Our first trade show experience - Top Drawer London

Emma stood in front of her first trade show stand, at Top Drawer London

Well what a month September has been! It is the month that has been on my mind since May this year, when I first applied to Top Drawer, and what a learning curve these past five months have been.

 I'd love to share my experience behind the scenes of every nook and in case any of my learnings are of interest if you're ever considering a similar venture :)



 Arial shot of Top Drawer London

 Top Drawer is a trade show, which is a business to business event, giving product brands the opportunity to present their wares to retail buyers who are looking to order stock for their bricks & mortar or online shops.

 It is my plan for every nook to grow the number of stockists, so taking part in an event like this was a great opportunity to meet a wide range of buyers in one place. Top Drawer is an event I have attended as a buyer in my previous career so I knew it was a destination for creative and design led brands. It's also more targeted than some of the other shows, and the smaller scale for my first go was appealing!


I had been pondering applying to show at Top Drawer for about a year, but the old imposter syndrome was very much hanging around. That was until one day in May when I'm not sure what came over me - panic of missing out, realising every nook was 3 years in and I better get a move on, or just one of those days when you think why the hell not. So I sent in an application!




Yikes, my application was accepted for the September show, which came with big financial implications for my business. Feelings of excitement and nerves pushed me on to get planning and make sure it was worth it!


The Stand - when you buy an exhibition space at Top Drawer, what they call a shell, it is essentially three white walls and a grey carpet. Once you have bought the space you are sent lots of information about buying fixtures, lighting, wall painting, even bespoke carpeting, all of which has to be budgeted for. Being on a tight budget, I got creative with vintage furniture and wall prints, which I do think worked with my brand aesthetic and thankfully was much cheaper! As it's only for display purposes you don't need to take lots of stock, but you do need marketing materials such as a catalogue and business cards, plus what I saw others offering which I think I'd do next time, like little freebies to help buyers remember you once they are back in the office.

 The empty shell on arrival at Top Drawer


Accommodation - Top Drawer is held at London Olympia and is across three full days (plus set up the day before) so if you live out of London relocating nearby is essential. Luckily as I lived in London for many years I still have friends there and could stay with one of them. Even luckier, my friend is so lovely she packed me up with a delicious and nutritious lunch and bag of snacks everyday which kept my energy up and costs down too.


Transport + parking - thankfully we have a car and I could squeeze all that I needed to take to London into it - just! You have to book a half our arrival slot on the set up day at Olympia, which was a little stressy when our Sat Nav sent us around in a few circles on our approach. After unloading you can park your car at Olympia, but again I looked to save costs and used a service called Just Park to rent a car park space nearby at a much cheaper price.

 A car boot packed with stand furniture and product to take to Top Drawer


Manpower - With the extra day for set up you need to be able to commit to 4 days for the event. Given the stand set up requirements, I would say it is essential to have some help with this, you can book help with logistics though the event, however as an additional cost I decided to rope my husband in to help me on set up day :) This would mean organising childcare so he could travel with me, and disaster almost struck when I realised that both sets of my children's grandparents were on holiday during this time - what are the chances! Thankfully my Auntie came to the rescue for the weekend. After set up by husband did have to travel home, so the rest of the show was up to me alone. Whilst I was envious of brands who had multiple staff with them to manage lunches and loo breaks during the 3 days, it is possible to do it and I had a lovely stand neighbour Alice, who was in the same boat so we helped each other.

 My stand neighbour, Alice from ease london




Once I had my stand ready to go, my nerves had settled and I felt quite positive about the days ahead and I felt ready for my first trade show experience at Top Drawer. My stand was K45 in the Well Being section, which luckily, as I was on my own, was close to the toilets and the coffee shop! I had some lovely neighbours, Freckle Face and Ease London, so in the quieter periods it was great to share our business experiences and give/receive encouragement throughout the show.

 Close up of my stand fixture, showing all candle products

I had the opportunity to meet buyers from a range of locations, nationally and internationally and from various types of business, such as high street retailers, beauty salons, event organisers and online start-ups. Talking to people gave me an increased appreciation of future opportunities for every nook and it was a great opportunity to get real feedback on what buyers are interested in.


I had received advice from others on their trade show experience before attending that buyers often make decisions on what they will order post the show, but I did receive some orders at the event, which was really motivating. However it is also reassuring that there will hopefully be further business to come from the contacts I made there, whom I can keep in touch with over the coming months.



 Hand-poured soy wax candles on the work bench

With the orders received at the show I was very busy the following two weeks making stock.

I have since sent stock to shops in London, Tenby, Devon, Milton Keynes and Kent. Some stockists have shared pictures of every nook on their shelves, which is really exciting to see.


As I reflect on the show, it was a great first trade show experience and I am so glad that I did it. Not only to prove to myself that I could, but for all that I have learnt for next time!


Emma x

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