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    Making the Best of Craft Trade Fairs


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2001 

    Sra Custodia, master artisan from San Juan Bolívar, at Expoartesanías, Colombia. 

    Participation in international craft trade fairs is an efficient way for craft producers to showcase their products to export markets. The advantages include audience concentration, face-to-face communication, the opportunity to assess the competition and the chance to become acquainted with new business partners.

    Compared with other methods of selling and promotion, trade fair participation is a useful way for craft manufacturers to enter a foreign market. This is because advertising through direct mail, sales literature in the general press and specialist journals, or even ads on television, are both expensive and relatively untargeted. Without a local partner or agent that the craft-maker can use to distribute stock, direct marketing is also not usually practical for the craft product seller. Another potential advertising tool - electronic or e-commerce - is increasingly accessible, but is not yet a practical proposition for many suppliers in developing countries.

    By contrast, craft trade fairs can bring artisan entrepreneurs into direct contact with a targeted business agent or distributor who might subsequently take on the role of marketing for the craft business. Also, in the best of all worlds, artisanal products need to be seen and touched so the buyer can appreciate their individual qualities. This conveys the product's physical uniqueness and quality to the buyer in ways that no amount of advertising can, and has enormous advantages over any one-dimensional or virtual sales situation.

    Part of the business plan 

    However, it is important to note that taking part in a trade fair should be one of the wider objectives of a comprehensive business plan and not just an end in itself. Short-term objectives, such as merely disposing of display stock to cover show expenses, should be firmly discouraged as being counter-productive. A well-organized business plan should include an integrated marketing schedule incorporating other methods of approaching existing and potential customers. These can include trade missions, individual sales trips, correspondence backed up by sales literature and samples, telephone contacts and worldwide accessibility via the Internet through using e-mail and/or a web site. Trade support institutions can do much to coordinate these types of campaigns.

    Trade fair exhibitors with limited experi-ence in export marketing may feel more confident if they are part of a national stand than if they participate independently. The costs of participation are not cheap, but national and international organizations and governments are potential sources of funding. Moreover, the organizing agency often provides technical assistance and practical training in exhibition practices. But good management by the TSI is as important as any financial assistance provided.

    Preparing the groundwork 

    Trade fair participation may seem relatively straightforward, but like anything else the ground has to be properly prepared. This means establishing good basic practices, for example:

    • choosing appropriate products for the markets selected;
    • ensuring good product quality;
    • setting prices in relation to competition;
    • meeting deadlines;
    • presenting the products correctly, using appropriate packaging and promotional material; and
    • following up on leads generated during the trade fair.

    New trends in international trade 

    There are many new and complex changes emerging in the practice of international trade, but several have particularly far-reaching consequences for craft producers:

    • Ethical marketing/fair trade issues. Artisans should be aware that conditions inside their own workshops can have a bearing on their trading relationships with consumer markets. Several major retail companies in the United States and Europe have signed commitments to buy their merchandise only from producers who agree to provide reasonable wages, safe working conditions and other benefits to their workforce. Buyers committed to improving working conditions in their suppliers' workshops will prob-ably include requirements about these conditions in their business terms.

    • Environmental issues. Wood-product manufacturers, for example, are being requested to provide official certification that they obtain their timber from an ecological and environmentally sustainable source. Paper- and cardboard-based packaging now tends to contain a larger percentage of recycled material and is clearly labelled. Other producers using chemicals to treat textiles, wood and metal are being encouraged to use more environmentally friendly processes or being taught to develop safe disposal methods for their waste chemicals.

    • Business partnerships. For years, importers paid little or no attention to the production environment where the product was made. They were generally only interested in the cheapest product in the correct quantity on the right delivery date. But market competitiveness increasingly shows that the best-quality products and prices emerge from importer-producer relationships that are mutually confident, supportive and advantageous. An increasing number of importers are building serious long-term relationships with a limited number of suppliers and from the producers they expect commitment to improved efficiency and quality. Larger buyers now provide producers with regular market-trend intelligence information, regular visits to the consumer country and market outlets, product development training and guidance, health and safety training, and contributions to social and economic benefit inputs for the producers' workforce.

    Achieving best results 

    It is clear that participation in trade fairs can have enormous benefits for craft producers. However, these benefits do not come automatically; they are mainly based on good preparation and commitment and other factors. Successful exhibitors will:

    • ensure their business possesses the necessary capabilities to enter the export market;
    • identify a potential target market through inquiries and local investigation;
    • undertake thorough market research in the home country, as well as in the target market;
    • be aware that commitment to a long-term strategy can bring significant results; and
    • participate in the same fair over several consecutive years in order to help build credibility in a market.

    María-Mercedes Sala is ITC Market Development Officer for artisanal products and cultural industries. This article is based on International Craft Trade Fairs: A Practical Guide, which provides advice to craft entrepreneurs and artisans on how to take advantage of opportunities arising out of exhibiting their products at international craft trade fairs. The Guide is jointly published by ITC, UNESCO and the Commonwealth Secretariat.