Before the show
1. Always preregister for gift shows to avoid long lines and delays.
2. Take plenty of critical items for vendors such as business cards and credit information sheets printed on company letterhead.
3. Clearly list your bill-to and ship-to addresses on credit sheets as well as all your contact information, including cell phone number and email address.
4. Be sure your credit sheet also includes your bank contact information, phone numbers, at least three credit references with account numbers and contact phone numbers, your resale number and federal tax identification number. Having this with you will make it easier for everyone.
5. Take customer request lists.
6. Take sales data and current inventories of lines you know you’ll be seeing. Go back six months to look for trends, and evaluate the success or failure of particular items.
7. Take a journal just for jotting notes on great new products or display ideas, or, better yet, a small tape or digital recorder.
8. Also take a camera so you can snap photos of display ideas or props, but always ask permission first. If photos aren’t allowed, request images from your sales associate. And do this only after you’ve placed an order.
9. Consider taking an extra carry-on bag to pack magazines, catalogs and other product literature you pick up at the show. Or pack a pre-addressed, collapsed cardboard box in your luggage so you can ship those items home on your last day. Most gift markets and shows have on-site business offices or shipping facilities.
10. Develop a plan: Think about what new products you’ll be looking for, and map your course for each floor, starting at the top floor and working your way down.
11. Use show guides and online resources when creating your must-see list of booths and lines. Many gift markets and temporary show producers have features on their websites that allow you to look up exhibitors ahead of time, including showroom and booth numbers.
12. Visit other specialty retailers and big-box stores in your area for ideas, and develop a mental picture of what you want your store to look like a couple of months down the road.
13. Schedule time to attend seminars you think might be beneficial to you and your business.
14. Plan to visit flower shops in the show city for inspiration—and even wholesale florists.
15. Two days at a trade show might not be enough. Invest in your livelihood; allow three to six days, and give yourself plenty of time for buying, learning and building vendor/sales rep relationships.
16. Consult with reps of your established lines to let them know you will be attending and to get information on promotions and specials. Also ask them if they will get credit for orders you place at the show. If not, consider placing the orders when you return home.
17. If you can take advantage of a show special but your rep won’t get credit, decide what’s more important to you; you might have to choose.
18. Contact vendors of new lines you’re considering for promotional information and show specials.
19. Make appointments to see new product introductions in your current lines as well as new lines you’re considering. This will save you time at the show.
20. When making appointments, get cell phone numbers or showroom phone numbers so if there’s an emergency or you’re running late, you can call instead of leaving them hanging.
21. Invite an employee to go with you; it builds loyalty like crazy and gives him or her a feeling of ownership. Have your associate take one hallway or aisle while you take another; you’ll cover twice as much ground.
22. Find out if a gift market or show has a “premier buyers” club and how you can qualify. This can translate into everything from free parking to a private lounge area.
23. Know what your OTB (“open to buy”) is before you leave home (how much to buy and when to have it delivered).
At the show
24. Pick up trade publications—like Florists’ Review and especially our annual Christmas Trends supplement—on the first day, and review them prior to your next day at market. Record vendors and/or products of interest.
25. Dress comfortably, and bring at least two pairs of shoes so you can change throughout each day.
26. Take breaks—sit down and drink lots of water to avoid burnout; that’s when bad decisions are easy to make.
27. Make time to eat. Carry high-protein snacks with you. Nothing is worse than losing steam at 2 p.m.; you need to be on your toes at all times.
28. If you have a really good relationship with a showroom, ask them if you may use them as “home base,” giving you a place to drop off material, hang your coat, get lunch or snacks or just sit down to rest. Don’t ask to do this in a booth, though; their space is at a premium, and it needs to be used for selling product, not storing your stuff.
29. Ask the gift markets or show producers if they have buyers reps or other buyer support staff. Meet them, and use them. They can be your resource for everything from restroom locations to decent food in the area.
30. If you’ve made appointments, keep them. Standing someone up is incredibly unprofessional.
31. Get to showrooms or booths 10 or 15 minutes prior to your appointments; this will give you time to scope out the merchandise and save you time when working with your rep.
32. Don’t spend too much time on lines with which you’re well serviced by a rep; just take notes on new merchandise, and move on.
33. Ask reps and vendors a lot of questions: What are your best-selling lines? What are your show specials for this line? Dating? Freight? Best-seller sampler packages? Review merchandise with an open mind. What you like is not always what sells; be willing to gamble.
34. Ask sales associates for their suggestions and comments. What have customers been asking for, or what has been selling well in your store? Why do they think certain items have or have not been selling?
35. Ask for all updated info on products, catalogs and price sheets, and discontinued items. Take as much as you can possibly carry.
36. When looking and taking notes at the show, rate each product from 1 to 10, allowing you to buy the best of the best.
37. Tell your sales reps what they can do for you. Do you need inventories? How often do you expect them to visit you? Do you do your buying at the store or only at shows? Can they come by to inventory your current merchandise, then leave a suggested order? Who should they speak to in your store?
38. Provide feedback to vendors on products—with respect and manners. Remember, it’s their “stuff” you’re talking about.
39. When writing orders, establish up front any cancellation dates or what percentage of product you expected to be shipped at the same time.
40. When opening a new line, get all pertinent information—minimum opening, ship time, how to handle backorders, their current percentage of “shipped complete” orders, the name of a contact at the factory or warehouse, etc. This may take time initially but will save you time in the long run.
41. When ordering best-sellers, place dated orders so you don’t run out during the holidays.
42. Make sure you can read and understand orders that are written and that they are complete with requested ship dates, payment terms and prices. If taking advantage of show specials, be sure they’re noted on the form as well.
43. Inquire about co-op advertising dollars or special promotions if a co-op program doesn’t exist.
44. Always provide a ship date; ASAPs don’t allow you control of your finances and often get pushed to the back.
45. If you place a “hold for confirmation” order, follow up after market with a ship date or instructions.
46. If you place an order with a “call to request credit card,” promptly respond to the call. If you can’t afford to have it shipped at the time of request, notify the vendor with an alternative ship date.
47. Keep your eyes open for creative promotional ideas.
48. Pay attention to the ways products of interest are displayed in showrooms and booths, and ask vendors for the best ways to merchandise the products you purchase.
49. Inquire about props used in showrooms. Some shows have a “market place” for showrooms to sell their props, and some will share resources with you.
50. Ask manufacturers or reps for product promotional materials to help out with displays or product information (shelf-talkers).
51. Ask anyone and everyone about trends; they might not be relevant to you now, but they likely will be at some point.
52. Keep your ears open in the oddest of places. Some of the best leads and ideas can come from overheard conversations in a restroom or hotel elevator.
53. Visit with other retailers while at a show—on the shuttle bus, at social events, in the dining areas, etc. This is a great chance to network.
54. Don’t use your cell phone in a showroom or booth. That’s just as offensive as your customers chattering away in your store.
55. Take your reps to dinner or for drinks. They’re working hard, too—and probably not being thanked enough by buyers.
This list was created by the Gift and Home Trade Association’s (GHTA) Retailer Advisory Board. For more information on making the most of your gift show buying trips or on the GHTA, visit www.giftandhome.org.