To get straight to the point, trade shows made my life miserable. From my very first trade show till my very last, I felt like a loser.
As a swimwear designer, the Swim Show is THE trade show to be seen at. When I went for the very first time, I wasn’t even living here in the US. I had to take a flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, making it very expensive, but I had to make it happen.
So, I remember packing my bags for the Swim Show, and packing up half mannequins alongside bikinis from my collection, and all my flyers etc. As you can imagine, I packed pretty heavy :)
Let me tell you that my budget was very limited, so I rented not only a small space, but an empty one. This meant I had to take things with me to make it prettier, but since the booth was so small, 2 racks and one big poster would be enough to do this… or so I thought. But when I got to the show and saw all the other huge, monster booths, I was so afraid and demoralized, that my self confidence fell through the floor (in fact, let’s say 1000 feet below the floor). No need to tell you that, in addition, I was completely alone and worried that if I even had to go pee I might lose potential customers. So, days passed by and very few people came to my booth. The few people who did always said the same things: “your things are super cute!” or “I didn’t expect to find anything like this here!”. So, my first Swim Show was over and I didn’t even break even. However, that’s pretty common for the first time attendees; at least this was what the manager told me (apparently I also had the worst location).
But since I am very persistent, I didn’t get too disheartened by the results, and I went back again the following year. This time, I had a little more experience, and really hoped my second time would be better. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. The same thing happened: I arrived with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, but when I saw all the other huge and beautiful booths, my confidence once again fell through the floor. This time I was super lucky to have a friend visit me from time to time so I didn’t feel so lonely. Because, believe me, the shows without a lot of activity tend to be not only very boring but also very lonely! So again, results were not as expected and I didn’t even break even.
But this was not the end of it! I’m very stubborn so I gave it yet another try! This time, I was too heavily pregnant to fly, so my business partner and my brother went to the show. This year, we were able to hire a nicer booth, and one that was custom-made. Yes, it cost more, but I thought my basic booth had been the problem in previous years: because the look and feel didn’t match the products. So, we invested everything we had in a nicer booth, and off they went. Again, sadly, results were worse than the worst (if that’s possible)! We didn’t even get 1 sale from the Swim Show! As you can imagine, my heart was broken into a hundred pieces.
As small, independent designers, there is so much hope tied up in these trade shows that when things don’t happen as we imagine, our hearts are shattered! So much work for nothing!
However… this wasn’t the last time :P
Once again, after I felt I’d recovered from my previous show experiences, and armed with a collection that was the best one so far, I gave it another go. Again, I went with a lot of expectations, but this time, things were a little different. Firstly, we were participating at a different show – Salon Allure – which happened to be on at the same time as the Swim Show at the Convention Centre. The difference with this show was that there were no traditional booths. Instead, each “booth” was a room from the W Hotel at South Beach. This sounded so chic and fabulous, and the best part was that I wasn’t competing with the other monster booths. We all had the same chances, so I was confident and happy to go. This time, things got better and we had the major buyers stopping by our booth which was such an amazing feeling! I really thought that I’d made it this time! We got orders!!!! Nothing hugely impressive, but that is the way you start – small and building up from there. So I was more than happy with the results!
Nina Swim Flyer for Salon Allure
But then… something else happened. I switched manufacturers, and an order that was supposed to take 3 to 4 months to manufacture ended up taking 7! So, instead of receiving my products in November when most of my orders were for, I didn’t receive them until April.
At this time. I had just given birth to my last son and I remember being so depressed because I’d lost most of my orders through no fault of my own. To make things even worse, I had a loan to pay back, and I needed those orders to return the loan.
And this was the point when my whole life changed. When I had hit rock-bottom, and felt like nothing worse could possibly happen, I suddenly had the realization that an online business was the solution. I had all this inventory to sell, so I decided I should build a nice online store and start selling it online. But how? Yes, I knew that social media could help my idea work, but I knew that alone wasn’t enough, so I looked for a solution and hired a coach to help me. To cut a long story short (luckily with a happy ending!) I learned everything I know now and more, and in 3 months I was able to make $50.000, which was enough repay the loan.
But this whole process also changed the way I feel about my business. I believe in a free-based business, but selling wholesale makes this kind of hard. So, I decided that I would only do business online (with few exceptions). In this way, I’m able to work to my own schedule with a virtual team. If I was still selling wholesale, I would have to work harder, show up at an office and hire a lot of people. None of these are things I want in my life or business now! I’m a great believer in free-based business, and being based online is the solution for me! This is why I hate the wholesale trade and I’m passionate about online business. Hope this make sense :)
Now it’s your time. Did you ever go to a trade show? If yes, how did it go?
I know many designers experience the same devastating setbacks I did, of investing a lot of money and not getting it back. This is not only heartbreaking, but can kill many designers’ dreams of having their own fashion brand. I would love to hear your stories. Please let me know in the comments below!