Part of the problem with this event I felt, personally, was the quality of the products on display meant that I did not really fit in. Besides a few small unique designers, the majority of the stands were wall-to-wall mediocrity.
The stand across from me was a case in point. As the show went on, the guys went into overdrive, filling out order after order, handing out reams of catalogues (they ran out in the end) for their made-in-China-light-up-smoking-water-fountains. Every time I saw another visitor be drawn into them, my heart broke a little. I'm aware that this may make me sound like a terrible snob, but with each it felt like the visitor's customers just missed out on something a bit more special - not necessarily my stock, but something with more soul in it than what they'd be getting from this stand.
Of anything, I felt the overtly Scottish nature of many of the products would be what grated with me about the event, but in the end, it came down to quality. There were some really cool and unique Scottish themed products there, but on the whole, it was aisle after aisle of the same silver jewellery, the same tartan rugs and the same old greetings cards again and again.
The actual organisation was good but not brilliant. The main problem with it for me came down to a single letter. In the pre-show catalogue, mailed out to the pre-registered visitors, which we were assured was in the thousands, my company name was spelt incorrectly. It was noted as Miso Funkey (rather than Miso Funky as my business was then called). Not a huge problem in the grand scheme of things but for the connotation from that single extra letter that I was in the business of selling keyrings. And we know how people make snap judgements. How many people did that put off? How many people scored me off their to-visit list on that basis alone? The organisers seemed to be supremely unconcerned when I raised this with them. Mhairi was left out of it all together and was marked incorrectly on the floorplan by each entrance. These are small details but they can be make or break to a small indie trader. I didn't feel that they were taken seriously by the organisers and felt let down a little.
So what did I learn? Here are the lessons I took away:
- The number one most important thing to prepare is comfortable shoes. End of.
- Dress comfortably but smartly. Layer up, as the temperature does fluctuate wildly. If you're travelling, pack lightly but sensibly and try not to spill anything down your front if you're lucky enough to get away for a spot of lunch!
- Bring food and water. If you're on the stand by yourself, you won't be able to go queue for 20 minutes for a sandwich. If you can last a day without eating (which you shouldn't do, kids), then at least make sure you have water. If you do get a chance to sneak off and scarf a sarnie down you, then make sure you have mints/gum - you'll be talking a lot and no-one's going to be sold on your products if you're breathing tuna mayo on them. Never eat on your stand.
- Bring plenty of promotional literature. Consider what you think is an appropriate number and double it. I kept mine general, focusing on it being an introduction to the business rather than an exhaustive list of every single product because that's what worked best for my products and it meant I could use them at subsequent events if I had any left over. Some people list all their products, product codes, etc. Work out what is best for your products and make sure it's easy and clear to read. Run it past friends/family/colleagues for an honest opinion before you get it printed up.
- Invite retailers and press contacts along. Search your database and invite people who you think may be interested to come and see your products in the flesh.
- Follow up on leads sooner rather than later – whilst you are still fresh in their minds.
- Treat everyone as a potential customer.
- Have your ears and eyes open always – if you get a chance, have a scout around and look at other stands and gather pointers for your next attempt.
As the show progressed, I realised that I had backed the wrong horse. Sure, I made some great contacts, got three orders and learned a lot, but I couldn't help but be really annoyed with myself for spending so much money on this one event which could have been spent elsewhere. Would I do this show again? No, probably not. The customers were not looking for me - I was not Scottish enough for them and I definitely got the impression that I was ahead of my time for many of them. A few years have passed since this show, so it’s definitely time to attend as a visitor this year and see how it has progressed, if at all. This year, I’ve already scouted Top Drawer and I’m off to Home & Gift in Harrogate to check that out, too.
Good luck if you’re thinking of taking the plunge!
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