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Trade shows are messy, inefficient and expensive, but they work. Without them the industry would be dead by now as prophesied by the hundreds of virtual platforms claiming they could replace face-to-face buying with online meet-ups.

This never happened. According to Trade Show News Network, trade shows are 80% back to their pre-pandemic attendance numbers. Shows by International Market Centers are growing by 30% in attendance year over year. This trend is carrying through the recession.But there’s no denying that things are different now. Buyers might be coming back, but they’ve evolved into a different breed.The pandemic-addled online-only phase introduced new hybrid buying habits that have reset expectations. Today, it’s important to understand how buyers straddle online and onsite. A new world needs new preparation.

Here are 10 questions to ask before you launch at a trade show

1. Is the show attracting buyers differently?

Most trade shows still use a traditional approach to attracting buyers. They’ve largely returned to the same formats as before 2020, despite evidence that wholesale buyers have different priorities. The outreach is the same: organic Instagram posts, a boilerplate newsletter, maybe a keynote speaker.

Modern trade shows have been shaking things up. They understand that they have to leverage their exhibitors to bring in the buyers. They’ll tap into influencer brands. They’ll do plenty of pre-selling and post selling 365 days a year.

Top shows like Shoppe Object, Maison & Objet, Specialty Food Show have introduced e-commerce so buyers can pre-register, schedule appointments, and communicate with exhibitors before, during, and after the event. It’s created a year round buying intent and helps brands get the most out events.

2. Does my launch strategy fit with new buying habits?

There was a time when buyers had a set “open to buy”. They would bounce from booth to booth, totaling up orders until budgets were exhausted.

Today, buyers research brands and plan their buying strategy one month prior to the show. “Once buyers arrive at the show, they expect brands to have the inventory in stock,” says Ray Shikatani a veteran of the Canadian trade industry.

Sneak peeks, or coming soon items just won’t cut it. Buyers will leave with frustration instead of an order. So whatever collection brands launch at the show, should be available for purchase.

3. Who are the anchor exhibitors?

Anchor exhibitors bring the buyers. Shows entice them with huge square feet discounts to exhibit.

However, traditional anchor exhibitors attract traditional buyers who are resistant to change. They’re probably not the ones to experiment with a new brand if you’re launching for the first time.

Seek out shows with anchor exhibitors who would complement your brand.

4. Are the other exhibitors going to hurt my brand or complement it?

Whether yours is a corner booth or front row matters less now. There’s nothing worse than setting up as a premium brand next to a low end brand. Or a mass produced brand next to predominantly bespoke makers.

Some shows just want to sell booth space and hit their quotas, so they might downgrade their own standards to allow anyone in. All it does it dilute your brand, so research brands or insist on a section that fits well with your brand.

5. How can I pre-sell before the show?

According to Emerald, 85% of buyers expect a trade show to have an e-commerce component. Probably why Emerald bought wholesale marketplace Bulletin to complement NY NOW.

Our partner Shoppe Object has a full end-to-end platform that runs on Ribbon to facilitate e-commerce. Nowadays, shows do previews where buyers can place orders directly, even before setting foot at the venue. The earlier you set up your online profile and collection, the higher the chances of the show promoting you in their marketing.

6. Which exhibitors can I cross promote with?

If Doritos can collaborate with Papa Johns to create the Cool Ranch Papadia, your high-end jewelry brand can definitely collaborate with a renowned fashion designer to showcase both collections together at a fashion trade show.

Your exquisite pieces will enhance the fashion designer’s clothing, creating a stunning display. Buyers can witness the clever integration of fashion and jewelry and gain inspiration for their own customers.Some influencer exhibitors with large followings are prime for collaborations. By striking up a relationship and piggybacking on their cache, brands have a better chance of getting noticed. It’s a win-win for both.

7. What can I do differently 30 days after the show?

Once the show is over, most exhibitors will pack up and leave. They’ll check back with buyers a few times and that’s it.

An online profile changes the game. Brands can now reshare their profile and new collections with buyers in a ready to shop format. Buyers tend to buy more from brands who follow up, but they need a destination where they don’t need to remember your wholesale B2B login. After all they are going to give you an average $100K worth of business over the lifetime of service. They need to know you are dependable.

8. What can I do 60 days after the show?

You just spent $5–10K at a trade show. Are you really going to stop capitalizing on your investment in 30 days? If you’re lucky, you’ll get your first $10K order and 5 new buyers. Not bad but you could do better than a $1000 acquisition cost.

In the next 60 days you can start building out a relationship with every new lead you earned, not just the ones who wrote an order at the show.

9. Have you found a good sales agency you could work with?

On average, sales reps charge 15% commission on every order. Plus the cost of showing your brand at various venues and showrooms.

However there’s a clear value prop to justify this expense. The best reps are like assistant buyers. On average a good sales rep can upsell an order by 25% by advising buyers on better assortments.

The current strategy is to rely on marketplaces like Faire. The downside is marketplaces have a business model that favors continuous growth in favor of curation. There’s a drop-off period when the marketplace algorithm will stop promoting brands to new buyers. It’s no surprise that brands start reaching out to sales agencies once the marketplace honeymoon period is over.

Your sales rep will do road sales after the show season is over. 70% of sales actually happen between shows. As your business grows, you need strong sales partners. You could either hire the sales reps in-house which is expensive or try to get the attention of a great sales agency.

10. Is your next season strategy already in the works?

Most trade shows follow a new launch cycle of two collections a year. That gives you six months to plan for the next season. With the resurgence of trade shows, the booths fill up fast and are more curated.Make a list of trade shows you’d like to exhibit. They’re growing more niche too.

Let’s Continue the Convo

Otterbox, Spanx and Lululemon all started direct-to-consumer, selling through the website. Then launched their brand to retailers at various trade shows. Despite what you might be hearing about the demise of trade shows, they’re still one of the best ways to get in front of buyers.Stay tuned for more launch strategies and first hand accounts from our panelists at our next round table onRountable: Launching at Tradeshows DifferentlyMay 31stFeaturing:Naomi Alabi — Founder, Street Fashion Week (SFWRunway)Jessica Bazire — Head of Fashion and Apparel, Dubai Global ConnectSugar Taylor — Founder and CD, Sugar TaylorCheck out the full roundtable on the Trade Show News Network here:

Vinit Patil is the CEO/ Co-founder of Ribbon, a trade show platform with a mission to make all fairs shoppable online.