by Phil Wrzesinski
I don’t remember my first Toy Fair as a buyer. Oh, I remember the year, 1996. I remember going to multiple buildings including the Toy Building on 5th Ave., the building for Hasbro, and two days at Javits. I remember stairs and escalators and elevators and breakfast at the Stage Deli. The rest is just a blur.
In fact, all the trade shows I’ve ever attended including two decades of Toy Fair, JPMA, ASTRA, and ABC Expo quickly become blurs in the memory. Don’t ask me what year I saw the (insert hot, new fad here) for the first time. I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head.
I could go check my notes, however.
There are dozens of articles each year prior to the big trade show telling you how to prepare, what reports to run, how to plan out your visit to maximize time, and what to bring (comfortable shoes, business cards, and credit sheets).
No one tells you what to do during the show.
The fact is, after only one day of walking the booths at Javits, your eyes are bleary, your mind is numb, and you have a hard enough time remembering to eat, let alone what was in the booth you just visited. Here is what I did during trade shows that could help you.
As I visited the booths, I made sure to get a price list from each company. Not only is there nothing worse than getting home with a catalog but no price list, I also found that the price list was the best place for writing notes. I would star the items I liked, write down show specials, and make other notations like ship dates, display ideas, etc. The process of writing everything down on the price list meant that the info would be easily available when I got back to the office after the show.
At the end of each day, I would also take about an hour in the hotel to compile all those notes into a notebook. I would write down the company, the booth number, the show special, the deadline for the show special, and the new products I liked the best. The process of writing everything down a second time into a notebook helped me organize my thoughts, spot trends and compare companies more easily, and decide where I might need to revisit before the trade show ended.
I know you’re tired at the end of the day. I know you’re heading out to dinner with friends. I know you’re ready to have a little fun and not think about work for a few hours. But that one hour you take each night to compile your notes does a world of wonder to prepare you for the next day, and makes your next day much more productive.
On the eve of the last day of the trade show I would use my notes to compile a list of booths to revisit, including where orders needed to be written at the show. Those notes I had taken made that last day much more efficient and productive. I knew exactly what I needed to do, where I needed to go, and when I could call it a day.
Those notes come in handy after the show, too. Trying to keep track in your head everything you learned and saw at Toy Fair is near impossible; especially all those show specials good through the end of the month. One of my first tasks at my desk after a tradeshow was to read my notes and make a stack of the catalogs that needed attention right away.
In 1996 I wrote these words: “Pass on Tickle Me Elmo. No play value.” My dad ordered them anyway and although we sold out of every piece we got before Christmas, we got stuck with a few hundred that arrived post-Christmas after everyone else realized I was right.
Take notes. Rewrite them. Reread them. You’ll be thankful you did.
Philip C. Wrzesinski is the former owner of Toy House and Baby Too in Jackson, Michigan, named one of “The 25 best independent stores in America” by George Whalin in his book Retail Superstars. Now Phil takes the lessons he learned in a lifetime of retail to help other independent retailers and small businesses find their success. You can learn more about Phil at PhilsForum.com.