So the day of reckoning dawned and I was pretty mega-excited! I arrived bright and early, did a bit of finishing touches zuzhing to the stand and then...umm, stood about for ages waiting for people to arrive. It was a bit of an anti-climax, if I'm honest. Luckily, the stand next door to mine was taken by Mhairi of Bonnie Bling, who I have known since Noah was a boy, so I had plenty of good chat with her whilst we waited for the visitors to filter up to our stands which were at the very nether regions of the hall. It was Mhairi's first show too, so we could compare notes, offer encouragement and cover comfort breaks, etc quite well between us.
My stand was on a corner, meaning it was open on 2 sides and gave me a good vantage point to see how generally busy the hall was. Directly opposite me was a giant free standing exhibit, which, without being too unkind, was filled entirely with the sort of glass ornaments, water features, cheap wooden carvings and vases that you can pick up at any discount gift shop in any town in Britain (and no doubt, given the international manufacture of these things, beyond). The chaps who were on the stand were pleasant enough though and generally the surrounding stand-holders were all very nice and helpful. We were also situated next to one of the coffee areas which I thought might be quite helpful in attracting visitors.
So, the day trundled on - it was a LONG day. My feet were in ribbons from my shoes after an hour, as I said, so I had to search out emergency back-ups. Sunday, we were told, was very much the day of the small business owner, with smaller shops being closed on Sundays as a rule, they have the time to come to the show. A lot of them brought their kids and it was definitely a much more relaxed vibe on the Sunday than the following days.
Mhairi and I entered our products into the Best In Show competition, mine under gifts (as there was no home type category) and hers under jewellery. A little later, we were both thrilled to hear that Mhairi's jewellery took the Best In Show prize, netting her a bottle of cava, a certificate and a free stand at next year's show. I was really chuffed for her and it set our little enclave buzzing with excitement. I was disappointed not to be placed in my category, given that the winner of it was selling novelty condoms (seriously), closely followed by that ground-breaking innovation, soap in a tin, but thems the breaks! This, in hindsight, should have set alarm bells ringing about the sort of people coming to the show.
I had a lot of interest on the first day with a few people close to making orders, but nothing concrete. Internet friends who were thinking of exhibiting at trade fairs also stopped by to say hello, and gather ideas, just as I had myself. Mhairi next door was having a lot of interest off the back of her prize, so we were both kept going for much of the day. It was a good job that we were because tiredness definitely started to creep in towards the end of the day!
I had one order on the first day which was from a shop I already supply, but they were able to come along and see my new lines for themselves in the flesh (and have a chat, they really are quite lovely people!).
Lots of info packs given out, lots of spiels given and one order was the final outcome of day one.
Everyone said that Monday, day two, would be the big business day. More of the larger companies were in attendance, a few having flown up from England for the occasion. The format followed on from Sunday, really - a lot of waiting around at the start of the day, followed by a flurry of activity as people reached the nether regions of the hall. A few more friends stopped by, a lot of info pack giving out, some good conversations with people and lots of interest in what I was doing and why.
One of the things I wasn't prepared for was the real mix of people in attendance for different reasons. Of course, the main demographic was retailers, large and small, looking to stock their shops, but there were also visitors from the local council and museums, charities, accountants and other small business services looking to tout themselves, a lady from the Giftware Association drumming up membership and even the production team of Dragons Den, looking for contestants (both Mhairi and I declined, citing our respective TV working relationships as an excuse). It certainly kept me on my toes and was a good lesson in treating everyone as a potential customer, not just the obvious people with BUYER stamped on their badges.
I talked and talked and talked, I paced, I handed out info packs, business cards, reeled off my prices, demonstrated my kits, smiled and smiled some more. After all those hours on my feet I was exhausted but I had no sales to show for it. Mhairi next door was doing a roaring trade by this time, which was really great - I was very pleased indeed to see an old friend doing so well, but of course, a teeny bit envious that it wasn't me! But I know that putting all the effort in pays off in other ways and in future, so not too disheartened.
I was glad to see the clock strike 5 and head home for an evening of foot rubbing and business card collation, ready to go back for the third and final day.
Tuesday was much like Monday but much slower. The visitor numbers definitely dwindled as the days progressed and it was much quieter in the lofty reaches of our stands. This was good in one aspect, in that it gave me time to mosey around and see what everyone else was up to.
It became apparent quite quickly that my stand really did stand out from many of the others. I think this was a good thing - it made people stop and it should ensure that they remembered me, too. However, it also made me think - was I *too *different from everything else? Were the retailers of Scotland ready for me? Was I pitching to the wrong people? It was really interesting to see, with more experienced eyes, how people had set up. With more knowledge, I could easily identify the old pros, the people who had done the bare minimum and the people who were really passionate about their business.
On Tuesday, I got two orders, one from a totally new customer who saw the stand, stopped and was wowed by my sales pitch. The other was from a fellow stand-holder who also happened to be opening a shop (see, I told you it pays to treat everyone as a customer!), right at the end of the day as I began packing up.
We broke our stand down in record time - a whole day to erect, an hour or less to dismantle. And then it was home for a bath, a well-deserved curry and an early night.
The next day is when I began consolidating the contacts I'd made and getting in touch with everyone whose business card I'd taken or name I'd grasped to keep me in their minds and remind them of the show special offer of 10% off orders (in a non-needy way). And then, after packing everything away, it was time to reflect and take stock of my experience.
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