CHFA Prep: A Vendor’s Top 5 Tips for Retailers Attending a Big Industry Trade Show

Whether you’re attending the Toronto Gift Fair, the ABC Kids Expo, the upcoming CHFA West or another big industry trade fair, if you’re a retailer searching for new lines to add, there are a few key tips that can help you get the most out of your show experience.

I’m a vendor at these shows, and have been for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve learned a lot - not only about exhibiting, but also insights into how retailers could be getting more out of their time and money spent at these huge (often overwhelming) shows. 

Here are my top five tips! I hope to see you at CHFA West February 24 and 25!


#1 Book an appointment — and show up for it

Are there products you already know you’re interested in? Book appointments with those vendors! Yes, you should definitely pop into booths that look interesting. But if you really want a run down on a certain line and you plan to just stop by unannounced, you run the risk of the booth being busy or the staff being engaged with other clients. You may get frustrated, leave, and not come back. This is your chance to touch and feel the products that you feel may be a great fit for your customers, and have all your questions answered by the manufacturer (or distributor or sales reps)! Don’t miss your chance due to lack of foresight. BONUS: some vendors (us included!) will offer free gifts when you register in advance for an appointment! (Email Lindsay at [email protected] to book your appointment with us for CHFA West!)

#2 Don’t take advantage of samples

Yes, we bring samples to attract people and because we want people to take them. BUT: I suggest that you use your discretion. Especially in the spirit of the zero waste movement, which advises that you turn down all promotional items completely as they do create more waste, I would ask that you think for a moment before taking any sample. Is this an item you need? Will it be useful to you? Will you keep it, or just throw it away in the near future? Is this a product that you are interested in and legitimately would like to sample? You don’t need to lose sleep over it, but it’s worth giving a little thought.

#3 Practice a little pre-emptive self-care

Don’t be a hero! A little bit of preparation when it comes to your physical and mental health and well-being goes a long way! My suggestions? Wear comfortable shoes! You’ll be walking around on concrete all day. Those carpet runners don’t offer any padding to spare your poor feet — sacrifice fashion for the sake of your soles and spine. Drink water and bring lip balm! Trade shows are notoriously dry. Even in relatively humid Vancouver, you’re going to get parched, so be sure to carry a water bottle (and refill it throughout the day!), and super hydrating lip balm! And pack food! Throw a few protein-rich snacks and some fruit and veggies into your bag and be sure to actually munch them throughout the day to supplement any junkie trade fair food you may eat (though I must say, the food options at CHFA are quite decent).

#4 Seek out businesses that compete in your space…

And befriend them. Seek out the owners of shops like yours, from other towns or cities. Even if you share some online overlap with another retailer, the insight you can gain from trading stories is so valuable you shouldn’t pass it up. At All Things Jill and The Apothecary, we believe in collaboration, not competition, and that by working together with our peers we can affect more change than we could alone.

Share tips and stories — for merchandising, which products are doing well for you and which were a flop, and engaging with customers. Vent about the challenges of your industry segment. Best of all — make friends! Trade fairs are a great time to be social, and entrepreneurs whose businesses mirror your own are the right people to socialize with! These friendships can be surprisingly enduring and having someone who really gets your unique challenges and triumphs is so, so helpful on this unique path of entrepreneurship!

#5 Refuse paper catalogs when you can 

Yes, we’ve printed paper catalogs and price lists for your convenience! But don’t feel pressured to take them. Similar to the idea of thinking a bit before taking a sample, stop to think before taking a catalog. Could you access this information online? Save the paper and ask if you can take a photo of their booth, catalog or products so that you’ll remember to check them out later. Or, carry a notebook to take note of the lines you’d like to follow up on. Just be sure to ask before taking a photo! Most of us will say yes, and approaching the vendor with your reason for taking a photograph is also a great way to make a connection!

Do you have any great trade fair tips? I'd love to hear them!

Posted by Jill on 2/16/2018