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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Tips on exhibiting at a Fashion Trade Show

With the S/S 14 selling season upon us, many designers and fashion labels are in the last stages of preparation for exhibiting at a trade show, whether at  London Fashion Week, or showing internationally.

So this seems a good time to highlight what I have learnt in my 15 years at showing at such exhibitions, as despite the hight cost of showing at a trade show, it's surprising how many brands don't make the most out of their investment.
Define your aims and expectations

As I explain in Chapter 7 of my Design Create Sell book, trade shows give you access to new national and international buyers and build brand awareness with stockists that wouldn't normally know about you.

Trade events offer opportunities to:-

  • Find new trade buyers
  • Find agents/distributors
  • Meet, press, bloggers, /stylists
  • See what your competitors are up to
  • Get inspiration and new ideas.
It's helpful to be clear about what you hope to achieve and why you are showing. Some shows are more about PR than actually taking orders. If it’s your first time exhibiting, don’t expect to recoup all your costs at your first event. Buyers often want to see you for a few seasons before having the confidence to order.

Set yourself measurable goals – eg 5 new stockists, re-orders from existing customers, 20 new leads.

Tips and Check-lists


  • Contact existing and new potential target customers – send them an invitation for the show and follow up with a call – try and get them to make an appointment to see you on the stand.
  • Use your social media presence to promote where you are showing.  Post information, pictures and/or videos (perhaps a preview of a new product or video invitation to visit the stand).  The goal is to let people/prospects know the who, what, where, when and most importantly, the why they should visit you at the stand. 
  • Be constantly in touch with whoever is making your samples to make sure they are on schedule.
  • Plan carefully the sample collection you are taking with you to the show. Don’t make too many pieces as nothing looks worse than a cluttered stand – have some show-stoppers that will attract buyer/press/stylists – they may not be the pieces that sell but will attract attention. Ideally your collection should include entry/mid and high price points to attract a broad base of customers. 
  • Design your stand 'fit-out' in advance. Check what is included in the stand package and order extras. It’s often more expensive if you order on the day.
  • Make sure you've organised  the delivery of your samples/displays to the venue and ensure your samples are  insured on site, in storage and in transit
  • If exhibiting overseas, choose reliable freighters and shipping agents and check they have all the relevant customs / import documentation in place.
 Stand Display
  • Don’t have a physical barrier between you and the buyer.
  • Keep your display simple and minimal.
  • Maximise space especially vertically.
  • Ensure you order enough lights.
  • Have some display above head height so it can be picked out over a crowd.
  • Keep the look of your stand consistent with your brand identity so that buyers recognise you at subsequent events.
  • Allow for a space to sit and write orders. 
  • Think about taking a computer display or tablet to show off your website/videos   and to give  access to your social media pages to allow users to “Like” the brand on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

Paperwork/Info to take with you
  • Order book.
  • Lookbook/marketing materials.
  • Line sheet/Wholesale price list.
  • Business cards.
  • Press packs.
  • Information on lead times and delivery dates/minimum orders.
  • You will be selling your products at wholesale price so it is customary to show prices exclusive of VAT. If showing abroad it is helpful to have prices in local currency eg euro or dollars. You may be asked for the Recommended Retail Price (RRP)which is the price the retailer will sell the product at including their mark up
  • Bulk prices for large orders.
  • Info on your trading terms eg pro-forma, 30% deposit - balance on delivery, or credit?
  • Notebook to record comments and enquiries  from / about (potential) buyers next to business card stapled to page as an aide memoir for follow up phone calls after the show.
  • Make daily notes on the day’s events and feedback from customers so you remember what you should take into consideration when planning next seasons collection and events.
  • Deadline for placing orders.
  • Stationery including plenty of pens, stapler, staples and sellotape.
Staffing the stand
  • Take water – it's often hot and dehydrating at exhibitions
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes
  • Brief all staff (as they may be temporary)so they are knowledgeable on the product and terms.
  • Staff should always smile be friendly but not overbearing – not stand at edge of stand and make a barrier.
  • Keep your stand clean, tidy and dust-free.
  • No eating on stands! Arrange someone to cover breaks.
  • Always, always ask for business cards from visitors.
 After the event

  • Follow up order confirmations and chasing new leads. Contact everyone you saw and thank them for coming. 
  • Continue to post pictures and video from the event.  Again social media can also assist with your follow up.  It provides the opportunity to present images, messages, video and other branded content in such a way that will allow potential customers to learn about the brand.
  • Produce a final budget working out expenditure versus sales – was it worth it.? Remember though, with a trade show can’t tell for a while as takes a while to generate orders. 
Finally - make sure you enjoy it. Let me know how you get on!

You can find out more about trade shows and how to decide what other sales channels are available for fashion brands at our forthcoming Routes to Market workshop on 2nd October 2013 .

By Alison Lewy


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