The reasons why one should attend industry trade fairs have changed over the last few years. But their importance has not diminished, as long as you know what to expect and manage your expectations.

It has never been a better time to be creative than in today’s day and age. In the past creative worked alone or in small teams – quietly and secluded. They mostly relied on the same materials and sources for inspiration – i.e. their surroundings. Perhaps it is why the whole world moved slower and there were long periods between new trends emerging.

Alas, those days are truly gone. Today the world is a much faster-paced place. Inspiration is all around us. Heck, we don’t even have to leave the room to know what happens around the world and be inspired.

But the downside is that we are losing the personal contact with people. And in fashion and many other businesses that counts for a lot. Many factories have not caught up with technological advances the way the creative community has adopted these changes. Factory owners still prefer the face-to-face interactions, take notes and write orders with pen and paper and on occasion, we still hear the word “fax” mentioned.

One way to combine the need for new inspiration and business development is to visit trade fairs.

While people used to rely on them solely for generating business, the role of the trade fairs has somewhat changed in the last few years. It is a much more of a marketing and business development go-to place now. Being seen and showing what you do, meeting your buyers and clients and potential new clients are what brings business, albeit not immediately in some cases.

So if you are wondering if you should bother going to trade fairs still, here are 5 reasons why we think YES you should!

Staying abreast newness

One of the best things about going to trade fairs is visiting the trend area. That is where up and coming designers, factories and trade suppliers showcase new or innovative work.

Usually themed by colour, material or technique, this is where many designers draw inspiration.

However, walking a show is not for the faint-hearted. If you are not organised and don’t have a plan, much can be missed and it can be very overwhelming.

So spending some time in this trend area, taking note of interesting new ideas, and following up later by visiting in person, is well worth the time.

Face Time

While most big fashion companies and many entrepreneurs seem to have their businesses based in the large cities and fashion capitals around the world, suppliers are anything but gathered in a few places. Rather the opposite. They are scattered not only around the world but often have factories or premises in not so central, at times even remote parts of their countries.

Unlike many businesses, in fashion, we often work with new suppliers every season. Getting to know them is not so easy and getting to visit them is even rarer. So going to a trade show is the perfect opportunity to put a face to the voice.

“Face time” as the Italian call it, is very important. Business is often made based on personal relationships forged when people meet face to face.

Visiting trade fairs is not only good for discovering new things but for also resolving problems. Showing examples of what went wrong and discussing it in person, and being able then and there to look at alternatives, is an opportunity not to be missed.

Networking

Visiting trade fairs is a great way to also meet colleagues and contacts – both past and current. Having a brief chat in between the aisles, grabbing a coffee or quick lunch is a great way to network while also doing important work.

These contacts are an essential tool in running your business. They often lead to other contacts and new opportunities. In fact, I know of few industry professionals who only go to trade fairs in order to meet with other people.

Trade fairs are also good for making new acquaintances. Many shows organise events at the start or end of the day, giving opportunities for people to mingle and relax at the end of the day. What better way to connect to new people than to talk about your common passion and challenges? No one better will understand what you may be going through or struggling with or excited by and celebrating than these people surrounding you right there and then.

Gaining Knowledge and Training

Many trade fairs run lectures and panel discussions with industry experts throughout the shows. On the whole, these tend to be useful.

As many designers, creatives and entrepreneurs are too busy designing and running their businesses, education and training are often overlooked. Therefore, being able in a quick half hour to get some tips on areas that matter but are often forgotten about is invaluable.

Not to mention that going to these events provides much-needed respite from endless walking and visual overload.

Lastly, they provide yet another opportunity to meet new industry contacts.

Industry inside information

One of my personal favourite pastimes when attending trade fairs is to talk to the various suppliers and learn what is REALLY going on in the industry. You’d be surprised what you can learn at these events.

Keeping your ear close to the ground is essential in being able to anticipate certain changes and adjust accordingly before they hit you and your business.

Sometimes events in the industry make no sense. Making sense out of them by talking to the suppliers is the best way to understand the inner working and dependencies within the industry.

For example, a few years back there was a sudden big price increase in a certain raw material that the company I was working for depended on. Speaking to suppliers at a fair I found out that due to a huge pre-buy by a few large luxury brands, there was a shortage on the market of the said material. As we worked a season or so ahead, we were able to adjust our retail prices accordingly to reflect the increase and prevent a sudden loss of margin while looking for alternative sources for raw materials. Had it not been for visiting the show and hearing what’s going on, the business would have suffered.

But make no mistake. Visiting these shows is no piece of cake and can be very overwhelming. You need to be organised and plan ahead. You need to allow time and then some extra on top, for there is always something unexpected that eats into your time.

If you are new to the industry and contemplating visiting a fair – what are you waiting for? Do it – it is easily the best crash course you can get in the industry.

If you are planning your first trade show visit, then don’t miss reading this article. It explains what to expect and how to prepare.

And whether it is your first or 100th visit to any trade fair – enjoy your time there!