For emerging fashion brands, trade shows can often be intimidating territory. It is easy to feel lost among booth after booth of impressive showings, massive convention centers, and — for better or for worse — important figures everywhere. You’ve probably heard of the iconic trade shows, like Las Vegas’s Magic or MICAM Milano, but what can a trade show actually do for your business? And why should you be taking part in one (or many)?
During the rush of the Coterie: Destination show in Miami this summer, I sat down with seasoned trade show organizer and President of Informa Markets Fashion, Kelly Helfman, to dig into how entrepreneurs can best navigate trade shows as an emerging brand. Here’s what I came away with:
First, Go to a Trade Show as a Guest
Before bringing your company to the show floor, Kelly notes that she “actually love[s] the idea of them coming to walk it first, to just see it, understand it, and make sure they're fully prepared.”
I find this to be very sound advice. Immersing myself in the trade show experience prior to my brand’s first appearance helped me develop a clear image of what success would look like for my own business, Emilia George. For example, by visiting as a guest, I realized how important for a vendor to be proactive and can clearly articulate their brand and products.
Remember: Trade Shows Love New Brands
When I was entering the trade show space, I had the conception that newer brands may be passed over for larger, more established brands who are regulars in the trade show ring. Kelly feels that this fear is unfounded, remarking:
“Our buyers, the number one reason they say that they come to our shows is to discover new. So we love the new brands.”
For entrepreneurs considering their first trade show, this is great news! While the trade show scene may feel difficult to break into, knowing that these events are looking for up-and-coming brands to feature in their lineups should boost your confidence as you dive into the application process.
Use the Trade Show’s Resources
So you have completed the application process and been invited to show at a trade event. Now what?
One of my maintakaways from Kelly’s perspective is this: Trade shows want your brand to succeed at their event. With this truth in mind, many shows offer a variety of resources to help newcomers thrive. Kelly noted that “our sales team [at Coterie] really acts as consultants for [first-time brands] to help them throughout the entire process.” Show representatives are massively helpful in guiding you through the essential steps of preparing for the show, booking appointments, merchandising your booth, and more. Be sure to ask what resources are available for participating businesses during your trade show debut.
Manage Your Expectations
Speaking with Kelly made it clear that new brands can shoot themselves in the foot at their first trade show by putting too much pressure on their performance. The hard truth is that your first show will likely not be a life-altering experience for your brand. In fact, it may take two or three shows for you to get some momentum. When discussing desired outcomes for emerging brands, Kelly gets honest, saying “Listen. Your goal in your first show should be to break even. Second look, you're going to start seeing a lot more profit. And then third one I think absolutely those big box retailers that [you've] been targeting for years will finally come.”