You’ve just pounded the pavement of a massive merchandise show. You’ve met countless product vendors, all eager to do business with you. You’ve touched and tasted so many samples your head is swimming. You’re now soaking your swollen feet and pondering the day. What’s the next step?
For me the real work begins when the show is over. I use the trade show primarily for observation and reestablishing vendor relationships. The only orders I place at shows are for samples and vendor catalogs. Commitments of any kind at this stage seem premature — what if I see something better in the next aisle? After I’ve seen everything on the floor and have taken many notes, I need time to process all that I have seen and heard. I find that is best done back at the office, away from the commotion of the show floor.
After I return I conduct my own debriefing: What booths commanded a great deal of attention? What new products did I see again and again offered by different vendors? What themes? What colors? What styles? What delighted me? What might inspire my customers? What trend has kept steady? What appears to be declining?
Next I review my notes and make a round of calls to key vendors to continue my conversations and to tap into their expertise and national perspectives: What were their product successes? Surprises? What do they think is behind their hits? Their misses? As we exchange information about my customers’ needs and their potential product fits, these “strategic conversations” provide us both with useful insights that we might not have had a chance to recognize at the show itself.
Assuming I am sourcing “off the shelf” products, I then pour over my notes and catalogs and check vendor Websites to compare my options. Let’s say I am looking for a photo charm bracelet with a target selling price of $39.95. I’ll source at least three vendors for this product and construct a brief information table for each SKU. The table would include each vendor’s contact information, initial cost, materials, and uniqueness, as well as any comments on vendor reliability. I also include space for additional notes, such as brand fit, special promotions, packaging and color options, and customization potential.
Such product spreadsheets can help you analyze competitive differences and make educated product decisions. You can add to them as new info and product introductions become available. Not only do the spreadsheets contain negotiating points, but they also provide product backup alternatives, in case that swell vendor you met at the last trade show falls through for some reason.
Andrea Syverson is president of IER Partners, a Black Forest, CO-based catalog consultancy.