There's no doubt about it, attending a market event can be overwhelming. Planning ahead and staying organized during and after the event are key to a successful buying experience. We sat down with Zack & Katie of Creative by Nature in Charlotte, North Carolina, who just might be the most organized market attendees we've ever met, to bring you a how-to guide to planning and attending market.
Zack & Katie of Creative by Nature
The Planning Process
Travel for this duo starts gets booked a year in advance - with hotels for the next year's show being booked as soon as they arrive at the current event. They have the good fortune to live within driving distance of the Atlanta showrooms, but that doesn't mean travel planning is finished with the hotel reservation. "Food is half the fun!" according to Zack, and restaurant reservations begin about 6 months out, depending on how early their selected venues accept them.
Scheduling appointments with the major showrooms is a top priority, and those get booked 6 months in advance. "We make January appointments at the July shows, and July appointments at the January shows" says Katie, and they get scheduled for the earliest days of the market. Pre-show appointments and VIP access days are a must for the biggest showrooms appointments they will have, and they generally allot 4 hours for each of these so they don't wind up feeling rushed. These first days will account for nearly 50% of their budget, so it is critical to do these right.
Once the major appointments are booked, other key showrooms get scheduled. From there, the pair peruses the market catalog and marks off everything else they want to visit, and then develops a day-by-day game plan for walking the floors. This helps reduce wasted time travelling back and forth between buildings or floors, and also helps prevent getting lost!
Zack takes ownership of the store's Open to Buy budget process, and has created spreadsheets to give them a strong base for what to spend in each category of their store in order to meet their sales goals for the year. He starts this process at the beginning of each calendar year, looking back at the past year's successes, incorporating current inventory levels, and uses the numbers to set budgets for market.
Having their numbers set ahead of time helps the pair make better decisions on the spot, and also prevents them from overbuying a particular product type. "At the end of market, when you've reached your budget and have to stop buying all the things you are still seeing, that's the hardest part", says Katie. Staying on track is invaluable later on in the year at the store, and helps prevent the need to discount extra merchandise.
All the budgeting in the world won't prepare you fully for market. To keep the Creative by Nature store looking its best and performing to expectations, Zack and Katie pair their financial budgeting with creative planning. Aside from a running list of ideas throughout the year, they spend time with key store employees to determine what is working well, what is trending upwards and down, and planning for the overall look and feel of the store.
As a part of this process, they identify color palettes for areas within the store. The pair utilizes paint color swatches to pinpoint the range of colors they want to buy within, so that as products come in over the course of the year, the items always work within the colorways that are already on shelf. Zack has even taken the various color chips and laminated them all together on a single sheet to make it easy to pull out as a quick reference during market.
"It's overwhelming the amount of stuff you see, and you can like it and it can be beautiful, but that doesn't mean it is going to work."
Upon arrival, a mini office is set up in their hotel room. Notepads, pens, and highlighters abound, and they even bring their own printer. If you aren't driving to market, don't be afraid to use the hotel's business office for your printing needs!
Once appointments begin, they simply follow their game plan. Appointments and floor plans are completed daily, followed by an over-dinner discussion of how the day went. When visiting new vendors or temp showrooms, they gather business cards and catalogs, which get reviewed later in the evening to learn more about the vendors online, to ensure a good fit for the store.
"If you are thinking about something too much, it probably isn't going to work. You'll never love it more than you will love it in the showroom."
During appointments, they utilize their sales rep relationships to see what the overall best sellers are, which products are trending hot at that market, and then evaluate products against their store plan to select the right items. Time is spent touching and feeling everything, and they even carry a measuring tape that gets used in the decision making process from time to time.
Once back in their hotel, they print out copies of any orders placed during the day that they didn't get directly at the showroom, and begin the process of categorizing merchandise and entering the orders into their system. Orders are also reviewed for accuracy, and they make sure to return to any showrooms before they market is over to make corrections.
Back at the Store
When the market trip is over and they've taken a day to recoup, the pair dives in with the store team, reviewing orders with key store managers and placing copies of orders in the store's order receiving binder system. As ship dates have been picking up lately, some orders may have already arrived, and Zack notes that they intend to begin paying more attention to ship dates at future markets than they have in the past two years.
As product comes in, the fun really begins. "Being at market breaks up what you are doing every day at the store," says Zack, "and it really sets the creativity level for the year." Now all of that creative energy gets directed into merchandising and advertising to help deliver on the expected results from all of the market planning.
Words of Advice
Whether you are going to be attending a market for the first time, or are a seasoned veteran of the showrooms, the pair advises to always be watching and learning from others. Zack's parents, Paula and Dennis, who owned Creative by Nature before he and Katie did, passed on their knowledge to the pair, and they've taken all of that and made it their own.
"You have to develop a system that works for you and stick to it," Katie notes. "There's so much to buy, and it's so easy to get bogged down, you have to know what you are doing."