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A competitive edge

With the New Year comes a busy trade fair season, Henri Davis discusses how trade shows can help retailers and exhibitors get an edge over the competition - if they plan wisely.


often get asked by suppliers and manufacturers if they should be exhibiting at trade shows and my answer is nearly always ‘yes’ but my reasons for saying yes will vary. I completely accept that exhibiting is expensive both for the stand, your time away from your business and the travel and hotel costs. But if you’re exhibiting at the right shows and working really hard before, during and after the show to make sure you are making the most of the opportunity, I do believe that over a period you will recoup your costs and if not, you will almost certainly do better than if you hadn’t exhibited. You will often hear exhibitors comment that they receive very few orders at a show, and I am not surprised by that. Buyers from larger businesses are rarely empowered to make unilateral decisions about which products will be bought or how many they need. Even owners of smaller businesses will often put off placing orders until after the show so they can make sure that they are making the right decision. Being at the ‘right’ fairs is critical, don’t waste your time and money being at a show that your target retailers are not attending. If you are clear about the

type of consumer who will want to buy your products, you will also have a view on the types of retailer they will be shopping with be that instore or online. Each trade fair has a set of target retail buyers they are trying to attract, make sure you are exhibiting at shows visited by the retailers you want to get in front of. In the last 10 years we have seen the rise of specialist shows like The London Stationery Show and PG Live to name just two. The clear focus of these shows attracts a retailer who knows they’re looking for products in that sector; they can be very effective for exhibitors and buyers. Buyers visiting the shows gain competitive advantage too often seeing new products before their competitors. As buyers we like to interact with a product, so seeing it for real is much better than trying to evaluate it on a website. Plus, if you’re working in a new sector or you are trying to find a new supplier far better to visit a show to see the product first hand and have conversations with a potential supplier face to face. For a buyer to get the most out of a show I would suggest that you should walk the show looking specifically at the stands of suppliers you don’t currently do business with because this is where you could find the additional product you are looking for; product from suppliers you already work with is easy to access after the show if you run out of time. Before a show you will receive all sorts of emails

Being at the ‘right’ fairs is critical

from the organisers who offer lots of valuable added extras to enable you to make full use of your time at the show. As small businesses we can’t afford to pay for specialist advice on trends, marketing and social media but there might be a seminar that could be really useful for you. Check the timetable and location to see if it could fit with your plans and maybe use the time to take a break and have a coffee or your lunch as well as listening to some relevant free advice. Don’t forget to look at any awards display areas too, even if the product is not suitable it will often highlight a supplier who has relevant products for you that you have not done business with before. Always prepare before you go to a show, so you know the type of products you need to find. If you’re going to find it difficult to cover all the areas of the show, you need to prioritise the most relevant halls and new suppliers and leave the extra bits to the end if you have time. Whether you are an exhibitor or a visitor making sure you’re at the right shows and that you make the most of the opportunity they offer means that you have the best possible chance of gaining a competitive edge over your competitors. I would argue that if it is a show that is relevant to your sector and your market positioning you can’t afford not to be there!

Henri Davis is an independent retail advisor to businesses in the cards, gifts, stationery and heritage industries, with 35 years of retail experience. She has worked for Habitat, Next, WHSmith and the National Trust and now advises small and medium-sized businesses, including retailers, visitor attractions, manufacturers and suppliers. She is the first retailer deputy chairman of the Giftware Association and the recipient of this year’s Greats Honorary Achievement Award. For more information visit www.henridavis.co.uk.

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Greetings Today January 2020  

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