Planning your week at the ATA Trade Show can be daunting. So many booths and so much action is packed into so few days.
But you’re not alone. We’re here with some tips to help maximize your time Jan. 10-12 at the ATA Show in Indianapolis. The six-stage process we’ll share was developed by Bob Phibbs, the “Retail Doctor,” and it will help you navigate the Trade Show. Phibbs’ steps seem simple, but they’re important. Don’t overlook them.
Preparation means knowing your numbers. Macro numbers are a big deal but we must value micro numbers, too. Suppliers, resellers, customers, competition and the general public are all important factors. What are your top five categories in gross sales, and what do they mean for profitability? Phibbs says loss-leaders might sell a lot, but they cost you money. You don’t want that. Look at all of your categories and pinpoint your top five to seven producers. Then identify your bottom five to 10. This way you can set priorities for working the Show floor.
Many independent business owners are chronic over-buyers. We understand. It’s easy to get carried away. We’re in Indy, after all. So why not? Let’s buy it all! Phibbs says to chill. If you bring in something new, something else must go. You can’t keep adding merchandise to your inventory. If sales declined 5 percent last year, then your inventory level should also decrease 5 percent. Do your homework. Make sure you know what you can safely stock.
Before attending the ATA Trade Show, review your customer notes and sales results from the previous year. This practice will help you identify potential products to stock in the upcoming year. Photo Credit: ATA
3. Make a shopping list.
If you don’t know where to start, go to the Show looking only to add to your most profitable, best-selling categories. Maybe you’ve had customers looking for specific items but not finding the right one. You can be their one-stop shop. Review all your notes from the past year. You were taking notes on customer requests, right? Preparing for the ATA Trade Show is a year-round job. Pay attention to all those details. They’ll sharpen your focus as you plan your booth visits.
4. Be aggressive.
Be bold with your best categories. That’s where you try new, unproven things by playing hunches. Your customers look to you to find such items because these proven categories regularly pay off for you. If you’ve studied your sales, you can “fish where the fish are” with new bait. Even if you buy a stinker, you’ll move it out quickly because you know there’s more demand in this category. If you know your strong categories, you have little to lose by taking calculated risks.
The 2017 ATA Trade Show boasts over 230,000 square feet of booth space. Make the most of your time at the Show by prioritizing product needs prior to your arrival. Photo Credit: ATA
5. Be conservative.
But your bottom categories are the flip side of this coin. Heed their STOP signs. Phibbs recommends not buying more in categories that don’t contribute enough to your bottom line. He learned this in the coffee business, where everyone said: “Tea is the next big thing. You need to expand your tea offerings.” Phibbs said he looked at tea sales, which were less than 1 percent of his sales, and stayed away. “Even if we doubled the menu, it still wouldn’t produce the jump needed to support more POP, product and training,” he said. “Simply put, customers didn’t look to us for their tea needs. Instead, we looked at the blended cold-coffee drinks and tried various flavors because they represented 40 percent of sales. We were safe because people looked to us for those kinds of drinks and would be open to it.”
In other words, if one of your categories isn’t producing, don’t assume you can improve sales by expanding beyond the category. Maybe you can boost sales by expanding within the category. Learn what is selling steadily with other retailers in that category, and decide whether it can become a proven seller for you.
6. Use an open-to-buy plan.
In its most basic form, an open-to-buy plan means you can’t buy unless something else has sold. An inventory-management plan helps you learn how much inventory you need to buy monthly to hit your sales projections. This knowledge keeps you from overbuying when you’re at the Trade Show. Simple enough, right? Well, don’t expect to master such matters overnight. Give yourself some rules to follow and eventually everything will fall into place.
To further plot your moves at the Trade Show, study the Show’s floor plan and read the ATA’s Trade Show news. In fact, visit the pages often. The more efficiently you can work the Show floor, the easier you’ll put Phibbs’ six steps to work. We look forward to seeing you in Indy!