Spring is in the Fair! Five Ways to Create “Kick-ass Retail”

On this day in 1993, my new boss greeted me at the entrance to Hall 5 at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), Birmingham, with the words:

Welcome to the best job in the world!”

Not only was it the best possible welcome to a new job (Head of Retail at the Royal Collection Trust), it was also a perfect description of the core role I have had for over 25 years, as a Retail concept and product developer and cheerleader for what I call “Kick-ass Retail”. Kick-ass Retail is what I describe as

The wave of enthusiasm from a Team of people in love with what they do, who have created a sensational stage for their product, and who can’t wait to attend to every Customer desire as they facilitate the ultimate buying experience”

Kick-ass Retail is fundamentally about three things:

  1. An imaginative, original Concept;
  2. Brought to life via uncompromising Attention to Detail;
  3. Delivered with relentless, and infectious, Enthusiasm.

Kick-ass Retail is about knowing the market, knowing what is available and finding ways to go one better. That’s why I happily walked over 20 kilometers in a day on my 27th visit to the International Spring Fair at the NEC (I’ve attended most of the Autumn Fairs too).

I’ve long ago learned to shut my ears to those who say “I hate the Spring Fair. It’s too big”, or variations on the theme of “I can’t be bothered to go the extra mile (let alone the extra 12)”. Being better than the competition involves hard work, constantly evolving expertise, and the rocket fuel that is Enthusiasm.

So what are my five top tips for getting the most out of trade fairs so that you can create Kick-ass Retail?

  1. Prepare in advance: have clear objectives, then read the pre-show information and work out  where you need to put your focus, in order to spend quality time looking in the right areas. For example, I rarely visit the Volume Gift or Watch and Jewellery Halls at the NEC because it would take up too much time for too little return.
  2. Take the helicopter: if you possibly can, walk every aisle of your target halls once, quickly, without stopping to talk to the exhibitors. That way you can get your eye in and start to make connections (unconscious as well as conscious) between your objectives, the main trends, and potential suppliers (they’ll jump out if you concentrate).
  3. Take notes as you go: in whatever form or medium suits you best. I used to use a dictaphone; now I make notes on my iPhone – easy to refer to throughout the show and then add to my digital files.
  4. Now home in and revisit the concepts and products that you noticed on the first pass: spend time talking to the vendors, pick up essential information, ask lots of questions. Surprisingly often, exhibitors don’t display everything in their range, or everything they are capable of, and it’s only by sharing your vision that you will unearth the full potential. Plus you will quickly get a feel for the kind of relationship you could have with that vendor.
  5. Conserve your energy: maintaining Enthusiasm and alertness depends on your physical and mental state throughout the show.
    • Get a good night’s sleep beforehand;
    • Arrive early to avoid travel headaches;
    • Travel light (you don’t need to accumulate a rainforest in the form of catalogues and show guides – almost everything is available in digital form. I only collect a few pieces of inspirational or unusual literature whilst on the hoof).
    • Drink plenty of water and take regular, short refreshment breaks;
    • Edit your story so that you can sum up what you are looking for succinctly and briefly – by the time you’ve repeated it 20 times it still needs to sound fresh and coherent. Consider whether your business cards adequately explain who you are and what you are looking for;
    • Building great relationships means that you need to stand out and excite your suppliers as much as you want them to do for you – so be energetic, be enthusiastic, build rapport, and ASK for what you want!

Over the years I’ve helped many organisations and Clients create and build Kick-ass Retail concepts, and I’m still driven by my Enthusiasm for what I genuinely believe is “the best job in the world”.

If you’d like to discuss anything in this post, please get in touch.

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