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Ah, the winter wholesale show circuit is about to get underway for some of you. I am off the wholesale show grid this year, but back in the day, I did my time on multiple tours of the Javits Center and AmericasMart both as a buyer and exhibitor.

For those of you who have not experienced AmericasMart, envision three enormous buildings taking up as many city blocks in downtown Atlanta. These buildings are crammed with everything you can imagine in terms of gifts, home dec, apparel, jewelry, rugs, furniture. Essentially, if you imagine it, it’s probably lurking in someone’s showroom or temporary booth. It can be one of the most fun things you do all year; it can also be one of the most overwhelming and exhausting weeks of your life. This post is dedicated to all AmericasMart rookie buyers.

1. Before you go, take inventory of what you currently have and pack it in your bag. Think of this as Extreme Grocery Shopping. If your pantry (store) were bare, and you had to plan for a really big party (remerchandise the store for spring and summer) you wouldn’t just show up at a grocery store (trade show) without a list. You have to have knowledge of where you are starting. Were there some lines you tried last year that didn’t sell through? Are you looking for a new accessories line? Are you desperately low on stationery? Spend some time assessing what you have too much of, what you have too little of, what you might want to bring in and try this year…..and don’t forget to take the list with you. It will help you from overbuying your milk, eggs and butter (store staples) and will remind you to keep an eye out for something sweet (new lines!).

2. Have a game plan. This sort of ties in with #1/Inventory, but do some pre-planning. Know how “open to buy” you really are (e.g. have some kind of budget in mind). Ask your reps if they will be at the show. Schedule any pertinent appointments in advance so you can be assured you’ll get the attention you deserve. Make note of lines you’re interested in and where they’re exhibiting. Download a site map and mark off showrooms and booths you want to see for sure. Trust me: you don’t want to have to run back and forth aimlessly between floors, let alone buildings.

3. Pack your business cards. BETTER YET: make several sheets of sticky labels with your store name, address, phone, e-mail address on it. You don’t have to hand out cards to every single rep in every single showroom or booth (even though that would make their day), but you don’t want to slow your roll by taking time to fill out more paperwork. Having ample supplies of one or both of the above will assure you that you can leave a clear, concise piece of yourself behind as you write up orders.

4. Throw a stack of credit sheets in your bag, too. A credit sheet doesn’t have to be fancy, but it must include all your pertinent contact information, bank info, list of current vendors with whom you have good terms. The fact that you show up prepared makes a manufacturer feel more confident that you will not take Net Never terms!

5. Pack an extra wide-handled tote bag. There are exhibitors who will give away free bags, but this will ensure you have something handy…in the event you don’t stumble onto one of these aforementioned free bags until three or four hours into your first day.

6. Pack comfy clothes and comfy shoes.  Be sensible about what you’re wearing. You’re going to be walking a LOT, and you’ll be hopping on and off escalators and elevators and running though what I affectionately refer to as the “habitrails” (the walkways that connect the three buildings). You want to focus on purchasing decisions, not your inflamed bunions. Choose functionality over 4″ spike heels, and you will thank me later.

7. Bring some mad money. Face it: you know you want to go to Cash & Carry Jewelry.

8. Leave some extra room in your suitcase before you leave home. See #7. You’ll need the space for your new acquisitions.

9. Don’t be one of those hoity-toity dweeby people who wear their badges backwards. Please. No one in that building is that stinking important.

10. As tempting as it is, don’t buy everything on the first day. There may be some “have to order” staples you can knock out as you walk the Mart. But, if you’re shopping for a new candle line or Tshirts or truffles, you’ll find that there are a whole lot of manufacturers who have tempting – and perhaps similar – selections. Gather any and all enticing product info and when you get back to the hotel room at night (before you soak your aching feet and fall into a sleep-induced coma), review it. How do the price points look, side by side? What are the freight implications? How do opening order minimums compare? What are the reorder minimums? Who has a better show special? All of these things need to be factored into your buying decision.

A friend in the commercial kitchen equipment business often reminds me that you make money when you PURCHASE, not when you sell. He’s right. The laundry list of questions illustrates components that influence your margin and cash flow. You owe it to yourself to spend a little time to make an informed decision. Don’t just buy from the hip. You may pay for it later. Literally. Pick up info, review, decide, circle back before you leave the Mart, place your order.

10a. Have fun 🙂 You will see some amazing products and displays. Be the sponge: soak it all up and enjoy the ride.