Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Made Here, Sold Here: How a Local Trade Show Helps Entrepreneurial Seeds Grow

staff members stand at an entry table

by Lauren Richard & Dani Delaini

In October 2023, over three and a half years after the COVID pandemic’s onset, Americans were still filing 59-percent more applications to start new businesses than they were before the pandemic (source: Harvard Business Review). 

This might be a national statistic, but the seeds of this small business and entrepreneurial “boon” here in the North Country are starting to sprout. The Center for Businesses in Transition, a partnership of North Country business support professionals, has seen more inquiries from aspiring entrepreneurs this year than we have seen since ANCA launched the program five years ago. Our economic and small business development partners are anecdotally reporting an increase in inquiries and clients — indeed, more than they have the capacity to handle!

Likewise, ANCA’s annual Adirondack Buyer Days trade show is building back up after COVID. We are seeing an increased number of new and beginning small businesses inquiring about and applying to the show.

We know that new Adirondack Buyer Days participation for vendors and buyers can/will be a lagging indicator of new micro-preneur business development across our region. Artisan businesses starting up in their garages, spare rooms, and wood sheds often spend a few years on the craft market circuit before exploring wholesaling opportunities. ANCA is ready for the wave of new vendors looking to take that next step in their business development.

craft vendor

Adirondack Buyer Days has deep roots in the region. Since the first show in 1986, the event has provided an entry point for makers interested in trying out wholesaling and developing relationships with shop owners who care about where their products come from. All products are designed or made in the Northeast; and most makers are based in Upstate New York. Some of our return vendors have attended the show for decades — strengthening and growing their community of buyers each year.

Other wholesale shows are prohibitively priced for beginner and small wholesalers. For example, having a booth at one popular New York City trade show costs more than $4,000 for the same 8×10’ sized booths we offer. Another large show in the northeast offers booths of the same size for more than $1,000. Most of the businesses we work with have fewer than 5 employees and make under $50,000 annually. Adirondack Buyer Days provides an on-ramp to wholesaling with its accessible booth fee of $500, financial assistance opportunities, and pre-show education. Some businesses go on to larger events and accounts, while others continue to exhibit at Buyer Days for their full lifespan, and some do both.

When a super-small artisan business begins to wholesale, that business’s economic impact becomes more visible; their products can be found on store shelves and their reach begins to broaden. The “invisible factory” of makers is a significant piece of the North Country economy; but it isn’t until this point of business growth that these micro-manufacturers start to become less “invisible” and things can really take off. Whether a side hustle or main source of income, creative businesses help North Country residents make a living and stay in the area.

Retailers are another critical piece of our tourism-heavy economy, contributing to the perceived vibrancy of small towns, not to mention the goods and services as well as employment that they provide. Locally handcrafted products and locally-owned retail go hand in hand, and together they contribute to the culture and character of the Adirondack Region.

Stephanie Lendrum at Cedar + Pearl in Glens Falls, N.Y.  knew she could turn her hobby of hand painting ornaments into a full time business, but wasn’t sure how. Stephanie said , “One of my first opportunities on that path was the Buyer Days show in 2019. I only had 10 designs that year, but the buyers didn’t seem to mind. They were excited to find something new, something handmade, and something local. That year, 12 shops took a chance on me. I’ve been at Buyer Days every year since, and each year I’ve picked up another 12-15 shops from our region.”

She added, “Meeting new buyers is wonderful, but Buyer Days gives me a chance to meet with other vendors, strike up collaborations, and reconnect with my current stockists who get to meet me and know me better each year. I get to hear what worked for their shops last year, what they’re looking for in the future, and I get to watch their reactions to our new releases that I launch at the show. Because of these opportunities, I was able to take this business full time, but I’ve also been able to hire a team of women part time year-round to help make ornaments for gift shops around our area and beyond. In large part, the growth of my business has come from my opportunities and education from ANCA and the Buyer Days show.”

With all the barriers that rural small businesses face, including seasonality, affordable housing shortages, and added challenges accessing capital, it is not easy for makers to build resilience and get their products to market, or for retailers to stay afloat. Together, we can make things a little easier for them. You don’t have to be a chamber of commerce director or even know anything about running a small business to be an ambassador for this work in your community.

Here are a few ways you can support your local artisan businesses:

  • – Buy Local. Source as many of your daily necessities and gifts as you can from small, independently-owned businesses. A $20 sale means a lot to a small business. In contrast, $20 spent at a big box store or a giant online retailer is not really noticed or appreciated.
  • – Know someone at your local craft or farmers market who has been growing their business for a year or two and wants to get into local gift shops? Tell us. Tell them about ANCA. We’d love to meet them.
  • – Has someone in your community opened a local gift store and is looking to source more local products? Invite them to the 2025 Adirondack Buyer Days. Ask them to pull up their calendar and add the show dates while you are talking. Next year’s show will take place March 5-6, 2025 at the Saratoga Springs City Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
  • – Visit and share our show web page: www.adirondack.org/adirondack-buyer-days.
  • – Join our monthly newsletter so you can be up to date on future shows and other opportunities for retailers and creative entrepreneurs.
  • – Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube (or all of the above!).
  • – Support the show and ANCA’s work by becoming a member.
  • – Become a show sponsor. Contact us at events@adirondack.org to support next year’s show.

 

ANCA is committed to supporting artisan entrepreneurs across the region. Here are a few ways we will continue to do that:

  • – Continue hosting Adirondack Buyer Days for years to come.
  • – Keep Adirondack Buyer Days accessible to very small businesses and newcomers by seeking show sponsorships and other forms of financial and in-kind support.
  • – Continue providing support for business owners looking to get into wholesaling.
  • – Expand technical assistance programming to meet emergent business owner needs with the support of our partners.
  • – Celebrate local businesses by sharing their stories and connecting them with each other.
  • – Be kind and real about the difficulties small businesses face in our rural region.

In March, ANCA was thrilled to welcome vendors and retailers from across the region at our 38th Adirondack Buyer Days show. As we are every year, we were heartened and inspired by the entrepreneurial energy that filled the Saratoga Springs City Center. We love watching and listening as these creative entrepreneurs share stories and tips with each other and connect with buyers who are curious about their handiwork and the people and processes behind it.

Photo at top: ANCA staff at the 2024 Adirondack Buyer Days event. All photos provided by ANCA.

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ANCA is building prosperity across northern New York. Our programs and partnerships focus in these areas: ANCA Center for Pandemic Response, Entrepreneurial Economy, Food Systems and Energy.




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