As the founder of a wholesale business that also runs a small retail space, Dot & Lil Bath and Body founder Anne Dardick has exhibited and bought at dozens of trade shows across the USA and Canada since 2008. These days, Dot & Lil mainly exhibits with their heirloom-inspired bath products line instead of attending trade shows as a buyer.
Below, Anne shares 6 expert tips learned over years buying and selling in the gift industry, to make your wholesale buying trip as pleasant and efficient as possible. Saving you time and making you money! Bonus tip: bring two pairs of sensible shoes, and alternate which you wear each show day--the switching reduces fatigue & foot pain from walking the show floor!
6 WHOLESALE BUYER TIPS FOR YOUR RETAIL STORE AT TRADE SHOWS
#1 PRIORITIZE SHOW SECTIONS
With very large trade shows, you definitely do not need to walk every section, and in fact trying to do so is a great way to get tired and overwhelmed and leave the show without buying the things you came for. The BEST trade show buying tip is for before you even leave for the show: know exactly what categories are important for you. Sit down and figure out which categories you sold the most of in the last 12 months, and which categories you had the highest profit margin in. Your top 3-5 categories are your priority categories, everything else is secondary.
# 2 BEST DAYS + TIMES TO WALK THE SHOW
When is the best time to visit? If it’s planned right, most buyers do not need to attend more than two days of the show. This will save you money and time on travel and hotels, and spares your feet from needless days of walking the show fl oor! If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, do not arrive at the show for opening on the first day.
My favourite walking schedule is to start just before lunch time (lunch is quiet) on the second day of the show. I then take a break and start again around 3:30 pm, when most other buyers are fading or stopping for the day. Yes that’s right, most buyers are gone for the day as of 3 pm! On my second day (Day 3 of the show), I arrive right when the show opens, with a mapped out walking plan of what I didn’t see the day before. By Day 3, the first 2 hours of the show are usually very quiet.
You want to strike a balance between seeing the best of what’s available and not being there at the peak visiting time, when vendors are often busier and less available to help you. Waiting for service in a booth is wasted time! On the last day of most trade shows, the only thing going on is vendors selling samples to other vendors, or people who want cash and carry. Most serious buyers prefer to avoid the last day! You want to make sure vendors take you seriously, so trying to negotiate wiithin 5 minutes of show closing is not a good strategy!
#3 WHEN TO WRITE ORDERS
My first day buying at a trade show I start with a methodical walk-through of my priority sections where I ask questions and get information. I end my first day with visits to existing vendors I know I absolutely want to reorder from. That night, I go over my notes and catalogs to decide which new vendors in my priority sections I want to order from. On my second day, I go back and write orders with the vendors I chose the night before--this is the bulk of what I buy at the show. When that’s done I move on to walking through other sections that interest me, where I prefer to write orders as I go along--I do not walk through these less important sections twice, so placing orders as I go is best. In these lower-priority sections, if I am unsure or can’t make up my mind, I don’t stick around to figure it out--I take information and move on. No use wasting precious show time on categories that are not central for you!
#4 SHOPPING LIST + OPEN-TO-BUY
Asides from determining your priority categories (see tip #1), you will want to know what trends and products are can’t-miss for you, and when you want those things to land on your doorstep. Trade shows are so full of new things to see, it’s easy to walk away with tons of new stuff but none of the things you need--most small retailers overbuy at trade shows, and most do not pay enough attention to order timing. You may want to set yourself a specific open-to-buy amount for each quarter, at least for your key categories. Make a shortlist of the products and trends you absolutely want in-store, and make sure to stagger their arrival so that you protect your cash fl ow and don’t end up overstocked. Vendors are very comfortable with future ship dates, just let them know when you want your order to arrive
#5 INFORMATION STICKERS + STAMPS
Want to save tons of time when you’re writing orders? Print out Avery stickers on your printer that have your store’s shipping address, billing address and the name and contact information for the person who handles incoming orders at your store. This way you avoid spending 10 minutes at each booth filling out identical information, you can just peel and stick. Vendors love this, and it’s often more affordable even than printing business cards. Some buyers use these to leave follow-up contact information with vendors, even if they are not placing an order. I have also seen some buyers use a self-inking stamp so that they can stamp their information directly onto order forms. I also suggest avoiding having to spend tons of time playing phone tag later, by giving the vendor your payment information right in the booth when you order-just don’t print this part on your sticker or stamp!
#6 CATALOGS + NOT-SO-SECRET CARD STORAGE
Buyers walk trade shows with heavy bags of catalogs and sales materials. Some use a rolling case, but I hate being weighed down with so much stuff, rolling or otherwise! I ask vendors to email me PDF catalogs and line sheets, and many do so on the spot. I take paper catalogs only if I believe it will help me at the show --if I want it for later, I ask them if they can mail it, and most vendors are happy to oblige. I also pack a mini-stapler in my purse, and staple business cards of lines I like directly into my notebook. I take product notes right on the page, and note their booth number so I can come back to write an order.
It’s a waste of time, energy and paper to ask for a catalog, either at the show or mailed, unless you will truly use it! You should see the thousands of catalogs that get thrown out in convention center trash bins. Most vendors ask for a business card before handing out pricing, which is only fair if you want their wholesale information. Tired of struggling in the bottom of your purse for cards when vendors ask? I long ago discovered the not-so-secret storage tip that the clear plastic ID badge holders at most trade shows are the perfect size for stuffing a few business cards in--this way they are always hanging around your neck when you need them!
Dot & Lil is a wholesale line of bath products, carefully designed and crafted in our Montréal studio. Our products celebrate the beauty of simplicity and tradition, and the special world of fl owers. We also design and make a line of men’s goods, our brother brand Clark & James Grooming Co.