trunk show

How do you host 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.

A trunk show can be a great way to introduce new products to your customers without having to place a large investment. Plus, such shows often bring in new customers and tend to give your business a sense of mystery and élan that other shops might not have. Trunk shows are great for jewellery or fashion accessories, especially with the abundance of smaller artist-designed lines available, but they can work just as well with other products. To create a successful sale, it’s key to bring in a unique but complementary line, make it a special event and promote, promote, promote. Here are some tips for having a fabulous and profitable trunk show.

Choose the Perfect Vendor to Work With

A trunk show allows you to try out different merchandise or offer one-of-a-kind or custom pieces. By bringing in a sampling of merchandise, you can see how well your customers connect with the product and then be able to make an informed decision about whether you want to carry the line full time. You may be considering offering a younger, trendier fashion collection or a more edgy jewellery line than you traditionally carry. The trunk show can be your testing grounds. Or perhaps you want to hold a trunk show just to offer different lines once in a while, not necessarily to bring them into your store full time.

Whatever the purpose of the show, you need to find the best vendors to partner with. To find potential vendors, visit the handmade sections of trade shows where you’re likely to find a variety of smaller, more unique vendors. Talk to vendors with interesting products that compliment your store. You can also start a list of companies or lines that customers ask about. Contact the companies that interest you to see if they have ever participated in trunk shows before, or if they are open to the idea. Ideally, you want to find someone that understands the business end of such an event and also meshes well with your personality and store style. You may not want a hippie surfer dude selling hemp necklaces if your store and clientele tends to be more conservative. Likewise, you don’t want a vendor that is very pushy if your selling style is more laid back.

Although handmade lines tend to work well for trunk shows, you could also hold such an event with a larger vendor that’s introducing a new line. A company representative might be willing to come out with samples and show the merchandise to your customers—plan on contacting potential vendors at least four to six months in advance.

Here are some types of trunk shows you can consider:

Charity Events

Often non-profit groups and museums host a trunk show to raise money which can provide an excellent way to engage your brand in “cause marketing”. Michelle Pajak-Reynolds, a couture jewellery designer, found that participating in an annual holiday fundraiser for her local art museum was a perfect fit. “I’ve been invited back to the show for several years which has increased my sales and referrals for new business opportunities,” says Michelle.

Special Events

Venues that host special events, such as country clubs, spas, and wineries can provide fresh opportunities to expand your brand identity to an audience that is accustomed to higher price points. Jewellery designer Amy Holton held her first trunk show at a country club. Through that first event, Amy Holton Designs gained a loyal following, and she now has a wholesale account with the country club.

Boutiques

Boutique owner Jackie Adams often hosts trunk shows for emerging designers at her store, Melodrama Boutique. Jackie says that the feedback from customers and the merchandising experience a designer gains when having an event in a boutique is invaluable. She says it’s important to keep the boutique updated with new line sheets for your collection to increase the chance that your line will be picked up by the boutique.

Collaborations

Working with a team of brands to host a trunk show can be a great way to ease yourself into a trunk show strategy. Bridal designer, Jessica Ciarla of Ciarla Bride says that hosting an event with brands that complemented her specialty brought together a wide variety of consumers she may not have met otherwise. “We were able to collaborate with vendors that worked with brides, including wine and champagne sponsors, caterers, accessory designers and pastry chefs”.

Team Up With Another maker Or Small Business Owner

One of my most successful shows I partnered with my friend and owner of Bharat Babies, a children’s book company that shares stories about Indian culture. It may sound like an odd mix, but it worked really well. Many of the women who attended our trunk show were moms of young children or who worked in education. They loved that they were able to purchase high-quality books for their kids AND buy something nice for themselves.

The advantage of teaming up with someone else is it expands your network, so you aren’t just reaching out to your friends or family members. You probably don’t want to partner with another jewellery designer — unless their jewellery is VERY different from yours. Instead, think about complementary businesses, such as someone who makes scarves or pottery.

Plan the Best Time for the Event

Like any successful event, a trunk show takes planning. Look at your calendar at the beginning of the year and determine what month would be ideal. Pick a time of the year that works well with the merchandise, but stay away from the typical “sale seasons.” You don’t want to hold a trunk show in January when most customers are in the “post-holiday sales” mindset or after they’ve spent all their money on the holidays. The best time to hold trunk shows is at the start of a selling season. After all, you want to be showing new and unique merchandise that is special and worth the full price, not sales items. Another alternative could be during a slow season, such as April or August.

Determine whether the show will be an exclusive after-hours event that’s held only one day, or whether it will be something that runs over three or four days. If you have enough potential customers for a private event, this may be the way to go. However, if you’re looking to the trunk show to help determine if a new line is good for your store, a three- or four-day event will reach more customers and give you a better idea of how the line goes over to your entire customer base.

One thing to keep in mind, don’t hold more than three trunk shows in one year; customers will get burned out, and the events will no longer be special.

When choosing a time of year, people are more likely to be thinking about buying jewellery, such as right before Mother’s Day, Christmas, or even Valentine’s Day. If you are planning yours to coincide with Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, a week or two before the holiday is best. For the holiday season, late October to early December is an ideal time, since the holidays are on people’s radar, but they aren’t scrambling for last-minute bargains.

For me, a three-hour show tends to work well. It gives people a big enough window of time that they can drop it but not so much time that my guests trickle in and leave. Generally, the first 30 minutes to an hour are pretty quiet, and most of the purchasing happens in the second half of the trunk show.

Get Everything in Writing

Although you are not paying upfront for merchandise, you still have costs involved. Like any business venture, it’s important to get everything in writing. Discuss with the vendor or artist what his or her responsibilities will be. Will you want the artist on-site to demonstrate and sell the products? Will she need to do the set-up or will you, or will you work together on that? How much merchandise will the vendor supply, and will it be all finished pieces or can some of it be samples only? What about custom items? Who will handle the actual transactions, you or the artist? What will be the profit split? Typically, it is 50/50, but that’s something you will have to work out with the artist. What if there are returns? Who handles that? Also, discuss how each party will contribute to promoting and marketing the event.

Promote, Promote, Promote

A trunk show will never be successful without strong promotion, several weeks before start talking up the event. Print out flyers or postcards and have your sales staff mention the show to every customer while simultaneously handing them a flyer or postcard. Create large full-colour posters to hang in your window or around your store. Talk with the artist about any marketing materials or images he or she might have. Vendors oftentimes have advertising co-op money that might help defray costs. Create an event on your Facebook page as well as the vendor’s Facebook page. Keep posting about the event in the weeks and days beforehand. Likewise, Twitter about the event, or post pictures of the products on your Pinterest page with information about the trunk show. By posting on both yours and the vendor’s social media sites, you are reaching double the audience.

Send a press release to your local paper playing up the exclusiveness of the line and event. Discuss how the pieces are made and encourage people to meet the actual designer. Feature the event prominently on your website, along with some background on the artist and perhaps a short video about the products.

Send email announcements to your customers and follow up with a second email. Likewise, send several rounds of postcards or other direct mailings. People need more than one impression to remember something.

If the trunk show is going to be a private event, analyze your customer database for the key customers to invite. Aim for at least 50 people. Choose those customers that have purchased similar items in the past have generally paid full price for items, or who typically attend your events. Don’t waste the effort on someone who only shops occasionally and then only when you have sales. Personalize the invitations with a handwritten note. After all, this is an exclusive event only for them; make it look that way.

Trunk shows work at almost any time of year, but consider seasonal events like back-to-school for children’s glasses, or spring for sunglasses. Special events like trunk shows have the greatest impact when held only once or twice a year.

Organize, publicize, and send invitations at least four weeks prior to the event, Rogerson recommends. Tackle your client base and send invites via email, text, snail mail, or ideally, both. This is especially key for clients who are due for an eye exam. Include show info in your recall notices or reminder cards, says Rogerson.

Ensure your show is widely promoted by listing it in the local media, on town websites, and social media platforms. Send a press release to local publications, and check online to see if your town has a calendar of upcoming events you can take advantage of—post signage in your shop or practice listing the participating vendors and discounts on offer.

Truly Make it an Exciting Event

Plan on setting up a special area in your store for the trunk show. Perhaps drape fabric or hang other elements around the area to set it off from the rest of the shop. You could even lay down a special carpet or rug to distinguish the uniqueness of the area—plan with the vendor how to best show the product. You want to go for interesting display pieces and props, not the typical wire racks or standard risers. Set up a section in your window, highlighting the trunk show and encouraging customers to come in to see more. Place a sandwich board outside your shop announcing the event and stating “Happening Now!” Or just use chalk to write on your sidewalk outside the shop, and keep your door open and inviting during the trunk show.

Offer some refreshments for those that come, especially if the show is a private event. Cheese, crackers and wine or flavoured teas are great, but consider the nature of the merchandise and the feel you are trying to evoke. If the pieces are more fun and hip, then trendier finger foods might be appropriate.

Be sure to have signage around the display area, reflecting that this is special merchandise and only available for a limited time. Likewise, hang colour photos of the merchandise being made, or run a slideshow on a digital picture frame or iPad showing the pieces and the process in how they are created. Encourage the artist or vendor to interact with as many customers as possible. She is the star and people want to meet her. If the vendor is not available during the entire show, be sure that a fully informed staff member is dedicated to the area and can speak knowledgeably about the product.

Price Appropriately

A trunk show is an exclusive event, not just another sale. As such, the pricing should reflect this. Don’t offer discounted merchandise. Instead, consider noting in the marketing materials and signage that items are “Specially priced for the event.” This gives the impression that customers are getting a deal but doesn’t specify a certain percentage off or sale amount. While many customers will purchase items at the full price for a chance to buy something truly unique, others might still be looking for a bargain. Consider offering a discount on other merchandise in your store for anyone attending the event, or give away a gift with purchase. You can also give everyone a bounce-back coupon. They might not have purchased something that day, but if you can offer them an enticement to come back, they might purchase on a subsequent trip. Just be sure to offer the coupon only after they’ve made any purchasing decisions, and be sure the offer is good only for a future visit.

Follow Up for Success

During the event have a sign-up sheet where you can capture customers’ names, emails and addresses. Even if they didn’t buy anything, they were interested enough in the event or merchandise to come. Therefore, they are prime targets for further marketing efforts. One way to get people to sign such a list is to give away a prize. Perhaps offer a custom-made necklace and earring set to one or two winners, or give away a $100 coupon for anything from your store. If you can get information on 300 potential new customers, it’s worth the $100 investment.

After the event, be sure to follow up with the artist or vendor. Thank them for participating, and if you both were pleased with the results consider when you might be able to hold another show. If any custom orders were placed, discuss with the vendor how they will be handled and when the customer can expect the merchandise.

Be sure to take photos or videos during the event and post them on your website and Facebook page. Announce your winners on your website and social media sites as well. Posts like this will encourage customers to want to see what all the fun was about the next time.

If after the trunk show, you decide to carry the line in your store on a full-time basis, be sure to send an announcement to all your customers, and send a special email or postcard to anyone who bought items during the trunk show. Oftentimes people would like to buy more than they do. Telling them you know to carry the line full-time might encourage them to come back and make the additional purchase they didn’t during the event.

A trunk show can create a sensation for all those involved. Customers get treated to special and unique merchandise, plus get to enjoy a fun night out. The artist or vendor gets added exposure and sales for his or her products. Plus, it allows him or her to see how shoppers react to the merchandise. The store gets the added sales, the exposure of a new line and potential new customers. Done well, everyone wins.

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