La Costa, CA—What exactly is the purpose of attending a tradeshow? Is it to fraternize with others from the industry, exchanging pleasantries and business updates or seeing old friends and reconnecting for that once-a-year reunion? Possibly an opportunity to get away from the store for a mini-vacation and calling it work? Or is it to capitalize on a three to five day period to change the direction of your business to make it more successful and increase profits in the upcoming year? Let’s hope it’s the last reason.
The upcoming tradeshows are an opportunity for you to change the makeup of your merchandise mix and potentially point your business and sales in a new and more profitable direction. Below are a few key guides to make your time at the show more productive than ever:
First, go with a plan. It’s amazing how many retailers attend shows with their prep being no more extensive than the purchase of an airline ticket and booking their hotel. As with anything else, if you genuinely want to accomplish something, you need a plan. Determine what yours is and work each show accordingly.
Examine your current merchandising mix to determine weaknesses and holes. Have you refilled all your fast sellers? This is not necessary to do at the show, it should be done well in advance so your time at the show is predominately spent with new manufacturers.
Your plan should have two parts: one for your goals and one for your timetable.
1. Identify opportunities for growth in particular areas of your business. For example, do you need more fashion? If your gold mix dropped yet your fourth quarter sales were up in this area perhaps you need to grow this merchandise assortment. Make a list of these specific needs to level out and build up your inventory and then stick to it. Don’t be swayed by buying more of what you already have that may not be selling just because you like it. Buy what you really need.
2. Look through the advertising you receive in the upcoming weeks or months and identify lines you might like to review while you are there. Make appointments with these vendors so as to get in and out and stay on schedule.
3. Create a goal sheet for each meeting of what merchandise you want to look at as well as price points you wanted to hit and questions for the vendor such as advertising materials, co-op opportunities, return policies and stock balancing.
1. Don’t make appointments with your regular vendors unless there is a compelling reason to do so. You already have relationships with them and reviewing their entire line is not a good use of your time. Scheduling appointments an hour apart with vendors you are already working with becomes stressful on everyone involved. The trade shows are huge and you must use your time wisely. Look for new relationships and foster the ones you already have from home.
2. Schedule each appointment with a start and end time then keep the length of the scheduled meeting to the agreed upon time. Schedule your appointments two hours apart and use the between time to look at new lines and be sure you are on time to the next appointment. You will accomplish more and your vendors will thank you for being on time.
3. Allow plenty of time for new vendors. You have important relationships that need to be maintained with about a dozen manufacturers. Most of these vendors come to see you or you talk to them on a regular basis – enough to be sure your fast selling merchandise is being replenished. The most important reason to be at the show is to develop new relationships. Make time to do so. If you find a line you like and it fits into your predeveloped plan of merchandise needs, you now have the time to sit down and conduct a well thought out meeting instead of making a rash decision which really isn’t the product that you need.
Review your accomplishments and goals with your team each afternoon and regroup when necessary. If you are working with a team from your store and they have set out with individualized goals then this is critical, but even if it’s two of you, regroup at the end of each day. Have your “to-do” list and check off those accomplishments and add what you didn’t do to the top of the next day’s list.
Stick to your financial plan. Critical to any business is cash flow. Key elements of every cash flow are, first, your sales goal and therefore merchandise purchases. Retailers should go into every trade show with a detailed open-to-buy. Your open-to-buy should be reflective of the first list that you made when you examined your merchandise mix and assortment. Of your total open-to-buy you should have a budget consistent with your needs based on how much money you will spend in each area.
If you determined before the show that you needed fashion and gold but ended up purchasing a diamond wallet, you didn’t get what you needed most and you probably overspent. Neither are good outcomes.
Review and recap with staff when you arrive back in your store. Someone should be back at the store running things while you are at the show. Take the time when you return to tell your staff about your experience. It’s great for morale to include the staff and it’s great for sales when they see your excitement about the new product that is coming in. (Play off of your enthusiasm to ignite them and they will be excited about the product when it comes in and enthusiastically show it to customers). This will increase your sales more than them being surprised by what’s in the boxes when they hit.
The rapidly changing retail environment we are in makes planning more important than ever. You can make this year an opportunity to reshape and grow your merchandise mix and sales by utilizing your time at the tradeshows well. Go with a plan, stick to it and reap the rewards of a successful year.