Question: I have created some new T-shirt designs, and I'm considering displaying them at a trade show that retailers attend. The show will cost $5,000, not including the booth display. Would this be a good investment?
Answer: Trade shows are expensive. Specialty merchandise shows typically feature fancy booth displays that can cost you an additional $10,000. I recommend you simply attend the show first to see how the show is run and observe what types of booths other companies have.
You can do a lot to promote your product as an attendee. Your aim should be to line up sales representatives, distributors or other manufacturers. At a specialty trade show, most of the people working booths will be manufacturers' representatives. When you talk to people, ask if they work for the company or if they're representatives. Collect the representatives' business cards, and tell them you have a new product coming out and would like to contact them later to discuss it. The best times to talk to representatives are early and late in the day, when the show is less crowded.
Distributors will also have booths at the trade show where you can meet with their key personnel. Often, the easiest way to get distributors to carry your product is to go through their sales managers, who have a strong influence over their companies' decisions.
Another distribution network to pursue at a trade show is selling through other manufacturers. Distributors devote their time to the products that make them the most money. Small companies typically don't have a broad enough line to generate significant income, but they often band together to make their product lines more competitive. Find manufacturers whose products complement yours. They may be willing to work with you to acquire representatives or to provide more lines to their current sales networks.
Cugino's Gourmet Foods, 9176 Trinity Dr., Lake in the Hills, IL 60102, (888) 592-8446.