A friend of mine, Rebecca the president and founder of Petit Couture (check this line out immediately if you haven’t her signature owl pieces are simply divine) recently attended the KIDShow in Las Vegas and wrote a very thought provoking piece over at her blog. Having launched Little Pea at KIDShow this past August I was immediately interested in hearing her perspective and have decided to throw my two cents into the mix.
Trade shows in theory seem to be a fantastic launching pad for new collections. Although not insignificantly priced they do offer access to buyers, sales reps, as well as trade and industry publications – all necessary for building your brand. My decision to launch Little Pea at a national buying show was definitely prompted by the above points. In retrospect, I will say that some of my expectations were probably a bit high in terms of what was actually delivered; however, the overall experience was invaluable and definitely forced me to address some miscalculations in terms of my sales model (which I will address below).
My primary goal at the show was to sell the collection and unfortunately the August show was on the slow side. In speaking to other exhibitors it seemed this was a sentiment felt by all which was very unfortunate as the cost of entry is so steep. Most buyers seemed to be breezing through the show, often in town for one day, and primarily visiting lines or showrooms that they had preexisting relationships with. That said, I quickly realized that I needed to sign with a sales rep. Luckily several were exhibiting at the show and I was able to speak to and get feedback from several reputable showrooms. I was also approached by a few reps which was useful as I was able to ask questions, solicit feedback, as well as compare the services/cost between showrooms.
Although actual sales were a bit light, I was able to make strong industry contacts meeting wonderful people on both the wholesale and retail sides of the industry who were happy to share their stories and contacts with me as well as offer encouragement and support. In addition, while at KIDShow I had the pleasure of meeting the publishers and editor’s of several trade publications which resulted in editorial pieces in Earnshaw’s as well as Hudson’s! (Thanks so much Rita, Caletha, and Margaret for taking the time to check out the collection!!). So, in restrospect the show did deliver on some of my expectations – did, I benefit from being at the show. Yes, I can say I honestly did but with this learning experience I was able to adjust my strategies for the Fall season.
This season – Fall 10, I have taken many of the lessons learned from my debut and am hopeful that these changes will serve me well as my company grows. The primary change has been the addition of sales reps which means stepping away from the actual selling of the collection. My takeaway from KIDShow was that in this economy you really need the credibility and established relationships that a rep brings. Being a new collection, I often felt that buyers were a bit leary to take a chance on an unknown brand. A sales rep has pre-existing relationships with the buyers and are often trusted counterparts to retailers which I strongly feel means a lot in a down economy. Plus, reps house your collection in their showrooms which are constantly being visited by retail buyers. Many reps, mentioned that attending the shows can also be costly for the buyers and many will opt to visit the actual showrooms vs attending the larger scale shows. I definitely noticed this when approaching Portland retailers who were not intending to attend KIDShow but would be working with their reps out of the CA Market Center.
My advice if you are seeking sales representation would be to research several showrooms, check out the collections in their line ups, and ask questions! You want to make sure they are the right fit. Like trade shows, sales reps can also be costly so you want to feel connected with your representation, they are an extension of you brand and ultimately will affect how your collection is perceived in the market place. So like I mentioned above, don’t be afraid to ask questions – I found that all the showrooms I approached were very open to questions and willing to provide feedback in regards to the line. I feel so lucky to have signed with Paperdoll Style and Thread Showroom and am so happy with the results!! Plus, this step has given me more time to focus on development and marketing – which are also crucial components in building the brand.
The addition of reps, doesn’t mean walking away from shows. However, instead of taking the line to market myself I have opted to include Little Pea in my showroom’s booths. Both Thread and Paperdoll Style attend several trade shows, including ENK, Atlanta Children’s Mart, as well as smaller shows in LA and San Francisco all of which I will be participating in via my sales reps. This enables me to spread my trade show dollars over several shows, giving the collection more coverage across the US – all great for bringing exposure to the line which will most definitely affect sales.
In conclusion, do I feel trade shows work? Tough call, I think they are necessary component in the building my brand. This season, the desire to show at market is primarily for PR – I want the buyers and the press to see and I of course want to bring attention to the collection. Shows provide this opportunity; however, my recommendation would be to not rely solely on shows for sales. Enlist the service of sales reps, market your line via blogs, contact editors, host trunk shows, hire PR services – all of these activities will eventually help boost sales. The children’s apparel market is a tricky nut to crack and for me it’s all about finding the right mix that works for you. I certainly feel I am still learning and will continue to do so as Little Pea develops and grows. I hope my experiences shed some light on this subject for any readers there who might be in the initial stages of launching their brands. Please feel free to share your feedback on the topic, I welcome any comments you might have. Please hit me up, I would love to hear from you!!