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Have you ever wondered what a trade show is like? This week I am sharing my experiences at the Top Drawer Trade Show, one of the premier retail trade shows in the UK, a 3 day event at Olympia in London.

I share what the experience was like as a visitor, which booths stood out to me and why, and why you might consider attending a trade show yourself. 

Listen in to hear me share:

  • An introduction to Top Drawer Trade Show, and what it is (00:39)
  • Spotting trends (02:45)
  • The talks that were on (03:34)
  • What it is like attending as a visitor (04:23)
  • Seasonal differences between trade shows (05:02)
  • Choosing your spot (06:53)
  • The range of booths available (10:16)
  • Which booths stood out to me and why (11:41)
  • The challenge of finding a price for products (12:32)
  • Why you might benefit from attending a trade show (14:10)


Top Drawer

House of Two Trees

The Positive Planner


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Vicki Weinberg:

Welcome to the Bring Your Product Ideas To Life Podcast, practical advice and inspiration to help you create and sell your own physical products. Here's your host Vicki Weinberg. Hello. So I have a different type of episode for you today. So rather than bringing on a guest or sharing, uh, my expertise in a particular area today, this is something completely new. I'm actually going to talk about an experience I had earlier this week. Yesterday, in fact, attending Top Drawer. So Top Drawer is a trade search show, essentially. And I went along to get a better idea of what trade shows are, who exhibits out them and just to network and, and meet some new people really. And I fully intended to make some voice notes while I was there to sort of be part of this podcast. Um, that didn't happen. I'll be honest. When I got there, it was busy, it was big, it was quite overwhelming and that just didn't happen. So I am however recording this the day after I got back. So today's the 14th of September. Um, so it's going to be a little while until you listen to this I know, but I wanted to record it while I was fresh. And I went to Top Drawer yesterday, Tuesday, which was the last day of the three days. So, as I said, Top Drawer is a trade show. It's a three day event and they run this twice a year, one in spring and one in the autumn, the spring event is actually the 15th to the 17th of January in 2023, in case by the end of this, you're thinking, oh, actually, I'd quite like to go to that and trade shows really are a way for buyers and retailers to browse products. See what trends are emerging. And I, I guess also to network a bit as well, but for products, businesses, I guess the main reason you might be interested in potentially going to a trade show is to showcase your products and get them stocked in more places. Interestingly, um, some of the businesses I spoke to only do B2B, so they don't sell to consumers at all. They make, they manage their whole business through selling into retailers and distributors, which I found really interesting. So Top Drawer, um, on their website they say that they bring a mix of new emerging talents together with the top names you love. Season after season so you can choose from the very best lineup of brands. Um, and they make it easy for you to locate the products you're interested in as the event is split into nine distinctive sectors. I'll be honest while I was there I didn't realize there were nine distinctive sectors. I, you know, for me, it was quite big quite, and I didn't actually see, yeah, how that played out, but not that I think that matters. I still think. And I'll talk about this more in a minute that it was a great event. So Top Drawer, also talk about being really trend focused. Um, when I walked around yesterday, some of the trends that I spotted and I have to be honest, I'm not trendy. I'm not great at spotting trends, but I did notice, um, quite a lot of sustainable products. So I saw what did I see? I saw some plastic toys where, but the plastic was made from sugar cane rather than oil, which I thought was really interesting. And, um, the products were actually really beautiful. I saw lots of products made from recycled materials. Um, so that was really interesting. So yeah, lots of focus on sustainability. And I also saw lots of high end products as well. And I'll talk later about some of the spaces. Um, some of them were just decked out really, really beautifully and looked really high end. And there were also talks at Top Drawer. So most of these are aimed at product businesses and about helping you to run your business. So for example, when I was there yesterday, there was a talk in the afternoon about, um, social media and selling your products on social media. So I imagine that I think for products business, it would be really, really useful to attend some of these talks and then they also have other industry experts. So I was quite sad because on the Monday, um, Holly Tucker was talking and I couldn't make it on the Monday. I went on the Tuesday, I would've quite liked to have listened to Holly. I think that would've been amazing, maybe next time. So that's what Top Drawer is. Obviously there are other trade shows as well. This is the first one I've been to. The only one I've been to. So this is the only one I can tell you my experience of. And I thought that some of you might find it interesting. So, um, this trade show is held at Kensington Olympia. I don't know if you know where Olympia is, but it's in west London, um, a pain, pain to get to if I'm honest, however, it was worth it. The organization was fantastic. When you turned up, if you'd already printed off your badge, which was emailed to you in advance, you literally just got your bags checked and walk straight in, which was brilliant. And if not, you could get it printed there. And there weren't massive queues. I turned up really shortly after it opened, maybe like 10 minutes after it started and there weren't queues or anything. So that was really good. Um, when I walked in, I found it, as I said before, quite overwhelming, it's a big space. There were lots and lots of booths. Um, it felt quite busy. I, yeah, I don't know. Um, if it was, you know, how it compared to other trade shows. As I said, I've never been. Some of the brands that I spoke to reported, you know, they came and said actually, the spring show tends to be busier than the autumn one. I don't know whether they meant like the previous spring one or whether spring in general is busier, but it seemed to be quite busy. And the brands I spoke to, you know, all said, they'd done well. They'd, they'd all got, um, the sales that they seemed happy with. Um, it might have been quieter than unusual, however, because of the timing. So the event started on Sunday and, um, the, we, the Queen's death was announced on the Thursday and I know that I'm, if you're signed up for like transport for London emails, which I am, I actually got an email on I think it was the Monday saying only go to London if it's essential. There'd be lots of more people traveling, which I don't know if it would've put, put anyone off. Um, hopefully not, but I don't know. It might have put people off if they did, if they were worried about, you know, how busy the trains were going to be. I didn't find them much busier, but, that, you know, could have been an impact. Top Drawer did actually announce, um, on the Friday before that the event was still going ahead, which is great. I mean, I imagine if you've put all of the work and the money and the time into, you know, getting a booth at one of these events, for it not to go ahead would be absolutely heartbreaking because, um, I could see just from walking around just, you know, how much work people have put into this, it was, yeah, there's a lot that goes into it. I talk a bit more about it in a moment. So there was a real variety of products. There were lots and lots of brands there. Um, there were actually makers there, which kind of surprised me. I wasn't expecting to see, to see makers at this event. And I don't know why, I don't know why it had not occurred to me. So I spoke to a really lovely lady called Sarah, who has a company called House of Two Trees. And Sarah makes all of her products and she was actually positioned right by the door. As you came in, um, in something called, I think she said it was called the launchpad area, which was for smaller brands and you had to apply to get a space there. And, um, she had chosen a booth right by the door. Um, she did actually say, and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing on the podcast that she feels like that was actually a mistake because while she had a booth right next to the door, which seems like a great position, I only spotted her as I was leaving because when you walk in, it's a massive space and the first thing you do is probably pause. There was a map, right? As you go in a huge map, I didn't actually even spot that either. But she said a lot of people came in, looked at the map and then just walked right by. Um, what I did when I got there, because it had been quite a long journey is go straight for the toilet. And, um, Sarah actually said that if she could choose her spot again, she would actually choose a booth by the toilets because she felt that everyone was going to go there at some point. And actually for a lot of people that was there, like first port, of course they got there. So I don't know. Um, I don't know if that's useful or not, but I, I definitely think right by the door um, and speaking to her, was not the spot to be. And yeah, maybe by the toilets is one to check out. I also, talking about positioning of, of booths and things. I didn't realize there was a top level. Um, not until quite near the end, when I went up the stairs to take a picture. And actually, even then there weren't any booths in the area I was standing. It was only again when I was leaving and I happened to glance up, I saw along the top of the side that there were some booths right at the top. Um, I am sure I am not the only person who just didn't even know they were there. So I think this kind of event, my sense anyway, is that position is key. And especially because I think it's, it costs a lot of money to exhibit in these events. I believe Top Drawer, actually I'm not going to say a price because I'm not actually a hundred percent certain what it is. I couldn't see it on the website, so I don't want to sort of say an amount and be wrong, but it's, you know, it's a considerable investment. And I think if you're investing in that money and then you're going to be tucked upstairs or in a corner or even right by the door, but everyone's walking past you, whatever it is um, you know, it's not, it's not great, is it? So I think that if you are looking to exhibit at a trade show, it would be worth asking, you know, do I get to choose where I am, or is it just pot luck? Because I think may, perhaps for me, certainly that would have a bearing on whether I decided to attend a certain trade or not. So as well as there being lots of different products and different brands, there were also dis some distributors there. So I spoke to quite a few distributors, um, who were had, who were displaying sort of products that they distribute obviously. And I also saw eBay had a booth there and House of Fraser. Now, I don't know the purpose of either of them being there. Um, I didn't actually speak to either of them. Um, I'm going to talk a bit more about speaking to people while you're there a bit later, but basically they were busy all of the time. And I feel like as I wasn't, you know, I wasn't going to give them any business, so to speak, um, they should be quite focused on speaking with people who could, um, so there was a real variety, a real variety of people there. There was also a real variety in terms of the actual booths or shells themselves. I'm going to call them booths. I think they actually call them some something else. But this is basically the space that you've got to display your products in um, as I say, various sizes, and I do know the cost varies, of course, depending on how much square footage you're getting. And these are essentially like you have some floor space and then you have either two or three walls, depending whether you are on the corner and you, or you are in the middle and for this event, um, that you had to kit it all out yourself. So if you wanted tables, shelving, um, anything at all that went in there, you put in yourself. You were also able to paint these yourself. So the panels sort of the walls were white and you were able to paint them or apply vinyls. Some people had put shelves on the walls. It really varied actually, in terms of what people had, had done. Um, I, from my point of view, I think the ones that had done it really well, well weren't necessarily the ones that had a fancier setup as it were. Because, I mean, there were some that were really fancy and had a huge booth and maybe they had like a sofa and a dining table, you know, if they sold homeware, they had like a whole, there was one that had like a whole room setup and it looked, it did look absolutely incredible. But I'm not saying that's necessarily the most important thing. What seemed really important to me was branding. So I think for me, the booths that stood out had really clear branding. Like you could tell who the brand was. One of them actually The Positive Planner I loved because the ladies on the, in the booth were actually wearing their brand colours and they both had the same outfit. I really liked that. Maybe that's not for everyone. I thought that was really good. Um, and also I think the point of sales seemed quite important. So how the products were actually displayed. So some of the booths had their product set up, as you would maybe see them in an apartment store. So they had cards on you know, the carousel that go round or other goods displayed on um, I'm not explaining this very well, but it basically looked as you would see it in a shop. And I thought that was actually really smart because I guess for a buyer, for a store, it's probably easier to imagine that product on your shelf. If you're actually looking on a shelf. Something else I noticed was that not all of the brands had products by their prices. Some of them did. Um, and they were quite discreet. Some maybe they were on the bottom or maybe they were sort of on the woo or something, but some didn't seem to have prices at all, which I'm, I mean, I'm not an expert in, in trade shows, um, and actually I have an expert coming in on the podcast next week, and this is something that I will be asking her about because I am interested. But to me it seemed like maybe you should have your prices, especially if you are in the middle of talking to someone, but somebody else comes up. You know, to your booth and they have a question. Um, and especially if they are, if all they want to know is actually how much does this cost, I guess if the price is there, um, that's great. They've got the information right away. They can make a decision. Are they going to wait and talk to you or not? Whereas if, you know, if they're waiting five minutes for you to finish a conversation, and, and they just want to know the price and the price isn't there. You know, they might walk away, they might come back. They might not, but potentially, I guess you could miss an opportunity there. So that was really my experience of going. Um, I know that's probably. Uh, quite a brief overview. I mean, if, if you're interested and, you know, listening and you're interested, you've got more questions, obviously you can always get in touch. It's, really happy to let you know more of my thoughts, but you know at top level, that was it. I think it seemed really great. There was quite a lot of buzz. There were lots of different brands there. Everyone seemed very happy and positive. Um, and it seemed really well organized as well. So from my limited experience, it seemed like a great event. Um, so now I just want to talk a little bit about who might benefit from attending a trade show and why you might consider it. So obviously you might plan on exhibiting your products at a trade show, and if that's something you want to do, you definitely need to listen to next week's episode. I'm speaking to Therese from Small Business Collaborative, all about trade shows and why you might want to attend one and all the, basically everything that you need to know about trade shows and selling at trade shows and doing well. Um, I have lots of questions. I'm sure you've got lots of questions. Thereas is going to answer them. So that's the first thing. But I would say that if you are interested in potentially exhibiting at a trade show, but you're not quite sure what to expect, or you're not sure if it's right for you, why not go along and just see what it's like? I think that that's, I think that's probably a really great way of seeing, okay, what what's what's it's like there, um, maybe seeing like, are your competitors there? What are they doing? Getting some ideas for how you might display your products. Um, you could just see it as like a fact finding. I guess as well, you could also ask questions to other people that are exhibiting. Um, I have to say though, and this is something that I took really seriously when I would say yesterday is that you have to be really respectful here because obviously everyone who's exhibiting is paid to be there and they're there to get sales. So they probably don't want to be talking to you for half an hour. So I was really careful to only speak to people who were quiet and sort of didn't mind, you know, I, I said, you know, do you mind if we chat for a minute, um, didn't overstay my welcome, um, took cards so I can follow up with people, but I didn't really want to be, um, taking up too much of anyone's time. And if there was someone I was interested in talking to, but they were already talking to someone else, I just sort of circled back a bit later because as I say, I don't want to take away from a sale. So I just think it's worth being mindful of that. Of course you will be. Um, I also think that you might want go there for inspiration or maybe product research. If you are in the early stages of creating your product and you just want to get an idea of current trends to see what other brands are doing, to get an idea of what other new products out there. As always, you know, you've heard me say this before, don't copy what anyone else is doing, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with going for inspiration. You know, maybe you see some colours that you like or some packaging that appeals to you. Whatever it is, I don't think it's anything wrong with getting inspiration. I mean, there's no such thing as an original idea is there, so it might be that it is really worth you going into one of these events, just, just for the research or just to inspire you. Um, you also might want to go along for the talks. I mentioned there were some great talks going on. Um, I should also say this event is free to attend. I don't know about all trade shows, but this one is free to attend. All the talks were free. So, you know, you could look at the programme, it was all online or see what talks are going on and, you know, turn up for a day and make the most of that. You also might go to network. I mean, what I was, what I thought was really nice yesterday is there were lots of businesses selling similar products. So candles is one that stood out for me. There were quite a lot of candle businesses. They were also quite a lot of planners and journals. And I, I was speaking to people and they would reference another store and they would say, oh yeah, they're our friends. And I thought that's really nice isn't it? Not seeing everyone as competition and realizing there's a place for everyone in the market. So it could be nice to just go and expand your network, meet some other businesses. For people to talk to, as I say, if you are interested in Top Drawer specifically, the spring event is the 15th to the 17th of January 2023. Um, you do have to sort of book a ticket online but it is completely free. Um, and overall I would recommend it, in as I think I'll be going back in the spring as well. And also trying to make the most of going to some of, some of the talks and events, as well as having a walk around and chatting to people. And finally, um, for again, please do listen next week, if you are at all interested in trade shows, as I said, I do have an expert on the podcast and we are going to be talking about why you might want to exhibit, um, and how to do it really, really well and make the best of the opportunity. So anything you've ever wanted to know, I'm going to cover that next week. So I hope you found this shorter than usual episode interesting. Um, yeah. Hope you learnt or least took something from it. And, um, even if it just peaked your curiosity and now you can't wait for next week. So I will speak to you then. Thank you so much for listening right to the end of this episode, do remember that you can get the full back catalogues and lots of free resources on my website, Please do remember to rate and review this episode if you've enjoyed it and also share it with a friend who you think might find it useful. Thank you again and see you next week.