A Step By Step Guide To Navigating A Virtual Sourcing Trade Show

If you’ve never attended a sourcing show, it may seem overwhelming. Now, when almost all sourcing shows are virtual, it may seem impossible to find the right materials. Despite the lack of physical samples to touch and feel, though, virtual sourcing is totally possible and doesn’t have to be daunting. Here’s my step by step guide to navigating a virtual sourcing trade show.

Before the show

Research the exhibitors

As with any trade show – virtual or in-person – the better prepared you are before the event starts, the more you’ll be able to get out of it. You are usually allowed to log into the trade show platform a few days before the show starts to set up your profile and browse the exhibitor list and seminar calendar. Take this time to research the vendors and identify ones who you want to meet during the show.

Set up meetings with the top vendors on your list

Once you’ve identified which vendors you’d like to meet, reach out to them and schedule an appointment. Unlike a physical show, you can’t just walk the show floor and talk to the booth reps who are available. If you want to talk to a vendor, you’ll need to plan a time to meet through the show platform for a video call. Either reach out through the show platform or email them ahead of time to reserve a spot. 

Come to each meeting prepared with what you are looking for

There is alot to take in at a trade show so it definitely helps to stay focused with a shopping list that you thought through ahead of time. You’ll want to make sure you don’t forget anything or get distracted by fun fabrics that you don’t actually need for any of your current projects. (We’ve all done it. I know I’m like a kid in a candy store when it comes to fabric shopping). 

Know how to describe what you’re looking for

If you’re new to the industry, I know it is sometimes hard to describe what you are looking for. You don’t have to be an expert, but knowing the basic terms and ways of describing fabric will help you communicate your vision more clearly and look like a pro while doing it. Especially at a virtual show where you can’t feel and share reference swatches to describe what you are looking for, it is important to know how to describe fabrics accurately. If talking about fabrics confuses you or feels overwhelming, check out my free guide and email course on just this topic!

At the show

Take notes

At each vendor meeting, make sure to write down the company name, who you spoke with, and any details of your conversation. If you don’t have time to write it all down as you are speaking, take a few minutes after each meeting to finish taking notes while everything is fresh in your mind. You’ll be talking with many people in a day so these notes will come in handy later when you can’t remember what you talked about with whom. Also remember to take notes on any next steps you discussed such as you’ll send them your shipping address or they’ll send you swatches of x, y, z. I find taking notes with old-fashioned pen and paper to be the easiest way for me to write things down as I am in video meetings.

Ask vendors what they’re known for

Rather than just asking what fabrics or trims they have available, I like to ask vendors what they are known for. If they are known for something in particular, that means that they are probably really good at that thing and you’ll get excellent quality. It will also be easier to remember what they offer if you just remember one main thing rather than a whole list. When it comes to fabric, you usually also get more colorway options or stock longevity with fabrics that are popular and in high demand from the vendor, too. 

Ask vendors about the details

You can go beyond the initial “what do you do” questions during your meeting, too. Ask vendors what their minimums are for production and for sampling, inquire about pricing and shipping, and ask how often they rotate stock fabrics (if they carry stock). During the meeting, they’ll probably show you swatches and sample headers over video and you can ask for more details about those fabrics as well as request swatches of ones you are interested in. (Sometimes vendors will have a special promotion for the show where they’ll send you several swatches for free. Other times you do have to pay a small fee for swatches.)

Attend seminars and networking events

Most trade shows have workshops, seminars, and networking events that run concurrently with the vendor meetings. These seminars are a wonderful way to learn and grow your business. Pick out the topics that most interest you and attend, ask questions, and chat with other attendees. I’ve found that the other people who I meet at a trade show are as important as sourcing materials to my overall experience and take-aways from the show. You’ll be able to learn together and share resources. 

After the show

Follow up

This step is super important! Remember all those notes you took? Look through those and follow up with all the people you talked about next steps with or with whom you want to stay in touch. Try to follow up within a few days after the show so that the meeting is still fresh in their minds. Remind them who you are and where you met and follow up on any items you had talked about during the show.

Follow vendors on social media or newsletters to stay in touch

Beyond the initial follow up, it is great to stay in touch with people and vendors you’ve met at past shows. Give them a follow on social media or sign up for their email list for news, new releases, and for news on upcoming shows they might be exhibiting at in the future.

Although shows are over video calls and online platforms for the time being, they are still a great place to meet vendors, source new fabrics and materials, and network with other people in the industry – which is what trade shows are all about! 

If you are looking for fabrics for your brand and want to attend a virtual show, I’m attending TexWorld NYC this week which is free to attend. I hope to see you (virtually) there!

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