Embrazio now has it's leather accessories in over 85 retail locations. We initially sold via the big industry trade shows in New York and Las Vegas. Although we were successful in adding a dozen or so stores as a result of these shows, the math just doesn't work at this point in our growth curve. The average show costs about $6,000 to $8,000 to participate in if you're honest about the "all in" spend. With a new and relatively small line, the average order amount was only in the $700 range.
So, like many new start-ups, we made a pivot and began selling directly to retailers by traveling to a specific city armed with a list of target stores we'd researched beforehand. The results have been terrific. We typically drop in and ask if we can show the owner/manager our line during slower periods of the day (10am to noon or 2pm to 6pm). We get more time, and a more focused look of our line, with the buyer. This method also allows us to see the store and make sure that it fits with our line in a way that will result in sales for the retailer. It also gives us a chance to establish a relationship with the store owner and get their honest assessment and feedback on our current offering of belts, bags, phone cases, and buckles as well as ideas around new leather accessories they'd like us to create in the future. The competitive intelligence we gather first hand is also a big plus and, as a bonus, we get to visit many interesting places, meet great people, and just generally have a lot more fun than sitting in a booth hoping a buyer will stop and give us a look.
Perhaps immediate trade show participation would make sense for a more heavily funded start-up but, if you're like us and funding the company from your own savings, starting with the direct call approach might be the best way to sell early on. We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the subject so please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.