Trade Show Magic

Susan_ryhanen_saipua_2 Last week, I delivered the keynote address at the Conference of Handcrafted Soap Makers in St. Louis. While there, I met with Susan Ryhanen of Saipua in New York. Susan (pictured, left, with Sima Dadamiya of Jumana Handmade Products in the United Kingdom) is a member of the Indie Beauty Network and a savvy trade show veteran. Saipua's soaps have been featured in Martha Stewart's Blueprint Magazine, Lucky Magazine, and even on NBC's Today Show. My favorite is the Green Tea Soap, made with real green tea leaves.

If you're a retailer looking for some high quality gift soaps to carry in your store, you can meet Susan (and her soaps) at the Extracts trade show in August, order at her website, or visit her store in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where she and her daughter Sarah also carry a unique array of fresh flowers.

At the conference, Susan's presentation on how to make the most of a trade show appearance was fabulous, and she graciously gave me permission to share some of her best insights with you. So read on for some great trade show tips.


li>First, take a positive attitude. Trade show work is challenging and there will be enough complaining about one thing or another from other exhibitors. Take the high road and focus on the positive, and you and your business will be all the better for it.

  • Consider having a theme for your booth. When Saipua launched their travel soaps, Susan incorporated a travel theme at her trade show booth, complete with an antique suitcase and vintage family postcards hanging from above. It attracted lots of attention, and that's what you want at a trade show.
  • Take a "lead sheet" to collect information from visitors. The lead sheet should ask retailers to tell you whether they are familiar with your products, whether they'd like more information, and how you can contact them to follow up.
  • Take order forms. Be sure to take carbonless duplicates so you can quickly complete an order and give the customer a copy right away.
  • Accept credit cards. Susan stressed that retailers make many more purchases when you accept credit cards. She said that some of them are in such a hurry that they give you a credit card number, address, and quick order and then leave the booth immediately because they are trying to squeeze in as many purchases as possible into a small amount of time. Susan's quote: "Never ever attend a trade show without the ability to accept credit cards."
  • Take office supplies. A calculator and a stapler, plus pens, paper clips and a clipboard that holds order forms in a compartment for easy carrying. That way, you can keep the order forms with you at all times, along with the customer credit card numbers they contain. For security reasons, take the clipboard and forms with you when you leave the show for the day. Never leave them in the exhibit hall overnight.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. If the trade show has a hard floor, carry a small area rug so you can stand on something soft in your booth.
  • Consider the lighting. Ask in advance what the lighting is like as you may wish to pay a fee to add track lighting or spotlights. A dark booth does not attract visitors.
  • Consider additional signage. You might also get your own signage if the trade show's supplied sign is unattractive or does not go with your booth decor. Because the booth decor may be drab, you can also use colored sheets to spruce up and personalize your space.
  • Learn about booth set-up in advance. Find out how your booth is set up on the trade show floor. Susan says that sometimes, it's worth it to ship your entire booth in advance so it is ready for you to assemble on the trade show floor when you arrive. It costs more but it saves a lot of hassle and depending on the situation, may be better than hauling everything yourself and waiting in long lines to enter the show floor to set up.
  • Susan says you never have a second chance to make a first impression so assemble your entire booth at home or in your office before you pack for the show. This way, you can inventory everything and make sure you take it all with you, minimizing the chance that you'll forget something.

    If these tips were helpful, feel free to post a comment. If you have some tips to add, do that too!

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    About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

    Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.