Finding Products to Sell on eBay at Wholesale Tradeshows

Tips for navigating supplier conventions, large and small

by Skip McGrath
- Jul 23, 2008

Wholesale tradeshows are my absolute favorite place to find merchandise to sell on eBay. First of all I love to shop—and tradeshows are a shopper's Mecca. You can handle the merchandise, see and feel the quality, ask questions, and occasionally even get free samples. More important, these shows provide you the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with suppliers, which can be very important to you over time.

Wholesale tradeshows are where the manufacturers exhibit their newest products. This is your chance to find products before everyone else on eBay has them.

One of the challenges of sourcing products is determining what will sell before you commit to a large purchase. Many of the larger tradeshows have computer kiosks hooked up to the Internet. For others you may want to invest in a laptop with wireless Internet capability. When you see a product that looks interesting, just log onto eBay and go the advanced search page. Type in the product and click on the box for completed auctions only. Now you can see if the product is selling on eBay and what sort of prices sellers have achieved recently. Most of the new PDAs allow you to check eBay prices right on the show floor.

There are great tradeshows in almost every major trading city in the world

Wholesale tradeshows happen in almost every major city in the U.S. In Seattle, where I live, we have two major shows and two smaller shows every year. The two large shows feature more than 800 exhibitors showing just about every product you can imagine.

The best tradeshows are in Las Vegas, Atlanta, New York and Chicago. There are great tradeshows in almost every major trading city in the world, but something about the Vegas and Chicago shows makes them the most exciting.

For general merchandise, one of the best tradeshows is The Chicago Gift Show at "The Mart" in Chicago. Don't let the word "gift" throw you. This show includes hundreds of categories of merchandise. Some examples are: Gourmet foods, luggage, jewelry, watches, collectibles, trendy items (e.g. RC Stunt Cars, BratPack, South Park, etc.), plush toys, specialty toys and executive gifts (e.g., Sharper Image catalog items), garden tools and accessories, household accessories, bed & bath, leather goods, country stuff, candles, handicrafts, fashion accessories, fountain pens, and the list goes on. There's literally something for everyone at these shows. The Chicago Gift Show is actually a collection of four shows that overlap.

How to find tradeshows

The ASD/AMD Merchandise Group organizes some of the largest tradeshows in the country.

Wand is an online global trade directory. Once you register on the site, you can search for wholesale suppliers and you can also find a tradeshow for virtually any product made.

If you live in or near any city in the U.S., you can call the local convention center or visitor's bureau on the phone and ask them to e-mail or fax you a calendar of events for the convention center. You will usually receive a response within the hour.

Here are 10 tips for attending tradeshows:

If you're going to a show out of town, be sure to call the organizer and ask about travel and hotel discounts

1. The real opportunity is to buy at tradeshows. The manufacturers are there to promote; the dealers are there to deal. To be successful, however, you must look and act like a buyer. You can not actually carry products out of the show. The dealers take orders on the spot (many have show specials that can turn out to be great deals) and the products are shipped to your business address.

2. Wear dress-casual or corporate-casual clothes. Almost no one goes to a tradeshow in a coat and tie, except the exhibitors.

3. Carry a bag or briefcase. By the end of the show you will be loaded down with samples, giveaways and product brochures. You need your hands free. So make sure to use a bag with a shoulder strap or use one of the popular roller bags.

4. Make up a special business card just for tradeshows. It should have a different e-mail address from your usual one (use a third party e-mail such as Hotmail or Yahoo) and a post office box or private mailbox address. You will be giving your business card out to tons of people and you don't want your main e-mail address trashed with spam.

5. Carry the following supplies:

  • 200 to 400 business cards (depending on the size of the show)
  • A hand-held calculator
  • Your business checkbook
  • A professional looking folder and notepad
  • Your sales tax certificate
  • A few blank purchase orders (you can buy blank purchase order forms at any office supply store)

6. Plan to stay for the whole show. It's silly to go to a three-day tradeshow and only attend for a few hours.

7. Always arrive the night before and arrive at the tradeshow center the moment it opens. You will beat the crowds and you may get the first orders in for that hot product that is going to be in big demand. Also if you are attending a show in Las Vegas, it is much cooler in the morning.

8. Most tradeshows have related seminars. Attend these if you have time. You'll meet people, make contacts and usually learn valuable information about products and marketing.

9. Always register in advance. First of all, you get a discount on the admission (if there is an admission price). You also get offers of discounts on hotels, rental cars and airfares. The earlier you register the better.

  • Another advantage of advance registration is a professional pre-printed name tag and you don't have to stand in line to register when you arrive because your name tag and entry tickets are sent in the mail. If you're going to a show out of town, be sure to call the organizer and ask about travel and hotel discounts.

10. Remember to bring plenty of ID showing you represent a real business when you go to register at a tradeshow in person. (Bring business cards, commercial checkbook, purchase orders, tax ID, etc.)

Buying at tradeshows

Just two or three years ago if you said you were selling on eBay or the Internet many of the dealers wouldn't talk to you, but that is changing fast

Tradeshows are a great place to buy. Most companies offer special "tradeshow" pricing if you place orders during the show. Ideally you should go with a budget. You don't need cash, although you will need to be able to pay for goods before they are shipped if you don't have trade credit.

If you see something you want and don't have the money, just tell the seller you have already spent your budget, but you would like to place an order for later delivery (say three months) if he will still give you the special tradeshow price. (This works about 50 percent of the time).

Don't be afraid to tell the sellers you are just a small operator selling at auctions and on Web sites. You will be surprised how cordial and helpful these people are. After all, they are sales people and they want to sell. Just two or three years ago if you said you were selling on eBay or the Internet many of the dealers wouldn't talk to you, but that is changing fast.

You will encounter some dealers who will not sell to you unless you have a storefront. Other suppliers will not sell to eBay sellers. I know this is frustrating, but there are hundreds of exhibitors at these shows. Just forget it and keep looking, and you will find plenty of suppliers who will.

Smaller tradeshows

Industry magazines routinely list or advertise information about upcoming tradeshows

Not all tradeshows are giants like the Chicago Gift Show and the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. There are hundreds of tradeshows in smaller cities such as Austin, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Portland—and many other smaller cities. You can find them by checking with each city's convention bureau. Some of them are so small (40 to 50 dealers) they are not held in convention centers, but in hotels.

Almost every industry has a tradeshow. You can find small tradeshows by reading the magazines of a given industry. Industry magazines routinely list or advertise information about upcoming tradeshows. You can subscribe to dozens of free industry trade magazines at

Sourcing is a major concern for most eBay sellers. And for many, it requires an ongoing effort. The tradeshows I've described in this article bring together an impressive number of potential suppliers. I encourage you to investigate if you can find your next great sellers at a wholesale tradeshow near you.

About the Author

Skip McGrath is an eBay Gold PowerSeller who has been selling on eBay since 1999. He is the publisher of The eBay Seller's News and author of The Complete eBay Marketing System.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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