By Carolyn Edlund
Does your handmade line include clothing, or accessories such as jewelry, purses, shoes, belts, scarves, or bridal wear? Consider putting on a trunk show to increase your sales and get more exposure.
What is a trunk show? It’s an event where you make a personal appearance at a boutique, store or gallery which carries your work. For a limited amount of time (from a few hours on one day up to three days) you meet and work with customers who attend, selling merchandise from your line which the store doesn’t have in stock. If you have sale reps carrying your line, they can do trunk shows for you also.
If you don’t have a line of wearables or accessories, consider making a “meet the artist” appearance along the same lines. Don’t have wholesale accounts where you can do a trunk show? Create the opportunity to get in front of the decision maker, and propose that you do a trunk show even though they don’t carry your line (yet.) A successful show may be the best way to get your line into a store!
What’s the benefit of having a trunk show? It can be a win/win/win:
- A Win for the Store: They get the benefit of sharing in sales of your merchandise which they aren’t paying for up front, so there is no risk. Lots of invited guests are coming in the door, who may purchase other merchandise as well. They get publicity and create the buzz of having cool “meet the designer” events.
- A Win for the Customer: Who doesn’t love meeting the designer of the clothes and accessories they buy? There is a mystique around artists which the public really enjoys. They get to preview new items, and place custom orders with you, or may be fitted for a particular garment you are creating just for them.
- A Win for You: Want to know which designs from your new line get the most attention? A pre-season trunk show gives you valuable information about what will be popular and what’s not working. You could also offer one-of-a-kind items not in your regular line, samples, or items from past seasons which are discontinued. If you are planning to travel in another state, consider scheduling a trunk show with a great store account while you’re there. Take a tax deduction for the expenses and make some extra income as well.
Stores may have certain guidelines for trunk shows (especially larger department stores, although these can be quite lucrative), but you should be able to have input as well. When you approach one of your accounts about making an appearance at a trunk show, be sure to nail down what percentage of sales each of you will take.
Start planning your next trunk show, using these ten steps to get started:
- Be smart about your timing. Understand what your goals are. Early in the season is better than post-season if you want to avoid bargain hunters. Or you might choose to do an appearance right before Christmas to catch those last-minute shoppers.
- Publicize, publicize, publicize. The store should have your event prominently featured on their store website and their Facebook page (these are essential for retailers), and email announcements to their customer base. You should contact all of your existing customers in their area as well, through email and social media. Postcards or other mailers involve postage and can be expensive, but can also be very effective. Send a press release to their local paper, and check online to see if their town has a calendar of upcoming events you can take advantage of, such as Zvents.com. Suggest that the store also put a poster in their window announcing your trunk show.
- The store will benefit from putting a guest book out during the trunk show to capture the names, phone numbers, email addresses of customers who attend. These will be a great resource for future shows, and a mailing list to feature new work from you.
- Serving beverages, wine and cheese or other finger food can make a more festive atmosphere. Create an environment which is very relaxing to guests and invites shopping.
- Be a gracious host(ess). Show that you really care about your guests. Dress the part, and be friendly and attentive to your customers. You are representing the store as well as your own business. The more helpful and accommodating you are, the more sales you will encourage.
- Show and tell. This is important. Tell the story of your work – what inspires you? What is your creative process? Where do your materials come from? When customers understand the story, it creates greater value in their minds. You may want to have brochures or other material to promote your line and help customers remember you.
- Have photos of you taken in your studio, with work in progress. Bring a photo album or digital picture frame with a slideshow of you at work which details the steps in the the process, so that customers understand and appreciate your handmade line more completely.
- Do you take custom orders? You might want to include free color consultations at your event, or bring samples of your palette, materials or color selections and work with each customer personally, to enhance their experience and encourage sales.
- Want to make your trunk show more meaningful? Tie it in with a charity to attract more publicity, and make a contribution to a worthy cause. This makes everyone feel good. Include this in the press release you will be sending out.
- Make sure your customer service is impeccable. Send a personal, handwritten thank you note to the store owner for the opportunity, and communicate promptly with those people who placed special orders. Ship on time, thanking them for their order. Enclosing a small item as a little extra gift is a wonderful way to show your appreciation.
Author Carolyn Edlund is the founder of Artsy Shark and a business consultant for artists and entrepreneurs. Looking to grow your creative small business? Find out more here.