Knitting and crochet conferences and events are an excellent opportunity to touch and feel more yarns, fibers, hooks, and tools than you could ever possibly find in your local community. You’ll also see more knitters and crocheters in one place than you’ve ever before seen in your life. There are so many activities taking place during the course of the conference, that it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed.
Some of you may have been regulars at CGOA’s Chain Link conference and the Knit and Crochet Show over the past few years. If so, going to Chain Link probably feels a bit like going home to you: you know a lot of people, you reconnect with old friends, you recognize many of the regular vendors, and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect during the course of the conference. It’s a warm, comfortable, cozy experience.
If you’re planning on attending STITCHES West next week, be forewarned that this event is a much different experience. There are exponentially more vendors and attendees at this event. Even those of us who have attended quiet a few STITCHES Events can feel a bit overwhelmed. At your first STITCHES, you may feel a little bit lost and out of your element.
If you’ve never been to any kind of crochet conference before, not only might you feel lost, you’re probably going to feel quite overwhelmed. When you walk on to the show floor, your senses will be hit with a cacophony of color and fiber. Everywhere your eyes look, you will see something that calls you over to look at it right now. The sheer size of the show floor is enough to make your brain temporarily shut down as you try to cope with this exciting experience.
I’d like to share some tips and tricks for not just surviving your first STITCHES Event, but for leaving the show thinking it was one of the best experiences of your life. Whether you’re attending the conference as a vendor or to shop the show floor, you’re sure to find some valuable tips.
1. Remember You Are Not Alone.
Perhaps you came with a group of friends, but you’ve become separated out on the show floor. Perhaps you came all alone, looking forward to a time away from your real-life responsibilities. At first it’s fun walking around on your own, but soon you want to share this fantastic experience with others.
Don’t be scared to walk up to other knitters and crocheters and begin a conversation. Most people will be wearing something they’ve knitted or crocheted. This provides the perfect conversation starter: Just ask them about what they’re wearing. Most people will be thrilled to tell you all about the pattern, the yarn, and their experience making the garment. Because of our shared love for knitting, crochet, and all things fiber, it’s incredibly easy to make new friends at a crochet event.
2. Don’t Judge on Superficial Appearances.
Because of the sheer number of people who attend this event, you’re going to encounter a wide variety of people. Young, old. Male, female. Conservative, liberal. Wild and flashy to calm and sedate. You’ll probably see people who dress differently, speak differently, and act differently than you do.
Broaden your horizons: Walk up to someone who appears to be quite different from and strike up a conversation. You might be surprised to find out just how much you have in common!
Vendors, don’t judge a potential customer based on their appearance. Welcome everyone to your booth with the same sunny, pleasant attitude.
3. Conferences Are for Connecting with Others, not Selling Your Services in a Pushy Manner.
This tip is for conference attendees, not vendors.
I understand that attending a conference is a huge financial investment. If you are currently a professional or you’re an aspiring professional, it can be very tempting to manipulate conversations with yarn company owners and representatives, show organizers, and any editors and publishers in attendance to a point where you can heavily promote your skills and qualifications. After all, it would be great to sell a couple of designs while at the show to recoup all the conference expenses, right?
It’s important to remember that those people are at the conference primarily to sell and promote their products, or to make sure the conference runs smoothly for everyone, not to purchase designs or hire instructors. That doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in talking with you and seeing what you have to offer. But you need to respect their time and priorities. If you drop by to talk to someone and their booth is overwhelmed with customers trying to buy their products, it’s obviously not the right time to push your designs. Go shop a little bit, and come back when you notice the crowd has died down a bit.
Introduce yourself and ask if you can make an appointment to talk. Vendors have very little downtime during the conference. Someone may be able to take a quick look at your portfolio (especially if you have it with you on an iPad or tablet!), but there may never be time for an in-depth conversation. It might be better to exchange business cards and arrange to talk via email or phone after returning home.
Making the sale is not the most important at the conference. The conference is all about building relationships with others in the industry. Get to know people and build a sense of mutual trust in each other. The more people you get to know, if you are truly skilled, the more rewards will eventually come your way. By taking the time to get to know people and let them get to know you in turn, your chances for building a more long-lasting business relationship are greatly increased.
4. Vendors, Listen to Your Customers.
I know you love your products so much, you want to jump right in to touting what’s so great about them. Try to hold back, though. At first, keep the focus off yourself and what’s in your booth.
When a customer approaches or comes into your booth, focus on that person. Ask about what they love to crochet or knit. Ask about their current project. Ask about any upcoming projects or needs. Listen to what they have to say. Offer to show them what you have in your booth that can provide a solution to the needs they mentioned.
When you focus on meeting the needs of the customer, your chance of making a sale goes up dramatically!
5. Don’t Stay Up Too Late.
It can be tempting to stay up late every night talking with all your new best buddies. From the word of experience: Don’t do it every night! It’s exhausting enough just walking around the conference every day and absorbing all the visual stimuli and trying to deflect the noise. Don’t make yourself even more exhausted from lack of sleep. This is especially true if you’re taking classes. Make sure to get enough sleep so you’ll be alert and able to concentrate.
6. Eat Properly and Stay Hydrated
It’s easy to get so focused on browsing and shopping that you forget to eat or drink regularly. Not to mention the conference venue food is usually quite expensive. The lines can also be quite long.
Plan ahead and bring snacks and water to carry with you. Eat small snacks throughout the day to keep your energy level up.
7. Make a Conference Calendar.
If you have an iPad, tablet, or smartphone, create a digital calendar. If you prefer a paper copy, create a calendar or schedule on your computer, print it out, and put it in a page protector. Make sure your conference calendar is with you at all times.
List every class and event you want to attend on your calendar: start and end times, location. Be sure to includes notes for anything you need to bring with you. You definitely don’t want to arrive at class without your homework or your crochet or knitting kit.
8. Bring Your Positive Attitude
No matter what happens, try to be as positive as you can! You’ll feel much less stress and anxiety. You’ll have a much better experience if you can just go with the flow!
Somebody just grabbed the last skein of that specific yarn you wanted? Grab the vendor’s business card, write the yarn information on the back, and plan to order the yarn from the vendor’s websites. Some vendors offer free shipping for orders placed within a short period after the show, so ask if that option is available.
The checkout lines are very long and you need to be in class in ten minutes? Ask the vendor if they’ll hold your purchase for you so you can come back and pay for it later. Most will be happy to hold your items for a short time. But don’t expect them to hold items until the very end of the show.
These are just a few tips I’ve learned from attending conferences as a regular attendee, a professional, and a vendor. Yes, it seems like I’ve done it all! I hope my tips and tricks will make your conference experience a little easier for you.
If you’ve attended conferences before, I’d love it if you’d share YOUR tips for having a wonderful conference experience. Please post a comment and share with us!
And if you’re ever at Chain Link, the K & C Show, or a Stitches Event and need someone to talk to or just a few minutes to decompress, take a minute and come by and see me at the Crochetville/Red Heart booth. (At Stitches West I’ll be in Booths 514/516/613/615.) We’ve developed a reputation on the show circuit as “The Fun Booth (TM).” We’ll be happy to give you a booster shot of fun so you can re-energize and get those energy levels back in whack.
Not to mention, we can probably interest you in some fabulous yarn and/or crochet patterns that may find a home in your shopping bag!