B2B Development & Our Experience With Digital Trade Shows
In December 2019, Merry People launched in the U.S!!
It was a big step for us crossing the Pacific, but one we are excited to make. Coming into 2020, we had lots of plans to visit, meet with stores, participate in trade shows, and build the Merry Community … but as you can imagine, that all got squashed in March! Like the rest of the global fashion industry, we pivoted and rather than flying to the US, Dani and I took a virtual trip and signed up for the digital Outdoor Retailer (“OR”) and Shoppe Object trade shows.
The last time Merry People did a trade show was in 2016, at the Sydney Life in Style. It was an amazing experience; besides showcasing our boots, it allowed us to connect with retailers, customers, and other brands. It taught Dani a lot about growing a small business and community, and you can read more about that experience here.
Going into a digital show, we couldn’t help but wonder - how would this in-person connection translate online? How would we even set up a booth to share Merry People with a global digital community of media, buyers, and designers? Would it still be as fun? How do you foster collaboration and relationships online? Keep reading to learn more about this new B2B experience.
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Since travelling to the U.S. was off the cards, for the OR show in July we decided to take a work trip to The Olsen hotel in Melbourne to set up. From our previous experience, we knew that having emotional support helps a trade show run smoother - so we wanted to make sure we could keep the team together and in line with Victorian COVID-19 regulations. The Merry People office is a shared workspace, so sharing a hotel was a safer way of working together during this time. Moreover, since the show ran on U.S. time, it was much easier to be together in a hotel for 3:00am calls then in the spare bedroom while partners slept! [As a bonus for us (who are always cold in winter!), The Olsen has spectacular central heating.]
We arrived on Tuesday night, with the digital booths opening to the public at about 1:00am Melbourne time! Luckily, they didn’t have to start quite so early. Rather, in the weeks leading up to the event, I was able to start contacting attendees to arrange video calls with media and retailers. Over the next three days, we had early morning chats and emails with people all over the U.S. - from Alaska, to New York, to Ohio, to California. While Zoom may not be the same as talking in person, it still allowed us the opportunity to create new relationships, get feedback on our product, learn more about the U.S. market, and potentially find new partners in the U.S. As a virtual event, the digital booth stayed open until the end of August, allowing businesses around the world more time to engage, network, and build new relationships.
After OR ended we signed up for Shoppe Object, which started at the end of August. With Stage 4 restrictions in place in Melbourne during this time, I ran the event alone from my WFH office. Shoppe Object is a hybrid trade show / virtual showroom designed for a curated list of specialty retail buyers around the US, with each participating designer and buyer vetted in advance. Rather than give each brand access to the attendees list, Shoppe Object created daily editorial Stories to highlight brands and themes to its attendees - you can spot us in the Sunny Outlook! During the 4 days of the trade show, there were also numerous webinars on the state of the fashion and retail industry to attend, making it nice to be up early to listen in whilst waiting to see if anyone would “stop by” our virtual booth. After the trade show ended, Shoppe Object switched to a B2B showroom that stays live for 6 months, allowing buyers to check in and scope out new brands at their leisure. This has been a fantastic way for us to stay connected and continue to build relationships as we continue conversations with stores from Hawaii to Maine!
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As we learned in 2016, trade shows are big, a bit scary, and immensely rewarding to see the world react to your business - and it is important to celebrate the experience! During OR, we were a bit cheeky and celebrated a bit early as the second day of the show was also my birthday! As many people know, isolation birthdays can be a bit glum, so the Merry People team pulled out all the stops to make it special for me. Surprise decorations, giant balloons delivered in a huge box, team video all to sing happy birthday, and lunchtime champagne. On the last day of Shoppe Object, we celebrated as a team with speciality cocktails delivered from Melbourne bar Atticus Finch and toasts over Zoom.
At the end of it all, would we do it again? Absolutely! COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the way business is operating and having an online platform to connect the B2B global community is wonderful. It also (drumroll) introduced us to two of our new US stockists - Shoefly in Juneau, Alaska and ShoeHive in Alexandria, Virginia!!
Xx Katey (Wholesale Coordinator)
Want to hear more business advice on B2B and growing a new brand? Be sure to check out Dani’s interview on the Add to Cart Podcast.