Are you a fashion start up? Want to know the #1 way to get honest feedback, boost sales, and get your brand in more stores?! Host a Trunk Show, and lots of them!
What is a trunk show?
Here’s the scoop. A trunk show is a 1-2 day event typically held at a boutique/retail store in which you, as the designer, make a personal appearance and bring your new upcoming line. (The line used to be carried in an actual trunk hence the name.) You then meet and work with customers in order to sell your line. If you are working with sales reps, they can do the trunk shows for you, but in my personal opinion, you will want to be there in person. Your personality and love for your line will help close sales. Plus part of the allure of trunk shows is the meet and greet with the designer.
Generally speaking the idea is to showcase your latest collection and take orders (that will then be shipped out in 4-8 weeks). However you can also sell inventory or even pre-sell your line (which is great if you are a newbie and trying to add onto your cutting tickets for production). Just be sure to let your customers know when they can expect the shipment.
Ideally this boutique/retail store would already be carrying your line. However this is not always the case, nor is it completely necessary. A successful show may get your line in the store once the owner/buyer can see the reaction and sales of the line.
Where can I host a trunk show?
While trunk shows are typically help in a boutique or store, they don’t have to be. Depending on the type of line/product you have you could host a trunk show almost anywhere! Be creative with this. Think outside the box. The key is to align your brand image and think about your target customer. Where they hang out? What do they like to do? What would benefit them? Below are some examples to get the wheels turning;
-Yoga/Dance Studio/Gym=> This is great for activewear brands
-Salon/Spa=> Do you have a hair accessory or maternity line?
-Art Gallery=> Perfect if there is something artistic about your line, maybe the items are hand painted?
-Country Club=> Are you designing polos and golf attire?
-Music venue=> Good for streetwear brands
-Bakeries => Think kitchen aprons and oven mitts
And of course there are some places to NOT host a trunk show such as;
-An office building
-A flea market
The reasons these places don’t work is because;
- There is no specific target audience, and
- There is no incentive for the owner of these establishments to promote and bring in customers. The idea is to take advantage of an existing customer base that is targeted towards your market.
What are the Benefits of doing a trunk show?
For the Store…
More traffic and hopefully new traffic in their doors (this would come from you)
An easy way to test out new lines before having to commit to a large order
Free publicity and buzz for the store
For the Customer…
A chance to meet the designer (people think you are a celebrity)
A chance to purchase new items that are not yet on the market
A great special one time only price (see more about this below)
The opportunity to showcase your line to an entire new clientele (that you didn’t have to get on your own)
Valuable honest feedback from customers which is CRUCIAL for new fashion start ups. Whatever the customers want is what you need to give them. For example if everyone is loving the blue color and no one is going for that trendy grass green, get rid of it and make more items in the blue!
A chance to make a good impression on a new potential store to carry your line (this is your real goal at the end of the day)
An opportunity to create personal relationships with customers which helps foster brand loyalty. People buy from people that they know, like, and trust. And when they buy once, they are likely to buy again. In this age of social media, you want as many people on your side.
Instant credibility for your brand. Other stores and buyers will take notice when you are featured in a competitor’s store.
What should I do BEFORE the show?
As I always say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The key to a SUCCESSFUL trunk show is in the planning!
- Plan the timing of the event. You don’t want to hold your event anytime near the sale seasons like January (post holiday sales). Pick the beginning of the selling season if possible and also take into consideration when you are shipping. For instance, if you are selling your Spring line and are not going to ship until February, you may want to host the event in August/Sept which is the start of the Fall Season. I know what you’re thinking, why would I sell my Spring line in the Fall? The reason this timing works is because August is still typically hot in most areas and so customers will still be in the mood to shop for Spring/Summer. Also you want your customers to receive and wear the items in the correct season. If they receive the line in February it is just in time for the upcoming Spring season (which is also right before the time your line will hit the rest of the stores). Of course once you have a time in mind, you’ll need to discuss with the store to confirm.
- Sit down with the store and discuss the details. I recommend getting everything in writing as you don’t want to take any chances.
- Will the store provide signage? Note it is always a good idea to offer to create the signage yourself. One reason is that it gives you complete control over the quality, etc. Another reason is that by making it easy for the store, the will be happier with you. Of course be sure to get the signage approved BEFORE you print it.
- Will there be a designated space for your display in the store? What will be provided for the display? Table, chair, rack space, etc.
- How will payments be processed? Kindly ask how the store typically handles payments. Do this AHEAD of time so that everything is set. If the store is collecting the payments, it is a good idea to get the store credit card in advance and then charge them immediately after the trunk show is finished. If you are selling for future delivery note that sometimes the store will require the customer to pay 50% upfront and the rest once it has shipped to the store. In this case ask the store if they can pay you half after the show and half upon delivery. If you are collecting the payments, be sure you have everything set and ready to go so that you can take cash and credit cards.
- What are the terms? Is the store going to take a percentage of sales (typically 10-15%) or pay wholesale for the items sold?
- What will the pricing be?
- How will returns be handled?
- Consider linking your show with a charity. Charities are a great way to draw attention and give an additional reason to purchase.
- Be sure to offer an additional incentive if you can whether it’s a $500 gift card, free shipping, gift with purchase, discount on rest of store merchandise, etc. Don’t skimp on this! And please don’t put your line on sale or offer a discount, that makes your line look cheap. Offer a “Special Event Pricing” instead.
- Create a nice postcard that the store can hand out ahead of time to their customers in order to promote the event. You’ll want to have these to the store about a month before the show.
- Prepare window signage and install it yourself. Don’t ask the store to install the signage. Take the time to go over there and do it yourself. Ask the store how soon you can display it.
- Have everything ready for your display including; table signage, look books, special order forms, business cards, brochures, swatches of other colorways/prints, etc. Include phrases like “Limited time” or “One time only” and “Special Event Pricing” and so on.
- Create an email sign up sheet or even better have a raffle and collect business cards with name and email. You will later use this as part of your email marketing campaign.
- Promote, promote, PROMOTE! This is key. You cannot just simply show up and expect customers to walk through the door. Those days are over. Create an event on Facebook and Eventbrite. Send out a press release, post on social media, set up email campaigns (both to your list and the store’s list), and contact bloggers!! Also be sure the store is promoting as well. Request (in writing) that they send out at least 2 emails and 1 reminder email. Ask if they can mail out custom invitations (again made by you), etc.
- A few days before the event, visit the neighboring establishments and ask them kindly to send people over to the store on the day of. If someone is already in the area they are likely to pop in. Offer them an incentive if you have to ($5 Starbucks card, percentage off specifically for their referral customers, etc).
- Prepare all your social media posts. Gather the tags, store and blogger handles to mention, etc. You can use a tool called Hootsuite to schedule your posts in advance. But also have the posts written in your phone so you can easily pass them off to someone on the day of.
What to do DURING the Show;
- Show up EARLY! Leave yourself enough time to get your line and display set up properly.
- Create your display, make it look fabulous and relatable to your brand. Bring some fresh flowers
- Merchandise your stuff with the rest of the store, if possible. Customers LOVE and NEED to be told how to put things together. People don’t want to think anymore. And if you can help sell other items in the store, the owner will love you! Even more incentive for them to carry your line.
- Serve refreshments. Cheese, crackers, and wine is a good start. Always have more drinks than food. Be sure to decide ahead of time if the store or you will provide this.
- Dress the part! You are your brand! Wear your line and show your sense of style. Also have the store owner and all sales associates wear your line as well. It helps to build excitement.
- Take lots of photos and video at the event. Get someone to help you, a friend, husband, whoever. Have them snap away AND post for you so that you can focus on selling.
- Tell your story behind the brand, people want to get to know you. Yes, they are buying your line but they are also buying YOU! Tell them why you are interesting, what makes your line stand out (hint hint your USP aka Unique Selling Proposition).
- Don’t over commit or over promise. Integrity is huge in this business, you must be able to do what you say. If you are in a business where you can take custom orders, be realistic. Learn to say No if you need to.
- Keep track of everything yourself. If the store is collecting the payments, be sure you have a way of tracking the sales as well. You’ll want to be sure you are paid the correct amount and also that you don’t miss any orders.
What to do AFTER the show;
FOLLOW THROUGH! The fortune is in the follow up! This part may not be as exciting as taking the orders but it is just as important if not more important! How you follow through on processing and shipping the orders is crucial, and can make or break your business. If you promised to email someone do it, if you gave a ship date, ship EARLY! Absolutely without exception do not ship late! Both the store and the customers will not want to do business with you again.
- Send a personal hand written thank you letter to the store owner. If the event was a success remind them how much you would love to have your line in the store.
- Use the email campaign you previously set up and email everyone who attended the show to thank them. If they placed and order, let them know when to expect it. And be sure to continue to keep in touch with them.
- If any orders need to be shipped, be sure to wrap them beautifully, include some tips on what to wear the item with, and include a small extra gift as a thank you!
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