most confident in because it shows and first impressions are everything. For me, that was a pair of reebok trainers, a ‘no bad days’ slogan top and a colourful matching skirt suit from Zara which I know sounds fucking mental, but it helped me channel my inner boss bitch. Honest. For you, it might be freshly dyed purple hair or fitted jeans. You can’t control what buyers will think of your work but you can control the image you want to represent, especially if you’re trying to build a brand and sometimes that’s all it takes to break the ice.
6. Don’t sales block your fellow exhibitors.
These people will be your allies, your friends and your best contacts but if you sales-block them they will burn you to the ground, with your snazzy outfit acting as lighter fluid. Ok, this last part is a gross exaggeration (I think) but it goes without saying, if a buyer or interested party approaches their stand nod your head, signal a salute but walk the fuck away, mid-sentence if need be. Respect the hustle.
There will be times where you are so nervous/excited/panicked you might forget your numbers or find yourself uncontrollably spouting complete and utter shite to buyers of brands you’ve placed on pedal stalls *cough Scribbler *cough, you may even get the urge to hug one (sorry).… Just breathe (and always ask for permission). On the other end of the spectrum, you will find people asking you for your exact printer costs and their contact info, telling you they don’t like your style or even better they themselves are looking to design cards *takes a photo of your cards* and plan on doing some in your style *takes another photo without permission*. Just breathe and smile, it’s all part of the deal. I feel I should just point out here that these people are in the minority, plenty of people are there to be inspired, get ideas and see what’s what, that’s totally natural and getting to meet them and receive positive feedback is really rewarding to hear. It’s just those one or two no-talent ass clowns that need a quick lesson in etiquette, or boxing. Whichever, I’m game for both.
8. Double up on pads
You will find that people will run out of business cards so don’t be shy in asking them to write down their email address so that you can contact them after the show and send them a product catalogue if relevant. In a separate pad when you get a moment write down bullet points about what they were interested in because with so much going on you will forget. I know I did. If you can, email them that night while the lead is still fresh. They will appreciate your promptness and you won’t have to worry about doing it down the line. In the words of Elle wood – Organisation is key!!!
9. Always pack extra underwear. This is a life tip tbh.
Trust me you do not want to spend your morning frantically rummaging through your suitcase looking for the underwear you know you packed. You especially don’t want to find yourself pitching to not on the high street without underwear, although it could always be worse your mum might point out the bogey on your nose afterwards. Fml.
10. Follow up those leads
They say 80% of leads aren’t followed up on which is bat-shit crazy. Not all your leads will be promising but right now you are a minnow and any experience/exposure you can get is a good thing (In my mind anyway). If you get really lucky you will find you get the chance to work with awesome kick-ass brands like Topshop and Scribbler. In these instances, they won’t be able to make orders at the show because they need to pick up which designs to carry. These people are like sugar coated unicorns pooping out dreams of a golden future, make sure you’re there to catch them.