Expo West begins today, and for the next few days many brands will experience a whirlwind of networking, handing out samples, schmoozing at after-hours events, and starting potential business deals. Once it all wraps up, though, now what? Well, then it’s time to turn that momentum into tangible success. You’ve invested time, money, and energy into the event, and now the post-trade show phase is crucial. 

Let’s break down the essential steps to ensure you make the most of your trade show experience (keep in mind that this is also relevant for brands wrapping up an ECRM session as well!).

Create Your Event Post-Mortem Document

The first step in your post-trade show checklist is to take a moment to breathe and reflect on the whirlwind of the past few days – and getting those notes down on paper. It’s incredible how quickly the event fades from our memory, so now is the time to document the experience so you have it for future reference. 

Did you achieve your goals? Whether it’s expanding your network of potential distributors, finding a new co-packer, securing new orders, or simply gaining exposure, this reflection is crucial for your future success. 

Create a post-show document answering two simple questions: What went well and what could be improved next time? Did you run out of samples too soon? Make a note. Were you impressed by a competitor’s booth? Snap a picture and jot down ideas. Did a buyer ask you a question that you stumbled your way through? Write it down so you can be better prepared for next time. Did you order your pop-up banner too late and have to pay rush shipping on it? Make sure you document that so you don’t make the same mistake again.

Remember, the devil is in the details, and your future self will thank you for this comprehensive reflection when preparing for the next trade show in a few months, or a year from now. Enlist your team’s help in creating this document if they were there with you; their perspective can offer valuable insights you might have missed.

Send Your Follow-ups

This one is obvious, but I can’t tell you how often I have clients who use ALL their energy at the show, and come home, exhausted and feeling behind, only to drop the ball on the follow-up afterwards. The success of your trade show appearance doesn’t end when the curtains close. The real magic happens in the follow-up: it’s as simple as sending strategic follow-up emails to the potential connections you made. 

Your goal is to keep the momentum going and establish a plan of action, asking for what you want to happen next. Provide your well-crafted sell sheets, price lists, and a thoughtful distribution plan, and share any introductory offers you’re promoting on the heels of the show. 

When should you hit their inbox? I suggest the sweet spot is Monday or Tuesday after the show. This gives you enough time to organize yourself post-event and ensures your email won’t get lost in a sea of post-trade show correspondence. You do NOT need to be the first email that lands in their inbox; realistically you can follow up from the show within three weeks and still be relevant. Keep in mind that if a buyer suggests a timeframe for when and how to follow up from your meeting, that is what you follow to the letter.

In addition to showing up in the inbox, where else can you connect with that buyer? Maybe there’s an upcoming category review that they told you about; make sure you’ve got your materials together and submit on time. Perhaps it’s time to circle back with them on RangeMe, or ship them additional samples. Maybe you see they’re active on LinkedIn, and you can start to engage with their content. Many different roads can lead to the sale!

The million-dollar question is: What happens when you don’t hear back? I teach our Retail Ready students to create a flowchart of sales templates so you always have something to say as you email for the second, third, and fourth time, or beyond! Keep circling back every few weeks until you get that hard “NO” from that new wholesale lead. You’ll feel like you’re annoying at this point, but keep at it until you’ve gotten the rejection. There can be many reasons why your email goes unread. Buyers are incredibly busy and get a ton of emails every day. 

And be realistic here – the larger account, the longer it takes to get on their shelves. While you might be able to land on the shelves of an independent store or small chain within a month or two after a show, for many accounts it can take 6-18 months to go from the initial interest phase to getting the first purchase order. Retail can be painfully slow, so keep being persistent; it pays off (see the video below to learn of one brand’s experience from the time she met with a buyer at an ECRM Session to the time her products landed on the shelf). 

One brand’s experience from initial buyer meeting to getting on the shelf.

Supporting Your Product on Their Shelf

If all goes according to plan, then congratulations, you’ve secured a spot on a new retail account’s shelf! Now, it’s time to capitalize on this success. Inside of Retail Ready we then move to what we call the “Coordinated Kick Off” and “The Reorder Checklist.” 

What can you do in the first thirty days of your new account to execute a coordinated kick off, ensuring that the staff and the shoppers start to know and trust your brand? What marketing materials do you need to provide? How can you start the relationship with a concerted effort to drive trial and sales? From there, what quarterly marketing plan can you implement to reconnect with the store’s staff and the regular shoppers to continue to push sales? Sales do not happen without a strong marketing plan to support them, so don’t forget it’s YOUR job to sell off the shelf once you’re there. 

Remember, you’ve invested your time, energy and money to attend a trade show. Don’t let those resources go to waste after the show is over, no matter how tired you are from the whirlwind of the in-person event! These three steps, while simple, are the most important places to focus your energy as you return home and build on the momentum that you gained on the trade show floor.

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