How to find and prepare for a Tradeshow:
Interview with Owner Tracey Viera of Cute-ture
Your name: Tracey Vieira
Company Name and website: Cute-ture Inc
We launched in: Cute-ture was launched at the end of 2006 and started out as a small company with one product that came in six colors. I didn’t know anything about having a business at that stage, but I loved the product and jumped in before I had time to “think” myself out of it.
What do you sell: Cute-ture sells luxurious products for babies from around the world. We started as a wholesale company, selling to stores, but eventually we couldn’t ignore the friends and family that wanted to buy from us, and launched our online store as well.
What is the inspiration behind your company? Cute-ture was a concept I had dreamed about for many years particularly when I found myself unhappy in other jobs. I would go out and buy a journal and brainstorm my dream business. I would write down everything I wanted including the sort of boss I wanted to be (that is not the kind I was unhappy under), what my store would look like, and what mattered in my personal life that my business would support. The dream came alive, when I was working at the Australia trade office in Los Angeles and one of the export specialists walked into my office to show me a sheepskin teddy bear that he thought I could use as a gift for some of the celebrities I worked with as the Film Commissioner for Australia. Two weeks later I was in Sydney and met the two girls who designed the FLATOUTbear and a month later I was a business owner. It quickly became apparent that luxury children’s products from around the world were looking for a way into the USA and my company opened that door for them.
How many Tradeshows do you do in a year? At the moment, we are doing fours shows a year but I have done up to 12 shows in a year which is crazy but was necessary early on to get stores familiar with our products. As I was importing products that had no foundation in the USA, I was not only their importer but their marketing arm, the publicist and the wholesaler. I have been able to learn from each show and narrow down which one’s are best for our market. The interesting thing with Tradeshows in the USA is that there is a ridiculous amount of them, which leaves buyers thin on the ground at every show. In Australia for the gift market, there are TWO major shows a year – and that is it. That means, when you are exhibiting at the show, you get buyers from the whole country showing up in large numbers and your orders are extraordinary. I think there are too many shows and my advice would be to travel to the shows, before you spend your many taking a booth at one and really assess if the buyers are real buyers and spending money – and if so with who.
Where are they located? I have done shows everywhere – Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta and New York but our best shows by far have been in New York. I am based in Los Angeles, but find I get more California buyers in New York then I do at a show in Los Angeles. As a result almost all our shows that we now participate in are in New York. For some reason, buyers feel like if it is coming out of NYC it has better value than if they buy anywhere else.
How do you find out about different Tradeshows? I started out sharing space with other vendors and then asked a lot of questions. I have tried shows based on receiving marketing materials from shows, but truly have found the best way to find out about shows is to ask other wholesalers about them and to look at what my competition (or the companies I aspire to be like) attend.
Is it hard to get into one? It can be hard to get into shows but in this market, it has gotten much easier. When I first started, it took more than a year to get off the wait list for the New York Gift Fair but most of the other shows we have done, we have applied early and gotten straight in. That said, its not just getting into the show that matters, but being in a great location! That is why I suggest visiting a show before signing up. Know where you need to be and then target that location – call and ask for it – beg for it and be clear. Tradeshow organizers need your money and you need to find buyers to return, so know ahead of applying where you need to be.
How do you prepare for a Tradeshow? Given we have done some many tradeshows now, I have learnt so much about preparing for each show. Not only, do we have to prepare our product and figure out the best way to ship it to the venue for minimal cost, we also need to prepare how the booth looks to make sure our product stands out. Our product is apparel and toys so we use UPS to ship and also take a suitcase each (for all staff) filled with product. In the past I have had a custom designed booth made to ship to each show, but the freight alone was over $1000 each direction so I ended up just using this for our showroom. We then rented through show suppliers but that was also very costly and while it seemed convenient, I often found myself at shows, waiting for the supplier to show up so that they could set up the infrastructure so that we could get our product up. The final straw for that method, was when I spent 8 hours waiting for them, only for the suppliers to set up the framework at 5.00pm meaning I was there all night setting up only to be exhausted on opening day of the show. We now go to places like Kmart, Home Depot and Ikea in the city we are showing and buy easy to install pieces and put them up ourselves and walk away from them at the end of the show. We set ridiculous budgets like $300 to design the booth and make it happen – and in fact have won awards for our booth design (we don’t usually admit how little we spend).
How do you get buyers to your booth? I always invest in tools that communicate to our target clientele. We ensure our existing customers that we will be at the shows through methods such as Constant Contact, postcard mail outs and direct calls, but also use the same methods to let our ‘potential’ clients know that we will be at the show. I advertise in the trade magazines leading up to the shows to communicate where we will be and how to find us.
How much money do you need to make to be worth participating? I don’t know if there is an easy answer about how much money you should be making before participating in a tradeshow. What I would say is that they are expensive but they are an investment. Don’t go to a show and expect to make money. The show is like advertising – it tells people who you are and that you have product, but until they are familiar with you or trust your product, they may be reluctant to buy. If you are ready to invest in a tradeshow, make sure you have done your research about what show is right for you and make sure you have been to the show and talked to other vendors about their experiences. When you do commit, take the time to contact buyers and your existing clients and let them know you are going to be at the show and how they can find you – even better – set appointments to show your product.
How much do the shows cost? Depending on how much space you take at a tradeshow, and the quality of the show and its reputation, a booth can cost you between $2500 and $30,000. On average I spend between $4500 and $6000 on my booth space per show. Then you need to add the costs of travel, accommodation, meals, transport, freight, marketing (mail outs, advertising) and your booth infrastructure. This quickly adds up and can mean that my $4500 booth is a real cost per show of $12000. This is why I say it’s an investment. For Cute-ture to make that much in profit at a show, we would need to sells $30,000 plus in product.
Is a Tradeshow a good place to get press for your company? I have been extremely fortunate that during tradeshows, I have met some incredible stylists that love my products and now call me monthly for samples for shoots. While they are not buyers, they are as integral to my business as a buyer and I give them as much love. Also, if I am in New York for a show, I make the time to catch up with the magazines and editors that are based there and take product to show them.
How do you know if you should be doing Tradeshows? Should you be doing tradeshows – maybe! If you have a product and you have found a show where buyers go looking for that product – then absolutely. If are still unsure, ask your buyers if they attend shows and if so what one’s. Don’t waste money at a show that potential buyers are not going on. Do your research!
What advice do you have for first time attendees? My advice for first time attendee’s is to have realistic expectations and do the work before you arrive at the show. There is nothing more frustrating that having a booth that no one stops at so make sure you have some appointments set up. Buyers are like all of us, if something looks busy and exciting they want to see what it is. If you have an empty booth and the world’s best product, it may still be hard to get anyone in. If you don’t have any appointments, make your friends stop buy and pretend to shop – practice writing orders with them as they select what they will have!! Don’t waste money on unnecessary items and set up – you are there to make money so don’t waste it on your first show over investing in setup and no matter what learn and enjoy the process. Finally – collect cards of ALL prospective buyers and follow up. The majority of my show business is done after the show – don’t wait for their call – FOLLOW UP.
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