8 tips to walk trade shows

A couple of years ago, Michelle Fifis from The Pattern Observer asked me to write down a little guide to walk a trade show in order to get connections and meet potential new clients. 
How does this work? How can you introduce yourself? What to expect? What do you need? 
Her website is really great and full of resources for freelance textile designers, and I was really happy to help! 

Unfortunately this post was never published, so I thought I could share it with you guys, as the Maison et Objets is starting soon!
Hope this can be useful to many other designers out there! 

Before my freelance life here in the US, I worked as a creative director and a buyer for a French Textile Company that had a booth at Maison & Objets in Paris. We used to meet manufacturers and suppliers during the show. It was a good time for business as everybody (from the boss, to the designers and the sales people) was at the booth helping to explain products & write orders from clients.

This is also how we came to meet and hire our best designer. She came to the booth and introduced herself in a very simple way. We had a little chat about what she was doing and who she worked with before. She didn’t have a sample of her work, but she gave us her pretty business card and we call her a couple weeks later for an interview.

Now, she’s working full-time for this company (from home), and she comes in to the office twice a month to follow-up on projects - everything works pretty well.

Sounds good, right?

If you are looking for new opportunities or potential clients, I highly recommend attending trade shows such as Maison & Objets and Heimtextil, which is THE show in Europe for the home textile business. At these shows you'll find factories and manufacturers from all around the world and a hall dedicated to print and surface pattern studios. 

Before you pack your bags, here are a few tips to help you get ready for the big event:

1.Prepare for your trip:

Do some research. Check the websites of the shows to target the companies you want to visit. You'll find a list of the exhibitors on the websites. These shows are huge! Better targeting companies in advance than randomly searching once you arrive. You'll save time and energy and your feet will thank you!

2. Marketing materials:

Make sure to have all your marketing material ready.

- Website or online portfolio updated. Wifi is now available everywhere and they can check on your work the minute you leave the booth. If you have a tablet, it's also a good way to show what you're doing.

- Bunch of pretty business cards and/or postcards with prints of your work + your contact info.

- A brochure with your work + a short bio is also a great leave-behind (if you have the budget for it).

I loved when people left me some stuff to remember them. I especially liked the brochures and postcards (it was like collecting stickers back in my childhood) and it was very handy once the show was done and I needed to recall people. On the other hand, I still remember a Lady who gave me the worse business card I thought I ever saw! She had her picture on it. I found it silly at the time, but the truth is, 4 years later, I still remember her (and her face).


3. Timing is everything:

Choose a time when the booth is empty or calm. People are here for business; you don't want to annoy them if their booth is packed and they’re busy with clients. The first day of the show is usually more quiet than during the weekend (and some people start being tired and grumpy after several days of standing in a booth). Don't rush. Take the time to spot the companies you're interested in and feel the right time to go and introduce yourself. My company used to have a little “aperitif” at the end of the day. It was a relaxing time to chat with the last clients of the day and to share a glass of champagne.

4. Prepare your ‘elevator speech’: 

You must be able to present yourself in a short and friendly way. Don’t make a big deal of it. They don’t expect you to act like a business person, it's more casual than you think. Although it can seem intimidating, people are generally friendly at the shows (if they're not, it might be a sign to turn and run...). But keep it succinct when explaining your work experiences and how talented you are. There will be plenty of time to talk with them after the show if there’s an opportunity there.

5. Give them time:

At least 2 weeks before follow up. Give them time to come back to their office and take care of their clients first. Usually it's the busiest time of the year. They need time to get their affairs in order following the fair.

6. Don't go alone:

I like to have a friend to walk the show with and cheer me up! I’m a very shy person and I need to work up the courage to go and talk to people. Having a friend to encourage me always helped.

7. Small companies vs. Large companies:

Small companies are more willing to have the creative director or designers working the booth, so you can talk directly with them which is helpful. For larger companies, the creative team normally walks the show for competitive research and to forecast trends. In this case, you’ll only meet sales people unless you're lucky. Just ask someone in the booth if a member of the creative/design team is available.

8. Have your camera or your phone charged!:

Taking pictures is not a problem anymore. Companies understand that they can have free exposure through blogs or social medias. They usually let you take pictures. They're not as reluctant as they were years ago (I would recommend to take a picture of the brand name too, or you'll never remember which products belong to whom). 

Sketches and notes are also a good way to remember everything. A lot of great info is available at these shows. You'll have access to trends presentations from well known trends forecasting studios like Nelly Rody, Carlin Itl...take advantage of this.

I hope you found those tips helpful and I would be happy to hear from you and your experience at the shows. How do you do?


Cheers up for the end of summer!