So, you have your booth set up at a wholesale trade show.
Your select items are on display, easy to see at eye level, clearly marked with wholesale prices that are labeled “Wholesale” or “WS.” You haven’t put out all your items, you've put out the ones that will appeal to this collection of buyers. Are most businesses desert resorts, western stores, east coast vacation destinations, upscale galleries, tourist traps, or urban spas and boutiques?
I try to see their buyer’s badge when they walk up to my booth, to see their name and business and where it is located. If they see me doing this, I ask, "Where are you from?" Or, "You’re from Livingston?" One time, the show staff put the wrong town on a buyer’s badge, and suddenly many previously unconnected conversations made silly sense to her. We laughed.
Understand before you are understood. Be curious about their shop, store, spa, museum, or gallery. What do they sell? To whom, and do they have seasonal sales? When is their busy season?
Point them to your best-selling items or items that might be a fit for their business. Tell them why you think they will be a good fit. For example, I related to buyers that I had worked in a shop where my goods were sold and that I secretly spied and eavesdropped on people who looked at and bought my items. I went so far as to say to a buyer, “These earrings appeal to women my age, oddly enough. I’ve never seen a young person buy these.” I could tell this gave the buyer confidence in my knowledge of my goods. She ordered some.
Tell buyers a little about your art process. With PMC, that is always fascinating. If it’s true of your medium, such as PMC3, explain why PMC was invented in the 90s and how it contains 40% or more silver from industrial waste. Throw in a little special tidbit from your artistic aspect; for example, explain briefly your personal passion for silver or copper or bronze.
Hold a blank order form on a clipboard along with a pen. On your order form are fields for the buyer's basic contact info: name, business, address, phone, email, etc. Don’t fill those out, simply ask the buyer for a business card and tape it to the form—right then and there. Also, on your order form is a list of your items, so that when they say, “Let’s do twelve of those,” you simply put 12 on that item's line.
As you talk with them, make notes on the order form. Tons of notes. For example, “liked the key-holder earrings but did not order.” If they order four pair of Artisan Earrings, ask and note which ones they like. Then try to send them those when you fill their order. Depending on your goods, you might have a conversation about display, display cards, the “includes recycled silver” cards, if they want a written piece on your art process (which they could, and should, share with their staff), and other things that you can do to help your items sell well in their business.
Be sure to ask, and then write on your form, the date they desire you to ship the goods. This date can be “ASAP” or “ship the first part of July” or “just before Christmas.” You will be calling them for their credit card number after you've added shipping with insurance costs and are ready to ship.
I do not rehearse any part of my conversations with buyers. Even if I did, I've lost the ability to speak lines from memory. In thinking back to experiences, I believe the most important things to do are to connect and be authentic. Let conversations occur organically. You and the buyers are there for a reason, there is no need to do a sales pitch. Speaking from a need to sell something is a huge turnoff.
As a result, I meet the most interesting people who happen to be buyers at wholesale trade shows. All of them are pleasant and people of integrity. They know their business. And new business owners are enthusiastic. I am generally impressed and awed.
Put a business card or rack card in their hand before they leave your booth, whether or not they've ordered. I am certain to say a fitting thanks as they leave me.
The evening of the show, yes, after you’ve put in a twelve-plus-hour day, most of it on your feet, you sit at your computer and shoot them a pdf or copy of their order via email. Along with a heartfelt message of how much you enjoyed talking with them.
You return home from the tradeshow, assemble their order and send it off, or wait until the date they wanted the goods. Unpack. Take a few days to relax and re-enter your life. Well done.
Kris A. Kramer