Trade show review: Project 8/2008

Today we have a guest entry from Natalie who has a hand bag line called Sienna Ray and who recently launched at Project in Las Vegas. Thanks Natalie!
The idea to take part in the recent Project in Las Vegas was not just an overnight “let’s do it”, there were a many factors I decided to review before splashing out on such a large cash investment especially since my firm is Canadian. It was the beginning of June (two months ahead of time) when I set myself some main goals before I would commit to a trade show: centered around the two major staples that all my Spring 09 samples must be complete by the end of July (1 month before show) and I would commit to an approximate planned budget.

Once the goals were set it was research time and this was easier than I had imagined. I first spoke to all my current best “boutique” style retailers and asked which shows they visited, then googled and read up on each of the shows and of course found much direction from previous entries on I had walked Coterie, Sole Commerce, and D&A this past February in NY so already had a bit of an idea of what to expect at the shows… scarily remembering how slow the shows were and how bad it was that so many people in their booths sat there so bored looking! But I was determined that the best way to get my bags into the US stores was getting in front of them, and so far with no luck at finding the right US showroom for my line, this was going to be through a trade show.

Due to timing I decided to narrow down my choices to the end of August shows in Vegas. Since I am accessories, my first decision was whether to go to an “accessories” based show (Accessories The Show by MODA, WSA the collections, or the Accessories area at MAGIC) or to a general “fashion” based show (Pool, Project, MODA). I spoke with all show reps and then back again to the advice I had gathered earlier: I liked the format and stature that WSA The Collections but I felt this show would be better for more experience brands as it is in hotel rooms, meaning less walk-by traffic than I needed and the dates for the show were at the end of July which was too early for me. Then for the other two Accessories shows, I was advised that the price point of my line was too high and would not sit well amid some of the tackier entry level brands at these shows (after walking them, I agree the reviews I had were completely correct). Then I had heard similar advice about Pool, that my line may be too mature for the retailers here. I passed on MODA as I hadn’t heard anyone even mention it and was left with Project. I heard great reviews “that is the only show I go to / you should show at” from my best retailers and brands that I sit with so started negotiating with the Project rep for a space. (Note: in the future I would also consider the NY shows, heard best things about ENK and their Accessories Circuit).

I definitely was not prepared when the rep told me that she loved my line but is was too premature for the show and that they had sold out of space for accessories… after all my prep-work I was not taking no as an answer. I knew the cost was by far, more than any of the other shows at $6,500 per booth non-negotiable. I had asked around to my showroom contacts about this and was shocked that everyone pays full price but at Project this price covers all little extras, which I am happy to say is true. I did not have to pay anything extra for set-up, tables, chairs, or anything. Plus as a full package cost, it included thier basic booth displays which yes, were basic, but the same as all the other brands around had too. I liked this set up, let the product speak for itself. I also decided at the beginning of the trade show, plans to bring along another designer’s belts with me to lessen total package cosst. I was prepared to spend this money in terms of an advertising investment without an immediate recoup. I was confident my bags were at the right quality level for Project and called the rep back. Once I phoned the rep back and told her this too, there was suddenly a space open up for me. Yeah! Now I was excited! And nervous!

With samples in the works at my factories, the main pre-show task was my selling materials. I brought:

  • order forms prepped with carbon papers between
  • line sheets: immediate/holiday 08 & spring 2009
  • press releases on my eco bags and other special items
  • 10 or so pre-packed new business bundles with all these items packed to easily hand to new booking accounts
  • lookbooks with leather swatches
  • flyers, with stickers stating my booth number
  • business cards

Once I was ready to head down to Vegas, I realized that taking my samples on my flight (in checked luggage) would not be the best of ideas. Again thanks to all F1 members who helped on this; see the forum for importing samples for a recap of this full situation. I then decided to used my FedEx account and ship the samples down to my hotel in advance. I stayed at Treasure Island which was a great location to stay for Project; reasonable price and easily 5-10min walk between hotel and show as they are directly across the street/strip from each other. The hotel held the two boxes for a $12 fee from the Thursday they arrived to the Sunday I arrived. I have shipped across the border a few times now and note to self, always always fill out as much paperwork as you can to save any possible hassle. Don’t learn this the hard way, if customs wants to be picky they can make your life hell…

Back on track, we arrived on the Sunday, set-up day was Monday and show days were Tuesday – Thursday so we packed up to leave on Friday.

I brought a friend who is fabulous, loves my handbags and as my business grows larger will most likely come on board with me permanently. It was a great bonding time between us and she was a great help through-out the show. It was important to have an optimistic/positive person with me. We were very happy to arrive early and have the Monday morning to set-up while the show floor was extremely quiet. We got in just after the doors opened and gasped at how large it was, eager to get all up and perfect we were done our set-up by midday. At this point there were still only a few rare booths actually set-up, I suspect 75% of the booths would be setting up later in the afternoon – very thankful we were there early and were able to be super stress-free to start things off!

This also gave us time to walk the other shows. As mentioned briefly earlier, this was very helpful in justifying my initial decision to show at Project. I now felt 100% confident that I was at the right show.

Tuesday morning quickly came and this first day was mostly quick stops by, not too many wanting to come into the booth but making sure to ask for cards from anyone who showed interest. We gave out fliers with booth number at every chance we could so they could come back over the next few days. We had no previously booked appointments which was too bad because if there is a little action in the booth, more would come by. We had quite a few press people stop by as well, which was fab as we have since been reviewed in WWD on August 30th as “”Sienna Ray one of the Fresh new accessories talent seen at Project”!

It was definitely a fashion show at all times. The models were not the only ones strutting around the aisles but I loved watching all the styles and interesting outfits of all the designers, reps and buyers. Being a handbag girl I was smiling from the beginning of day one that these were quality buyers at Project: they all had beautiful luxury handbags on arm!

The designer who did the belts I included in the booth also came out with a friend so there ended up being 4 of us in our booth. In a perfect world this was too much for the tiny 10×10 booth. But we made the most of it and it did give me the allowance and comfort to leave the booth and walk the show quite a bit. This ended up being a great highlight of the trip as I am quite easy going and friendly and between striking up conversation in line for coffee and making connections with other designers, I at least doubled my leads and contacts, many of whom may have passed our booth and not stopped long enough to talk. Speaking to other leather handbag designers is very intimidating but I sucked it up and went straight for them. I knew of their brands as I had followed them online over the last few years and if anything, these new contacts are people I’ve looked up to as I strive to build my business to be as successful as they have been. I noted that at first contact it was common that they did not want to hear I was another designer in their field (going to steal their designs etc.) but once I described myself as new on the scene and started discussing current issues we both come across in business, I left them open to share so much with me. I thank them a lot for all the confidence they shared during the show, mainly to keep strong with all you do and the success follows.

We also lucked out to have a wonderful designer with an amazingly open heart at the booth next door to us. She had experience at the show and the industry and proved a breath of fresh air on many occasions during the three days. Another positive note on the show was their supply of free water and fab cappuccino bar plus -not sure if this is with all shows- we appreciated the food tickets they gave us. There were two tickets per day so since there was 4 of us we had to buy more, but at $8.75 for a huge/tasty Cobb Salad we were very impressed.

The show was slow. This is not news. But we did take orders! And the first one was on the morning of Day 2 to a woman who came around the first day and promised she’d be back to book. Success, our first store in the USA, we were thrilled! And kept that feeling with us over the next two days which must have worked as we picked up a couple more accounts, mainly in the Southern states, and took home many business cards stapled into our book with as many notes as possible, to follow-up with now that we are back. On both days we did not rush out at the end of the day but stayed around for a little while and this was successful as we met some great buyers who were passing by as they slowly made their way out. Oh, our location was good, central, between the washrooms and the front door. Definitely near the washrooms or where the food/drink stations for buyers would be the ideal locations. We heard the major players (VIP buyers, Bendels, Saks etc) did their viewing during after hours via the golf-kart taxis so we tried to leave the booth somewhat set-up but pushed away from the aisle edges (as we also heard one booth had a pair of shoes stolen overnight). Our neighbor lent us an extra plastic sheet to cover the front of the booth at the end of each day but I would recommend using tape to “X” off the front in the future.

Luckily we went into the trip with the same mentality that this was a business trip and not time to party each night away. Thank god as even with our easy evenings of shopping (Fashion Show Mall & Planet Holllywood Mall are fab!), low-key dinners (favorite was “Ra” with outside seating at the Fashion Show Mall) and to bed by as early as possible each night, by the time Thursday came around we were so done with Vegas and felt like we were hit by a bus, absolutely shattered and exhausted! Must be all that air conditioning, inside air? We so wished our flight departed the same night as the last day of the show but in the end, we did appreciate our 5 hours poolside before getting on the plane home on Friday.

So when is the next show for Sienna Ray? That question has been posed to us a few times already since our return. Many things to consider. First rule of thumb will be when I can afford the costs of the entire booth and not have to share space with another designer. Also to book some appointments or at least dedicate more time to pre-calling and contacting potential visitors. One thing Project does not do is release any information on the buyers that attend the show. Also as much as I felt Project was the right place for our bags, following my general business plan, I would prefer the bags to be there in the trusty hands of a sales rep or multi-label showroom.

This all comes with time though as I am more than happy with my decision to take part in the show and ecstatic to be selling across the USA and have such wonderful new contacts on hand! To other designers I say good luck, do your homework, and then take the risk to get out yourself there.

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  1. Anne says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write about your experiences. I love reading these and always learn something new and helpful. Love your collection — best of luck to you in the US market!

  2. joni says:

    Hi Natalie,
    Tomorrow I set up at my first trade show in Toronto – a big difference in size from your adventure – but just as exciting for me. Your review has got me feeling quite positive – nothing ventured nothing gained – I hope I am as successful as you have been. Thank you for the inspiration to move forward.

  3. Tiffany says:

    What a coincidence. I just came across this line . I love your bags. I can’t wait to see them in stores here. Thanks for the info.

  4. Carla says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us. This allows us an inside view of the shows from a DE’s point of view. I’m actually just starting out, and though I’ve read the Bible (Kathleen Fasanella’s Sewn Product Boo), I’m still a little daunted by all of the hoopla! This has given me a clearer picture of the shows that I might be interested at selling at and great insight from the buyers you know and which shows they also attend.

    I’m sure I’ll be seeing you at one of the trade shows in New York soon. I wish you the best of success and luck.

  5. sarah says:

    Yes , I agree. Good on yah!

    Good business owners are those who rarely say “should have , could have ” but rather act ( if it won’t put them out of biz!!) , and then learn from the results.

    I am planning on trying to get into the d & a in nyc , is it really as screened to get accepted as they market it “say it” is?

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