Trade shows are wacky places. Most people are way out of their element, and those who are in it are typically insane. It’s a big, awkward, over-the-top experience that’s both harrowing and hilarious. We went into the New York International Gift Fair with the goal of meeting several key sales reps, a few national accounts, and a whole bunch of indie retailers. I think the most value we got out of the show was actually the feedback on our sales pitch…after you give the same spiel 100+ times a day, you start to notice what points people react to, and how to hone it. Even though we’ve been giving variations of that speech for over a year now, it still amazes me how much you can learn by just sticking your neck out and telling a complete stranger why your brand is awesome. Especially buyers, since they have a very keen eye for what works and what doesn’t on their shelves.
But the show itself was a trip. You walk past booths early in the morning and all the staff are huddled together chanting a sort of pep rally mantra, pumping themselves up. You see crazy inventors in Tivas and cargo pants next to slick salesmen too engrossed in their Blackberrys to even look up at buyers passing by. You see elaborate stunts drawing huge crowds, while the mom and pop products next door are quietly killing it with the next big thing. There’s tons of competitiveness, but also a strange camaraderie around the ridiculousness of the surroundings, and an understanding that you’re all there to accomplish something.
The characters we met spanned the spectrum of personalities. If someone made a show about these events, it would kill. There’s endless material, endless characters. Call it Expo, base it on a couple of hired hands who go from trade show to trade show selling everything under the sun. Gold Jerry, gold.
But the valuable lesson is that amid all that insanity there is a great lesson in running a startup, and that is that you have to be out there, always. You have to figure out how to present your thing, and just pound that pavement, because people don’t just stop and listen, you’ve got to draw them in. And that’s only 1/3 of the battle. Then there’s the pitch, which is a mix of a good product and a good story. And then, of course, there’s the close. That’s the hard part, unless you crushed the other two thirds. Then it’s easy. And that’s just about everything. Now that we’ve learned, it’s off to Toy Fair in two weeks to make things happen.