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A mompreneur's first trade show


I wish there was more available out there online about attending trade shows and this one in particular, the ABC kids show. I had seen it on various websites before deciding to attend but the expense to enter was so high it was really a gamble if I should apply or not. I delayed for a while but one podcaster I was in contact with had told me it is a great place to launch a brand. Oddly enough he was only there for a day this year and the brands I had seen who had launched there I didn't see this year! I think the expense grows exponentially as you grow and sometimes it is hard to pencil that if you're hoping your investment will turn into purchases. I also have a good friend who I plan to interview soon who really encouraged me to attend and so I decided to just do it.
So I just wanted to put out there my own experience being at my first show, the ABC Kids Expo. It is in Las Vegas and is the industry's largest show. This past year I've been at various baby consumer shows and it's really about a 50/50 chance that it will make any $ for your business. My rule of thumb now for a consumer show is not to spend over $300 a day for a show because you have to sell that and beyond to make $ at the show. If you can do a sale for $50-150 it is worth it to try it. I have made exceptions to this for some shows that promise a lot but it still stands to be proven that you can make back your $. Any of you out there who have a salaried job, you can do the calculation yourself to know what kinds of $$ we are talking about - it is not a lot - for any show or sale to be a successful money maker, it requires a constant stream of interested people who are getting their wallets out and making purchases and if it's not your forte, you will find it challenging. It also depends on the price points of the items that you have for sale. 
Back to ABC Kids - it is supposedly the industry standard show to attend - at least that is what they say. My sister who lives in Germany attended the Kidundjugend at the Messe hall in Cologne Germany which is the largest one in Europe and international - she just went to walk the show and I had been at that hall for a fitness expo a few years ago for the first time. It's a ginormous exhibit hall. She had told me there that some American vendors there said ABC was the biggest. But I met some of my neighbors from France who said that they do much more business at the Kidundjugend than at ABC Kids and that ABC kids is mostly for the American market. As the show progressed it didn't seem that they were very happy with the turnout of buyers at the show.
Well, the show, once you register, starts to send you many many different forums to participate and the costs can add up - advertising, a special space in the maternity square, the fashion show, the new product showcase, and much more. To have electricity for my display cost $150, to have carpet padding costs $, to ship to the show costs $, to have people drop your shipment to your booth. You see many people hand carrying things to their booth to save on cost. For booths for larger businesses, even if it's an 10x10, the cost can get quite high, easily being around 50k or more.
I ended up driving because I brought inventory to sell so I hand carried it all in. It was quite a sweaty and tired day. Though I had every intention to be well prepared for the show, I had other events leading up to it and was preparing for a Kickstarter and I just didn't have the time to do everything I should have done beforehand to be successful there. 
Here is a photo of the booth
Our booth at the ABC Kids show
Of course I was tempted to buy an all in one pop up display with custom graphics, but I know that my graphics would be changing and I just don't have the space to store a display that I may not use that frequently. I also know that just having a nice backdrop doesn't make for a nice display. You have to have all the elements to make it inviting for people. I chose to project images and video rather than to have a static display. It did end up helping because sometimes people won't stop to see how the Cardimom works but the video will attract them especially if they are at another booth.
One thing that I should have done and tried to do but failed to do was to get the emails of buyers before the show. They give you names and websites but not direct contacts. I was so busy leading up to it that I paid someone to do this for me and they returned to me a list with info@blahblahcompany.com for almost all of them. Needless to say that was a really bad call and I could have done this by myself. In Maternity square where we were positioned, there were a few seasoned retailers and then there were me and 2 more who were very green and it was our first booth and show. It was kind of fun to be with others who were in the same place, but it was also challenging because anytime someone walks down the aisle, you are all competing to get the attention of the person there. And most people want to stop at one booth and move on - so it is challenging to get people to stop. The first day we felt like it was pretty dead. People started saying 'most people come Tuesday', 'people are still registering' but in my limited experience this year of being at sales and shows, the minute you start to hear excuses, that is when you know that the show is going to be slow. I was at a yoga expo on Sunday and we paid a lot to be there and they said 'people go to church so they'll be here in the afternoon' LOL - yogis at church, imagine that! 
Anyways, well, the second day was a little better. By day 3 I started to panic thinking - I have a list of people who wanted to come to my booth and haven't been there yet! So I began to email out people on my list and look for new emails. Thankfully the next day, people started to trickle in and I got a lot of sales and leads that day. It was really the 3rd day, Thurs that was the best day. Fri, there were a few but it seemed Thursday night was the last night to go out and have fun and it seemed a lot of people partied that night so Friday slow most of the day.
All in all, I would say that there is no way I would be seen by these vendors in so many different locations if I had not attended. However, was it worth the expense to pay for the new product showcase? or the fashion show? or to have my product as a candidate in the best in show awards? Or to be in maternity square versus another location of the show? NO, it was not. I possibly saw one person who said 'Oh I saw your product in the new product showcase!'. The maternity square is just an area of the show and it costs more to be in it, but I'd risk taking my chances outside of that area because it didn't get a lot of traffic. However, people all over the show, front and back, upstairs and downstairs complained that they didn't get much traffic during the show. I also don't really know if it's worth it to advertise - I saw a baby magazine featuring products - there were about 4 different publications featuring products and one magazine would email out a promotion each day. I doubt anyone read the magazines or the emails. I think it is all wasted $$. If anything, it seems if you have the budget, spend it on PR if you can but the cost of PR itself is the same as the cost to attend. If you can not, then you need to do your own PR and get some people to make appointments to visit you at the show. I definitely felt like a have-not there because I didn't have the contacts beforehand and it is really annoying if you pay to be at a show but then you probably aren't even going to see anyone of importance there just because you don't know them or can't find their email! I definitely would try harder to get these contacts for future shows but with the timing of my business, I just didn't have the time leading up to it to do all of that. 
Anyways, if anyone out there is googling ABC Kids expo or show and trying to figure out if it's worth it to go, I hope you find my blog and this advice can help you in your own decision to go for a show or not. I will say that most people I talked to which was about 10 different vendors said they would not be back next year. One vendor comes once every 3 years so so. Some people come every year but with the cost, you really have to be making some great sales for it to make sense financially to keep it up. I am considering some different ones next year, possibly the NY baby show and the JPMA show which will be in Anaheim. One thing that is nice about this show is that they allow babies and kids at the show but not during setup and take down. Though, if you have a 10x10, good luck keeping your kids entertained for 4 days. But, it is nice that overall it is kid friendly. There are a lot of parents who walk the show with strollers. But it being in Vegas, I would have found it challenging to be there with children. This was a huge source of stress for our family because I haven't been away from my two girls for more than a half day, so we had to arrange full time day care and all kinds of crazy stuff for my husband to be able to still make it to work every day. The prospect of possibly being in Anaheim where there are many more kid friendly things to do would make that show much more appealing to me. I have to check the dates, though because if it's during school we probably couldn't do a family vacation there. I think NY would be a bit challenging for us as well. 
Thanks for reading this and I hope this post is helpful for you mompreneurs out there deciding if it's worth it to invest in a trade show for the first time.

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Always A Parent is my blog about parenting, business, entrepreneurship, pregnancy, and motherhood. MULTIWEAR® is my product design business selling products for busy moms, nursing and breastfeeding moms as well as diaper bags and gym bags.

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