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My experience attending the Top Drawer Trade Show - with Vicki Weinberg
Episode 13130th September 2022 • Bring Your Product Idea to Life • Vicki Weinberg
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Have you ever wondered what a trade show is like? This week I am sharing my experiences at the Top Drawer Trade Show, one of the premier retail trade shows in the UK, a 3 day event at Olympia in London.

I share what the experience was like as a visitor, which booths stood out to me and why, and why you might consider attending a trade show yourself. 

Listen in to hear me share:

  • An introduction to Top Drawer Trade Show, and what it is (00:39)
  • Spotting trends (02:45)
  • The talks that were on (03:34)
  • What it is like attending as a visitor (04:23)
  • Seasonal differences between trade shows (05:02)
  • Choosing your spot (06:53)
  • The range of booths available (10:16)
  • Which booths stood out to me and why (11:41)
  • The challenge of finding a price for products (12:32)
  • Why you might benefit from attending a trade show (14:10)

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Top Drawer

House of Two Trees

The Positive Planner

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Transcripts

Vicki Weinberg:

Welcome to the Bring Your Product Ideas To Life Podcast, practical

Vicki Weinberg:

advice and inspiration to help you create and sell your own physical products.

Vicki Weinberg:

Here's your host Vicki Weinberg.

Vicki Weinberg:

Hello.

Vicki Weinberg:

So I have a different type of episode for you today.

Vicki Weinberg:

So rather than bringing on a guest or sharing, uh, my expertise in

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a particular area today, this is something completely new.

Vicki Weinberg:

I'm actually going to talk about an experience I had earlier this week.

Vicki Weinberg:

Yesterday, in fact, attending Top Drawer.

Vicki Weinberg:

So Top Drawer is a trade search show, essentially.

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And I went along to get a better idea of what trade shows are, who

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exhibits out them and just to network and, and meet some new people really.

Vicki Weinberg:

And I fully intended to make some voice notes while I was there to

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sort of be part of this podcast.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, that didn't happen.

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I'll be honest.

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When I got there, it was busy, it was big, it was quite overwhelming

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and that just didn't happen.

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So I am however recording this the day after I got back.

Vicki Weinberg:

So today's the 14th of September.

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Um, so it's going to be a little while until you listen to this I know, but I

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wanted to record it while I was fresh.

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And I went to Top Drawer yesterday, Tuesday, which was

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the last day of the three days.

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So, as I said, Top Drawer is a trade show.

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It's a three day event and they run this twice a year, one in spring and one in the

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autumn, the spring event is actually the 15th to the 17th of January in 2023, in

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case by the end of this, you're thinking, oh, actually, I'd quite like to go to

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that and trade shows really are a way for buyers and retailers to browse products.

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See what trends are emerging.

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And I, I guess also to network a bit as well, but for products, businesses,

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I guess the main reason you might be interested in potentially going to a

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trade show is to showcase your products and get them stocked in more places.

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Interestingly, um, some of the businesses I spoke to only do B2B, so

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they don't sell to consumers at all.

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They make, they manage their whole business through selling

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into retailers and distributors, which I found really interesting.

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So Top Drawer, um, on their website they say that they bring a mix

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of new emerging talents together with the top names you love.

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Season after season so you can choose from the very best lineup of brands.

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Um, and they make it easy for you to locate the products you're

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interested in as the event is split into nine distinctive sectors.

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I'll be honest while I was there I didn't realize there

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were nine distinctive sectors.

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I, you know, for me, it was quite big quite, and I didn't actually

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see, yeah, how that played out, but not that I think that matters.

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I still think.

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And I'll talk about this more in a minute that it was a great event.

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So Top Drawer, also talk about being really trend focused.

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Um, when I walked around yesterday, some of the trends that I spotted and

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I have to be honest, I'm not trendy.

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I'm not great at spotting trends, but I did notice, um, quite a

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lot of sustainable products.

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So I saw what did I see?

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I saw some plastic toys where, but the plastic was made from

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sugar cane rather than oil, which I thought was really interesting.

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And, um, the products were actually really beautiful.

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I saw lots of products made from recycled materials.

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Um, so that was really interesting.

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So yeah, lots of focus on sustainability.

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And I also saw lots of high end products as well.

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And I'll talk later about some of the spaces.

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Um, some of them were just decked out really, really beautifully

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and looked really high end.

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And there were also talks at Top Drawer.

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So most of these are aimed at product businesses and about

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helping you to run your business.

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So for example, when I was there yesterday, there was a talk in the

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afternoon about, um, social media and selling your products on social media.

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So I imagine that I think for products business, it would be

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really, really useful to attend some of these talks and then they

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also have other industry experts.

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So I was quite sad because on the Monday, um, Holly Tucker was talking

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and I couldn't make it on the Monday.

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I went on the Tuesday, I would've quite liked to have listened to Holly.

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I think that would've been amazing, maybe next time.

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So that's what Top Drawer is.

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Obviously there are other trade shows as well.

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This is the first one I've been to.

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The only one I've been to.

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So this is the only one I can tell you my experience of.

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And I thought that some of you might find it interesting.

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So, um, this trade show is held at Kensington Olympia.

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I don't know if you know where Olympia is, but it's in west London,

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um, a pain, pain to get to if I'm honest, however, it was worth it.

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The organization was fantastic.

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When you turned up, if you'd already printed off your badge, which was

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emailed to you in advance, you literally just got your bags checked and walk

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straight in, which was brilliant.

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And if not, you could get it printed there.

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And there weren't massive queues.

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I turned up really shortly after it opened, maybe like 10

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minutes after it started and there weren't queues or anything.

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So that was really good.

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Um, when I walked in, I found it, as I said before, quite

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overwhelming, it's a big space.

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There were lots and lots of booths.

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Um, it felt quite busy.

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I, yeah, I don't know.

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Um, if it was, you know, how it compared to other trade shows.

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As I said, I've never been.

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Some of the brands that I spoke to reported, you know, they came and

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said actually, the spring show tends to be busier than the autumn one.

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I don't know whether they meant like the previous spring one or

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whether spring in general is busier, but it seemed to be quite busy.

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And the brands I spoke to, you know, all said, they'd done well.

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They'd, they'd all got, um, the sales that they seemed happy with.

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Um, it might have been quieter than unusual, however, because of the timing.

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So the event started on Sunday and, um, the, we, the Queen's death was

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announced on the Thursday and I know that I'm, if you're signed up for

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like transport for London emails, which I am, I actually got an email

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on I think it was the Monday saying only go to London if it's essential.

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There'd be lots of more people traveling, which I don't know if

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it would've put, put anyone off.

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Um, hopefully not, but I don't know.

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It might have put people off if they did, if they were worried about, you know,

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how busy the trains were going to be.

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I didn't find them much busier, but, that, you know, could have been an impact.

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Top Drawer did actually announce, um, on the Friday before that the event

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was still going ahead, which is great.

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I mean, I imagine if you've put all of the work and the money and the time

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into, you know, getting a booth at one of these events, for it not to go

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ahead would be absolutely heartbreaking because, um, I could see just from

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walking around just, you know, how much work people have put into this, it was,

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yeah, there's a lot that goes into it.

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I talk a bit more about it in a moment.

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So there was a real variety of products.

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There were lots and lots of brands there.

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Um, there were actually makers there, which kind of surprised me.

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I wasn't expecting to see, to see makers at this event.

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And I don't know why, I don't know why it had not occurred to me.

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So I spoke to a really lovely lady called Sarah, who has a

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company called House of Two Trees.

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And Sarah makes all of her products and she was actually

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positioned right by the door.

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As you came in, um, in something called, I think she said it was called the launchpad

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area, which was for smaller brands and you had to apply to get a space there.

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And, um, she had chosen a booth right by the door.

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Um, she did actually say, and I hope she doesn't mind me sharing on the podcast

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that she feels like that was actually a mistake because while she had a booth

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right next to the door, which seems like a great position, I only spotted

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her as I was leaving because when you walk in, it's a massive space and the

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first thing you do is probably pause.

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There was a map, right?

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As you go in a huge map, I didn't actually even spot that either.

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But she said a lot of people came in, looked at the map

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and then just walked right by.

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Um, what I did when I got there, because it had been quite a long

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journey is go straight for the toilet.

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And, um, Sarah actually said that if she could choose her spot again, she

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would actually choose a booth by the toilets because she felt that everyone

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was going to go there at some point.

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And actually for a lot of people that was there, like first

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port, of course they got there.

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So I don't know.

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Um, I don't know if that's useful or not, but I, I definitely think

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right by the door um, and speaking to her, was not the spot to be.

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And yeah, maybe by the toilets is one to check out.

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I also, talking about positioning of, of booths and things.

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I didn't realize there was a top level.

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Um, not until quite near the end, when I went up the stairs to take a picture.

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And actually, even then there weren't any booths in the area I was standing.

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It was only again when I was leaving and I happened to glance up, I saw

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along the top of the side that there were some booths right at the top.

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Um, I am sure I am not the only person who just didn't even know they were there.

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So I think this kind of event, my sense anyway, is that position is key.

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And especially because I think it's, it costs a lot of money

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to exhibit in these events.

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I believe Top Drawer, actually I'm not going to say a price

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because I'm not actually a hundred percent certain what it is.

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I couldn't see it on the website, so I don't want to sort of say an

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amount and be wrong, but it's, you know, it's a considerable investment.

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And I think if you're investing in that money and then you're going to

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be tucked upstairs or in a corner or even right by the door, but everyone's

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walking past you, whatever it is um, you know, it's not, it's not great, is it?

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So I think that if you are looking to exhibit at a trade show, it would be

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worth asking, you know, do I get to choose where I am, or is it just pot luck?

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Because I think may, perhaps for me, certainly that would have a

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bearing on whether I decided to attend a certain trade or not.

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So as well as there being lots of different products and

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different brands, there were also dis some distributors there.

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So I spoke to quite a few distributors, um, who were had, who

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were displaying sort of products that they distribute obviously.

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And I also saw eBay had a booth there and House of Fraser.

Vicki Weinberg:

Now, I don't know the purpose of either of them being there.

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Um, I didn't actually speak to either of them.

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Um, I'm going to talk a bit more about speaking to people while you're

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there a bit later, but basically they were busy all of the time.

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And I feel like as I wasn't, you know, I wasn't going to give them any

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business, so to speak, um, they should be quite focused on speaking with people

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who could, um, so there was a real variety, a real variety of people there.

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There was also a real variety in terms of the actual booths or shells themselves.

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I'm going to call them booths.

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I think they actually call them some something else.

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But this is basically the space that you've got to display your products in

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um, as I say, various sizes, and I do know the cost varies, of course, depending on

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how much square footage you're getting.

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And these are essentially like you have some floor space and then you have either

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two or three walls, depending whether you are on the corner and you, or you

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are in the middle and for this event, um, that you had to kit it all out yourself.

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So if you wanted tables, shelving, um, anything at all that went

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in there, you put in yourself.

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You were also able to paint these yourself.

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So the panels sort of the walls were white and you were able

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to paint them or apply vinyls.

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Some people had put shelves on the walls.

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It really varied actually, in terms of what people had, had done.

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Um, I, from my point of view, I think the ones that had done it really well,

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well weren't necessarily the ones that had a fancier setup as it were.

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Because, I mean, there were some that were really fancy and had a huge booth and

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maybe they had like a sofa and a dining table, you know, if they sold homeware,

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they had like a whole, there was one that had like a whole room setup and it

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looked, it did look absolutely incredible.

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But I'm not saying that's necessarily the most important thing.

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What seemed really important to me was branding.

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So I think for me, the booths that stood out had really clear branding.

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Like you could tell who the brand was.

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One of them actually The Positive Planner I loved because the ladies on the, in the

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booth were actually wearing their brand colours and they both had the same outfit.

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I really liked that.

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Maybe that's not for everyone.

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I thought that was really good.

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Um, and also I think the point of sales seemed quite important.

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So how the products were actually displayed.

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So some of the booths had their product set up, as you would maybe

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see them in an apartment store.

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So they had cards on you know, the carousel that go round or other goods

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displayed on um, I'm not explaining this very well, but it basically

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looked as you would see it in a shop.

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And I thought that was actually really smart because I guess for a buyer,

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for a store, it's probably easier to imagine that product on your shelf.

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If you're actually looking on a shelf.

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Something else I noticed was that not all of the brands

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had products by their prices.

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Some of them did.

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Um, and they were quite discreet.

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Some maybe they were on the bottom or maybe they were sort of on the woo or

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something, but some didn't seem to have prices at all, which I'm, I mean, I'm

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not an expert in, in trade shows, um, and actually I have an expert coming

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in on the podcast next week, and this is something that I will be asking

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her about because I am interested.

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But to me it seemed like maybe you should have your prices, especially

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if you are in the middle of talking to someone, but somebody else comes up.

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You know, to your booth and they have a question.

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Um, and especially if they are, if all they want to know is actually

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how much does this cost, I guess if the price is there, um, that's great.

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They've got the information right away.

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They can make a decision.

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Are they going to wait and talk to you or not?

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Whereas if, you know, if they're waiting five minutes for you to finish a

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conversation, and, and they just want to know the price and the price isn't there.

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You know, they might walk away, they might come back.

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They might not, but potentially, I guess you could miss an opportunity there.

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So that was really my experience of going.

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Um, I know that's probably.

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Uh, quite a brief overview.

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I mean, if, if you're interested and, you know, listening and you're

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interested, you've got more questions, obviously you can always get in touch.

Vicki Weinberg:

It's vicki@vickiweinberg.com, really happy to let you know more of my thoughts,

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but you know at top level, that was it.

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I think it seemed really great.

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There was quite a lot of buzz.

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There were lots of different brands there.

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Everyone seemed very happy and positive.

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Um, and it seemed really well organized as well.

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So from my limited experience, it seemed like a great event.

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Um, so now I just want to talk a little bit about who might

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benefit from attending a trade show and why you might consider it.

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So obviously you might plan on exhibiting your products at a trade

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show, and if that's something you want to do, you definitely need

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to listen to next week's episode.

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I'm speaking to Therese from Small Business Collaborative, all about trade

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shows and why you might want to attend one and all the, basically everything that

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you need to know about trade shows and selling at trade shows and doing well.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, I have lots of questions.

Vicki Weinberg:

I'm sure you've got lots of questions.

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Thereas is going to answer them.

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So that's the first thing.

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But I would say that if you are interested in potentially exhibiting

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at a trade show, but you're not quite sure what to expect, or you're not

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sure if it's right for you, why not go along and just see what it's like?

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I think that that's, I think that's probably a really great way of

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seeing, okay, what what's what's it's like there, um, maybe seeing

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like, are your competitors there?

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What are they doing?

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Getting some ideas for how you might display your products.

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Um, you could just see it as like a fact finding.

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I guess as well, you could also ask questions to other

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people that are exhibiting.

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Um, I have to say though, and this is something that I took really seriously

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when I would say yesterday is that you have to be really respectful

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here because obviously everyone who's exhibiting is paid to be there

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and they're there to get sales.

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So they probably don't want to be talking to you for half an hour.

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So I was really careful to only speak to people who were quiet and sort of

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didn't mind, you know, I, I said, you know, do you mind if we chat for a

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minute, um, didn't overstay my welcome, um, took cards so I can follow up with

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people, but I didn't really want to be, um, taking up too much of anyone's time.

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And if there was someone I was interested in talking to, but they were already

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talking to someone else, I just sort of circled back a bit later because as I say,

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I don't want to take away from a sale.

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So I just think it's worth being mindful of that.

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Of course you will be.

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Um, I also think that you might want go there for inspiration

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or maybe product research.

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If you are in the early stages of creating your product and you just want to get

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an idea of current trends to see what other brands are doing, to get an idea

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of what other new products out there.

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As always, you know, you've heard me say this before, don't copy what anyone

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else is doing, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with going for inspiration.

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You know, maybe you see some colours that you like or some

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packaging that appeals to you.

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Whatever it is, I don't think it's anything wrong with getting inspiration.

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I mean, there's no such thing as an original idea is there, so it might be

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that it is really worth you going into one of these events, just, just for

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the research or just to inspire you.

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Um, you also might want to go along for the talks.

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I mentioned there were some great talks going on.

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Um, I should also say this event is free to attend.

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I don't know about all trade shows, but this one is free to attend.

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All the talks were free.

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So, you know, you could look at the programme, it was all online or see what

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talks are going on and, you know, turn up for a day and make the most of that.

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You also might go to network.

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I mean, what I was, what I thought was really nice yesterday is there were lots

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of businesses selling similar products.

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So candles is one that stood out for me.

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There were quite a lot of candle businesses.

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They were also quite a lot of planners and journals.

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And I, I was speaking to people and they would reference another store and they

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would say, oh yeah, they're our friends.

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And I thought that's really nice isn't it?

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Not seeing everyone as competition and realizing there's a place

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for everyone in the market.

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So it could be nice to just go and expand your network, meet some other businesses.

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For people to talk to, as I say, if you are interested in Top Drawer

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specifically, the spring event is the 15th to the 17th of January 2023.

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Um, you do have to sort of book a ticket online but it is completely free.

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Um, and overall I would recommend it, in as I think I'll be going

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back in the spring as well.

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And also trying to make the most of going to some of, some of the talks

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and events, as well as having a walk around and chatting to people.

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And finally, um, for again, please do listen next week, if you are at all

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interested in trade shows, as I said, I do have an expert on the podcast

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and we are going to be talking about why you might want to exhibit, um,

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and how to do it really, really well and make the best of the opportunity.

Vicki Weinberg:

So anything you've ever wanted to know, I'm going to cover that next week.

Vicki Weinberg:

So I hope you found this shorter than usual episode interesting.

Vicki Weinberg:

Um, yeah.

Vicki Weinberg:

Hope you learnt or least took something from it.

Vicki Weinberg:

And, um, even if it just peaked your curiosity and now

Vicki Weinberg:

you can't wait for next week.

Vicki Weinberg:

So I will speak to you then.

Vicki Weinberg:

Thank you so much for listening right to the end of this episode, do

Vicki Weinberg:

remember that you can get the full back catalogues and lots of free resources

Vicki Weinberg:

on my website, vickiweinberg.com.

Vicki Weinberg:

Please do remember to rate and review this episode if you've enjoyed it

Vicki Weinberg:

and also share it with a friend who you think might find it useful.