She Said–Starting Your Own Business Part XI–10 Trade Show Mistakes

It has been a bit since I have added a post to my “Starting Your Own Business” series of posts.  I believe in my last post I had to write a disclaimer at the end that stated “I really didn’t know what I was talking about, but I wanted to include you in the learning process.”

P.S.  This concludes Business 101 taught by a novice that has yet to sell a product.  We are heading to a trade show to show off our idea.  I know their needs to be a chapter about advertising, but we aren’t there yet.  I will update you as I make mistakes.

Much has happened since I wrote that disclaimer, and how I have a better idea. . .

. . .A better idea of how much more I really need to learn.

Our Ypsi Doll Clothing line is up and running!  YEAH!!  It has entailed many long nights staying up late on the computer, many phone calls, many days of feeling WAY over our heads, many more daylight hours making phone calls, a few travels, more money than we ever dreamed, more phone calls, and several EUREKA! moments when things worked out.

Back in June I headed to a trade show down in Dallas at the Dallas Market Center.  For one year, we have a permanent booth set up in Kids World Studios.  Here is the story of my week at the June Dallas Market Center. (My list of mistakes are in italics.)

I had an early morning flight from DTW (Detroit) down to DFW (Dallas Fort Worth), and unlike my trip out to California where I was a bit anxious and excited, this time I was just exhausted.  Life had been coming fast, and I was leaving my kiddos for 8 days–that required filling the freezer, getting the house clean, all the laundry done, etc. . .

And life would continue to move quickly because I arrived around noon, rented a car, then needed to drive 45 minutes up to IKEA, shop, drive back, and set up a display (that would look professional) before customers arrived the next day.  Thankfully, The Hunni’s brother lives about an hour away and met me at IKEA with his wife.  We paused for some needed sweet rolls and coffee before trekking through IKEA.

TRADE SHOW MISTAKE # 1 Don’t assume you will be able to get to your destination based on Map Quest times.  You could get lost at the airport and have to go through the toll booth in three different directions before finally exiting the actual airport.  Allow more time than Map Quest suggests.

I didn’t leave any decision up to the last-minute.  I had every inch of our 10 X 5 foot booth laid out.  We had shopped on IKEA online, then visited our local store to see the furniture in person, then mapped the space out on the floor of IKEA to see if all of our furniture would fit.  With my list, we were out of IKEA within one hour!!  That’s record time.  And if you don’t belive me, then you have never visited the vast concrete maze of an IKEA in person.

We met my hostess for another quick (and needed) lunch, then drove back down to Dallas to the Market Center.  Once there it took an hour to wait to unload, and get the necessary passes, find the “drayage” carriers, realize that more would happen if a tip was forthcoming as I made my request, sweet in the Dallas heat of June, walk 1 mile from my parking spot, and finally arrive in the air-conditioned building with all my IKEA goods.

TRADE SHOW MISTAKE # 2, 3, and 4 :  #2  Don’t wear the same shoes in which you traveled.  Your heels will give you blisters (that will haunt you all week) after having to walk around the trade show floor trying to get all the paper work finished.  Bring a pair of shoes and outfit to change into.  #3 Don’t assume that a miracle will happen and that you will be the only person out of the 10,000 that will somehow find a close parking space.  Expect a long hike and don’t leave your ID in the car, as you will have to walk the mile back to get it in the elements (Dallas = 105 °)  #4  Don’t assume it will take 30 minutes to unload.  Don’t for one minute think that you will be allowed to carry your own boxes.  This is Union territory.  Ten thousand people are moving in for a week, so everything is backed up, everyone is hot, everyone is angry, and everyone still needs to unload.  Carry some $20 bills–it helps.

All of our pre-planning of our booth space paid off.  Once we finally were able to enter and have all of our boxes delivered, Dave (the Hunni’s brother) quickly assembled all the furniture.  Having Dave and Teresa there was a huge help!

Here are some photos of our booth.

TRADE SHOW MISTAKE # 5:  Double check all artwork.  Triple check all artwork or you might end up with a very expensive decal that says YPSI Girls instead of YPSI Dolls. :}

I wondered about the little additions like the porcelain birds and such, but they really did add to the overall effect.

TRADE SHOW MISTAKE # 6:  Don’t put yourself between the customer and your product.  Customers won’t cross you to see the product-it is too much like making a commitment.  Put your product close to the customer so that they can touch it, see it, . . .buy it.

I asked for a professional to come help me, and she rearranged my booth like this.  See  that green carpet?  That is the “commitment line.”  NO CUSTOMER WILL STEP OVER THAT LINE until they are willing to buy.  Moving the Ypsi Doll T-shirts out to where customers could touch and feel and handle them (and change the Ypsi Doll clothes) helped sales.

Here is a side view.  In this photo you can see how I could sit behind my product and not “threaten” the potential customers.  Also–this is really important–bring a really comfortable chair in which to sit, as you will sit a lot–basically I sat for 8 days.  I was really thankful that I had two chairs because other booth owners would come and sit with me and chat.  I loved meeting other entrepreneurs, and learned A LOT from their advice, shared resources, and lives.  From them I learned about my mistake # 7 and # 8.

TRADE SHOW MISTAKE # 7:  Don’t print out an expensive five-page color catalog to pass out to the 3,000 people who walk by.  They will be gone in one day, and you will be out mucho-dollars.  Print up a postcard with all the important information, and hand it out.

TRADE SHOW MISTAKE #8:  Don’t be ashamed of your prices!!!  Say them boldly.  Print them openly.  Have them easily available.  Show them.  The customers that buy, know the true cost of unique goods.  They know the costs of “Made in the U.S. A” goods.

Now if you are curious like me, you will want to see some of the other booths.  I discretely took some photos as photography isn’t loved.  These entrepreneurs have worked too hard for a Joe-Schmow to come along and copy their ideas.  So be fore-warned that if you ever attend a trade show, you should not take photos without permision.  These photos are now “last season” and therefore okay to publish.

This is my “across the street” neighbor.  She is from Vermont, and sells felt party goods.  Everything in her booth is made of felt and very colorful and festive.

I loved these onsies!  Can you see the pig with the big button nose?

Here is a view down the walkway of Kids Studio (where Ypsi Dolls has their display.)

Now aren’t these hats adorable?  Remember fashion is six months ahead, so in June, customers are buying winter goods.  I have to add one more comment about The Daisy Baby.  She rescued me.  It was the first day of the trade show about 10:00 when people were really starting to come by.  I received a text from my sister-in-law Lily –who thought I was still home and not at the trade show.  She told me that my uncle had leukemia.  This was a huge shock, and I started balling!!  Sandy came over and put her arm around me.  Thanks to her, I was able to pull myself together, and stop the flow of tears.

This is my sense of humor–I love these quilts.

I came home with two of these adorable hats for my girls.  Here is another Trade Show secret.  Some booths offer samples for sale on the last days of the trade show.  Usually, new merchandise is coming in for the next trade show, so there is merchandise available.  Samples are sold quietly as the Trade Shows don’t want a lot of cash trading hands–too risky for security purposes.   Exhibitors and buyers can both do some “shopping.”  Another thing to remember is that you will not get the samples for “wholesale price.”  The reason you get your orders for “wholesale price” is because you are buying in volume.  However, the samples are less than “retail price” so you are getting a good deal!  All you need to say is “Do you have any samples for sale?”  Some trade shows won’t allow a sign that says “Sample sales.”  And of course, NEVER, interrupt an exhibitor when they are with a potential customer!!!  I will here add.  Your lanyard (pass) usually states if you are an exhibitor or buyer or press (sometimes they are color-coded).  Exhibitors don’t like other exhibitors touching their displays!  That is for buyers only.  Just thought I would throw in some Trade Show Etiquette.

And here is one more Trade Show Secret.  The most imaginative, the most entrepreneurial, the most creative people exhibit at trade shows.  Talk to your trade show neighbors and your will meet fascinating, interesting, energetic people.  This booth by Classy Baby Inc. is owned by just such a couple.

Meet my friends Paul and Tatiana.  We first met in Chicago.  Here we are at a Vietnamese restaurant after several days of “trade showing” in Dallas .  What a fun evening.

We started with edamame or “atta-mommy” 🙂.

Then we shared Spring Rolls (stay tuned for a blog post on how to make them!)

Then we all ordered our own entrees.  This is Tatiana’s dish called “pho”.  Now I pronounced it “foe”.  Since then, I have been corrected and told that is really is more like “fuh”.  I scouted around the internet for the correct answer and found out that . . .Well here is the article link for you to read for yourself.

This is the dish Paul ordered.  Now Paul and Tatiana are the kinds of friends that let you sample their meal.  So I can tell you that his meal was also delicious.

I ordered a conservative dish of beef, rice, and salad.  Next time I am ordering “Pho”–even if I pronounce it incorrectly.  The soup was amazing!

We had a fun evening, but the trade show starts again early in the morning.  Vendors arrive about an hour before and have to park so far away that a bus takes us to the front door.  After one day of “walking it” to save time.  I realized that the air-conditioned bus was worth the 30 minute delay.

But every morning when I entered the DMM (Dallas Merchandise Market), I was always filled with that same feeling of excitement and energy.  Here was a meeting of some of the most creative minds in the world, and I got to be a part of it!!!

Let me walk you in.

The Greyhound bus drops us off in front of some HUGE revolving doors.  We walk in and give a sigh of relief for the wonder of air-conditioning.  Then we walk down a corridor to get to the main “lobby”.  Vendors are everywhere.  Art is everywhere–in every display, in every garment, in every window, on every person walking by.

Once in the main “lobby” we look up.  All the way up.  Sunlight shines in.

We’d both love a coffee, but the line for Starbucks looks like it will take 45 minutes of waiting.  We would then both wish we had stopped for a coffee on the drive in.

TRADE SHOW MISTAKE # 9: Don’t wait until arriving to get your coffee.  Plan on stopping at a Starbucks before arrival.  The wait will be 45 minutes for a coffee, and everyone in line is ordering for 8+ people who agreed to get his coffee for free if he would only stand in the line.

This comment would be over heard, and someone would tell you that there is a Starbucks on the 12th floor.  “Mind you they don’t have lattes, but you can get a good cup of coffee for a two-minute wait!”  We feel better and also feel a little like an “insider” with our new-found knowledge.  We walk towards the elevator where we have to clear security and present our badge (large handbags get searched and if your “purse” resembles a roll-away suitcase, you may be told to take the freight elevator)

The elevator is a juggling act of bodies and baggage as the elevator stops at each floor.  We get off on floor number 8 and head towards Kids World Studio.  It is here that we will spend our day.  Because we are here to sell, not to look around and have fun.

Even when Curtis Stone is giving a cooking presentation in the main lobby.

TRADE SHOW MISTAKE # 10:  Too busy to have some fun.  Trade shows are for making sales, BUT, they should also be a place to get excited again.  An artistic renewal.  Take an hour or so off and walk around.  Visit your neighbors.  Wander on a different floor.  And chances are if most of the people are watching Curtis Stone do a Cooking Show, you won’t miss too many customers walking by your booth.  I wish I had gone to the cooking show!

I hope you enjoyed your tour of the trade show.  I hope you learned some trade show secrets and trade show etiquette.  And most of all, I hope you learned from my mistakes.

But before I close this post, I need to say one more thing.  “Thank you Dave and Teresa for all your help!!”

Wait! are you trying to peek over into that booth right beside mine to see what they are selling?  No need to strain your eyes.  That booth deserves a special post.  Stay tuned!


P.S.  If you are just joining, you may want to read the rest of the posts in this series.


Le Trade Show

Le Photographer

Le Tour of the Sewing Factory

Le Visit With a Great Friend

Le Designer

From Idea to Finished Product–Le Artist

Production–Starting Our Own Business-Part VI

Money and Lawyers–Starting Our Own Business–Part IV and V

Collecting Information–Starting Our Own Business–Part II and III

The BIG Idea–Starting Our Own Bussiness–Part I

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16 Responses to She Said–Starting Your Own Business Part XI–10 Trade Show Mistakes

  1. wilkincr says:

    I must confess to having had entirely too much fun reading about all of your mistakes. Your sense of humor is always appreciated.


  2. Kathy Tanner says:

    holding my breath for the next installment!


    • whitsendmom says:

      I will have to get the kids in bed early tonight so I have some time to write. Since the Tigers don’t play tonight, it might actually happen.


  3. natalie says:

    The booth looked great and I’m so glad that you learned a ton on your trip! I noticed Ypsi Girls right away and did a double take. ; )


  4. alimack17 says:

    Hi Rebecca! I absolutely LOVE readin your blog. I get so excited when I receive an e-mail notifying me of a new post. Also, I’m so proud of all you guys have done to make “Ypsi Dolls” a reality and I adore following along via the blog. I plan on continuing to share the business-related (& some of the other) on my Facebook wall so that my “friends” can keep up with your business (& hopefully do some online shopping too!). I miss you guys! Lots of love!


    • whitsendmom says:

      Thanks SO much. The up-scale children’ts boutique in your Perrysburg Kids Klothesline, just placed a re-order as they were selling. It was a shot in the arm for us, as we don’t have another trade show until Jan. Also Ann Arbor Parenting Mag. said they were going to feature us in their Dec. issue. I sure hope they do–just mailed them a sample. Thanks so much for reading, and commenting–makes it seem more like a conversation instead of just talking to myself 🙂


  5. Penny says:

    Hee – I noticed the Ypsi Girls and thought you were starting a new marketing angle. 🙂 I love seeing all the creativity! And ALL the behind-the-scenes work – whew!


  6. Bel McCoy says:

    Thanks, Rebecca….. what a learning experience!! Did I send you a pic of my great-granddaughter,
    Ivy Kiya, in her Ypsi Doll outfit?? A treat to see Dave and Theresa, too!!!


    • whitsendmom says:

      We would love a photo of Kiya in her Ypsi Doll outfit–thanks so much for your order! And Dave and Teresea were a really big help. Physically, Dave did all the heavy work, but along with that it was the knowledge that when I arrived in Dallas, there would be family to greet me. That made a huge difference to me.


  7. Dad and Mom Whit says:

    I’d LOVE to visit that place!!! Wonderful display you have there and so enjoyed all your descriptions. Fun seeing the “helpers” relaxing at the end of the show.


  8. Lisa Buchanan says:

    I love your “business” posts! I know for a fact that I will never be at a trade show, buying or selling, but it’s sure fun to hear about your experiences!


  9. Thanks for sharing your experience Rebecca. Going to our first Market in March -the apparel market.


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