18-20 February 2018, NEC Birmingham

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Building better relationships

7 September 2015

When it comes to placing an order at a trade show, the right approach from a sales representative is an integral part of doing business and – according to Moda visitors - the right attitude can make or break a sale.

A straw poll carried out by Moda revealed that visitors place paramount importance on the human interaction element of doing business in a trade show environment, with most preferring to be left to browse before entering into any dialogue about minimum orders or regional availability.

“Suppliers have to understand that I need to look at the collection before I am in any sort of position to decide if it is right for my store,” says Julie Garner, proprietor at Norfolk-based menswear, womenswear and footwear independent Everything Outdoor. “I do go to Moda to source new labels and I picked up four new brands at last month’s show but, when a new supplier is too eager to approach me, it can be very off-putting and mean that I walk away from that stand before really examining the product.”

Fellow independent retailer Christine Edwards agrees that an understated approach can be the most conducive to discovering new collections within a trade show environment.

“I like to be left alone to look at merchandise but it rarely happens,” says the owner of Christine Edwards Lingerie in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. “I understand that suppliers don’t want us to think that we are being ignored, but a simple introduction and an offer of help is fine so that I can ask for more assistance as and when I need it.”

Having also experienced the other extreme of exhibitor attitude however, Edwards does warn that making a retailer feel unwelcome on a stand can result in the termination of a business relationship.

“I had nothing but good experiences at this season’s Moda but at trade shows in the past, I have made appointments with suppliers and found myself still waiting to see my agent,” she admits. “On one occasion I turned up ten minutes early, was told to come back at the time of my appointment which I did, only to find that he had started to deal with another customer. He requested that I come back in an hour and needless to say – I didn’t.”

It’s a small incident that potentially resulted in thousands of pounds worth of lost revenue for both supplier and retailer, but human relationships cannot be underestimated when it comes to doing business.

“People do business with people that they like,” says Sarah Simmonds, owner of womenswear boutique Artichoke in Thetford, Norfolk. “While the obvious thing that attracts us to a stand is what the brand is selling, I do like to be treated in the way that we as independents treat our customers - a good morning and an offer of help if required. The first time I ordered from one exhibitor, he took a call halfway through taking my order and put his hand up to stop me from speaking to him, which I have never forgotten – like everything in life, the exhibitor / buyer relationship should be based on good manners. There are some cracking exhibitors out there, and they are the ones who always get our repeat business.”

Specifically, Simmonds cites listening to buyers, taking constructive criticism on board and attractive merchandising as the key little extras that will encourage her to place an order on the stand. For a sector which prides itself so highly on offering paramount customer service, it’s an interesting juxtaposition when the roles are reversed and retailer becomes buyer – and most are inclined to expect excellent service on a stand as standard.

“Personally I expect brand representatives on a stand to be well-presented and knowledgeable, and to offer friendly help without being too pushy,” says Peter Le Page, buyer at Guernsey-based independent department store Creasey’s. “Exclusivity to my store, possible discounts and delayed payments will also encourage me to place an order, while store visits and events will encourage me to stick with the brand going forward.”

Promises of after-service cannot be underestimated when it comes to maintaining good business relationships, and it’s something that can be particularly poignant when all does not go as it should.

“I find most people very friendly and helpful at shows, but I no longer deal with one brand because of what I experienced in the days that followed,” says Nancy Nelson, owner of Sobriquet Lingerie in Eastbourne, East Sussex. “Having realised I couldn’t fulfil a supplier’s minimum requirements, I contacted the brand representative within days to apologise and explain the situation but I encountered such harassment that I will never approach that company again.”

It’s a cautionary tale to exhibitors that service starts at the stand, and that a flexible approach to the smallest of retailers can lead to bigger business in years to come.

“In these hard trading times, it all comes down to the supplier and buyer working as a team so we can give the consumer a justified reason to shop in store rather than shopping online,” summarises Peter Le Page. “How else can we ever expect to reap the benefits of working in this exciting industry if we don’t all work together.”

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