Navigating Wholesale Tradeshows

Planning ahead takes the pressure off, so you can have fun while sourcing.

by Miriam Otto
- Sep 01, 2011

Interested in purchasing wholesale products to sell on eBay? You might consider attending a wholesale tradeshow. A few weeks ago, I attended the San Francisco International Gift Show, where vendors offered a wide variety of products, from personal cooling towels to finger puppets. It was a worthwhile event in a fabulous locale. Before attending a tradeshow, however, you will need a game plan.

First of all, be sure to check the show's Web site to make sure you bring the proper credentials for admittance. The San Francisco show required attendees to present multiple forms of ID. I brought my driver's license, a business card, business letterhead and my seller's permit.

Next, take advantage of gift-show hotel and restaurant discounts. The San Francisco show had great hotel room specials. In San Francisco, a very basic room can cost $200 and up if you wait until the last minute. (I should know. I was just going to drive down for the day, but my plans changed, and I had to find a room at the last second).

Plan on staying at the show long enough to walk through it at least two times

Gift-show attendees had the chance to reserve a room for only $89. In addition, badge holders received discounts at local restaurants and access to conference shuttles. Check each show's Web site for more information.

On the day of the show

You will also want to bring a rolling suitcase to the event. You won't have to worry about carrying your personal possessions, or any of the informational materials you gather, if you bring a suitcase on wheels.

If you're on a budget, you might consider packing a lunch. At one point, I had a craving for candy. I walked up to one of the vendors and picked up a tiny bag of gummy bears (about 15 total pieces). He wanted $3! Bringing your own food will definitely save you some cash.

Plan on staying at the show long enough to walk through it at least two times. The San Francisco gift show was located at the Moscone Center. I made sure to leave myself enough time so that I could visit each vendor twice. (I was able to do this in one day, no problem). The top floor of the Moscone was filled with companies offering jewelry, so we didn't spend much time there, but the first two floors offered a wide variety of goods, and we didn't want to miss anything.

Take a break between viewings to review the information you've gathered. If you do decide to purchase something at the show, be sure to check out the competition online. You don't want to order something a million people are already selling.

Next, consider taking advantage of show specials. Some vendors, for example, offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount if you order your products onsite. On the other hand, if a vendor is not offering these types of specials (some weren't), you might want to go home and think about the products that interested you. This will give you a chance to do more research, browse catalogs and decide which products to purchase in bulk.

Post-show analysis

I decided not to purchase anything onsite, and I'm glad I didn't. When I got home, I thought long and hard about the interesting products I had seen. One of the products I liked was new to me. It seemed like an amazing invention. I was sure it would be a hot seller. But when I looked online, similar products were being sold by multiple sellers on both eBay and Amazon. I called Wal-Mart, and it was selling it, too. Boy was I disappointed, but I was also glad I didn't make an impulse purchase.

When I looked online, similar products were being sold by multiple sellers on both eBay and Amazon

Before finally deciding on products to order, I asked myself a few questions:

  • Will these products be easy to market?
  • What keywords will I use to bring in buyers?
  • Are these the types of products eBay buyers are looking for?
  • Will the products be easy to ship?
  • How much space will I need to store the items I order?
  • Eventually, I decided on a few of the products I'd seen. One of the items I plan to order is a really cool Christmas ornament. I can't tell you what it looks like, but I'm pretty confident it will sell because I know eBay. I'm also planning on ordering a food product I sampled at the show. It was tasty, and it's aimed at people with medical problems—a group of people that buys from me on a regular basis. I plan to make a video to go along with the listing.

    There was one item at the show that I really liked, but I decided it may not be right for the eBay marketplace. It's a luxury product made by a brand-new company. I thought it might be a bit difficult to sell, since eBay buyers tend to be price sensitive and/or buy products from companies with which they are already familiar. So I decided to contact the president of the firm (she was at the tradeshow) to ask if the item could be drop shipped. Although I loved what I saw, I didn't want to invest in something with a high price tag that may not end up selling.

    Overall, attending the San Francisco Gift Show was a great experience, and all of the vendors with whom I spoke were open to having their products sold on eBay. Attending this type of event is definitely a fun and efficient way to source inventory. If you arrive with a game plan, you'll definitely make the most of your experience!

    About the Author

    Miriam Otto is an eBay educator, based in Northern California. Miriam sells more than 500 items per month on eBay, and finds most of what she sells at yard sales and thrift shops. When not teaching eBay classes or running her business, she enjoys writing about her latest "scores" on The eBay Life blog. In addition to living "The eBay Life," Miriam works as an independent study teacher helping adults earn high school diplomas.

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

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