Should An Online Store Sell At Shows When Starting Out

Should an online store sell at shows when starting out

When my wife started her online store I tried to manage her expectations for growth. Nothing takes more perseverance than building an online store from scratch. It’s not the actual act of building your store.  It’s not going through all the steps.  Its building the brand and building the business.

Starting an online store takes work and you need to have a plan. I encourage everyone starting out to make a checklist to stay organized. You have endless tasks needed to get your store live.  The real work starts when you launch. Building a brand and loyal customers takes the real time. You have to win over your customers one by one.

You can have the most sophisticated well built website in the world. You can have the best selection available anywhere. You can have incredible customer support. Without customers, none of these things matter. You need customers and you need traffic to your store.  This takes time.

The beginning can feel daunting. There is always an initial high and burst of sales.  If you take the appropriate steps to launch properly you should have a great initial month.   We go over this  launch in our step by step guide to starting an online store.

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This launch is key to spreading the word as far as you can with the initial excitement. This is the time when your site is new and people are interested.  Remember things are only new for so long.

Unfortunately after the initial high runs out, you crash. The crash can be hard and you must persevere. This is where most people give up. The real work starts once that lull begins.  You need to continue to find new people to share the news with.  You need people engaged with your online store.

So as my wife reached her third month of being open, she was feeling the blues. Traffic was almost non existent and she needed a boost. Both financially and psychologically.

Holiday Time and Holiday Shows

The good news was that it was holiday season.  The holiday times is the time of year when people shop. People shop even when they don’t need to shop.  The holidays bring lots of different shows and shopping bazaars.

If you’re not familiar with these let me explain. Schools, organizations, and groups around holiday time organize holiday shopping events. They bring in local vendors or stores to sell their products. In exchange the vendors give a percentage of their sales to the organizer. There are various, different payment plans. Some offer table rental fees and others a percentage of sales.  The idea is to generate some money for the group arranging it.

Should An Online Store Sell At Shows

Now you may be thinking this seems counter intuitive. You didn’t start an online store to sell at shows. You wanted to build a store that was working while you were sleeping. You wanted to sell online without speaking with people.  You wanted to let the site doe the work for you.

I know. I hear you. But…  it takes time.

You need to build your business over time.  You need to water it like a tree. Your store starts as a seed and takes time to grow into a mature tree. Going to bazarrs and shows is like watering your seed.

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons with selling at shows to build your online store.


Flyers For Branding

Shows let you spread the word about your business. You should be branding at every occasion possible. Have little flyers printed with your website url.  Place them on your table.  Hand them out.  Put them in peoples bags.  Spread the word.

Online Store flyers sell at shows

These are the flyers my wife uses for her online store at shows.

My wife had these designed and Printed inexpensively. In Miami we used a company called clubflyers.  They combine many peoples print jobs onto one large sheet and then cut them up. This spreads the cost across a bunch of people. Your piece is often included with someone else’s who has printed a larger quantity.  When this happens you end up getting the extras for free.  Most recently she was able to pay $35 for 1200 flyers.

Hand these out to everyone and get your brand in their hands.

Build Your Online Store Email List

One of the most important things that you can start building for your online store is your email list. Email has proven time and time again to be the highest converting and least expensive marketing resource.

At every show you attend you should be collecting email addresses. If you use Mailchimp you can download the app chimpadeedoo. If you are using Constant Contact they have a similar iCapture app.  My wife takes our iPad and has the app installed on it. This lets you collect email addresses even without internet access. As soon as you get home and open the app it adds them to your email list.  It then sends the new subscribers your welcome email.

ipad online store email list opt in

App to collect emails at shows without internet access

You may not be able to make a sale to someone the first time you meet them. Getting their email lets you touch them many times. This increases their comfort level and ultimately moves them towards buying from you. This also takes and offline purchaser and moves them towards becoming an online customer.  This is your ultimate goal.

Make That Money

Don’t kid yourself. Some of these shows are no joke.  Depending on your price point and the crowd,  you can do some legitimate business. My wife in her fist season was able to do between $1000 and $3500 per show. While these are not earth shattering numbers, they were huge for her. The online store was lucky to make one sale a day at that point.

The show is a way to get between 5 to 40 sales in a day. These shows gave her a way to build up a little capital to reinvest in the store. She was able to buy more inventory and start to expand her offerings. Without having to go in our pocket, she was able to grow her online store.

Your  Online Store Is Still Open

The best part of being at shows is that your online store is still open. Unlike if you had a retail location you are still open for business online. Apart from the trade off of your time, you are not losing the opportunity to sell online.  Nothing is better than making a sale online while you’re at a show. It’s double the action. This is the power of the Internet and being open all the time.

Online Store Open When Selling At Shows

Watch and Learn

One of the problems with an online store is you aren’t sure why people aren’t buying.  Why are they leaving your site?  When you are at these shows you can see people’s reactions. You can see what they are attracted to and what they are not. You can see if they understand your offering and hear their concerns. After speaking with enough people, you are going to start hearing the same questions.

Once you know these questions, you can address them.  Go back to your online store and make sure you are addressing them firsthand. Explain how your product works or talk about various concerns that people had. Doing these shows is like having a seat in your online customers house as they browse your website.   Take advantage of the feedback and address it.


Its a Little Hit or Miss

You don’t really know how you are going to do at all shows. Some shows have loyal followers and a captive audience.  Others are duds. You really need to do your research before deciding which shows to do.

Here are some observations from my wife participating in lots of shows.

– Destination Shopping Events are less successful. Bazaars or events that take place at the facility where the organization is based are better.  You don’t have to worry about people finding the location.  Their familiarity with the place makes them more likely to come.  School bizzarres that take place during a school day are god. If parents are dropping children off, they are already there. It takes nothing to stroll into the event.

-Percentage commissions are better than a fixed fee. Don’t be fooled by the fixed fee $100 to $500 fee. I have found that if the event is willing to do a percentage of sales, it works out better for you. First is the sign that they are confident in attendance and have a track record. Second and most important, is that they have skin in the game. Nothing is worse than spending $300 for a table to make no sales for the day. If they are collecting a commission then they only make money if you make money.

-Just because the trade show or event is going to have people doesn’t mean they are ready to shop. People often have to be in the mood or mindset to shop. My wife once attended an event with a room full of 200 corporate woman. They were the right demographic but they weren’t there to shop. They were there to learn. They were in the business mindset. Needless to say my wife didn’t do great.

-Multiple day events are often more work than its worth.  If a trade show or event is going to take place over many days its a lot of time.  Shorter events often result in the same number of sales but consolidated into a shorter time frame.  Think twice before committing to this.  It’s exhausting.

-If the vendors or stores are an afterthought to an event you often end up getting snubbed.  If they are adding vendors on to an event and its not a core part of the event, pass.  You often are overlooked and in a side room or area.  If the event is not centered around vendors, you will be left in the dust.  Don’t be bitter, just don’t do the show.

In summary the best thing you can do is ask around. Many vendors have been doing these shows for years. If you can find someone who was at the event last year, perfect.  They can tell you whether it makes sense for you or not. Ask around and save yourself time, money and aggravation.

Know Your People

You need to do your research. Just because one vendor does well at an event every year doesn’t mean you are going to. You need to make sure your potential customers are going to be there. You can loss a lot of money attending the wrong shows.

If you sell sports memorabilia you probably don’t want to be at a school bazaar. The mothers doing dropoff probably aren’t your customers. Make sure the trade show or event you are going to, attracts the type of person that is going to buy from you.

My wife’s fashion jewelry store probably isn’t going to do so well at a plumbing trade show. Be selective. There are tons of shows but not all will pan out.

online store selling offline

Position Yourself to Succeed

If You Giveth You Shall Receive

Many of these shows will ask you to contribute something towards a raffle or giveaway. It can add up.  Word of advice, don’t give your product. Give a gift card or coupon code towards an online sale on your store. This does three things.

First it drives people to your online store which is your ultimate goal to begin with. Second, if the person isn’t interested in what they won, they won’t redeem the prize. You rather an unused gift then the product sitting in their house and you being out the money. Lastly when giving a gift card or coupon code many people end up spending more. A $30 coupon code may result in a $100 sale online.

Lots of Time and Energy

These shows are tiring.  Between packing your stuff and preparing everything, it takes time. You have to arrive early and unpack. You setup and stand there all day. This is not easy work and you will earn your money for the day. You will sleep well that night.

A Means To An End

Building traffic to your store takes time. You have to get the word out about your brand any way that you can. This means being at events and shows, talking to people, handing out flyers and spreading the word.  These are the offline things you need to do.

While you continue to blog and build a presence for you site online you should be driving people to your site any way that you can. I don’t believe that spending money on offline marketing is a good use of money. Shows though, let you make money while marketing and driving business to your online store.

In summary this is something that I think you should be doing. If you are making money and have the time, it’s worth while. It’s only going to speed the process of building enough online business that you can leave it all behind. Plus you can sharpen up on those sales skills.

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