Getting into your first trade show

Angela writes:

The fabric/trade shows: how does one attend if one is not yet an “industry professional” or “student”? I get the feeling that walking up to the door of an event without any credentials would be futile. Any suggestions? Shows which don’t mind look-y-loos?

I don’t know and I’m sorry. I do know that a lot of times, the show management posts all these rules to scare people off but if you go to register and act like you belong, you’ll be okay. I mean, that’s what I do when I want to get into shows that have nothing to do with what I’m doing. I do know that it will not hurt to get on industrial mailing lists (Apparel magazine, Canadian Apparel* magazine etc) because you’ll get coupons or codes in the mail (or via email) to sign up for stuff. Note: when you register on any industry site, do it right; don’t fill in bogus information. This business is really small. People are connected in the most unlikely ways and they will talk. Some amateurs following a link from here last year, went and filed bogus applications over at the Canadian Apparel Federation and I heard all about it. That makes everybody look bad. Industrial sites simply do not have the time, money, interest nor inclination to send you a bunch of junk either on their behalf or selling it to someone else. Business to business sales (at least in this business) are nothing like the pervasive non-stop marketing onslaught typical of consumer level retail so don’t worry. You want to get on all the mailing lists you can. At least at the outset. If anything, this business is the opposite. You sign up for stuff and nobody sends you anything.

Personally, I’ve never been to a wholesale clothing show like Magic (I’ve only gone to the machine, fabric and equipment shows). I have often wondered how I would get into something like Magic because I’m not a buyer or a non-exhibiting competitor (manufacturer). I’ve thought that when the time comes, I just call up one of the people I know and get them to get me a badge but I know that is not something that everyone can do. My experience at fabric shows won’t help you either. I was usually invited to attend (as a speaker) or I knew the show’s promoter.

There are smaller fabric shows that cater to start ups like the AIBI shows in Chicago. There are smaller shows in NY and LA too but I’ve never been to those. The rules are lax to get into the smaller shows. Often it only takes a business card and a recent canceled check. They’re asking for a canceled check so they know you have a legitimate account. If your check is a personal account with some sewing icons on it, it may be a problem. My business checks don’t even have my name on them; a practice I’d recommend. I mean, do large businesses have the owner’s name on the checks? Nope. Just the little guys who haven’t figured that part out yet. I’d also recommend the big checks, not the little ones you use for personal checking. This could be considered “signaling”.

Readers? What’s your take on this? How do you get into your first show if you’re just starting out and have no credentials? I know some shows that require you to show paid invoices totaling $500 or more but aside from making those up in your word processing program (if needed), how do you get in the door? Suggestions? Ideas?

* I don’t write about it nearly enough, but I really like the CAF’s magazine. I realize most of us are US based but our magazine is awful with regards to the interests of small companies. The Canadian magazine is much friendlier. I’m hoping that if the magazine’s circulation grows to sufficient extent, they can justify adding news and features for smaller businesses here in the lower 48. The subscription is free but worth paying for.

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