Blue Eyed Sun

Blue Eyed Sun - gorgeous greetings cards

Do Trade Shows Have a Future?

Do Trade Shows Have a Future?

Along with many other areas of our industry, trade shows took a hammering last year. There’s been speculation on some closing down, Pulse has merged into Top Drawer and others are shadows of their former selves.

I’ve personally exhibited at over 100 shows and last year, on the back of a huge surge in interest in eco-friendly products, Blue Eyed Sun was seen with our BambooCups and greeting cards at ten trade shows in total. We had one of our most successful years ever and had several record breaking shows along with an incredible number of enquiries and new accounts. Unfortunately, it’s not been like this for everyone and, for many, the card market has not been without its challenges of late.

The format of trade shows hasn’t been radically disrupted yet. Whilst there have been an increase in Meet the Buyer events organised by associations like the GCA (Greeting Card Association) and the GA (Giftware Association), the niche PG Live show is probably the closest we’ve seen to disruption so far. For all their faults, there are still some things about trade shows that work well, some things that don’t and some that are just plain ugly.

The Good 

There’s no substitute for face to face meetings for retailers to get a sense of a supplier and vice versa. A place where you can get your hands on the products and feel the quality of them. This has proved especially true for our launch of BambooCup, which feels so good to the touch. It’s always been true for our greeting cards too, which look way better in the flesh than in a brochure or online. 

There’s also something very efficient about being able see lots of great product from a huge variety of suppliers in one place over one short period of time. Its useful for buyers and suppliers to be reassured that the people they are about to do business with are credible. You can get a lot of this through the subtle nuances of the behaviour of the people on the stand, how the products are displayed and how well it is attended by other buyers. If a company cares, it shows at shows.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that just being at shows is a big part of showing the marketplace how much suppliers care about their business, the industry and their customers. We all know what a lot of effort and expense they are and there’s a certain sense of commitment you get when you see publishers and suppliers regularly attending trade shows. Shows are also great for following trends, learning about the marketplace and networking in general.

What I love most about shows is the chance to see lots of reactions in one go. To have hundreds of conversations about what we do well and what we do badly. This is hugely valuable marketing information that helps us get a sense of where to adapt and improve going forward. With the best agents and reps in the world you don’t always get the full picture without shows.

It’s obviously incredibly exciting when you get it right and can feel completely demoralising when you get it wrong. That’s business for all of us thought, right? We don’t always get it right, but shows do make it easier to give us a better idea of what is going to work and what isn’t, whether we are suppliers or retailers.

The Bad

For retailers there’s lots of walking with many miles to cover, especially at large shows. For suppliers, there’s lots of standing, which can also be hard on the legs. It’s tough being in a quiet spot of a show or on a small stand that might get missed. If you’re an established player, it’s hard when retailers skip out on your stand to find new suppliers as they feel they can catch up with you or your sales agent another time.

It’s also bad when your marketing doesn’t hit the spot or worse when you don’t market at all and rely on the show to bring the business to you. One thing I’ve learnt about doing shows is that they are always improved by a strong combination of direct mail, PR, advertising, calling our customers, social media posts and email marketing.

Similarly for retailers, if you don’t do you homework and hunt through your mail, your emails, your trade mags and show websites you can miss new treasures. You can also miss out if you don’t know your best sellers and make a note of what stock you are low on in store. Being organised prior to visiting shows can make the world of difference to your bottom line.

Then there’s the bad food. To be fair it’s not all shows that suffer from this. I love eating from the Crussh concession at Olympia and the lunch at PG Live is not to be sneezed at. It’s the NEC that still seems to struggle with it’s food offering, despite having tarted its restaurants up in recent times. Eating healthily and well at shows is always a challenge.

The Ugly

Horrible shows are kind of like bad days in a retail store. No one wants them, they sometimes just happen. Since I started exhibiting, we’ve been at shows immediately after 9/11, mad cow and foot and mouth outbreaks, halls being flooded, fires and even snow storms. As one would expect, they were all ugly. You can’t always control the outside world and yet, if you’re not in the game, you can’t expect to win. Like everything in business, you pays your money and takes your chances. That doesn’t stop the experiences being ugly from time to time.

Sometimes it’s not out of your control. It’s just down to the way a market sector works. For example, we’ve never exhibited at Glee before with cards. That’s because most of the good independents go to other shows and a large section of that market is dominated by brokerage. This year, we thought we’d try it as BambooCup had been going very well in garden centres and gift products don’t tend to be brokered. 

The result? My word it was ugly. An absolute stinker (our first time there and our worst ever trade show to date - in a year of record breakers). With hardly any visitors in our aisle we could tell it wasn’t going well on the first day. We tried to see if the organiser would include us in their daily email shot to salvage what we could of the show. No help from them. So two of our team sat it out over four long days doing what they could with what few visitors walked by. Boy do those days seem long when it’s quiet at a show.

Fortunately our horrid experience at Glee was salvaged by our best ever Autumn Fair and a decent enough showing at Top Drawer Autumn (on at the same time).

The Future

If you’re going to do well at shows as a supplier you have to keep developing and launching new product. It’s the number one thing buyers ask for at shows. Everybody is always moving forward. Getting the newness right is a challenge and I think it’s best faced by trying lots of new things.

Which is what Blue Eyed Sun is doing at Spring Fair 2019. We have a new larger stand at the front of Hall 4 where we will be showing off new greeting card ranges, new eco-friendly bamboo products from chic.mic and our exciting new handmade quilling and popup card ranges from Italian sensation Origamo, which include a fantastic range of Disney licensed products. We even have small new ranges of framed prints and table lamps on display.

As for the shows, they have to keep focussed on what buyers and suppliers most need: Introducing high quality suppliers with great innovative product to leading retailers that can bring their new products to the high street. The key is to make sure this is done in as cost effective way for everyone as possible.

As long as it remains important for people to meet in person and for great products, companies and people to meet in person trade shows that have the right offering for their customers will remain in business.

Jeremy will be speaking on the Main Stage at Spring Fair on Sunday 3rd February at 13:15 on the Rise of the Ethical Consumer and adapting to the Growth of the Green Economy.

Click here to find out more about Jeremy's talk at Spring Fair

How to make the most of trade shows

Are trade shows still worth it?

See us at Spring Fair 2019