It’s been said that in life, timing is everything.
And nowhere is this truer than in the product business.
And when it comes to this business, here’s another truth: you may have the greatest product in the world, but if you try to sell it at the wrong time, you’ll struggle to make money.
Fortunately, there’s a very easy way find out when you should be selling… and when you shouldn’t.
Follow the seasonal trade shows.
Throughout the year, hungry buyers flock to these trade shows, looking for the next best thing to add to their seasonal inventories.
In this post, I’m going to show you my easy-to-follow formula for scoring big at trade shows.
You’ll learn how to make sure your line is designed, manufactured (or at least at the sample stage) and ready to sell – so that when trade show season comes around, you’ll be ready to grab all the money that’s sitting on the table… before anyone else does.
The Buying Bazaar
Welcome to Shangri-La.
The place where eager buyers come, ready to snap up products to fill the shelves of their bountiful stores…
Yes, I’m talking about trade shows. If you’ve never seen a feeding frenzy firsthand, this is it.
And this is good news, because for you, trade shows are the ultimate selling opportunity. They provide you with a willing – and able – audience of buyers, all armed with long wishlists and large checkbooks.
But beneath the hustle, bustle, glitz and glam of trade show lies a carefully choreographed schedule of advanced buying and seasonal planning.
Understanding this dynamic is the key to your success.
Understanding the Buying Cycle
Have you ever sat down and really taken a look at when buyers buy? If you have, you’ll notice one thing right off the bat: it’s NOT when consumers are buying.
When a consumer wants something, she either hops online or goes to her favorite store and picks it up. But for buyers, it’s not quite that simple…
Because products take time to design, manufacture and ship, buyers must allow for a few months’ lead time when they place their orders. As a result, they order a season’s worth of goods months in advance.
For example, orders for the spring season are placed between September and January. Orders for the fall are placed around May. (This differs depending on the category of product, but you get the point…)
And like the seasons themselves, these cycles repeat year after year.
Most importantly, buyers must follow these cycles, because if they don’t, they risk not allowing enough time for products to be manufactured and shipped to their stores.
Coordination is Key
For you, the implications are clear. You must coordinate the creation and launch of your product lines with these advance buying cycles.
When I first started my handbag line, I was completely unaware of this. Every season, I went into panic mode, frantically trying to prepare my line for the trade shows.
The results were predictable. My collections showed poorly and I looked unprepared and uncreative in front of buyers. These mistakes cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales.
And this, of course, only made me panic even more 🙁
But once I discovered that these buying cycles existed, it was as if I’d unlocked a secret vault, because suddenly, doors around the country began opening up for me.
And it wasn’t long before my business took off…
The Secret of Successful Designers
There’s a reason that established designers are established. It’s because they’re always prepared. And as a result, they’re able to consistently close sales.
Successful businesses make things easy on themselves. They know when the buyers are ready to buy. And they plan far in advance to be ready to pounce on these critical moments.
And they do this in the most low-tech way imaginable…
They buy a calendar.
Every successful product business I know of keeps detailed calendars which show them when they need to start planning, designing, manufacturing, marketing and shipping their product lines. Nothing is left to chance.
If you want to be successful, then you must do what successful people do.
And the best part is that it’s actually really easy. Here’s how:
Step 1: Find the Relevant Trade Shows
To begin, you’ve got to find the trade shows that are relevant to your product category.
To give you a head start, I’ve listed a number of them below. But if you don’t find one that fits your product, just Google it.
Search for [your product category] + “tradeshows” or [your product category] + “expos”.
For example, if you sell handbags, you’d Google “handbag tradeshows” or “handbag expos”
Tradeshows to consider
http://www.nyigf.com – New York Gift Show
http://www.enkshows.com – Fashion/accessory/ jewelry/shoe/baby shows
http://www.theabcshow.com – Kids show in Las Vegas
http://www.ja-newyork.com – Jewelry only
http://www.designersandagents.com – Boutique show for emerging designers
http://globalpetexpo.org – Largest pet expo
http://www.expowest.com – Natural Products Expo
http://www.ibslasvegas.com – Beauty Expo
Write down the dates
Once you find the dates for the relevant trade shows, write them down!
It is around these dates when your buyers are conditioned to purchase products for the season for which the show is being held.
If you are not sure which season the show is related to, CALL the show and ask what season the exhibitors are showing.
Shhh… here’s a sneaky little trick…
Guess what? Once you find these trade show dates, you’ll you know when your buyers are buying – regardless of whether it’s at the show or not. Buyers don’t only buy at the shows. But they do only buy at these times of year.
This means that you must be offering your line at the same time REGARDLESS of whether or not you are attending the trade show.
Don’t waste your time trying to sell to buyers outside of their natural buying season. And don’t miss out on the times when they are buying. There’s a finite amount of dollars available… don’t let anyone else grab yours.
Step 2: Create Your Calendar
Once you have the trade show dates, buy a big wall calendar.
Yes, I know that computers make things easy, but trust me: a physical calendar is FAR more effective in keeping track of your planning schedule.
I personally like to display three distinct 3-month periods at a time. This allows me to both plan for the short-term and anticipate the longer term.
Next, fill in all the trade show dates for this calendar year, along with the season each trade show is selling.
Step 3: Plan Backwards
Want to know the easiest way to get somewhere?
Figure out where you’re going before you start.
I always plan backwards, starting with the date of the show and working my way back in time, through my entire marketing, sales, production and design stages.
This will allow you to figure out how long each part will take you to get to the finished product – so that you can not only do it with ease but also KNOW that it will be completed on time 🙂
For some of you, this might be a 4-week process, and for others, it may be a 6 month process. It depends on where, when and how you produce your line.
If you use a manufacturer, be sure to ask them about dates for manufacturing time and delivery so you can add that into your process as well.
Step 4: Before You Start Your “Backwards” Plan
Before you write your detailed, plan, here’s a list of “tasks” that go into designing and creating a new collection.
Researching your designs – trends, seasonal items, colors etc.
Create the collection
Ordering the raw materials (perhaps just for samples)
Make the samples (you or a manufacturer?) If overseas, then accounting for the manufacturing time and delivery
Possibly manufacturing the production run if the sales period is close to the delivery dates
Take still photos – I advise to take all photos on white backgrounds as it gives you more opportunity with the media later on. (More on that later).
Take lifestyle photos if it enhances your brand
Writing the descriptions of each product
Creating style numbers
Pricing each product correctly
Getting it up on your website
Marketing your new line to stores via email
Sales calls, follow up
Step 5: Creating Your Plan
There’s an old saying I LOVE… “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.”
Planning really is one of the cornerstones of success, so let’s get to it!
Now… don’t freak out about this list! My guess is that you’re probably already taking most of these steps below, but you may not be looking at them quite this way.
Before I started using this planning method, I actually WAS freaking out – and with good reason. I was totally disorganized and pretty much in a constant state of panic.
So trust me.. a little planning goes a LONG way.
The example below shows one my calendars leading up to a July product delivery, from a May trade show, for the fall selling season:
Start Email Campaigns to Online Shoppers
Start Email Campaigns to Stores
Tradeshow Showing Fall – Deliver to Stores 7/31
Create Email Campaigns to Stores
Follow Up With Stores From Trade show (via phone and email)
Photoshoot (first week)
Post Products to Website
Ship Bags to Show 2 Weeks Ahead
Ship Bags to Showrooms and Sales Reps 2 Weeks Ahead
Double Check COGS
Order Multiple Sets of Samples
Write Product Descriptions
Start Leather Bag Samples
Create first Draft Of Line-sheet
Create Style Numbers
Start Fabric Bag Samples
Visit Fabric Show
Once you have created your own list, go ahead and enter it into your wall calendar and put reminders in your phone so you don’t miss a step!
Here’s to a year with no freakout……
Like what you read? Ready to step up your own game?
Book a strategy session with me and let’s see how I can help.
You are so welcome Kylie.
This is great! Thanks for sharing!
Hope it helps you plan for success in 2015.
This is amazing and detailed information, Sarah!! Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience with us!!
My pleasure Ellen.
What a great post Sarah! I spent all afternoon mapping out each month in reverse and now for the first time I have a master plan!
You are so welcome Sara! Master plans rock!
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thankyou thankyou thankyou xoxo