Category Archives: Sales

Is cutting out the middleman a good idea?

I often hear small brands boast being able to offer better quality products at lower prices by “cutting out the middleman”.  The middleman they’re referring to is retailers, and they often follow up this statement with comparing themselves to brands like Warby Parker and Everlane who have had great success doing just that. But do we really want to run retailers out of business?

Independent retailers were traditionally where indie brands got their start. When we refer to desirable neighborhoods as being full of cute and cool shops, these are the places we are referring to. They’re stores founded and run by a passionate shopkeeper who curates a collection of merchandise to delight her customers. These are stores with only a handful of employees, and every employee knows the story behind every product and brand, and they’re only too happy to spread the word to everyone who comes in the store. And these are the “middlemen” that will go out of business if the new brands with compelling stories decide that they don’t need them.

I, for one, do not want to live in a world where there are no cute shops. I do not want my only options for in-person shopping to be Target or some bizarre Amazon storefront.

It’s true that “paying the middleman” brings up the cost of the product. For every product you pay $100 for at a store, the retailer probably paid between $40-$60 for it, and the manufacturer probably paid $20-$30 to have it made. This can vary greatly depending on the type of product but is a general rule of thumb.

By skipping the middleman, i.e. selling directly to you, the manufacturer can list that same product for, say $75, which makes it seem like a great deal to you, while at the same time giving them even more profit than they’d make selling to a store.

Alternatively, the manufacturer can create an even higher quality product, with better materials, or more features, that costs them, say, $50 to make instead of $20. Normally the retail price for this product would then be in the $200-$250 range. Instead, they bring this product to market for $150, hoping to lure some of those customers who were comfortable with spending $100 to spend $150 for a much better product with a great story. They just made $100 on that sale, which is a lot more than the $25 they’d make going the normal route, and even better than the $50 they’d make just dropping the price. And both the customer and the manufacturer get to feel good about outsmarting the system and cutting out the middleman.

Once the manufacturer decides to go this route, it’s hard to go back because you’ll never be able to offer wholesale pricing again – the margins just aren’t there. I think that’s the reason they preach about why it is so great to cut-out the middleman. They’re fully committed.

And, in the process, they change the whole value perception for the product. Before, Warby Parker, you’d get your eyes checked once a year or so and then you’d buy a pair of glasses for $300 or $400 or $500.  And it was like a punch in the gut. But now that Warby Parker exists, and you know you can get stylish frames from Warby Parker for $100, you feel like a schmuck for paying so much more for your eyeglasses from your optometrist. Even though he’s the small, local business owner and Warby Parker is the big corporation.

That brings me back to my original point. Do we really want all these small shops to go away? In many ways, what’s happening now reminds me of when Wal-Mart killed main street. From afar, it looked like small town folk were just blindly letting their main streets go to rot by being seduced by the Wal-Mart on the edge of town that had everything under one roof with incredibly low prices. It doesn’t seem too different to me now that people are being lured away from their independent urban stores by online-only brands that offer them the stories and products they’re craving at a price they can’t resist.

Or am I, as a small indie brand still committed to partnering with independent retailers, just being stubborn and not facing the reality? I bet there were a lot of brands that told their Main St. customers that they were going to stick with them instead of pitch to Wal-Mart, and I’m guessing that didn’t turn out well for them. I just don’t want to live in a world without the shops that define the neighborhoods I love.

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What’s so bad about selling to rich people?

I grew up in a middle class family, but we were very frugal. Creatively reusing things and figuring out how to save money was our way of life. Discovering that you overpaid for something was shameful, as was buying something you didn’t need. We would scoff at the idea of buying name-brand things. “Don’t they know that such-and-such is the same exact thing for half the price?” we’d say, shaking our heads at the thought of such foolishness.

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How to Use Quickbooks to Keep Track of Pre-Orders and Backorders

If you’re looking for a way to manage your pre-orders and backorders, I just figured out how to do it with Quickbooks Premier. It’s super easy!

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How to Find Independent Sales Reps

If you have a product that you want to sell to retailers, you’re soon going to need help with sales. Following up with current and potential accounts takes a surprising amount of effort, especially as your list grows to 100+ leads, which it probably will after a single trade show. That’s a lot for one person to handle, especially if that one person is doing everything else in the business. The logical next step is to find sales reps.

In my industry, brands rely almost exclusively on commission-only independent sales reps rather than in-house reps that earn a mix of salary and commission. The reps operate as business owners themselves, picking up lines of products that go together, showing them to stores that they have relationships with, and writing orders on your behalf. They will be the primary point of contact with your customer (which, by the way, they consider as their customer).

Being a sales rep is hard work. You are knocking on a lot of doors and showing the line to a lot of people before you get any bites. Bites large enough to pay the bills with a commission check, anyway. For that reason, I recommend going with an experienced rep who has a lot of relationships in place instead of someone who is just getting started or just really likes your product and wants to help you out.

At Po Campo, we have gone through a lot of reps and, in doing so, I have developed a couple ways to find reps. Below are my methods from most successful (as in, bringing in the most and best quality orders) to the least successful.

  • Ask the buyer which reps he or she likes working with. A good rep solves problems, is organized and brings new opportunities to them, which makes the buyer more willing to purchase product from her. This is easier to do for smaller shops than bigger chains, but I say something like, “I am looking for a rep that sells to stores like yours, do you have any recommendations?”.
  • Ask other brands which reps they use and have had success with. Don’t ask direct competitors, but simpatico brands. For example, I look at what other accessory brands (hats, socks, etc) that my retailers stock and reach out to them for their recommendations. Most people are happy to share their good reps and can tell you which ones to stay away from too.
  • Ask reps for their suggestions. If you find a good rep, you can ask her for her suggestions. She might know of someone who is looking to pick up a line like yours, or someone that she knows did a good job with a line in a different territory. I put this as my third suggestion because although reps offer suggestions very readily, I feel like they judge effectiveness differently than buyers or brands do.
  • Industry rep organizations. For example, I was looking for a rep in the upper midwest and posted an ad on the MWSRA site and found someone.
  • Trade shows are a common place for reps to pick up and trade lines with other reps. There’s often a message board where you can post something. Many reps have booths with their lines, so you can find one with an assortment that would work for you.
I find reps to be better at “farming” than “hunting” meaning that they will be better at selling your line to accounts that they already have relationships with. For that reason, if you know which stores you want to sell to, make sure any prospective reps know the buyers there and have sold them within the last year or so. If you’re not sure which stores you want to be in in a certain territory, ask the rep which of her accounts will be most likely to buy your product, and that should give you a sense of where your product will end up in the best case scenario.

How do you find sales reps? Please add your suggestions in the comments below.

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How I Increased our Holiday Sales by 87%

My post “How I Plan to Maximize Holiday Sales” from 11/18/14 outlined my strategy for cashing in on the holiday shopping season. Are you curious about how my plans worked out? Now that the dust has settled, I checked to see how well we did.

I pulled these reports with Quickbooks and Google Analytics. Details on how to do so are in each metric.

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Google Analytics Acquisition>All Traffic>Channel report, comparing 2014 (Blue) against 2013 (Orange). This report shows Sessions (aka Traffic) and E-Commerce Conversion Rate.


Overall Goal: Double sales over 2013
Result: Overall sales increased by 87.2%. So not quite double, but pretty close.
Analysis: Of course it always burns a bit to not quite hit your goal, but overall I am happy with how the season turned out.
How I know this: In Quickbooks, I ran a Profit & Loss Statement (P&L) for the holiday time period and compared 2014 against 2013.


Goal: Double retail event sales by doing many more events
Result: Event sales increase by 98.7%. Hurray! Again, not quite the goal, but pretty darn close.
Analysis: We did a whopping 8 events (as opposed to just one in 2013), and that strategy obviously worked. That said, we were all pretty exhausted by the end of the month. Next year we’ll skip some of the slower shows and enlist more volunteers so we aren’t working seven days a week.
How I know this: In the same P&L statement from above, I filtered it for our “Retail Events” customer. We didn’t set-up a Retail Events customer until midway through 2014, but since we use Square for credit card transactions at events, I was able to figure out the 2013 sales with a Square sales report.


Goal: Maintain the momentum of increased traffic to our website by 56% over 2013
Result: Traffic increased by 62.3%.
Analysis: I attribute the extra bump in traffic to just more people being online and shopping.
How I know this: In the Google Analytics Acquisition Overview report, I compared 2014 against 2013. I refer to “Sessions” to represent inbound traffic.


Goal: Increase referral traffic by roughly 50% by being in more gift guides
Result: Referral traffic increased by 41.2%.
Analysis: Despite not hitting our goal, I am very pleased with how this strategy played out. Our e-commerce conversion rate from referral increased to an impressive 9.73% (compared to 0.41% in 2013), and of course that is a better metric than just traffic. We will push harder for gift guides next year, and get started on them earlier.
How I know this: In the same Google Analytics Overview report, then just clicking on the “Referral” line to dive into that report.


Goal: Invest in social media advertising to increase conversions.
Result: Our traffic from social increased an impressive 435.7% and our e-commerce conversion rate increased 214%. The vast majority of both traffic and conversions came from Pinterest.
Analysis: Obviously the Pinterest increase is a huge win, and interesting because we didn’t put any marketing dollars there. We did advertise on both Facebook and Google, and hardly saw a bump from those advertising efforts. Next year we will double down on Pinterest and try advertising there instead.
How I know this: In the same Google Analytics Overview report, then just clicking on the “Social” line to dive into that report.


Goal: Keep drop ship account momentum going, which had increased 74.1% over 2013.
Result: During the holidays, our drop ship orders increased by 132.1%!
Analysis: We offered our drop ship accounts limited-time discounts on certain SKUs so that they would have styles to promote during the big shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We also changed to shipping every day (rather than just Monday, Wednesday and Friday) so that they can offer more shipping days.
How I know this: In Quickbooks, I ran a report under “Manufacturing & Wholesale Reports” called “Sales by Customer Type” and filtered it for the “Drop Ship” type. Note: You have to be using the Quickbooks Premier: Manufacturing & Wholesale Edition to have access to this report. Another method would be to just compare sales from these accounts from one year to the other.


Overall I am very pleased with how the holiday sales turned out. It’s great to end the year on a high note and to sell through a lot of inventory. For 2016, I want to reduce the craziness by getting a headstart on some of these initiatives, especially pitching the gift guides and our social media campaigns earlier on.

If you had particular success with any of your holiday marketing strategies, please share in the comments below.

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Dealing with Entrepreneur’s Anxiety

I started blogging about my experience of building Po Campo three years ago but I only began regularly posting this past summer. I usually base the topic on something that I’m presently focused on, whether that be grandiose big picture things or nuts-and-bolts executional things. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all fair game and all part of the entrepreneur’s life.

Well, this weekend I drew a blank on what to write because I spent the last week doing little other than being overwrought about how much we would sell between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I wish I could tell you how I managed to overpower the anxiety in the end, but I can’t, because I haven’t. However, I am going to hold true to the promise I made to myself to post every week, which means that while anxiety about Christmas sales is not the most interesting topic, I suppose I will just have to write about that, because it’s all I can seem to think about.

The core of my anxiety is that our December sales need to be good to end the year with a profit, a goal that has eluded me for the last five years. In addition to just making me feel like I am doing a good job at running my business, being profitable would increase my likelihood of getting a bank loan, or some other kind of financing, so I could start to improve my balance sheet. There’s nothing I’d like more than being able to pay back some of those early friend and family loans that make me feel guilty and some of that high interest credit card debt that just makes me feel like a loser.

I put together a solid holiday marketing strategy to hit our sales goals, but that has apparently done little to assuage my anxiety. When I’m in a state like this, I feel paralyzed by my inability to control the outcome of a situation, and so I sit around watching movies until an idea strikes me (Change up the card abandonment email! Reactivate the Google remarketing ads! Think of another clever facebook post – and boost it!), in which case I jump up and do that post haste. I don’t feel like there is time to do the things that normally help me feel balanced, like yoga or cooking or socializing, because I feel too busy, when in reality I’m just waiting…for something.


December 13 Update

Holiday sales are going splendidly, thank you very much. Our last shipping day is Dec 19, which means by this time next week, I’ll be ready to sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the holiday season!

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How I Plan to Maximize Holiday Sales

One of my favorite things about being in business for a few years is that you have a sales history that you can refer to when you are doing your planning. It sounds horribly geeky but having to guess about when, where and how you’re going to get sales is the absolute worst. Case in point: how much money can I hope to make this holiday season?

Like most consumer good companies, I hope Po Campo will cash in on all the holiday shopping activity. Below are our sales trends over the last two years. After a spring/early summer spike, you can see that the holidays are our second highest sales season. Our retail (i.e. B2C) sales have roughly doubled this year over last, and I’m banking on that trend continuing through December. Rather than just hoping for the best, I checked our data from last year to see what worked the best so that we can focus our efforts on activities with a high ROI.

Po Campo's sales history over the last two years

Po Campo’s sales history over the last two years

First I look at our Quickbooks file to see where last year’s holiday sales came from and discovered that 78% came from retail sales, with the remainder being wholesale drop ship accounts.

Step One: How to Maximize Retail Sales

Focusing on the retail sales, about 30% of those came from doing holiday shopping events. We are doing several more shopping events this year, so I feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to roughly double that amount.

The rest of our sales came from our online store. To learn more about those sales, I looked at our Google Analytics acquisitions report for last year’s holiday shopping season to see where the highest converting traffic came from.

Po Campo's converting traffic from last holiday season (Nov 15 - Dec 31)

Po Campo’s converting traffic from last holiday season (Nov 15 – Dec 31)

70% of our conversions came from people looking specifically for Po Campo, either typing pocampo.com into the URL bar or searching for Po Campo, or a variation of our name, in Google. My first thought is that these are people come to us already knowing what they want, so can I expect this number of visitors to double this holiday season?

To make an educated guess, I run a report comparing this year to last year. Our traffic is up by 56%, but our conversion rate is down by 19%. Therefore, if those trends continue through the holidays, I expect our organic and direct traffic to increase somewhat, but probably not double.

Next, 19% of our conversions came from referral traffic, mostly blogs that had included a Po Campo bag in some sort of gift guide. I know we are going to be included in some of the same gift guides this year, and it’s a little too late to make any more pitches. However, we have started some strategic partnerships with various groups, affiliate networks and analogous brands that should increase the amount of referral traffic we get.

Lastly, 7% of our sales came from social, almost entirely from facebook and Pinterest. Both of these platforms have greatly improved their targeting and reporting tools over the last year, so while I’m not able to glean much information about was successful last year, I think there is an opportunity to run some promoted posts to increase conversions this year.

Most of these tactics for pocampo.com are underway, with the exception of the facebook and Pinterest optimization. Researching that is now on my to-do list for next week.

Step Two: Drop Ship Accounts

Secondly, I ponder the drop ship accounts. Generally we just let them run on auto-pilot and focus most of our attention on our own online store. However, these drop ships have grown into a decent size business for us this year and I’d like to support them as they push for holiday sales as well. I brainstormed some promotion ideas with my team, including:

  • Developing content that they can just plug into their networks. Our expertise is in inventive and inspired products for modern city living, in particular integrating the bicycle into your life, and this is something we’d be happy to share with them.
  • Using our reflector pins as a gift with purchase (commonly called GWP) during certain periods.
  • Offering longer return periods
  • Offering special promotions

Knowing that time was of the essence, we sent these ideas to our contacts to get their input. As I feared, we were too late to be able to do much, especially with the larger sites. Not to let this lesson go to waste, I added a reminder to our 2015 calendar to look into this with our drop ship accounts in late September/early October instead.

Maximizing Holiday Sales Strategy

Here is what we still have time to do this year:

  • Promote the heck out of the holiday events we have planned this year
  • Activate our Google Adwords that target the common misspellings of our name (like Pro Campo or pocampo) and turn on our remarketing ads to make sure we stay top of mind to people who visit our site.
  • Increase traffic from facebook and Pinterest
  • Promote the gift guide exposure
  • Identify partner marketing opportunities with our simpatico brands
  • Continue to talk with drop ships about highlighting Po Campo

I look forward to sharing how successful we were in January! What are you planning for your last minute marketing push?


Running “Quickbooks Reports”
Po Campo uses the Wholesale and Manufacturing version of Quickbooks Premier. We set up our different revenue sources as Customer Types and these include: Retail, Drop Ship, Wholesale, Distributor and Discount. Running the “Sales by Customer Type” report (Reports > Wholesale & Manufacturing Reports > Sales by Customer Type) displays how your different revenues streams perform against each other over a period of time.

I didn’t discover this report until this year and now it is one of the ones I look at most often!

 

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Cultivating your email newsletter list

Of all the types of marketing that we do at Po Campo, email marketing is probably the most successful in terms of ROI. Our e-commerce conversion rate for newsletters is 1.49%, the highest of all our marketing efforts. Our newsletter subscribers may only account for about 4% of our website traffic, but over 8% of our conversions, so they’re active and engaged visitors too.

Building Your Newsletter List
We get about $17 in sales from each newsletter for every hundred people on our list. Naturally, the more people on our list, the more sales we can expect. That’s why growing the list is always a priority. Focus on growing your list organically rather than purchasing or trading lists so that it remains high quality, resulting in higher sale conversion rates.

The two most successful ways we build our newsletter list involve, unsurprisingly, giving things away for free.

1) Offering something irresistible. Try a couple offers (called a “lead magnet”) before figuring out what your customers like. Before offering a $50 gift card to one lucky new subscriber each month, we tried free content about tips for city biking and a free $5 on your first purchase. The bigger sweepstakes of a free $50 worked best for us. We get an average of 65 new sign-ups each month once we started this practice. Read more on lead magnets here.

2) We offer a free reflector pin (value of $5) in exchange for an email address at all of our events. Few people can resist the pin, plus they don it almost immediately and then other people ask where they got it from and are directed our way. We can get upwards of 200 emails a day at busy events.

Maintaining Your List
The obvious goal is to send people emails that they enjoy receiving so as not to unsubscribe. You’d think that sales/promotion emails are the best, but while those probably generate the most immediate sales, we have found general lifestyle topics, company updates, tips and how-tos to have the lowest unsubscribe rate.

Po Campo sends an email about every other week on Thursdays. Creating an email marketing calendar ahead of time reduces the “So what do we write about this week???” syndrome, which almost always results in boring emails. By creating a calendar, you can make sure that your sales are spread out throughout the year and that you are maximizing the content that you are creating elsewhere (e.g. for your blog or for Facebook). Our average open rate is 30.1% and click through rate is 6.9%, which are both above average (17.35% and 3.0% respectively, according to MailChimp benchmarks).

Discouraging Unsubscribes
About .6% of our newsletter list unsubscribes with each email. That’s not super high but of course I wish it were zero. Recently I did two things to curb the unsubscriber activity, or at least to not lose touch with them altogether.

1) An option to receiver fewer emails. I know sometimes I open my inbox and go on a major unsubscribe binge, removing myself from pretty much every newsletter just because I’m sick of receiving them and having to devote energy to them. Of course many of our subscribers unsubscribe because of a similar feeling, not that they don’t ever want to hear from us ever again but because we were just one more email that day.

Hoping that we could keep people subscribed if we gave them an option to receive fewer emails, I created a group in MailChimp called “Newsletter Types”with three sub-groups:

  • “All, including tips and how-to’s, event announcements, sales, and new product debuts”
  • “Just Sales/Promotions (about 6 times per year)”
  • “New Product Announcements (about 4 times per year)”

Now, when people go to unsubscribe, we allow them to update their profile and change their newsletter frequency preference.

2) Ask to connect another way. I think most of us have email fatigue and prefer interacting with brands on different mediums, like facebook or Instagram. On our unsubscribe confirmation page, we ask one last time if they would consider connecting with us on one of our social networks, so as not to lose touch with them completely.


I hope this inspires you to build and maintain a healthy newsletter list. Do you have strategies beyond what we’re doing to do so? Please share in the comments!

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How To Get Your Product Into Stores

It’s common nowadays to launch your product on Kickstarter or a Shopify store, but neither of those options were really around when I launched Po Campo in 2009. Getting our bags in physical stores was our main sales strategy when we were starting out.

That first summer, Po Campo was available in about a dozen stores in Chicago, which was a good start and we really have just built on that. One of the most common questions I get is “how do I get my product in stores?”. Well, this is how I did it!

 

Step One: Make a List of Stores to Approach
I made a list of about 20 shops that I thought Po Campo would be a good fit in, based on where I and my friends liked to shop, since we were my intended consumer. I also thought about which brands were complementary to Po Campo, in terms of style and pricepoint, found out where they were locally being sold and added those stores to the list. Small, independent shops are much easier to cold-call and get into than larger chains, so start there.

Step Two: Research
Before you start walking into stores, do some research on how to build out your sales program with wholesale pricing, minimums and terms. To find this information out, I asked store owners and other product companies about what they do. I have found people to be very helpful and forthcoming with this information, so don’t feel weird about asking. Specifically:

  • What is your wholesale price? This can vary by product category and industry. For bags like mine, the wholesale price is half of the retail price (this is called keystone).
  • What is your minimum opening order? Is there a minimum reorder? This is usually based on a quantity (e.g. minimum of 10 pcs) or a dollar amount (e.g. minimum of $500). Based on my research, I chose to do a minimum starting order of 6 pieces, so enough to make a decent Po Campo display but not too much to make it seem like a big commitment for a small shop, who doesn’t want extra inventory lying around with no place to store it. We don’t have a reorder minimum because we want our retailers to feel free to place special orders for customers.
  • What are your payment terms? The basic options here are:
    • Due on receipt (pay right away). The faster you can get paid, the better. Our first orders were pretty small (less than $300), so most shops were okay with starting out this way. You can use Square or PayPal to take credit cards right away; the ease of credit cards more than makes up for the cut the credit card companies takes, in my opinion.
    • Net 30 (pay in 30 days). This is pretty standard but I suggest doing a credit check before you give anyone product as it is practically impossible to get it back if they don’t pay. Old school credit checks require the store to first fill out a credit application, then you contact their references to see how good they are about paying on time. The process feels antiquated (although effective), so now Po Campo uses Cortera, which costs money but is quicker.
    • Consignment (pay when the product sells). Small shops love this because it is essentially risk-free for them but that puts all the risk on you, plus it is a pain in the butt to manage. Therefore, I wouldn’t even offer this option and focus your attention on stores with enough cash to buy the product outright.

 

Step Three: Build Your Materials
Put together a (preferably one page) line sheet with:

  • Product drawing or photo with item number, dimensions, brief description, color options (if any)
  • Retail and wholesale price
  • Minimum order amount
  • Order deadline
Older 2010 line sheet on left, latest 2015 line sheet on right

Older 2010 line sheet on left, latest 2015 line sheet on right

I’ve found that it is immensely helpful to have a sample with you, even if it isn’t perfect. Samples about 90% of the way there are good enough.

A lookbook or catalog is nice but not necessary when you are just starting out. At this stage, you are the best representation of your brand. Introducing your product in person does more to sell your brand than a lookbook ever could.

Step Four: Start Selling
You’re ready to start going door-to-door! This is great practice for honing your pitch and learning how to clearly communicate the most interesting aspects of your product/brand. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be hard on yourself if your first visits are clunky. Here’s what I did:

  1. Find the owner/buyer and ask for a few minutes of her time, or schedule a time to come back. You’ll really only need 5-10 minutes.
  2. In a few (rehearsed) sentences, tell her about your brand and why you designed the product the way you did. Let her play around with the sample, answer her questions, go over the items on the line sheet.
  3. If she seems interested, ask for the sale by saying something like “Can I get an order going for you?”. It may seem a little confrontational, but trust me, it’s necessary. Few people will just say, “This is great, I’ll take 10!”.
  4. Leave your line sheet behind, maybe with your business card stapled to it, so she has a concrete memento of your visit. Get her email address and send her an email later that day to thank her for her time and to confirm her order or suggest an order based on what you talked about.

And if she says she’s not interested? You have to train yourself to hear “not yet” whenever you hear “no”. Jot down why she said no (might just be timing or wrong color) so you know when to go back to her in the future. Then move on to the next store on your list.

Okay, that’s it! In some ways it feels like a numbers game, in that you’ll get a new customer for every 4 qualified stores (or whatever) that you visit. Try to make your pitch a little better every time by listening to questions people have and noticing what they are responding to, both positively and negatively.

Good luck and share your experiences!

 

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4 Tips for Surviving Trade Shows as an Introvert

I’ve found doing trade shows to be a necessary evil for growing Po Campo wholesale accounts. You get great exposure and there’s good potential for sales, yet they are expensive, time-consuming and exhausting – especially for introverts.

A key defining characteristic of introverts is that we refuel with alone time, whereas extroverts refuel by being around people. That means that the lucky extroverts get more and more energy as the day at a trade show wears on, while us unfortunate introverts are stumbling across the finish line by the time the show wraps.

Last week Po Campo was at its 10th trade show, the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. With each show that we do, I hone my strategies for the best ways to survive them and get the most out of them. Here are my four tips for how to survive a trade show as an introvert:

1) Skip unnecessary social events (and don’t feel bad about it). People will tell you over and over that at the after show parties is where the real business gets done. Regardless, I know I am physically unable to work a 9 hour show and follow that up with mingling and drinking with strangers for another six hours, especially if I have to be back at the booth the following day at 9am at full strength. So I skip the parties. The difference this time around was that I didn’t feel bad about it. You have to know your limitations and respect them.
Side note: Often the industry parties right after the show have free food and drinks. If you’re like me and always looking to save a dime, go to the party just long enough to get a free dinner and then head out.

2) Plan your alone time to let yourself refuel. I used to think I could just muscle through a trade show, but inevitably I would run out of energy and ask a neighbor to watch my booth while I sat in a bathroom stall for 15 minutes to recharge. That’s no fun, so this time around, I planned ahead. I got up early to have a few hours of “Maria time” before showing up at the booth at 9am, enabling me to start the day fully charged and ready for action. I scheduled friends or sales reps to relieve me for 90 minutes every day at some point for a break. After the show, I would have dinner with a friend or go shopping for an hour or two before returning back home by 9pm to read or watch TV. Knowing when my escapes were helped me endure the longer stretches and be at my best for longer amounts of time.

3) Don’t talk to everyone. The common wisdom is that you should enthusiastically greet everyone that walks by and invite them into your booth to check out your wares. If you don’t act like this, people will tell you that you should. That’s simply not me, though, and nothing tires me out more than that kind of behavior. Instead, I smile at everyone I make eye contact with and if their eyes linger on my merchandise, I will jump into the pitch. If not, I don’t say anything. My reasoning is that I want to give the best version of myself to the people most likely to become customers and if I’m worn out from chatting with every person that walks by, that won’t happen.

4) Team up with an extrovert. Having an extrovert in the booth will relieve you of a ton of pressure to talk to people. Many extroverts actually like working at these types of events so finding a volunteer is pretty easy; I just post something on Facebook and offer a free bag in exchange for her time. However, be warned that if the show is slow, the extrovert will just talk to you instead, exposing you to the same small talk that you had hoped to escape. To play it safe, I usually only have my extrovert in the booth during the busy hours and then dismiss her when it quiets down, saying “I got it from here”. The busy times at trade shows seem to be between 10am – 3pm, although each show has its own rhythms.

If you’re an introvert, I would love to hear your strategies for surviving (and thriving) during trade shows. As Po Campo grows, I foresee more and more of them in the future, and there’s nothing I’d like more than looking forward to them rather than dreading them.

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