10 Ways to Plan a Successful Trunk Show & Boost Your Sales

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Image courtesy of Cindy Pecenka

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.

Image courtesy of Cindy Pecenka

Start planning your next trunk show, using these ten steps to get started:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

 

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Comments

  1. what a great idea! i have been to quite a few and love every one.i find myself a bit reluctant in showing and sharing…but it really is good and fun to do.
    i would suggest buddying up with someone if you are nervous about having on all by yourself.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Becky. Absolutely you should partner up if you would like to – find someone with a complimentary product line and have twice the fun!

  3. I own a vintage clothing store in bay city mi, and am also doing etsy selling. i have been considering switching from a storefront to an office, having “walk in hours” maybe just like thurs-sat or something and focusing on traveling around to do trunk shows and also focus more on online selling…i was wondering if anyone else has done this? or if anyone has any advice or info to offer? thankhyou

    • Megan, That’s an interesting concept. I don’t personally have experience with it, but I encourage my readers to develop several streams of income. You are certainly planning to sell in different ways, and combining online with a static location and traveling to put on events sounds like a great idea. I’d love to have more input from anyone who has tried this.
      My question to you would be “What do you have to lose with this idea?” If your storefront isn’t working as well as you would like, your new plan could capture a lot more business since you will be flexible.

  4. hi i’m a founder of a fashion organization that raises funds to help HIV/AIDS infected orphans in Tanzania
    we are planning to travel to los angeles in may to do trunk shows pls can anyone help to collaborate with us.
    any ideas

    • If you haven’t contacted the Tanzanian community, contact Moza Mjasiri Cooper and she can help. If your show is past, so sorry. Still contact Moza for future collaboration. She is from Zanzibar.

      Gail 323/373-6028

  5. I loved this post. I have heard of trunk shows, but have never been to one. Some one told me I should do one, and now I feel like I could.
    Thanks, and good luck to all those in the same boat!

  6. This was very helpful and also inspires me to do a trunk show. I was kind of scared and did not have a clue where to start from for my trunk show! Thanks alot this was very helpful!

  7. I love trunk shows and recommend to all that are having second thoughts. I am a seamstress and crafter who loves to join other friends with small businesses as mine to host them prior to each season. Truly ‘girl’ time and the more I do, the more guests and shoppers are coming around…. Jump in the fun is my recommendation!

  8. If the purpose of the trunk show is to esentially get the line in a boutique per say, then why wouldn’t the boutique take the order as the designer shows it off and the boutique will execute the rest of the sale with the customer since its the boutique’s customer? To me if the boutique is inviting their own customers to a trunk show as an effort to introduce a line before placing an order- why would it make sense to give the customer direct access to the designer as far as taking the order— when that promotes future orders being placed directly with the designer, cutting the boutique out of the equation.

    • Good question – but this is not how things actually happen. The designer is present to create buzz. “Meet the artist” or “meet the designer” events are very popular. The trunk show would take place at the boutique, and the customers are actually making the purchase from the boutique. Afterward, the proceeds of all sales are split according to a pre-determined agreement, and the designer is paid. Sometimes trunk shows are done to bring in product from a line that the boutique owner already carries, but offers a wider range, or some one-of-a-kind pieces, or a preview of a new season. Other times, the designer would like to sell their work wholesale to the boutique, and the trunk show is a “proving ground” where the appeal of the line and sales help determine whether a wholesale order is placed.

      Hypothetically, the retail customers could go to the designer’s website to place orders, but any smart designer knows that if they have a line that can be wholesaled, they are far better off with an ongoing relationship with the store. This relationship creates repeat business, and larger sales. In addition, even if the designer does have an online store, their prices would be identical or higher than the boutique’s prices – it is a big NO-NO to undercut your retailers on price (and would result in the designer losing lots of accounts.)

      Hope that helps.

  9. I have been contacting boutiques and galleries in the hope of getting some buyers for my newly formed wholesale limited edition artisan accessories, and one of the galleries asked if I would be willing to do a trunk show.
    I’ve done a few with my Wearable Art garments, but never with this new line, which currently features only handbags. I’m wondering what exactly would be required or expected of me as the artist/creator.
    The gallery is about 3 hours away from where I am located, so I presume I would have to at least spend one night in the area, if not 2. At this point in time, I am not financially able to even contemplate that kind of expense, so I’m wondering if I should even attempt this.
    Your input would be greatly appreciated.

    • I think it depends on the length of the trunk show (many are only a few hours, so you could pull a long day and drive both ways), and also whether you are willing to bring your work into an environment where you may make sales to the public, but not guaranteed. Talk to the gallery and see what their terms are. You may be pleasantly surprised.

      • Thanks, Carolyn! Guess I’ll have to wait for him to get back to me. I’ve done the round trip thing in one day before, but I was about 20 years younger, lol. Probably would be able to do it if I really put my mind to it.

  10. avalovesart says:

    Thanks for this informative “behind the scenes” look at trunk shows. I am considering trying to obtain a few trunk shows in the new city I am moving to next month. However, I feel a little nervous about the public interaction. I’ve done craft festivals in the past and felt the same dilemma…what do you talk about when the customer is viewing your product? What are some of the best/worst things to say when talking to potential customers? I always feel that they’ll think I’m pressuring them, annoying them, or monitoring for thiefs. I know this most likely isn’t what they’re really thinking…but I’m a less outgoing person and this sort of interaction is somewhat new ground.

    • Thanks for your comment – and your question. Trunk shows are in a more intimate atmosphere than a craft festival, and give you the opportunity to speak with people as if they are your personal guests at the event. Try to be relaxed, smiling and welcoming. Know some key facts about your work that are general – such as “they are all sterling silver” or “non-allergenic”, or share some of the inspiration for your work. This isn’t about high-pressure sales, so relax and enjoy the guests!

  11. Please name some other places that i can hold trunk shows… I want to start but I don’t know how and where.
    Please help

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  1. [...] 10 Ways to Plan a Successful Trunk Show & Boost Your Sales – Trunk shows are a great way to try out a gallery or boutique for your work or to sell at a store that doesn’t usually carry your type of craft. [...]

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