Jan. 19, 2022


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On this week’s episode, Michelle, on-site in Las Vegas for multiple client show set-ups, will be sharing her tips & tricks on the most effective way to attend a gift show. From day 1 strategies, to packing the right snacks, to getting off the re-ordering hamster wheel, this episode is chock full of tips that Michelle has learned from her many years as a buyer! Grab a note pad (tip #3!) and be ready to write down some helpful tips for your next gift show. LA Mart Winter Gift + Show began 1/16/22 & Las Vegas Gift + Home starts 1/23/2022.


Michelle: Hey there. I'm Michelle Sherrier, and this is the retail whore podcast, The Stories and Lessons from a Life and Retail. Hey, guys. I am in Las Vegas. And as we are recording this, I think Atlanta is well in the way. And the great news is it sounds like Atlanta has been crazy busy. You know, honestly, like I know we are still we're going into another version of a pandemic. I think now it's the Omicron. I know everyone's not everyone, but I know there are some real fears about traveling. And I can't blame you guys. I personally, I've been traveling since pretty much I want to say a month after closed down. And, you know, I felt obviously saved them because I was probably one of five people on the plane. But even now, I stick kind of to myself on the airplane, you double mask. And I know here at the gift show everyone is masked, but I know that's a concern. I'm not going to take it away, but I can tell you that it feels very safe. And from what it sounds like with Atlanta being as busy it is, people are ready to get out. And honestly, it sounds like most of you, if not all of you, had really strong seasons. One of my beliefs is that because we are still in a pandemic phase, items for your home, for making yourself feel good at home, whether it be candles, new pillows, home decor, apparel wise, all is still the same thing.

Michelle: All the comforts of home, of athleisure, but the at home, be at home, be comfortable at home, be safe at home. That is not going anywhere. And I think that for the majority of the home stores, they all did booming business. And to me, honestly, like for the buys that I did at the gift show last season for Burt's, you know, the stuff that we did for staying home like we did sneezes in a big way for men's, women's and kids, the home decor, tabletop dish towels, all of that did really well. What was interesting was that the smaller like gift de dum dum stuff didn't do as well as things that people were using in their home. So if that's any worth at all, take it for what it is. But that trend is still extremely strong. So today I thought I'd talk a little bit about how I go into doing a gift show. A lot of people have asked me to talk about it and how I curate because I when I merchandise and when I'm buying, I am doing it still very much the way I learned to do anthropology in regards to creating concepts or little mini capsules and curating small gift groups that read collectively as a group and at the same time create add on sales, etc.. So first and foremost, I'm just going to say it off the bat, you know, as dumb as it sounds, pack snacks, because I know a lot of showrooms are allowed to sell food or give food away now.

Michelle: I mean, a lot of people, sales producers, does lunch, fine lines, everybody does snacks. But I find that I need something a little bit more substantial, especially because you're walking and you're talking and I can't live off Cheetos and, you know, trail mix and whatnot. So I highly suggest packing something. You don't need to stuff a hoagie in your bag, but I really suggest packing something substantial. Those little nut and cheese and cracker kits with salami are really good. They withstand being in a bag without being refrigerated because there's going to be moments where you're in showrooms for hours that don't have anything. And the food, I think this year might be a little bit different, but it sounds like there still aren't as many food options. So that is always my first tip is bring some snacks and bring water because a lot of because of the bottle situation, a lot of people do not offer bottles of water. So you get a tiny little cup and if you're like me, I want a lot of water. So the little cup does not do me any. And I know that's not super eco friendly, but bring your bring your bottles to fill them up. I don't even know, to be honest. I don't know if the showrooms are allowed to fill up your swell bottles, etc., with water from there.

Michelle: So that's one to think about. Anyway, I digress. So that's one of them. And what I usually do is I will get I don't make appointments my first day. It's it's I find that I would want to walk all the showrooms prior to prior to making appointments because what happens is you do not want to go into a buying situation or walk around for hours hungry and with a headache because that that is quite possibly the worst way to do a show. So the next part of it is I don't make appointments my first day. I, I know I need to and I usually make them for the second and third day. But to be honest, I like to walk the show prior and I like to really kind of take a look and see what everybody is doing. I don't go into the shows knowing what exactly I want to do. I really, really make a concerted effort of changing products that we do. I mean, you will have what I call bread and butter lines, Villas-Boas one jelly cat, Jack Black, etc. Those are your bread and butter lines that you can reorder all day, every day. But really, when I go to a show, I am truly looking for brand new introductions as well as what trend is is showing up a lot and how I can tweak it and how I can make it work for Bert's pharmacy, for who I'm doing the shows for.

Michelle: And it I've realized that if I go into with an open mind and I go into it kind of open eyed and walk it, get a feel for what everybody's doing, that I have a much better perspective by the end of the day. And of course, I'm looking for those specific holidays that are coming up. You know, I as a buyer for the pharmacy, categorically, holidays outside of Mother's Day have not trended very well for us. I've you know, I've I used to do heavy Valentines, heavy Easter, heavy Mother's Day every Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas. But as of the last few years, honestly, like I think because of the home goods and the targets and everybody that bring it in very early and then they knock it down to sale relatively early. I mean, let's put this way, it's usually on sale by the time we're just putting it out on the floor. But it's the sale items, especially Halloween have the sale of the sell through of holidays has really dropped off. So I kind of started to take the philosophy of making everyday items look like holiday. So while we're here, we will be looking at Easter because I don't buy it as early as everybody else is. I know everyone did. Jelly Cat ran their Easter specials by in early buys, I think, at the end of last year, and that's about the only one we'll do pre buys for.

Michelle: Other than that, I just kind of want to touch a little bit on the holiday, but really it's going to be about making every day feel like the holiday. So ultimately it doesn't go on sale and ultimately I don't have to pack up what doesn't go on sale. So it's, it just it's like for sell through purposes. I just I've chosen not to do it. So I will be here looking for brand new introductions and really honestly, brand new lines. You know, it's as a buyer, like, I can do a lot of reorders, but I choose not to run something into the ground other than our bread and butters, which don't, don't change. But I really as a buyer, because we have the same customer almost weekly, which I think a lot of you guys do too, your customer is going to be looking for new things. I mean, there's only so long that I can reorder an item that sold well because ultimately at some point it just drops off. So I have the reorder rule now that we if we sell through something we sold through, the beautiful part is we have trained our customers in the scarcity mindset of if you don't buy this now, it's not coming back. I think I talked a while back about when I was at Magic last Magic.

Michelle: They had a speaker talking about the the success of Zara is because they go on the scarcity mindset I believe they they only have this their styles on the floor SKUs for I think six weeks is the number. And even he said I don't know where it goes after six weeks, but in six weeks there's a whole new group, with the exception of their basics, that are constant. They're basically a bread and butter. But with Zara, you know, as a consumer, if you go in that store and you love something, you know, you have to buy it now because it's not going to be there and you know, you're not going to be able to find it online either because it's sold out. So that's kind of the philosophy I've started to take with how we buy, stop getting in that reorder hamster wheel and continue to find new and different things for our customers. So there's always something new for them to find. And, and I know what you're thinking, like, no, you can't find things 24 seven that are new and different, which is where the merchandising comes in of moving things around to make the same item you've had look different. That's the other part of the philosophy. So when I'm coming to the show, I'm really looking for new things. So the first thing I do is I'll start on the first floor and I'll work my way up.

Michelle: I don't make any appointments and I don't write any orders. My first day I'm literally there on a mission to look and see what new items are. Here I bring a notepad and a pen because I'll make notes on something I'm seeing a lot of a couple of years ago was the Nome's last last couple of years BS I didn't need to write it down, but just to make a note that these are still trending and they still are this year and as well as a colors that I keep seeing. So right now already what I'm super excited about here then I'm sure you've all seen is that whole blue and white chinoiserie chinoiserie I can't talk, but that whole blue and white group is so good and it's it's around several lines. It's not over saturated yet. 180 degrees did a beautiful blue and white group and they did mixed it with a bit of a pop of pink. It was my post today for my design collaboration. It just was such a great new spin and there's a lot you can do with it. We'll be able to mix in white candles, we'll be able to mix in Capri blue candles to it and really kind of build on it so that I already know going into the show, that's one of the trends I'm going to be looking at. And I'm really I really try and go into it with an open mind and open eyes and just really take notes.

Michelle: And if there's fixtures that I see that I like, I'll take photos. Rule number one is ask if you can take photos. I. I have unfortunately fallen behind in asking but out of a courtesy to vendors ask to take photos. Reason being is because there are a ton of people that come to the show that knock off other vendors. So just out of respect to the line, let them know you're taking a picture, give them a card so they know that you're legit, that you're not another manufacturer posing as a retailer. And it is crazy. But straight up, that happens all of the time. It's really bad in apparel, but it does happen here at the gift show level. So I will I'll do that. At the end of the day, I go through my notes. I kind of pull together some ideas that I saw repeated over and over as far as trends. And then my second and third day I do appointments. We I purposely don't make appointments for lines that I can see in Los Angeles, partly because of my loyalty to my rep, but also because you have limited days here. And I found that if I spend a lot of my time writing lines that I can see in LA and shop a little bit slower and not being such a time frame that it's a lot easier to spend my time wisely and go out and see lines that I can't see in LA, like taco and mud pie and some of the other lines that are here that most of them I can't see in Los Angeles.

Michelle: So I will stagger my appointments every 2 hours. I know everyone loves to do temps first, but I kind of like to stave it last for dessert. Like I don't like to I don't want to finish my I don't want to finish my meal and. I have somewhere amazing to go after, so I choose to do temps on the very last day and it also because it's part of it's cash and carry I don't. This year I drove out here so I may do cash and carry and hand carry stuff back there. But there's a lot of people that drive in and that's all they do is go and do the cash and carry. And there's some amazing things that cash and carry, if you have the opportunity they do ship that I can't imagine what the cost is to ship. So if you are in the area and you can drive, I highly suggest because the temporaries are not to be missed as well as the cash and carry areas of temporaries is so good. So that's kind of how I will go into it with with my first, first and second day. I have my notes already. I've already know I'm looking for, say, blue and white and things to build up on it.

Michelle: And then we'll segment off and look at Easter and some other things. But I as a buyer, I buy for we have a men's department, we have a women's apparel department, a women's gift department, we have spas, we've accessories, we've apparel, we have tabletop, we have a crystal metaphysical area. And then we have concepts that we've created. Camp concept for women. We have a little girlfriend gift, which is kind of like cheeky fun glasses. There's no rhyme or reason to it other than it's just great gifts for girlfriends. So we, we have a big list that we have to shop from. So I'm kind of bouncing back and forth in between concepts, but I will definitely start to see something emerge and all kind of before I pull the trigger on doing a concept or changing a concept over. I will make sure I've seen it in several places. So I once I start seeing in a couple places, I'll start leaving orders for some of it. And I and I kind of let it build gradually. I don't let's buy in, buy in everything and say for for the concept for bees. We did these for the last season. It's done very, very well. I'm sure we're going to do it again, even though I'm extremely sick of it. But I'm still sick of gnomes and they still sell.

Michelle: So go figure. But for bees, like I. I don't buy every single thing that's a bee. And I do really take a look at like, whatever we buy for a new concept or a concept, I will take a photo of it because we have to keep things relatively tight on end caps or a single table or whatnot. But I want that concept to be very cohesive. So everything from the packaging to the colors to the texture is really important to me that they all read together. I don't go into it in the mindset of It's a bee, we have to have it. And you start writing all this different B product and you get to the store. It all gets to the store and you lay it out on a table and you merchandise it and it. Unfortunately, when the packaging and the colors and the textures are all over the board, you even though you have the cohesiveness of a common theme being B you really, you could really go to a garage sale status very quick. And I, I'm super cognizant of it. So I take pictures of it and compare the items as we go along. One thing I do, because I'm not at the store when we receive it, so I really try and make a lot of notes on my POS for the receiving team and for Aaron, who's the gift manager, who's merchandising it on the other. And as far as this may say, one of the notes may be this may have a B on it.

Michelle: It's not meant for bees. It just goes back into it was that year, it was tissues. And I knew if it had to be on it, it was all going to up in the same area. So I really try and think it out like who's on the other end receiving it and how is it going to end up both displayed as well as where is it going to end up? So I will make notes on the POS that I hand into the store at the end of the show, whether it's something that's to be jarred or where it's going to be merchandised with, as well as what other line I wrote to go with it. So we write the matches from. God, I'm drawing a total blank on them. But we write matches and I pending on what candle line is. And the match the match glass closes. I will write notes on the pos to what candle line those are to go back to. Because again, like I'm at the same time of writing and curating concepts, I'm also pairing up items for add on sales to make sure that we have the maximum profitability from from people shopping. So and that is cross merchandising and that is creating add on sale. So as many if you're not the one receiving the merchandise and you're not the one at the end merchandising it, it is super helpful to leave these notes on your POS.

Michelle: It does take a lot of extra time. I'm not going to lie. But that's that's part of why Burt's pharmacy's gift groups are so cohesive and tight is because we all really take care in how, from the very beginning, me writing the orders to the very end, how it's done. And it's just something that I believe in taking the time to do so that everybody's on the same page. The store feels involved, they understand why I wrote it and where it's going. So they are not just like unwrapping on autopilot, unwrapping and just putting stuff out. Because I know a lot of pharmacies, that's what happens. And most pharmacies don't have a whole gift selling group. So it's usually a tech who's unwrapping it, who just needs to unwrap it and get it on the floor so she can go back and be a tech. So any anything I can do to help the stores and create a more cohesive statement at the end result for our customers is steps I'm willing to take in the time I'm willing to take, because I think it's important. So the other part of the gift show is we buy some from some really big brands and some of them have really big buy ins. And, you know, I have to be really cognizant about what we are spending, not only budget wise, but so I'm not blowing my entire budget on a line that requires a 1500 dollars opening order, which I don't know if there's a lot of those left anymore that was like back in the day.

Michelle: That was a mandatory. But I think that there are certain lines that still require a minimum of X amount of money, like a large amount like that, because they want that presence. For me, I'm kind of cherry picking lines. I apologize to my reps because I'm sure it makes them kind of crazy. I don't buy seriously deep in any line. I tend to again, I stick to the theory of Is it a bread and butter? Is it an existing concept we're buying core or is it a new concept? If it's an existing concept and we're looking for new fill in to make that be concept, so to speak, make that B concept look new and fresh. Then I'm looking for a sprinkling of items. If we are creating a whole new concept, then obviously I have a bigger, a bigger quantities to look for, to fill in. But I really am trying to balance out everything that we build new, etc. And I don't believe in buying really, really deep in a lot of lines because I want it to look fresh. I don't want it to look like that one lines department. And I know I'm probably going to upset some people by saying that, but it's I don't want my stores to look like I don't want to say a Hallmark store, but where everything is the same brand and you bought so deep in it that it looks like the value store or it looks like whatever line that you've bought a lot in that two's companies.

Michelle: A good example. I loved his company, but because the they ship in minimums of like 24 or 18 like high numbers and because so much of it is cute, you buy a lot of it. But what happens? I know one year when I went to market, they had the vegetable, the farm farm to table group and it was so cute, tomatoes and carrots and it was just this great concept. So we built a whole concept. But by the time I got to the store, I realized I had written so much to company that it actually looked like a two's company store. And it it was beautiful, but it's never something I want to have one brand overtake all the rest or it looks. It's that brand store, if that makes sense. So I really I cherry pick. And the other thing that I suggest for show is really look at how they're displaying it. I mean, go. Half of the joy of doing the gift show is getting inspired by displays. And while it may not look like that in your store, and while it may not be even the size of your store or the scale, even if you take something away with how what flowers they put in those vases or what faux greens they use or what risers they use.

Michelle: I mean, the I, I get so much inspiration out of walking Park Hill, I get so much inspiration. I mean, still mud pie, still super inspiring as as frustrating as mud pies. Shipping was the last year for me, but I still am super inspired by the way they display. You know, obviously the industry is different. There's not as many big scale displays as they were. If you really want to get some inspiration, go to glitter. Bill Stephen's line is phenomenal. It is so over the top. It's so fun, it's so bright. It is truly the way displays and visuals were 15 years ago in the industry when everything was so over the top. Stephen's really kept that and it's really super inspiring. I know I'm pretty sure most of you know the line, but go go into it truly. Like, like go into it without any expectations other than I want to change how for me, it's how I go into it. I want to change how we're doing. I always want to come out of these gift shows by bringing my stores to the next level to up what I did last season, both number wise as well as visually. That's hugely important to me.

Michelle: I mean, that's the same philosophy I have when I'm doing merchandising for wholesale gift showrooms is one upping what we did the season before. I think that's incredibly important, and I think that that that's what's helped push my retailers forward is always having that sense of wanting to get inspired. And how can I bring that to to my my retailers? My other big tip is as much as you want to have a cocktail in the middle of the afternoon, I I've learned the hard way not to do this. I know that's going to make me hugely unpopular. But back in the day when ASR was a show action sports retailer, it was the nineties and it was the heyday of shows. And you'd go to a show and you were wined and dined like you would not believe. And for me, I was at Fred Segal at that point it was extreme wine dying and people started drinking. And I know when I've been to Atlanta, the peach bellinis are pulled out. I want to say around ten in the morning is what time peach bellinis for a couple of showrooms start showing up? I have made the huge mistake of starting to drink at 910 in the morning and continued to drink and ended up having being hammered and having hammered purchases. And by the time I got to the store, not even realizing what I had ordered, not to say that anyone's going to go that hard.

Michelle: But I was I was 27 at the time. So, you know, that's part of what you did. But I have learned from that lesson not to partake in cocktails too early on because you there's a reason you sell alcohol. You serve alcohol in your stores at holiday time. It makes people super joyous. They want to spend more. They want to shop more. I just don't have that. I just don't have that ability to drink and make same purchases. So that that is one of my tips is dumb as it is and boring is that is that's one of my tips and the other is is is cute as you want to look is where comfortable shoes magic for the apparel shows the girls that shop and work that show are dressed to the nines and it used to make me crazy because I would want to dress to the nines as well. It's fashion. I mean, that's part of what fashion is, is going to a show and being fashionable and looking the part of a buyer. And sure enough, 4 hours in. To looking cute. I was hobbling because my feet hurt so bad. Because, I mean, I don't know about you guys, but I. I have to do a very quick walk because we have a lot of Florida, a lot of square footage to cover. And I think I will hit probably between 23,020 6000 steps a day, which is over ten miles.

Michelle: And if you're not wearing comfortable shoes, it is quite possibly the longest, most uncomfortable day you will ever spend ever, which honestly, you may want to start drinking at that point. But I, I always say we're comfortable shoes for me. I've realized I don't want to wear running shoes. I don't want to look like that that I I'll wear Converse or I will wear Birkenstocks. They tend to be great for me. I can walk for hours and my feet aren't dying because you honestly like as soon as your feet hurt and you are limping and you are miserable, that is just as bad as being hungry and walking the show with a headache and being hungry like those two things will completely kill your whole vibe for your day. And to be totally honest with you, it does ultimately affect how you buy. So there's a big one. And the last tip I have is and this one I learned from my old boss at Fred SIEGEL, Michael Campbell, we would do the gift show back in the day. We'd do New York. Now we do the L.A. gift show. And that was when, like, the whole building was full. And he would make me go in every single showroom, every single one, even if it looked hideous from the outside. And you know what I'm talking about. Not all showrooms are the Stephen Youngs and the fine lines.

Michelle: And like sales producers, where they all look amazing and not all showrooms are like that. But what I will tell you is inside each of these showrooms, you don't think you want to go in. There's always this hidden gem. And for me, when we were at Fred Segal, we were all under one building. And you can't really carry the same lines when you're in one building. I mean, you can, but you don't want to. So for me, it was really Michael taught me really to go in and look for something, knowing most buyers aren't going to go, most hip buyers aren't going to go in some of those showrooms because they just don't think there's anything in there that is them. And to be quite honest with you, there was so many great things that I found in these stupid random showrooms. And I still will do this. I will still go in the weird showroom that I don't think there's anything for us, but by far and large, I'm always able to find something. And a lot of the times it ends up being this crazy best seller, and it's because nobody else has seen this item. You know, it's great because we've jumped on it before. I mean, either the line has not really been introduced yet or the line's been with the same showroom forever and you've never gone in it. Whatever the reason is, I that is the biggest piece of advice out of all the advice I'm telling you right now is go into these random showrooms that you usually would not and take the time and really look around and really keep your eye out for something that you've never seen before, because you're not going to find these gems in the lines that in the showrooms that have all the great lines like Fred Segal, it was really about finding something that everybody else in the building did not have, and that was really challenging.

Michelle: It's much like for those of you on short streets like Tujunga, there's only so many lines that you all can split up on that one small street. You really need to be ahead in your game and you really need to keep your eyes out for stuff that your neighbors don't have that's going to keep you with that edge of having these items that nobody else has. So that is my little trip on buying with me. If you see me at the show, I hope you say hi. We are going to be I'm for design collaboration. I'm going to be doing stories and showing you what I find. I'm also going to be doing a little bit of a trend forecasting. We are rolling out our new website. We will have a pop up for you to enter your email. I promise I won't blast you all with emails, but the the reason to put your email on here is going to be for information that is not going to be given out on stories, on Instagram.

Michelle: It's going to be newsletters with information and. And photos and how to videos and all this extra content that you're only going to get if you've signed up for emails. And we will send you one email, which will be for the newsletter for the month. And then when we start putting out paid content, which we're going to start rolling out hopefully by the end of this year for classes, how to classes and for in-store person events as well as we're going to be holding workshops this list, you will have first access to it. So follow along on MC Design Collaboration. Say hi if you see me in the shows. I so look forward to seeing a lot of you. A lot of you have already reached out. I can't wait to meet you. I can't wait to shake your hand, give you a hug if you're okay with that. But happy show season. Everybody and I will see you guys next week. And that is a wrap. Thank you all so much for joining me on today's episode. I really appreciate it. And be sure to tune in every Wednesday for more stories and lessons from a life in retail. And don't forget to follow us on Instagram at the retail whore podcast, and you can find us online at the retailwhorepodcast.com