What it’s like to exhibit at MAGIC

I’ve been waiting for the last of the trip reports from a company that did their first show at Magic but it hasn’t come in yet. Therefore, I’m going to mention some things they told me that you should know your first time out. A lot of what they had to say is very negative, particularly with regard to trade show management so it is only reluctantly that I report this second hand. Still, I think you need to be aware of what can go wrong so I can’t not say something about it. Also, some of the problems were of their own making but it wasn’t due to carelessness or laziness so there’s no reason to think any of you wouldn’t make similar mistakes without forewarning. I asked Miracle to collaborate on this document; her comments are in brackets.

Their line was mis categorized. A denim line, their booth was in contemporary men’s which is higher price points. While the venue was classy and sedate, they were out of place. Better placement would have been with in streetwear or even at Project (my pick) based on the energy factor and presence of competing lines. In my opinion, within men’s contemporary, they were stuck in a catch-all miscellaneous grouping which didn’t make sense to me. They weren’t paired with any similar lines and the traffic pattern was disadvantageous. Unfortunately, if you’re a new line with limited clout, you’re not likely to have much say over where your booth will be.

The mis categorization of the line happened for two reasons. First, they hadn’t walked the show previously. You have to do that to find a place for your stuff to hang. You want to be near other lines like yours. Second, the show management advised them to show there. While show management is generally helpful, they still have their own agenda meaning they’re looking to fill empty slots that may be their best fit, not yours.

[Miracle: I don’t think this is as much of a problem at highly juried shows, because those show organizers pay so much more attention to booth placement and overall merchandising. I have known other people to have this same problem at MAGIC and they didn’t have the problem at smaller, juried, targeted shows]

Excessive charges. One example was a $400 charge for an extension cord to get power to the booth. Now, when you sign up for a booth, you get power included, the fee includes electrical service. However, due to a mix up and poor management of the oversight (and their easy going nature), they never got power to the booth. Someone suggested an extension cord from another unoccupied booth and they happily agreed, being easy going people. They didn’t realize they were going to be charged $400 for it when they checked out. In the end they agreed to pay for it because they say they were threatened with other higher fees if they insisted on contesting it.

The newbie trade show tax. If you’ve never had a booth at a trade show, you have to do a lot of homework. As it was, they read everything, or nearly everything and they still got burnt. Most of it was due to their unfamiliarity of trade show policies. For example, they say they still don’t understand what “marshalling” meant, no one explained it to them but it ended up costing them a pretty penny.

When you show at a standard venue like this, you should know these facilities are run by unions. Organized ones. The process of unloading your booth componentry, setting it up, maintaining it and tearing it down to remove it from the facility (drayage) is highly regulated. In the case of the Las Vegas convention center, you are not allowed to unload your own booth from your truck or van. A guy comes with a forklift to pull it off for you. So, first off, your booth has to be packed onto pallets and wrapped with pallet wrap. Now, you don’t have to do that of course but then you’ll get stuck like they did. The DEs didn’t have it packed like that, so being particular about it, they unloaded each piece manually while the man on the forklift watched. The forklift driver checked off some boxes on a form he had and made them sign it. In the end they were charged $30 for each separate piece they had unloaded by hand. Plus a weight charge. Over all, they paid several thousand dollars more than they had anticipated.

[Miracle: This is one area where DEs have no leeway. This type of situation is just part of the business when exhibiting at a trade show, any trade show, no matter the industry. It’s how things are done, so to speak. It’s one reason that as a prospective exhibitor, you should try to interview other exhibitors first, even if you can’t get a hold of someone in your industry at the same show, you can find someone who has shown at the same venue. I have participated in an industry trade show (not in the fashion industry), when I was employed, so none of this is new to me, you will pay for every little thing and you will pay a pretty penny for every little thing. I worked a booth where we weren’t allowed to water our own flowers, we had to pay someone to bring water to the booth. Having said that, I do not know to what extent this is common at shows that do not take place in an exhibit hall, because part of the stringency of the regulations with regard to fees and labor, is due to the nature of unionized exhibit halls. As a side note, I have known of a show to change venues for this reason.]

In addition to Miracle’s suggestion above, read everything and if you don’t understand something, ask or search for a definition on the web. The Magic Show has a whole passel of documents (12 pdfs) related to the back end of putting up a booth. Read everything. They admit they skipped over freight and expositions services which proved to be their undoing. Again, if you don’t understand the lingo, consult a trade show glossary.

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  1. Heather says:

    We are going to exhibit at ABC Kids Expo in LV this fall. I’m terrified of screwing up and having the Teamsters come after me. I really really want to do everything correctly and I KNOW there are going to be some things that we mess up, some overcharges, some things that will require large quanitities of vodka to deal with.

    The pallet-ing, is that par for the course across all shows? Even non-apparel shows? Anyone with experience at ABC or JPMA who knows?

  2. Georgina says:

    I exhibited at MAGIC last year. I paid for a hard-wall booth. Included in the fee was a table, some chairs, a sign, and some racks. At the show I asked for two additional racks and they charged me about $200 for them.
    I went with two helpers and each of us rolled in a suitcase full of our samples. This is allowed. We did not have to pay anybody to help us. We also brought and returned the iron from our hotel room. If you rent an iron at MAGIC it costs you about $50. A steamer is more.

    I did not like MAGIC in that there was alot of random traffic. A lot of people taking my expensive postcards and wanting line sheets that were not buyers. Towards the end of the first day we got wise to this and only gave out literature to probable customers. There were alot of contractors, factors, printers, etc. It seemed like there were more of these types of people than actual quality buyers. This last go-around we showed at WINN at the Rio and we did much better.

  3. Thomas Cuningham says:

    I think you guys are being too tough on MAGIC. I showed there twice — shipped my goods in via the freight forwarders recommended in the show guide — cost maybe $250 total. They came to my house, picked up the boxes, palletized them, took care of everything. The samples were at my booth when I got to Vegas. At the end of the show I boxed them up, the teamsters took them away and they arrived at home safely. I never had a problem or had an overcharge.

    The only thing that I felt was unfair was that they hard-sell you to purchase a one-time show insurance coverage. I bought it first time, then my insurance agent told me I was covered under my existing liability policy. So that was money wasted.

    But as a VERY small company, I had no problem working with MAGIC. If you don’t have the time to read the show catalog and take their suggestions, you should probably stick with the smaller non-corporate shows.


  4. Well, I went to Magic last August for Swim. It was OK. I also got excessive traffic that had nothing to do with buyers! It was really expensive for what accounts I did get. I think I will skip it this year, and just go to the Swimshow in Miami, and maybe next year try it again. But, yes you have to do your research!!!
    -On shipping, your model, having the booth made, cleaning service, you name it – even your hotel and air.
    And, be ready to maximize everyone who comes to your booth. I noticed when we had one person showing interest, and talking to us – a crowd would start watching, and more would want in on the action.

  5. Kathleen says:

    I think you guys are being too tough on MAGIC. I showed there twice — shipped my goods in via the freight forwarders recommended in the show guide — cost maybe $250 total. They came to my house, picked up the boxes, palletized them, took care of everything. The samples were at my booth when I got to Vegas. At the end of the show I boxed them up, the teamsters took them away and they arrived at home safely. I never had a problem or had an overcharge.

    I think the situation was that they figured they had to drive down anyway (the de owns a van) and eliminated the possibility (assuming they read that) thinking why should they pay someone to transport it when they had the means to move it themselves and save $250? Things can be counterintuitive. It’s rough having to figure things out the hard way, that the higher up front cost is the method of higher savings and problem avoidance. Like I said, counterintuitive until you know better.

  6. Kathleen says:

    I got this comment in an email and I didn’t get permission to print it but I don’t think it’ll be a problem if I don’t mention who sent it. I think it bears repeating since it’s a repeat of what I’m always saying, you have to do things the established way to get in the door. If you don’t, you can’t get in and ever be in a position to change things.

    Regarding MAGIC, I think that a lot of us smaller vendors complain about them like they’re the big bad wolf. But the reality is that MAGIC is one of the largest trade shows in the world and they’re not really set-up or run for the benefit of DEs. I found that if I did things the way they suggested, I would save myself both money and hassles. It was EXACTLY the same way when I was selling Bloomingdale’s. If I handled my shipments exactly the way they told me to, everything worked perfectly. If I tried to suggest a different way to do something or cut corners to save myself some money, it created a huge problem. It’s not that Bloomingdale’s is bad, they are just a big company that does an amazing job of managing an enormous amount of inventory. If you’re not ready to meet their requirements, you shouldn’t be selling them. They don’t have an obligation to make life easier for a few tiny vendors that will account for a insignificant percentage of their sales.

    The end result of these type of hassles is that for most DE’s attendance at corporate shows like MAGIC and working with big corporate customers like Federated, is probably cost-prohibitive and not worthwhile. DEs should probably focus on selling independent retailers and attending the regional shows, (of which there are several fine ones in the men’s industry) or the ‘non-corporate’ counter-shows (like Project used to be). MAGIC will take anyone’s money who wants to show, but the whole make-up of the show is oriented to corporate buyers and big corporate vendors, so the entire structure doesn’t favor DEs. Again, this is NOT a complaint against MAGIC, they do what they do very well. but what they offer is not really what DEs need, in my opinion.

  7. Oxanna says:

    Thank you (and the people at this company) very much for the info! I could easily see myself making exactly the same mistakes had I not read this.

    I guess as a DE you learn by experience, good and bad…

  8. The Emperor's Dresser says:

    Pool in February was terrible, slowest ever! Only to be told with phony happy emails that it was their best ever. The management there was terrible. There was no effort made to connect new lines with buyers, it was one big party for a few lines. Though the set up was great, it was a huge waste of effort, research, time and money. It is one thing if you line is met with resistance, but when there are hollow halls for 3 days straight, and you did your part of the work, there are other folks to “blame.” Trade shows seem to be slower than ever…somethings gotta give. But for the price and hype, I could have travelled to numerous cities on my own and gotten more contacts and sales.
    Not to mention that all I got out of Pool was a bunch of people trying to sell me stuff! Why don’t those people have to get a booth, why should they be able to shop around their stickers, their manufacturing services for free.

    Pool needs to truly work on their customer service – they have one job to do, and it is questionable if it is being done.

  9. Paul says:

    I participated in a couple of non-apparel industry trades shows at the LV convention center in the 2006 – 2008 timeframe, and we did not run into any issues related to carting our booth into the event or taking it down and removing it when we left. But we just had the type of booth that folds/rolls up into its own containers like oversized golf bags on wheels. Maybe there is a clause that excludes this type of stuff vs. items that you would have to use a separate cart or hand-truck to move. One of my business partners at the time took care of the registration/logistics, and yes, there are plenty of details that can cost you, so DO NOT take this comment as a rebuttal to any of the info on this post. Just my observations on my experience.

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