Spring Fair – A sellers visit to source stock

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Jade of visited the annual Spring Fair at the Birmingham NEC this week and shares his experience with TameBay.

The Spring Fair 2008 is billed as “where the world of retail loves to shop”. The feeling I got from some suppliers was that this is only the case, if you are not an online retailer and even more not if you sell on, dare we mention it? eBay! But I’ll discuss that later.

First of all the show is huge, I have to admit that this was our firtt foray into the world of trade fairs, so we have no previous experience to draw from, but it seemed vast to us. There were over 20 halls of exhibitors filled with categories such as Contemporary Gifts & Collections, Gifts, Fashion Accessories, Wellbeing, Festive & Floral, Volume Retail, International, Kitchen & Dining, Home Gifts & Interiors, Garden Living, Gallery (the list goes on).

The NEC itself is phenomenally well organised, parking was a cinch on both days, shuttle buses running regularly from the car parks to the halls to save the walk (we chose the exercise). Traffic in and out of the area was good too, apart from tonight (Tues) the M42 was slow because of the heavy rain (but thats an act of God right?) If you are considering attending a show at the NEC and are unsure about it’s accessibility I would whole heartedly recommend giving it a go, I’m sure you would find it a stress free visit.

When we arrived we were rather overawed by the sheer number of halls and the size of the show itself, so we spent most of the 1st day aimlessly wandering around doing a lot of “ooing”!

On our way back to the car at the end of the first day, we noticed a show guide for sale at £15, ouch! But as we felt we had barely scratched the surface in terms of potential stalls to see and found that it was difficult to orientate ourselves when in the halls, we decided that we would invest in a guide and use it that evening to plan our attack for the following day. We did this and found that the categorising of products and maps of each hall helped pinpoint people to see and the best route round the halls.

On the second day we had our list of exhibitors we wanted to see and locations for their stalls and found that this worked MUCH better and we were able to get round almost all on the stalls our list. As we are “newbies” we wanted to practice our approach to the exhibitors, as we were a little nervous about our credibility due to how long (or short as is the case) we had been trading and our status as ebay sellers. We did not plan to thrust ebay on them immediately and gauge the reaction to our being an “online retailer”, with multiple routes to market, which is actually true in a way, as we sell on ebay, amazon, play and are developing our own website.

With this in mind we chose the International Hall where this year there has been a large increase in the number of exhibitors from China. For some reason it was much easier approaching people whose first language was not English! I have to admit to using this hall as a bit of a warm up, but left feeling that had we been serious about buying some of the items on display, language would have been a huge hurdle as most of the exhibitors seemed to get by with a big grin and the thrusting of a brochure.

We moved into a hall called Volume Retail and this is where some of the more interesting discussions took place. Most of the exhibitors were polite asking for a card and promising contact within a week after the show etc, but a couple point blank refused to engage with us because we were “online retailers”.

One who did not know that we sold on ebay confessed, “Some people are not online retailers, they just wanna sell the stuff on ebay and no one wants to see their stuff being sold on ebay!” I was actually quite stunned at this, as I was not talking to Gucci Homewares, but a company that made simple but funky picture frames and plaques with poems on, that retailed between £2.00 and £8.00!

The majority of the people we spoke to were ok with the idea of us being “online” but assumed we had a warehouse, which we did little to correct, as it was they, who had made the assumptions. I have to admit to still feeling a little deflated by the negative comments made by the couple of exhibitors who we wanted to get a relationship with and also could not help but question why they seemed to have their heads in the sand in terms of the potential for supplying internet only companies and the incredible growth of on line retail.

On the whole the experience was positive and we think we may get some “leads” to follow up.

22 Responses

  1. I don’t think that is strictly true northumbrian.

    The problem for many manufacturers/designers/etc with ebay (many of our brands won’t allow us to sell on ebay either) is that you have the potential to take a product that does well on the high street and online and completely screw that product by supplying it to ebay sellers operating on a part-time basis who can afford to make a very small margin on a product because they have no overheads thereby diminishing the value of the product overnight.

    It is not the true value of their goods being exposed, it is the amatuerish way they are being priced which would then stop others stocking it that is the problem. Because who wants to stock a product in a shop that you don’t make any money on? So you go from being a successful product sold both online and in shops to one sold at just about cost on ebay. Would you want that for your product?

    There is also the issue that ebay, whether we like it or not as sellers, still has a very bad reputation out there with most people and if I had a strong brand I wouldn’t want it on ebay either.

  2. I have been attending the NEC spring fair for years. The primary objective of suppliers there is to engage with what they hope will be long term trading partners. They also are looking to brand build. Ebay is compatible with none of this. Statistics show suppliers are correct to be wary. They gain nothing from short term sales only to see good sold off cheap and brand diminished or diluted. The NEC show is actually on the decline , its a shadow of its former self and 10 years ago there were many more quality suppliers who shun the show now , WHY !? because of the number of “buyers” there to take their time up for no long term gain. I could name 10-15 big names who are not there this year.
    two I deal with wrote to me personally to explain why.
    Its not just an ebay thing though , the number of people running failing on-line businesses in general is what these suppliers are wary of.

  3. I have to say I agree with North on this one, at the end of the day, there is a saying that I feel reflects this, “he who holds the gold makes the rules” at the end of the day, when a medium arrives that can empower the consumer, it can be uncomfortable for the “established” supply network who have become comfortable or complacent about margins. It does not however give them the right to try to “fix” the market so that the consumers have no choice in how they purchase their products. The consumer will ALWAYS overcome this because it is they that are the most important cog in the wheel of commerce!

    I feel that some suppliers unwillingness to deal with online retailers and ebay etc, stems from an understandable fear of the inevitable market rationalisation that is starting to take place. The writing is very much on the wall at the moment, the internet is hear to stay, it empowers the consumer with choice, in a way that no generation before us has ever had to contend with and suppliers and traditional retailers whose only route to market is via a brick built property will find themselves squeezed. Suppliers who refuse to deal with the new generation of online retailers will be overtaken by those that do.

    We are at the beginning of a new era for supply of all commodities whatever sector we are involved in, it is time that we made sure that we are aware and are willing to adapt to and thus capitalise on the changing marketplace.

  4. I think you mis-understand some of the motives of suppliers.
    Its not fixing or market fear , in a lot of cases its simple business strategy. If you allow people with low overheads to under-cut established businesses who sell at or near the target retail mark , then you risk losing established business to someone who may well be out of business in 12 months because they can not add up. Stands at the NEC cost a fortune and suppliers just want to make good use of that money , they also want to make sure their product is linked with good sales backup , in many cases on-line sellers are totally product ignorant and these are all important issues. I am not saying the small guy should not get a look in , but I fully understand the concerns of suppliers who want to build a customer base , not just fill short-term order books.
    remember ,,, I AM a small guy.

  5. Jon,

    “If you allow people with low overheads to under-cut established businesses who sell at or near the target retail mark , then you risk losing established business to someone who may well be out of business in 12 months because they can not add up”

    Or is it actually more true that If the distributer refuses to supply retailers (online or otherwise) who have low overheads and can sell your stock at a price that gives the retailer a profit that they are happy with and gives the customer value. Then other distributors WILL, and in that case they will miss out in both avenues, because in my own humble opinion, e-commerce and the associated over head savings are here to stay. In my post I also said that the majority of distributors had already come round to the idea and were willing to talk to us, where does that leave the ones that didn’t? I could also be wrong here but, it certainly felt that the ones who were reluctant to engage either had an “older male” sales force or were more than a little pretentious about their products 😈

    On another point about the small guy “amateur” seller (as mentioned by Barry). Have we all forgotten how a certain Marks & Spencer and Alan Sugar started (amongst others)? Just in case we had forgotten, it was on a market stall and if ebay isn’t the modern day equivalent of the market stall, then I don’t know what is. So most new business starts off small and “amateurish” and then they grow and become the very top heavy, overhead laden beasts that complain about a new revolution that undercuts them in the marketplace 🙄

  6. I gave the Spring Fair (and tha Autumn Fair and Glee} a miss last year, went to an exhibition in China instead, best decision I have made. Sourced five suppliers more than happy to sell in smallish quantities, no more mesing about with pretentious UK wholesalers

  7. there is a big difference between wholesalers , distributors and producers/sole distributors. You will find many wholesalers and distributors are laise-fair , but producers or sole distributors are much more choosy.
    E-commerce is here to stay , but there is E-commerce with sales back-up , product knowledge and product arena expertise and then there are people just trying to buy wholesale to sell retail. there is a big difference.
    I am just trying to explain the view point of some NEC stall holders , like it or not , many want people with expertise and collateral backup to sell their stuff and do not want e-tailers with no background….

  8. You know what Dave? That was my opinion of the “International Hall” in general, providing you could get over the language issues, which I’m sure we would have done if we had been serious about buying from China or India, they would have bitten our hands off. I would not rule out that as an option in the future. In fact maybe some of us tamebayers could pool our resources and help one another to do just this?

    The other ironic thing about the attitude of the few suppliers is that they are basically selling the goods that they have had produced/sourced in China themselves. As such they were potentially exhibiting in halls adjacent to their own suppliers, there own suppliers would be more than happy to talk….. 🙂

  9. Jon I think that you are giving a very constructive argument and I am really enjoying reading your opinions. My point is that the internet in general has turned the WHOLE retail landscape on it’s head in more ways than one. Frankly “product knowledge”, can simply be googled or outsourced, which is another benefit of the information age. Not only that, it can be done fast and cheaply. As such I’m not sure what advantage in real terms that gives a traditional retailer in the internet retail arena. I’m sure the established retailers would like to carry on thinking that thier organisations and supposed “expertise” add value and credibility to both customers and suppliers and I’m absolutely sure that in some circumstances they do, probably the in the aged consumer bracket, which is literally dying out. On the point of retailers expertise, how many times have you found a salesperson with anything but BASIC “product knowledge” in Comet, Currys, PC World, Tesco, H Samuels, WH Smith etc etc? In my own experience it is rare, infact it’s often dangerously poor knowledge. Also it the case that a lot of buyers do their own product research on the internet before they even darken the doorstep of the vendor. Making thier purchase without any guidance at all.

    Finally I offer incredible customer service, trully incredible and in the words of Wierd Al “check my feedback” 🙂 A+++++++++ and wahts more I didn’t need to be trading since 1885 to make sure I got that part of my business process right!

  10. Jade.
    its easy to get carried away with E-commerce and certain boom-brands and areas of trade , but the current research suggests that more and more high profit is made from customer satisfaction , not retail price. Many at the NEC are privy to subscription services such as deloites , and the data is crystal clear. If you look at John Lewis’s figures and their trend for 2007 , you will see a clear path. I am not saying the small guy is not a player , I am saying if there is no value to add , then beware , there may not be a business to build….
    ( forever cautious ).
    Many on ebay think I am a moaner , but I am someone who has a business spread over three distinct areas and I always look to make the best profit in adding value , not just pure retailing , an thats the key here , suppliers sometimes want to build an ethos around their products and make sure the customers gets wind of some of that…

  11. Northumbrian: ‘the true value is what a buyer will pay,’

    Very true, but that also depends on supply, if you have ever studied economics you will know about elasticity of supply and demand and that selling more at a lower price is not necessarily better than selling less at a higher price. If you haven’t studied the most basic economic theories maybe you shouldn’t be in business.

  12. I am with Barry & Jon on this one.

    Nothing to add to the argument but just a couple of tips for the spring or autumn fairs that I have learned over the years.

    Wear comfy shoes and don’t mention eBay.

  13. well bugger me I thought to be in business you need to sell at a profit

    better get me books out before I get the sack

  14. I have always wanted to go to a trade fair like the one being discussed. But after reading and hearing the same story from previous visitors on countless occasions I won’t be bothering.
    It’s a real shame that the fastest growing sector of the retail industry is being shunned by wholesalers and manufacturers. I can empathise with the reasons they have given about products being sold for less than the RRP, particularly on ebay. However, none of the traders I know who were trying to get new product leads ever mentioned ebay as they all have thier own sites. “No online only traders” was the catchphrase then and seemingly still is.

    Has anyone who is an online only trader ever managed to secure a long-term, viable supply source from such a trade show? I am sure there must be some ….. would be great to hear some success stories in this area that appears to be a very tough nut to crack.

  15. I have, and I’m sure plenty of others have too, although perhaps not something that is shouted from the rafters!

    Sure there is plenty of resistance to online only, and quite a few outright refusals. However, that isn’t the case with every supplier and in my experience, things get easier the longer you have been established.

  16. I have to point out that the harder you have to work to gain a new supplier generally the better that supplier will be.

    If they don’t want to supply every new eBay (or off eBay) seller that comes along so much the better, you’ll have less competition when you convince them that they should supply you.

    After all – they don’t want their time wasted by someone that’ll spend £50 once a quarter and possibly be an awkward customer any more than you do 😉

  17. Morning Jon, “high profit is made from customer satisfaction , not retail price”

    Why does everybody assume that selling on the internet or ebay for that matter equates too poor customer satisfaction? What I am offering is BOTH added in with the convenience and scalability of the web, I know that I am on to a winning formula, if the “old school” supply network don’t realise it yet then so be it, luckily there are enough people who do, either because they have seen whats happening, or because they will deal with e-traders through fear, I couldn’t give a hoot, so long as they supply me with saleable goods that are fit for purpose from which I can make a profit on that I am happy with. I will look after the custmer better than they could ever dream of, I’ve worked in customer service in one way or another all of my life, so I am qualified to talk about it without access to online subscription services 😉

    A lot of the “economic theories” were written BEFORE the information age or by people who have failed to smell what is in the air. Of course certain products will lend themselves to added value, I think of perfumes and designer jeans as obvious ones, but appreciate there are a lot more. But bare in mind that I was talking to homewares suppliers (not Gucci, or Apple), and we were talking to them about storage solutions, these were companies that supply tubs to keep cornflakes fresh, storage boxes for tea coffee and sugar, shoe racks etc!

    So tell me what added value a supplier of these products is looking for, they are everyday items and I don’t need to read a “deloites” report to tell me what a consumer is looking for, they are most definatley looking for value AND service! I deliver fully on both.

    Times are changing, this is definitely not getting carried away with e-commerce or “boom-brands”, its the future of trade. Can you really see e-commerce reducing in over the next few years? If you can, then I fear you will be one less competitor that I need to worry about. 🙁

  18. Jon I don’t wish to infer that I hope you go out of business in my final comment, I just wanted to clear that up.

    OMG I go on and on when I get excited about a subject, so sorry if my “commenting” appears excessive! 😳

  19. Well we got our 1st follow up from a supplier today, it was only a letter confirming that we will be contacted, but considering that the fair only finished yesterday, it is a good start. Only about another 8 suppliers to wait for now 🙂

    I forgot to mention 😳 we also got the stonewall from two wholesalers before Christmas, one we left alone because we had chance to view what they had on offer and it wasn’t up to much anyway. The other I followed up with a polite phone call and I reckon it took all of 4 seconds to win the sales account manager round. We now have an account with the 2nd and they were one of the main players at Spring Fair with about 4 separate stands! That perhaps adds a little balance to the perception that all suppliers run a mile from e-tailers! 🙂

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