Trade Show Review: Mel Smith Designs

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One our super talented design school alumni, Mel Smith of Mel Smith Designs shares with us her experience of exhibiting at Spring Fair in London.

Mel has had a bumper year of exhibiting her beautiful designs and products at various Trade Shows this year, so it’s a real privilege to hear her stories from behind the scenes!


After exhibiting at Top Drawer last year and loving every second I felt pretty ok about Spring Fair. Until everyone kept looking at me with wide eyes saying ‘Oh. Spring Fair. That’s big.’ Then I started to panic a little. Yes it was big. 17 miles worth of aisles in fact. Think how many businesses that is, all fighting for buyers attentions. Oh dear, what have I done! But it was too late. I was booked. It was going to happen.

SF design lab

And so it did. I was part of the Design Lab section which hosts 20-30 small businesses whose first time it is exhibiting at the show. And what a great lot they were! I learnt so much and everyone was so supportive of one another, it really made it a great show.

I found at Spring Fair because it is SUCH a huge show people had their lists and were literally on a mission to get round to everyone they wanted to and had less time to just ‘explore’ and discover new designers, which was a bit of a shame.

SF me and board

– Did you make contact with any potential clients before the show?

Although you’re primarily going to a trade show to pitch your own products, I had another reason – I wanted to really make a push for anther area I want to concentrate on this year – collaborations with other companies, whether that be through a commissioned project or a licensing deal.

I did some research before the show of who else was exhibiting that worked on product areas I really wanted to move into but would struggle to do so on my own. Now, I’ll admit that I had left it quite late in the day to do this, so I was very surprised (and extremely happy!) when I actually managed to get a handful of meetings set up! I can’t share too much detail just yet but I am very optimistic about a couple of projects that may come out of these meetings. …watch this space!

SF london table

– How long in advance did you begin to plan for the show(s)?

Oh, you know me… I like to be prepared! I start planning ages in advance because I want to make sure I have the right props for set up. I also had a lot to fill in about the stand for the Spring Fair organisers, so that all happened a couple of months in advance anyway.

SF stand

– Do you find it difficult approaching people at the shows, or do people usually initiate conversation with you?

This is always a tricky one – if there’s a second or 2 where someone pauses or double takes I’ll initiate a conversation and just ask how they are finding the show before getting ‘down to business’, as they say.

SF morocco shelf

– How do you follow up with potential opportunities after the show?

I get on the emails straight away after the show. I always make reference to a non-business related conversation or ‘thing’ that may have happened if possible, and then forward a PDF version of my brochure, and price list etc.

I’m actually thinking about investing in an iPad or mini laptop for following up contacts each evening. I realised at a 5 day trade show that you could end up with a weeks gap if you wait until you get home, and if others follow up sooner than you do, that could be the difference between getting that sale and losing it.

SF amsterdam cards

Overall I don’t think Spring Fair was quite the right show for me. It’s a lot more commercial compared to Top Drawer and I found my bolder designs didn’t get as much feedback as some did at last year’s show.

SF morocco shades

– Set up early in the day to allow for any problems. You never know what might go wrong, or it might take you ages waiting for someone to put up your shelves… that’s stress you can do without!
– Buy a meal deal! The food at these shows is so expensive, you can spend a fortune on sandwiches all week. And if possible take a flask to save on the endless stream of coffees and hot chocs!
– Rest! I’m not one for early mornings. They upset me. Our pick up was at 7:25 so I had to adjust my body clock ready for the week otherwise I knew I’d suffer. 9 hours a day selling and pitching is hard work! The one bonus of an early start is getting to see a sunrise as beautiful as this (image below). No Instagram editing at all!
– Let the hysteria take over! There’s no point in fighting it… it will happen…just embrace it!

SF sunrise


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 If you enjoyed this post, take a look at Mel’s previous Trade Show posts here!

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