HERE COMES SUMMER... but is it a good time for a trade fair?

As we head into summer almost regardless of which sector you work in there are still plenty of trade fairs to visit, but is there any point in a retailer visiting shows at this time of year and which retailers are summer trade fairs useful for?

Which retailers visits a show is influenced by the design and price point of the products being shown; products that are very on trend, design led and have higher price points will understandably attract a very different retailer from a trade fair selling volume products that are mass produced. Both have their place and are equally valuable to the different retailer types but as an exhibitor and visitor it is critical to understand that and select your events accordingly.

Exhibitors don’t need me to tell them how expensive it is to attend a show... it’s not just the stand costs but the transport costs of getting your stock there, probably some accommodation charges and the time you and maybe your team will spend on the stand rather than generating sales through other means. Exhibitors have to be sure it is going to be a good use of their time and money so the first thing to be sure of is that their chosen show is going to attract the ‘right sort’ of retailers.

How can an exhibitor understand who the visitors are likely to be?
The starting point should be to review the visitor lists from previous years, then ask current exhibitors you know who they are expecting to be there and then check if the other exhibitors in your sector that you would want to be at a show are going to be there too. If you are not sure then think about whether these visitors are the type of retailers you want to stock your products, whether your retail prices are right for them and if the other products they sell are the sort of things that will look and feel right alongside your products. If not - don't exhibit - and if you are a retailer don't visit as it is not likely to be a good use of your time and money.

Regardless of the type of show you are visiting the number of orders being placed at a show has dropped significantly over the last 10 years. For most exhibitors this doesn’t mean shows are not worth attending but does reflect a change in the way buyers behave. Buyers from large retailers are unlikely to be able to place an order without reference to others in the business. Not only that but they may not be looking to stock the products for several months so they are only on a scouting mission to see what is out in the market and the suppliers to talk to later in the year when they are ready to do that specific piece of range work. When you talk to any buyer, one of the critical questions to ask them is when they are looking to review your range. Understanding this is invaluable for future planning so you know when to call, send samples and follow up.

These days I don't believe exhibitors can measure the success of a show purely by the value of orders taken at the event. Of course, it is great if you take orders and if you cover your costs then brilliant - but a measure of success must include the quality of contacts you make and the information you glean about the market, your competitors and future events.

For me as a buyer trade shows do many jobs: they help me identify trends and new ideas in design and manufacturing technologies; remind me of products and suppliers I have forgotten about who can offer products that are now relevant for me; help me find product at short notice if a supplier has let me down; and if I am starting on a new product area it allows me to begin to understand the various supply options and talk to suppliers about manufacturing processes.

In terms of timing it is almost impossible to have a good time that suits the different types of retailers. Those working for larger businesses are working a long way in advance while those buying for independent retailers can often be more flexible and may be buying stock to go on sale in the next few weeks. As exhibitors, whenever a show is you are going to see a mixture of buyers so it is vital to understand when they intend to buy stock because it is not a forgone conclusion.

As I write this I have been at PG Live this week and as an annual specialist show this is a good example of show timing. It is less likely to be a particularly good time for buyers to buy, with spring seasons over and everyday ranges will now be out in full as selling it is certainly not focussed on Christmas just yet. I would suggest the timing is as much geared around when the exhibitors and buyers will be available to be there given the other relevant fairs for this sector.