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If you're thinking about doing trade shows, here is a huge list of things I've learned that might be useful.

How I know this stuff: A few years ago I helped a friend work some shows (around 6-7 of them). He had been doing shows for years so I picked up a lot of tips from him. We were not selling t-shirts but most of these tips apply to any sort of product. We were selling our product direct to the public at big family-oriented shows and at smaller shows that were directed at our niche market.

1. Finding the right show
Nearby is always better - travel and hotel expenses can take a huge chunk out of your profits.

Big shows are good because there's a lot of traffic, but niche markets are good as well and usually booths are cheaper. For example, if you have fishing-themed shirts, try to find an outdoors or sportsman's show.

Ask the show managers lots of questions. How many people come every year? The more the better. How much is a booth or spot? How much is parking? What do you need to bring? Some shows require floor coverings and all sorts of stuff. Oh, and if they have indoors and outdoor spots, always go for the indoor. If it rains you'll be happy.

Check out the map of the booths - Try to get something that's in a high-traffic area. People typically travel around the outside ring first and then go down the aisles.
Who are you booth neighbors? You don't want to end up next to someone who is using a microphone and speakers to promote their wares, leaving you unable to communicate with your customers.

2. Setting up your booth
Get yourself a nice big vinyl sign made, with grommets in the corners to hang at the back of the booth. The more plain and simple it is, with big text that can be read from far away, the better. You have only about 10 seconds on the average to catch people's attention, before they walk on by and you never see them again.

Display your stuff prominently. You don't want to make people actually come in your booth and rummage through some racks to find out what you are selling - they just won't do it.

Don't sit down. People who are sitting in chairs are unapproachable. If you must sit, get a high stool to perch on so you can easily get up to greet your customers.

If you need tables, chairs, display areas, floor coverings, etc, don't rent from the show. You will be paying a huge markup. Instead, bring your own, borrow, or rent from an outside company.
3. Looking professional
Don't do a show by yourself. You will just look pathetic and you will be exhausted and burnt out at the end. Bring one other person for a small booth, 2 or more for a bigger booth. Even if you have to pay them, it is worth it.

When you bring that other person with you, don't spend all your time talking with them or with your booth neighbors. You will be losing sales left and right - What customer would want to have to fight for your attention? They will just keep walking.

Be on time. If the show starts at 11am, and the show managers have specified that vendors must be in their booth at 10am, be there at 10am. You'll look completely unprofessional to vendors and the show managers if you don't do this, and it might cost you a spot next year.

Don't eat in your booth, it's not professional. If you have a really long show (1 week or more), consider constructing a fake wall in the back somehow so you can sneak back there to eat and sleep (and hide boxes).

Don't have hand-drawn signs in your booth - most often these are not even allowed by the show. Just print something out on the computer.

Take a picture of your booth. Show managers will want them when you try to get in to future shows.

At the end of each day, take down your products and pack them in boxes. It's shameful but sometimes other vendors will steal from you - and it is a lot harder to steal something if you have go through a box to find it rather than grab it off a hook.

Don't use one word of profanity. Ever. For any reason. Not when you're talking to your friends, not when you're talking to your neighbors, and not when you're talking to your customers - even if they say it first. You never know who else is listening, and you could lose sales this way.
4. Selling
Believe in your product and be knowledgable about it. This gives you real confidence. Also, if you have someone else with you, make sure they can answer every possible question without your help.. You sure don't want to hear, "Um, boss..." when you are about to make a sale, and end up losing the customer.

Don't say "Hi, how are you?" to your customers. It's verbal junk mail that gets filtered out instantly, and they've already heard it 20 times since they came in the door. Instead, find some other greeting that directly relates to your product. Keep trying until you find one that works, then you can use it over and over.

Speak up. Most likely the show will be noisy and crowded. If they are straining to hear you, most likely they are missing half of what you are saying.

Don't keep jabbering on. You can keep talking, but you don't know how much of that information is filtering through. Find pertinent questions that you can ask them, and direct the conversation according to what they are interested in.

Make some reason to get people to come over to your booth. A catchy greeting, a prize drawing, anything is better than nothing. If you don't bring them over the first time you see them, you'll never get that chance again.

Get them to touch your product somehow. For some reason, people are always more likely to buy something if they hold it in their own hands. Just make sure they know you are not giving it away. ;)

People really like to buy things that other people are buying. Strange but true. So if you're talking to a customer, and a few other people stop to listen, just keep talking to your first customer. Train your helper to start talking to these other people, and pretty soon you will have a nice little crowd. This is a great way to get multiple sales at one time.

If you feel like the person you are talking to is just not going to buy your product, give them a flyer and send them happily on their way. Don't waste time trying desperately to convince them, you can use that time talking to new people.

Speaking of flyers - Have some simple, black & white half-sheet flyers made up with some clear pictures of your designs and your web address and contact information. Then, treat them like precious commodities - Keep them face-down in your booth somewhere, and DO NOT give them out freely to people walking by. Only give them to someone who has already bought something, or you can give them if you have already talked to the person for a while and they request a flyer. 1 person in 100 might randomly buy something from your website after they receive the flyer being passed out, but 1 in 10 will buy something if you take the time to talk to them in person. (These are not actual statistics, by the way - just my experience).

Have fun. If you are in a good mood, and you can talk and laugh with your customers, that's the best. Sales people who are bored, tired or stressed out are totally useless.
5. Dealing with other vendors
Make friends with your booth neighbors. You are going to be spending a lot of time next to these people, so it should be a pleasant experience.

Some people have the nerve to ask about your suppliers or how much money you are making. Be polite, but make sure that info stays private.

If you want to ask other vendors questions without being too nosy, here's a good way to start out: Ask them if they have done this show before, and if it has been good for them in the past. :)

If you are at a retail show and people ask about buying wholesale, and you're not ready for it - Don't feel pressured to quote them a price right away. Just trade business cards and talk to them a little later or after the show.

At the end of a show, if there are vendors who are interested in your product, give them a 10% discount or offer to trade for their products if there is something you like. You can get a lot of nice stuff this way!

And finally, leave your booth nice and tidy at the end of the show, and you might just get invited back next year. :)
Well, that's a lot of stuff to think about, I hope it is helpful to someone!
 

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Well, that's a lot of stuff to think about, I hope it is helpful to someone!
It's been a big help to me. Thanks for the great post, Jasonda.

I'm sure I'll have follow up questions once the first chunk of knowledge sinks in :)
 

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I do so many auto events and these are generally very good sound guidelines with one exception. Touching your product..depending on the product. In summer whats on thier bodies, in thier mouth, sunscreen, the last turkey leg, 16oz miller lite etc is going to wind up on your shirts. When they are impared you product is going to be dropped in the dirt. Have sample product you take from event to event for the minions to touch. My God I have had sweaty women grab a tank and toss it on to see if they will fit. Hey If you can sell the sample more power to ya but understand they are there for the greasy fingers.
 

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I am feeling good. I did just about everything you suggested at South x Southwest last year and I did sell out of Tees.

The only thing I did wrong, was saying, "How are you doing", and I actually got tired of doing that, and was sometimes just saying crazy stuff, and it actually worked out better.
 

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Hope this doesn't come off as a stupid question but on average how many tees will you bring? I'm thinking its good to be cautious having more rather then less, right? Also if I am indoors can I make additional shirts while I'm there or will that look unprofessional. This may help in keeping consumers in a casual manner/mood and or if samples/premade Tees have sold out. However to some it may come across as unprepared or bad business ethics.

I haven't sold my first sale yet, but I have been continplating the idea of starting up slow and working my way into the industry as most of the community has mentioned not to get ahead of yourself from the get go. Creating custom or on-demand shirts is something I love to do and thought is a good method to start but at shows is there a best method to go by. Having more shirts designs/sizes per style or more sizes/designs available from the get go?
 

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To preface: We've done a few shows, but not a ton. We've had a few terrible shows, many bad shows, some okay shows, and a few good shows (as far as sales go).


Jasonda said:
Big shows are good because there's a lot of traffic, but niche markets are good as well and usually booths are cheaper. For example, if you have fishing-themed shirts, try to find an outdoors or sportsman's show.
If you're new to doing trade shows, you may want to start with small ones. It absolutely sucks to pay $300+/day for a booth at a big event and only sell a dozen shirts. I haven't quite had this happen personally (only with medium shows), but it isn't fun!

Another related thing that was brought up in a thread about tradeshows here a long while back was to be the "different" attraction at a trade show; e.g. if the show is all about computers and software, selling geek shirts there could be a big hit.

Jasonda said:
Oh, and if they have indoors and outdoor spots, always go for the indoor. If it rains you'll be happy.
Being outdoors in a show isn't a ton of fun either. Rain can screw you, and so can wind - or even too much sun. If you do and outdoor show, you will really need some sort of tent to set up to give you some protection from the elements (also very useful for hanging wares from).

Jasonda said:
Check out the map of the booths - Try to get something that's in a high-traffic area. People typically travel around the outside ring first and then go down the aisles.
A lot of shows will charge extra for corner booths, but it can be worth it. The earlier you sign up and the more 'prestige' (whatever you want to call it) you have with the event coordinators, the better chance you have of getting the spot you want. You will probably have a better pick if you've done the same show (or one with the same coordinators) before.

Jasonda said:
Display your stuff prominently. You don't want to make people actually come in your booth and rummage through some racks to find out what you are selling - they just won't do it.
Absolutely. The first show I ever did I completely bombed, and this was part of the reason; I had a tent set up and I wasn't even using it to hang my shirts from!

Jasonda said:
Don't sit down. People who are sitting in chairs are unapproachable. If you must sit, get a high stool to perch on so you can easily get up to greet your customers.
How big of a difference do you think this makes? I'm lazy - and my mom (my partner) can't stand on her feet a whole show. Stools might be an idea, though.

I personally don't find it more uncomfortable to talk to people that are sitting down in a chair (or at least, I don't think I do. Could be a subconsious thing.)

Jasonda said:
If you need tables, chairs, display areas, floor coverings, etc, don't rent from the show. You will be paying a huge markup. Instead, bring your own, borrow, or rent from an outside company.
This will depend on the show. We've had a few shows where they provided tables/chairs for free. Another I think we got table rental for $5 - which isn't a big deal, and not worth the hassle of going through another company. We have some of our own tables of course, but the ones you can rent are usually larger that what we can comfortably fit in a car.

Jasonda said:
Don't do a show by yourself. You will just look pathetic and you will be exhausted and burnt out at the end. Bring one other person for a small booth, 2 or more for a bigger booth. Even if you have to pay them, it is worth it.

When you bring that other person with you, don't spend all your time talking with them or with your booth neighbors. You will be losing sales left and right - What customer would want to have to fight for your attention? They will just keep walking.
Ah, but talking with other vendors and your partner is half the fun! Just try to keep it mostly to lull periods (which you might not have any of in a big show, granted).

Another things partners are very useful for -- you can take bathroom breaks while you still have someone to look over the booth =)

Jasonda said:
Don't eat in your booth, it's not professional.
Again, how much difference do you think this makes? I'm hungry dagnabit, and there's nobody in my booth right now... ;) It doesn't seem like this should be that big of a deal, but then again we haven't had any really successful events yet ;O

Jasonda said:
Take a picture of your booth. Show managers will want them when you try to get in to future shows.
Definitely. It's quite common for coordinators to request photos of your booth setup.

Jasonda said:
Don't say "Hi, how are you?" to your customers. It's verbal junk mail that gets filtered out instantly, and they've already heard it 20 times since they came in the door. Instead, find some other greeting that directly relates to your product. Keep trying until you find one that works, then you can use it over and over.

Don't keep jabbering on. You can keep talking, but you don't know how much of that information is filtering through. Find pertinent questions that you can ask them, and direct the conversation according to what they are interested in.
It can be hard to strike the balance between talking too much (and annoying the customer) and talking too little (and appearing uninterested in the customer). 'Tis not something I've perfected yet, and I usually end up saying too little I think...

Jasonda said:
People really like to buy things that other people are buying. Strange but true. So if you're talking to a customer, and a few other people stop to listen, just keep talking to your first customer. Train your helper to start talking to these other people, and pretty soon you will have a nice little crowd. This is a great way to get multiple sales at one time.
Or, just have a sibling to repeatedly "buy" t-shirt... ;) (note: probably not a very good idea, especially if people catch on.)

Jasonda said:
Then, treat them like precious commodities - Keep them face-down in your booth somewhere, and DO NOT give them out freely to people walking by. Only give them to someone who has already bought something, or you can give them if you have already talked to the person for a while and they request a flyer. 1 person in 100 might randomly buy something from your website after they receive the flyer being passed out, but 1 in 10 will buy something if you take the time to talk to them in person. (These are not actual statistics, by the way - just my experience).
Do you think a vendor should keep business cards on display so people can take them as interested? Some customers don't like to ask for things like that but still might be interested enough to grab a card (or flyer). I agree that it won't help to randomly pass out flyers to passerbys though for the most part.

Jasonda said:
Make friends with your booth neighbors. You are going to be spending a lot of time next to these people, so it should be a pleasant experience.
And if you have a partner, you may be able to take a little time off to go around and talk to some of the other vendors as well. Definitely talk with other vendors. Other vendors with more experience in shows can offer a WEALTH of information that will be very valuable.

Jasonda said:
At the end of a show, if there are vendors who are interested in your product, give them a 10% discount or offer to trade for their products if there is something you like. You can get a lot of nice stuff this way!
That's half the fun of doing a show right there! We did one event where our depressing sales ended on a slightly happier note -- probably one third of our sales were to other vendors during the last hour of the show =)

Useful and detailed; good info.


Edit: Oops, forgot to add my reply to TD:

T D Homa said:
Also if I am indoors can I make additional shirts while I'm there or will that look unprofessional. This may help in keeping consumers in a casual manner/mood and or if samples/premade Tees have sold out. However to some it may come across as unprepared or bad business ethics.

Creating custom or on-demand shirts is something I love to do and thought is a good method to start but at shows is there a best method to go by.
This really depends. You can go the route of doing only custom t-shirts -- e.g. you can have a laptop, printer, digital camera, and press all right there in your booth to work with; you can take thier picture and put it on a t-shirt, do custom sayings, etc.

Or, you can have some pre-printed stock transfers for people to choose from (vinyl lettering, common mascot symbols, etc.) and have people build a shirt from those.

Or, you can sell only pre-printed shirts with your own designs on them.


There are a lot of options, as always. I don't think that trying to sell both pre-printed designs and pressing custom stuff in the booth together would work very well, but I odn't have any experience with it so I can't say for sure.
 

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Twinge said:
Jasonda said:
Don't eat in your booth, it's not professional.
Again, how much difference do you think this makes? I'm hungry dagnabit, and there's nobody in my booth right now... ;) It doesn't seem like this should be that big of a deal, but then again we haven't had any really successful events yet ;O
Personally I think it can make a big difference.

As well as being unprofessional/creating a bad impression, some people will be too polite to interupt you so they'll just keep on moving. You could try and find some quiet time to eat in the booth, but you never know when a customer could walk into that quiet time.

If you're eating hot food the smell can hang around, which would be a huge problem. Even something like a sandwich could leave crumbs. If you don't hide the rubbish/go throw it out that could be seen, which would be terrible.

Basically it's completely plausible that no harm would come of it, but on the other hand, it could create the bad impression that costs you the customer who was going to buy five hundred shirts for their retail store.
 

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Well I have to sit in the booth because I am generally designing on the computer. Most shows there isnt really time to eat except at the end of the day so bring lots of water and energy bars. We carry about 100 shirt examples to stir interest and do custom shirts and stock transfers on the spot. Doing work (creating product) generates interest which generates a feeding frenzy.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Twinge said:
How big of a difference do you think this makes? I'm lazy - and my mom (my partner) can't stand on her feet a whole show. Stools might be an idea, though.

I personally don't find it more uncomfortable to talk to people that are sitting down in a chair (or at least, I don't think I do. Could be a subconsious thing.)
I know from my own experience that I have made more sales just because of that. I can't measure it in dollars, or say "how much" of a difference it makes, it's just better. But you shouldn't just believe me - the truth is, you will never know if it works unless you give it a shot for yourself. :)

For those of you who are more experience with trade shows, there might be only a few ideas in here you haven't thought of, but those might be the things that make a big difference. In my opinion, we can always learn something new, and we can always get better at whatever we do. So I hope this helps in whatever way it can, and I hope I learn a few things too.
 

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A proffessional trade show, carnival, car show, rodeo, trade day flea market are all different animals. One has folks dressing in suit and ties another has a guy in shorts munching on a turkey leg and pawing your gear. Common sence is the law here and appropriate actions in your booth follow.
 

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go to your local event/conference centers that hold the trade shows and ask them for a calendar. Online calendars may not give you the contact information you are looking for.

I just picked up a buffalo conference center calendar....great contact info for the rest of the year. Even tho most of the year is done, it will give you the contact info for those same shows that will likely happen next year. You could ask them to put you on their mailing list.
 

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While I have never sold t's at a festival me and my wife have been vendors at a few festivals, car shows, sport tourneys in the last couple of years. All were outside and most were in the summmer.

First off sometype of cover is necessary. Don't bother with those cheap tents with all the piping that take hrs to put together. Invest a little more money into an instant pop up. We have a 10'x10' we bought at Wal-mart for less than $100. They take minutes to set up. It's easy enough where I can do it by myself if needed. Second you must need protection from the sun. Sunscreen and some type of headwear is a must. Also bring a cooler and your favorite drinks. Remember you will be outside all day and will be drinking lots of fluids. These events make a killing selling over-priced drinks. (You can also bring your own snacks if you want. We usually don't.) If you have power and they allow it a fan is nice but not necessary. I know Jasonda prefers to stand, but down here in the TX Gulf Coast with temps nearing 100 degrees and 100% humidity, in the summer, a chair is necessary to take plenty of breaks.

For cold weather events be sure to dress in layers. It makes it easier to adapt to the changing weather conditions. Other than that not much advice for winter events other than avoid them if you can. lol. A thermos with a warm drink is nice but it will only last so long. Again if you have power and it is allowed a portable heater is nice.

For any outdoor event be sure to bring some tarps and something to tie them down over your merchandise. Because you will encounter rain and nothing sucks more than water ruining your merchandise. Also try to carry your merchandise in something waterproof. It doesn't take much water to go through cardboard boxes. Also try and keep and umbrella and or rain poncho handy.

I know there's alot more advice I'm forgetting or left out but I think I've gone on enough.
 
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