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Trade shows - Are they worth it for small businesses?


Since I started selling my cards wholesale, I have had a number of people in the industry approach me through social media asking how I made the jump from primarily a B2C businesses, to a B2B one. Whilst it's hard to attribute my success as a wholesale business to any one event, there are a couple of things that really stood out as 'game-changing' events for me.


The first was my attendance at the Greetings Card Association's 'Speed Dating with Dragons' event in 2018, following my subscription to the organisation (one that I have not regretted for a second!). I was encouraged by a fellow publisher, Sophie of Pack-a-Punch Designs, to attend the meet-up, which was in its second year running, following the immense success of the first. The aim of the event was offer independent publishers the chance to pitch their card designs to three buyers: a multiple/department store/major online retailer, a small chain and an independent retailer. It was here that I ended up being paired with a buyer from one of my all time favourite stores, Oliver Bonas (who have since gone on to be one of my major accounts), but the real take-away from the session was that going wholesale no longer felt so unachievable. (I'll be writing a blog post on the Speed Dating with Dragons event at a later date, so watch this space!)


Many of the retailers I met with, both through the speed dating sessions and also through casual conversations afterwards, encouraged me to sign up to PG Live, a greetings card-only trade show that would be held a couple of months later. High on the success of the speed dating, I agreed to take a last-minute stand at the show (and later went into meltdown over the enormity of what I had taken on with only two-months until opening day and absolutely no experience of trade shows).


I roped in the support of my (now) husband, joined a Facebook group for newbies at the show, and through myself into designing my stand, manically formatting catalogues and panicking over logistics. How would I mount my cards? How many catalogues should I take? Will I get any orders? Will it be worth the cost? There were so many unknowns, and I would have most certainly backed out had I not had to pay the entire cost of the show upfront, due to being such a latecomer. Falling short of just under a £1000 all-in for a small, 2 x 1 metre stand, the show had pretty much wiped-out my profits from that year.


When June finally came around, I was beside myself with worry, but I had made it to London, successfully dressed my stand, and was ready for day one...


The first buyer who came to my stand completely threw me. My husband had left me to get himself some breakfast and I was manning the stand on my own. Looking back, she asked me some pretty basic questions, but because I was so blind-sided I forgot all that I had rehearsed. Needless to say, I didn't land the account, but it was a small blip in an otherwise very successful show. I had spoken to many people who had done trade shows in the past who told me that securing orders at your first show was rare, and that people only bought from publishers they had seen at trade shows consistently over a few years, but I didn't find this to be true at all. By the end of the show, I had taken over ten orders and was completely buzzed - I had well and truly caught the trade show bug. The orders themselves didn't cover the cost of the show, but over time, the accounts I picked up have more than paid for themselves. It was a huge initial investment, but was worth more than its weight in gold. A month later, I had already signed up to do Top Drawer 2019, held in January the following year.


PG Live was a great experience for me. By the end of the show, my confidence had sky-rocketed, and I finally accepted that I really could 'do' wholesale. Not only that, but I met so many incredibly talented, friendly and supportive people. You'll hear this a lot if you are in the industry, but the people really are SUPER friendly. Whilst it's a competitive market, it doesn't seem like it at all. People are so willing to offer their advice without even thinking twice; everyone wants to help each other. That is one of the best parts of this industry.


Trade shows aren't for everyone. A couple of the girls I met have since decided that the cost simply wasn't worth it for them and they'd rather stay focussed on selling direct to customers through online platforms. I suppose it is different for everyone. I never really had the success that others had selling direct to customers online and found the investment in having stock constantly available with no idea whether it was going to sell quite hard to manage, but things are changing now and I now sell through my website and have just recently re-opened my Etsy store in time for Christmas.


But when people ask me, 'Are trade shows really worth it?', I reply, 'Yes. 100%'. Every time.


#greetingscards #illustration #independentbusiness #shoplocal #supportindependent #justacard #birthdaycards #tradeshows #pglive #progressivegreetings #theGCA #wholesale

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