What I learned at H+H Americas

What I learned at H+H Americas

Last week I spent two amazing days at H+H Americas with my friend Christy of Makit Takit and her Yarn Manager, Julia. It was my first time at the show and I wanted to share my experience and what I learned with you all!

AJ and Christy in front of a large quilt with a sewing machine on it that says "own your craft HH"
Christy and I were so excited to be at H+H!

What is H+H Americas?

H+H Americas is a trade show for fiber and fabric crafts. Its sister show - H+H Cologne (Germany) is the world’s largest trade show for crafts and turned 100 this year (there was even a cake to celebrate!). As a trade show, H+H is a space for businesses that produce and sell craft supplies related to yarn and fabric crafts to showcase their items and connect with other business owners who want to buy them for their own businesses. This included folks with brick-and-mortar or online retail businesses & craft studios (like Christy), as well as craft educators, demonstrators, bloggers, and more (like me). In addition to more than 400 exhibitors/vendors there were masterclasses, product demonstrations, and even a cosplay fashion show. 

H+H partners with Craft Industry Alliance (CIA), a professional organization for craft business owners, which is how I was able to attend. Craft Industry Alliance members get a free ticket to H+H each year and are invited to exclusive CIA events at the show. 


Why I went to H+H Americas…

Last year, I followed Christy’s trip to H+H on her instagram and was curious about what it was and why she would attend. As a craft studio owner, H+H is a great opportunity for Christy to see products in person she may want to order for her store and to make personal connections with the people that distribute those products - many of whom are small businesses that she might not discover otherwise. I was intrigued. I had been curious about how people found the items they wanted to carry in their shops and H+H was clearly a popular place to do that.

Since I had joined the Craft Industry Alliance earlier this year (at Christy’s encouragement) I had a free ticket to the show. And since H+H Americas takes place in Chicago, it was just a short drive away, making it an easy trip. But more than that, I wanted to experience H+H at least once before I needed to start buying things for our own craft and yoga studio. Trade shows can be big and overwhelming, so I figured it was a good idea to attend without any real goals or to-do items other than seeing what it was like. And even better, I could shadow Christy at the show to see how she approached vendors and decided on products to order for her shop, so I could learn from her in real time. 

Also, I couldn’t resist another opportunity to hang out with Christy in person, since I usually only get to see her once a year IRL. 

AJ in front of a quilt of 270 spools of thread, each in a different color
I was so excited to see this Aurifil quilt in person, made by one of my new friends Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill of Whole Circle Studio

What I actually did at H+H Americas…

Before I went to H+H I honestly didn’t have much sense of what you actually DID at a trade show. Do you buy things there and take them home? Order things? Do you need to make appointments with people? Are you allowed to test out all their products before buying? I had lots of questions and few answers (which is one of the reasons I wanted to go in the first place!)

Here’s a quick list of what I actually did at H+H…

  • Followed Christy and Julia around as they walked from booth to booth and talked to vendors
  • Wandered around on my own chatting with vendors and looking at their products
  • Talked about Co-Create Studio and what we are trying to build to various folks I met (and was so happy when people were interested!)
  • Attended an information session on a new skill building series for quilters through one of the fabric companies
  • Listened to some panels about business topics like using events to get people into your store
  • Had some snacks in the VIP lounge to keep my energy up (thanks to Melissa of MCreativeJ for the VIP registration)
  • Squished a lot of really lovely yarn
  • Got a lot of cool swag/samples and bought a few items to bring home and try out for myself before committing to an order

What I learned from my first H+H Americas experience…

I feel like a lot of what I learned during H+H will become more apparent as we continue to develop Co-Create Studio. I also felt like I have so many things I gleaned from just listening to Christy and Julia talk about what they were thinking about buying, their reasons for ordering or not ordering something, how they spoke to vendors, etc. that would be hard to put into words. But here are a few larger points that stood out to me from my first time at H+H…

  • You can start small - sure some companies have large minimum orders (it’s not uncommon to see $500 - $1000+ minimums), but many of the smaller, independent companies have much lower or no minimums, or they are willing to work with you as a fellow small business. You can also purchase many items at the show with no minimum purchase and often at wholesale prices, to try out products and see if they will work well for your needs. 
  • You don’t need a retail shop to start buying wholesale - I don’t know why this hadn’t really occurred to me before, but you can also buy wholesale (and probably should!) for things like workshop supplies or to put together class or project kits. There are quite a few products I saw at H+H that I plan on ordering for use in our craft workshops later this year.   
  • Small business owners are lovely and want to build a partnership with you - I mean, I already knew this, but it was so cool to see this in action, especially at a place like H+H where many exhibitors are HUGE companies with sales reps and distribution centers. Independent small businesses know what it’s like to be a small business and so were often accommodating of requests like a lower minimum first order or putting together kits in different combinations than they had displayed. 
  • H+H is a great place to do some research before you commit to anything - I am SO GLAD I decided to try out H+H before we really need to stock up for a retail store or lots of workshop supply bundles. It was so much fun being able to explore and try out products without the pressure of needing to purchase for inventory. It also meant I was more open to hearing about things I had never considered before, rather than just trying to check items off a list. 
  • There’s a lot of uncertainty when selecting items - predicting customer interests and trends is HARD, even with a well-established business. It can be helpful to have at least one person to talk to about your options and what would be the best fit for your audience/customers. I loved being able to listen in and take part in these conversations with Christy and Julia as someone close to their target audience. And I love picking out different color combos and thinking about the psychology and sociology of customer behavior.
  • Just because you love something, doesn’t mean it's the right fit for your business - this one can be hard for me, but it was really helpful to hear Christy make some difficult choices about which colors to order and which items to purchase. There were a few times when she said something like, “This is totally my [color or favorite product], but I don’t think it’s right for the store, since we already have [that other thing].” A concrete lesson in “you are not your ideal customer.”

What I’ll do differently next year…

I definitely did not need to have 3 full days at the expo, but next year I’ll look more seriously into the pre-show conference. The free education panels were interesting, but not the most helpful for me as a craft educator without a retail outlet (for now). If I were to add a 3rd day it would be for the creator conference, rather than another day of engaging with vendors. 

This year, I’m glad I didn’t go in with much of a plan other than to experience the show. In planning for next year, though, I’ll want to have more of a game plan before arriving. That would include looking through the exhibitor list to companies I absolutely wanted to check out, but also leaving time to peruse the whole show. There were a ton of companies there I had never heard of. Many had really cool products that I would be interested in learning more about to see if they fit with what we are trying to do. 

Know my budget going in! It would have been so easy to spend a ton of money on just cash and carry items, much less on things to order for workshops or a retail store. It was really helpful listening to Christy and Julia talk through their priorities for purchases, which booths were running show specials that made it much smarter (read: cheaper) to put in an order that week and which could be followed up with after the show to order. 

Related to having a plan and knowing my budget - have a sense of what gaps we need to fill in our offerings or what problems we need to solve. For example, Christy and Julia knew they already had plenty of options in their shop for bulkier weight yarn, but were looking for a cost-effective, yet quality solution for some mid-weight yarns. They were also looking for interesting projects for classes that would help showcase (and therefore sell) the yarn they ordered. 

Carry less stuff with me during the day. I am someone who needs “my things” to feel safe and secure, but also wants to be prepared with a book or activity if I have a break or need to recharge myself. There was really no time to just sit and chill during the day, so I ended up carrying around a bunch of stuff I didn’t need. Next year, I’ll bring a smaller bag to hold my essentials and a tote bag for all the samples and stuff people give you, but leave the rest in the hotel during the day. 

Bring business/contact cards. Since we just launched Co-Create Studio, I didn’t have business cards yet. I did bring some of our postcards with me, but they were so large it felt weird giving them out to people. I did give out a couple, but next year I will definitely be prepared with regular-sized business cards. 

That’s it. My first experience with H+H Americas. Have you heard about H+H Americas before? Do you think you would ever attend something like this yourself? Leave a comment below to let me know!

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