Do Buyers need Summer Trade Shows?

Have you seen the countdowns to Christmas doing the rounds on Facebook this week? (Just 22 weekends apparently?!) Thinking about Christmas during June, July and August isn't everyone's cup of tea - but today this blog looks at what influences the timing of trade shows and what 7 things influence a buyer's decision to attend (including 'last minute' top ups for Christmas/Spring stock)...

Every year, we independent retailers finish Christmas, breathe a sigh of relief and within the first few weeks of January most of us are travelling round the country to trade fairs. There seems to be a view that the spring fairs are the most important shows of the year because as buyers we are selecting products for the new year. This may have been the case once but I expect for many of us we have bought most of our spring products in the autumn of the previous year and the spring fairs allow us to find our products for the summer, autumn and Christmas - or find new suppliers and products that may be useful sometime in the future. 

The reality is that different types of retailers have very different buying cycles these days. The amount of planning done by larger retailers and the fact that huge quantities of stock is now bought in from the Far East and Asia means they are planning 12-18 months ahead. So the timing of UK fairs for product sourcing can be fairly irrelevant as they are used as venues for meetings, finding new suppliers for the future, trends and last minute top ups. Even for products they will be intending to source from UK suppliers, they will still be buying a long way ahead because the UK products will need to co-ordinate with the products being imported, and therefore will have been designed and sourced at the same time all those months ago because they will have been bought to fit the space available.

Independent retailers can be more flexible in their timings and while they will often be buying 6 months in advance and planning their space too - if they see a product they feel is relevant for their customers and they have the money they can buy it, they don’t need it signing off in a range planning meeting!!

So with this in mind having trade fairs in the summer is fine but it is unlikely that many buyers will be looking for summer or autumn products unless a supplier has let them down or they need some last minute top ups; most retailers big and small will be looking for products for Christmas or the spring.

As I write this I have just spent 2 days at the Stationery Show which until last year was a once a year event and in honesty being in April and now October isn’t an issue for stationery buyers per se. The timing is more critical to ensure the suppliers and buyers are in the UK and not visiting other industry shows in Frankfurt or the Far East. So when planning shows it is critical that the organisers understand the dynamics of the sector to ensure their target exhibitors and visitors will be available.

From the buyer’s perspective I believe planning a trip to a show is critical and regardless of size no buyer should go to a show unless they believe they are going to find fresh new relevant products for their customers. While it is always good to look at the ranges from your existing suppliers hopefully you already know what their new ranges are because they should have been sending you regular updates and while it is good to see all products in the flesh, for me shows are primarily for finding new suppliers with relevant products for my customers. 

Going to shows is time consuming and expensive so there has to be a good reason to justify taking the time out. Once I have looked at potential new suppliers then I will go and see my existing suppliers knowing that if I don’t see them at the show I can get in touch afterwards and I already have an understanding of the quality of products they offer.

Here are seven questions that I ask myself that influence my decision to attend any show at any time of year:

  1. Are there a sufficient number of the type of exhibitor that would suit my outlet at the show? 
  2. How many of these are new suppliers that I haven’t done business with before?
  3. Is there an area for exhibitors who are new to the industry or haven’t done a show before?
  4. Do I still need new products for any of my ranges due to launch in the next 6 months? 
  5. Have I got the GREAT new products I need to feature in my windows to get customers to come into the shop? 
  6. Are any of my current orders being delivered short or now not available, so I now have gaps to fill? 
  7. Are there any useful seminars on offer?

If in answering these questions I can see that there is a need to go to a show then I will plan accordingly, making sure I know what I need to find (so I make good use of my time) and how much money I have available to spend (to buy the new stock).

So as a buyer I think the timing of UK trade fairs is less relevant to my buying decisions now than it was 20 years ago - not because I am buying a lot direct from the Far East but rather that my suppliers are, and this has impacted on their planning cycles which are now geared around the shows in other parts of the world. It is these foreign shows that are dictating when decisions are taken, when new products will be available here and if the relevant exhibitors and buyers will be in the UK to attend our own UK shows - because if some of the key players are not here the shows themselves will suffer...

While you contemplate this blog, and whether you'll be attending any UK trade shows in the coming months - I hope you'll also be enjoying this unusual British summer!