I am the owner and designer of a line of ‘awesome headwear for awesome kids’ called house of koopslie. One of my biggest goals this year was to increase the number of retailers that carry my line from four to 20. I saw the Alberta Gift Show as the perfect chance to reach my goal. Since it is open to retailers and business owners only, it was a great opportunity to meet with potential customers under one roof.
You always hear that first impressions really count, so I took that as a guide for setting up my booth for the Gift Show. I wanted it to express the feel of my line – funky and higher end. I also wanted it to be very welcoming and to stand out, so I incorporated my business colours, products and a lot of lighting into the design.
The show has a number of different categories such as Gift and Made In Canada. At first, I was unsure of which category would be the best fit for me, but I did a lot of research about the other vendors and saw that the Gift section had a lot of baby item distributors. Since this was my first show and most store owners wouldn’t know who house of koopslie is, I decided on going into the Gift category, as this seemed like where most of the other baby-related items could be found. Despite the fact that my products are all made in Canada, a fact of which I am very proud, I was hoping that by going into the right category, I would make myself available to as many potential clients as possible.
I wanted do something really personal that would help me to stand out in my future customers’ minds. So, prior to the show, I went around the city and personally invited a few store owners to visit my booth at the Gift Show.
There was a really diverse mix of attendees at the show. To my surprise, many store owners passed my booth without even coming in. I quickly realized that my line was not right for everyone, which was actually very eye-opening. This taught me that I had a particular customer in mind and that was who I would concentrate on building relationships with. Other store owners came in, had a look around and asked for catalogues. I learned from my neighbours that many store owners like to take time to go through all the catalogues after the show and place orders later. There were a few store owners that were in love with the line and placed orders right away, which was very reassuring.
A few of the sales representatives at the show expressed interest in carrying my line. Sales reps usually carry several product lines and have established relationships with stores. I saw this as another great opportunity to get my line into more stores and after the Gift Show, I had a brief agreement with a sales rep who ended up getting house of koopslie to a few new stores in BC and Alberta. Before the show I was very intimidated by sales reps and wouldn’t even know how to go about hiring one, but I was able to get really great guidance from some very knowledgeable neighbours at the show.
The Gift Show has several free marketing opportunities and I tried to take advantage of them all. The one that I had most hope for was the media room. The media room had a Public Relations (PR) person dedicated to getting local media to come to the show. I left several hats and headbands and some of my marketing material in the media room hoping for a news story. I didn’t hear from any media in the first two days of the show, and I must admit I was quite disappointed. On the third day however, I was approached by the Editor in Chief for Retail News magazine. She said she loved my line and wanted to feature my hats as show favourites in the next edition of Retail News. This publication is distributed to retailers throughout Canada and I was going to be featured in it for free! I was taken aback and so excited by this amazing opportunity.
After four days the show was over and I hadn’t reached my goal of 20 accounts. However, I had made a lot of business and personal contacts, had found a sales rep and walked away with a list of interested store owners to follow up with. The biggest piece of advice I received from my seasoned neighbours is that follow up right after the show is key. Unfortunately, my daughter got very sick and was hospitalized right after the show, so I wasn’t able to do the follow ups right away. I kept the records of interested clients and two months later, when my baby was healthy again, I did my follow ups. Some store owners, not surprisingly, forgot all about me, while others actually still placed orders.
The biggest and most exciting thing happened in May. It had been a busy day and I didn’t get a chance to answer my phone or check my emails that morning. When I did get to them in the afternoon, I had received several voicemails and emails from stores across Canada interested in carrying my line. The Retail News publication had come out and house of koopslie was featured as number 1 in the ‘Best of the West’ section and was named ‘BEST Kid’s Collection’. I was incredibly honoured. You can see the feature here: http://www.cgtaretailnewsdigital.org/retailnews/20130506/?pg=44&pm=1&u1=friend. Since this article came out I have sent orders to several new stores across Canada and the list is growing every week.
I’ve now reached my initial goal of house of koopslie being in 20 stores. This summer my line will be sold in over 30 stores across Canada. New stores are contacting me every week because of that Retail News article. This whole opportunity has helped me grow more confident in myself as a business owner and designer. I’ve also updated my goal to have my line in 50 stores by the end of this year and so far, it’s looking very promising.
My advice for anyone considering doing the show is this:
- Have a goal in mind, but be open to reaching it in different ways (Don’t stress about making sales at the show alone! Getting your name out there and making the right business contacts can be just as important, especially if it’s your first time at the show)
- Let your personality and your booth express what your business is all about
- Buy or rent extra lights. They will highlight your products and make all the difference in how your customers can see your line
- Be open to new opportunities, both business and personal
- Ask potential clients for business cards and do follow ups after the show
- Take advantage of all the free marketing opportunities, you never know where they may lead
- Talk to your neighbours; they have a wealth of experience and can give some amazing advice about exhibiting and business
- Learn from store owners. Listen to their feedback and ask them questions.
- Know who your potential customers are and understand their needs. This will help you get your product into the right stores..
- You are the best person to sell your line, so believe in yourself and believe in your product. Your confidence and knowledge will shine through to your customers and you will be more likely to reach your goals.
- Now go out there and kick some butt!
Monika is the owner of house of koopslie – a line of awesome headwear for awesome kids. She is married to a seriously funny man and has two fun-loving kids. She recently left her corporate job to pursue her business full-time.