Birmingham NEC - Not exactly inspired by the coast

There are no instructions for how to start a a retail business but our thinking was, “Surely it can’t be that difficult, people do it all the time”.

And to some extent we’re being proved right. There haven’t yet been any show-stopping moments where you suddenly realise you’ve missed something that means your whole endeavor will crumble around you. I’m not saying it won’t happen, it just hasn’t happened yet.

However, there are plenty of roadblocks, points where you think, “What do we do now.” And the first one we encountered was trying to work out where we could find suppliers for all the great products we wanted.

We had our eyes on a few really interesting pieces that different retailers already had. But would they tell us who supplied them? Of course not. We’ve learned pretty quickly that the real value is in having products no one else sells, so the last thing anyone will tell you is where they get their products.

To be brutally honest, we were a bit stuck! Until someone suggested trade fairs. Five minutes of quality time with Google highlighted a whole bunch of trade fairs seemingly worth visiting. It felt like we’d hit a gold mine, the answers to all our problems under one roof (usually the rather big roof of the NEC in Birmingham).

I’d never experienced a trade fair before. Now I feel like a veteran. And here are my top five tips for beginners:

  1. Realise that most of what you see will be irrelevant. Or just tat; acres and acres of tat in some cases.
  2. Take a bag. All those leaflets soon stack up.
  3. Think laterally. Look for companies that aren’t obvious, you’ll find the most interesting things off the beaten track.
  4. Be prepared to walk miles. Those aisles are long and go on for ever.
  5. Do your research before you go. You can work out who’s worth a visit from their website. I didn’t, I regret it!

My take on trade fairs? Worth a visit but not necessarily the answer to the problem. Especially if you want something different.