Trade shows, Yes or No?

I remember my first one.

I was about to launch my women’s line. 

The samples were ready, I had a great photo shoot done, I had the look book and line sheets ready and I even had a website (back than that was not a given).

I just needed to get into Coterie and the rest will be history....

At least that is what i thought.

I found a showroom that was able to get the line into Coterie (after I was turned down when I applied alone, which comes to show you how much politics there is in these events).

I was in heaven, I thought that that’s it, from here and on my business is going in only one direction only…up!

The morning of the first day of the show I was nervous, happy, excited….

By the end of that day I was angry, sad, disappointed….and by the end of the 3 days show I was depressed and broken, it was not fun to be me!

I had a horrible show, in fact the worst one can have, I didn’t get any orders.

To be fair the show itself was quite busy, just not for my booth.

It didn’t help that across the aisle from me was the booth of one of the hottest accessories lines of that time, and that booth was on fire, it was consistently packed with buyers . This was an example of how great a trade show can be.

I ended up eating all the chocolates that I have put out in the booth…..myself (probably before the 3rd day).


The fee for the show was $7000 and on top of that I spent probably another $2000 on decorating the booth, moving in and out etc.

As you can imagine that was a fortune for a start-up brand to spend without any return.

I learned a valuable lesson back than that I am very happy to share with you:

Trade shows don’t pay off for start-up fashion brands.

The ROI is simply not there.

Here you go, I just saved you $10k. Aren’t you happy you are on my mailing list?

You see, the assumption is that if you do a trade show buyers will stop by and place orders but there is a lot more that goes into it and it goes way beyond your product, designs etc.

Here is how it really works.

Buyers have 3 days to walk a very busy and crowded trade show, they need to be productive and get what they need out of the way first therefore they will visit the brands that are doing well in their stores first and place orders with them.

Only then if they have any time left in the last day (and If they are not exhausted by then), they might look around to see what other new brands are out there.

Now, quite frankly even then they will walk the aisle quite fast and will most likely gravitate towards booths that are busy and/or ones that really stand out.

So now it’s up to you to grab their attention and bring them to your both.

Is it possible? Yes, but will require both creative and financial investments. 

Is it worth it? Yes, if you have $10k to throw around

Do you have other, better ways to use 10k for sales and marketing? Absolutely. 

And that to me is the answer.

As a start-up small business you need to get a good ROI on your expenses, and doing a trade show might not be where you want to spend money just yet.

As a new brand you will need to build your store list from the ground up and build relationship with these stores.

My suggestion would be to plan a few road trips where you go to the stores to show your product. This way not only you will make it easier for them and get a more intimate meeting where the stress of a trade show is removed but also you will get to see the stores and see if they are a good fit for your product.

I would spend the money on doing that. 

I promise you it will be less expensive and you'll get a lot more for your buck.

Now, to answer the question in the subject, it doesn't mean that trade shows are not good, just means that for the starting stage of your fashion brand I would say no. Once your brand is a bit more established and you have about 25 or so stores buying from you already than doing a trade show becomes a great tool to build from.