Have you got the competitive edge? A view on exhibitions

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With the economic outlook somewhat curious for UK retail and a selection of high street mainstays falling by the wayside, there is one thing that hasn’t changed in British shopping landscape - brands of all sizes are all still competing for consumers attention, and those same retailers are always on the hunt for the “next big thing!”

The British retail market is full of questions but, “How can we give ourselves a competitive edge?” is one that’d is likely to be high on any business plan.  But how can you gain that ‘edge’ for your products to be seen by the right people at the right time?

I often get asked by suppliers and manufacturers if they should be exhibiting at trade shows and my answer is nearly always ‘yes’, but my reasons will vary.

With budgets at a low, costs at a high and businesses wanting to cut expenditure, I accept that exhibiting is expensive both for the stand, your time away from the office and travel and hotel costs but, if you are exhibiting at the right shows with the right attendees and strong messaging, you will recoup your costs and will almost certainly do better than if you hadn’t exhibited.

A negative you’ll often hear from exhibitors is that they receive very few orders at a show and, in my experience, that is not a surprise.

Buyers from larger businesses are rarely empowered to make unilateral decisions about which products will be bought or how many they need on the spot. Even owners of smaller businesses will want to take time after the show to study their options, quantities and risk to ensure they are making a confident and correct decision.

For me, the measure of a successful show is much more than just order forms – it is about the quality of the new contacts you make and about having positive and extremely valuable conversations with new retailers on your target list. If you are not at the trade show, how will these retailers get to see your products? How will they even know you exist? Can you risk your competitors stealing their attention?

Ultimately, it’s about being in front of the right eyes, at the right time whilst their head space is focussed on your market.

But, being at the ‘right’ fairs is critical! If time is money, why waste both by setting yourself up at a show that your target retailers aren’t attending?

That target list can be easily formed too.

If you are clear about the type of consumer who will want to buy your products, you will also have a view on their shopping habits. You’ll know what type of retailer they will be shopping in, whether they attend physical stores or shop online, your consumers price points and other brands they connect with.

This will influence the trade fairs you should be a part of because each show has a set of target retail visitors they are trying to attract.

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n the last ten years, we have seen the rise of specialist shows like The Stationery Show London and PG Live. Shows with a clear focus attract a very specific type of retailer who know exactly what they are looking for in terms of products in that sector. This makes the shows extremely very effective for exhibitors and buyers alike.

But just being at a show is not enough, you must take full advantage of being there or it will be a wasted opportunity. So how do you get the most out of a show?

  • The stand and how you use it is critical, you need a good location, thoughtful use of space, eye catching displays and remember that ‘less is more’.

  • Make sure the team on the stand are ready to engage, product trained and look inviting. A smile is free!

  • Have your product samples available to the buyers to pick up, touch and feel. Let retailers get hands on.

  • Take part in any awards. Industry awards are often judged by buyers, so entering just one award will increase your visibility.

  • Be Prepared! There’s plenty of twists and turns in exhibitions, but prior planning prevents poor performance.

That last top tip is vital.

Always prepare before you go to a show and understand the type of products that the sector is currently after and how your business slots into the marketplace. Buyers will often find it difficult to cover all the areas of the show, so ensure that your stand is their priority.

For exhibitors and show visitors making sure you are at the right shows means that you are in the best possible chance of gaining a competitive edge over your competitors. I would argue that if it is a show that is relevant to your sector and your market positioning - you cannot afford not to be there!!

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Any further advice you need, please get in touch via my email henri_davis@blueyonder.co.uk.

I will be on hand at LSS across the two days and will be able to talk to you about any of my above points, whilst helping you focus any future business efforts.

You can see me talk about future proofing your business on 2nd May at The Giftware Association Offices in Birmingham. Find out more and book your place here .

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