Indie Beauty Expo: Our Experience, Learnings, & Tips

Indie Beauty Expo: Our Experience, Learnings, & Tips - Three Ships

Since attending Indie Beauty Expo (IBE) in LA in January, our inbox and DM's have been flooded with questions about how we prepared, our booth design, who we met, what we'd recommend, etc. We thought we'd kill 12094810 birds with 1 stone (so to speak) with a handy guide on our experience with IBE. Read below for tips we learned from displaying our former brand NIU BODY at IBE, before we rebranded to Three Ships.

Preparation Timeline

IBE LA was held this year on January 23-24 at the California Market Center. Here is a detailed breakdown of when we started preparing for each step along the way.

July (6 months out)

  • Signed up for a 6x6 tabletop booth. By signing up early, we were able to secure a prime spot in the showroom. We requested a corner booth within walking distance of the beautiful flower wall, meaning we got foot traffic coming from two aisles in a busy area.

three ships glow jojoba oil serum

Our Glow Serum ft. the beautiful flower wall!

October (4 months out)

  • Booked flights
  • Came up with our initial booth concept. Here are a few tips that we found useful when designing our booth:
    •  Simple is best. Your booth should aim to be 40% empty space. We actually emailed IBE and let them know that we didn't need a table.
    • For small booths, your backdrop is the main focal point, so make sure it leaves an impression. Try to have a short tagline that people will remember.
    • Design with 3 colors max.
    • Use "real world" materials if you can. We purchased foam tiles with a wood panel design to elicit feelings of warmth and comfort (and also saved our feet after standing all day!)
    • Fabric is really practical - it's lightweight, easy to ship, and really easy to set up / take down.

indie beauty expo three ships beauty

Our booth's color scheme was white, light pink, and brown (wood tiles)

 November (3 months out)

  • A useful recommendation one of our mentors gave us was to research the retailers attending the event. Once IBE released the extensive list, I spent hours reviewing each retailer and separating the retailers into Tiers A, B and C (based on how crucial it was for us to approach them). 
  • Purchased booth décor and signage (e.g. foam floor tiles, brochure holders, sign holders, etc.)

December (1.5 - 2 months out)

  • Rented furniture for our booth. We rented the larger items that would be difficult for us to carry/purchase ourselves, such as shelving and cocktail tables.
  • Designed printed materials (e.g. brand information pamphlets, price lists, product catalogs, etc.)
  • Designed and ordered our backdrop.

indie beauty expo three ships beauty

Laura on Day 1, ready for press and consumers to swing by!

January (1 - 2 weeks out)

  • Shipped products and other bulky items to LA to be delivered to our booth the day of. We used the service Flatrate.
  •  Ordered the printed materials
  • Signed up for a temporary seller's permit
  • Emailed and Instagram DM'd all of our Tier A and B retailers
  • Arrived in LA 2 days before the show, which allowed us time to adjust to the time difference and get our bearings.

indie beauty expo connie lo laura burget three ships beauty

We couldn't have been happier leaving our Canadian winter for sunny LA!

Why We Chose to Attend IBE

Before attending Indie Beauty Expo, we poured many hours into researching the show. We'd previously attended smaller trade shows, and didn't garner as much awareness or impact from them, so we wanted to make sure we were spending our resources wisely. We messaged as many brands who had attended in the past as possible, looked at photos of past shows, and researched past attendance of press and retailers. We also recognized that a large portion of our customer base lives in the West Coast, so it'd be valuable to get direct feedback from retailers and shoppers in the area. Finally, well, hot California vs snowy, record-breaking cold weather in January. Do we really need to explain?

Arrival and Setting Up

We arrived in LA a day and a half before the start of the show. Usually, when we travel we opt to stay in Airbnbs, not only does this give us more of a true “local” experience but we find that you can actually stay in nicer spaces for cheaper! Highly recommend! The place that we picked out in LA was literally just down the street from the California Market Center where IBE was being held (probably around a 3 min walk away!). This was perfect as it allowed us to just walk back home to relax after setting up and also meant that we could just walk our booth material over instead of having to load in and out of a cab.

Vintage Modern Lofts Of Downtown Los Angeles-DTLA3

Our gorgeous loft (where we did yoga together every morning!)

The night that we landed, we did some final prep for the show. Things like making sure that everything in the luggage made it over safely, ironing our fabric backdrop and prepping the folders for the retailers. Anything that needed the final finishing touch! It ended up being amazing weather the next day in LA so we took the afternoon to do a bit of sightseeing! Highly recommend checking out Santa Monica pier - we walked along the (Very) deserted beach, indulged in some amazing tacos and met some super cute puppies. #perfectday

connie lo three ships beauty co-founder

A 5-week old puppy.. we wanted to take him home!

Wednesday it was finally show time! It took us around 3 hours to set everything up fully. Our booth came together extremely well - renting the furniture from the IBE approved vendor as well as bringing wood patterned floor tiles really elevated our booth and gave it a very professional “in store” feel/appearance. 

indie beauty expo los angeles three ships beauty

Our corner booth!

During the Show

IBE is divided into two days (Shop IBE on Wednesday from 2-9pm and Trade IBE on Thursday from 10am-5pm). The first day was reserved for press (though there were also a handful of buyers) as well as general members of the public. It was a steady flow of people but nothing unmanageable. I would say that we spoke with around 20 quality press/larger influencers and made around $300 in consumer sales.

In our case, since we aren’t from California and are still growing our consumer base in the US, we definitely didn’t have extremely high expectations for the shopper portion. Any product that we sold we basically viewed as a bit of an added bonus! Manage your expectations for this part of the show if you are planning on attending. We brought 30 units of our top 5 best sellers and this was more than enough for the Shopper portion + to give to high value retailers. Next time around, we will probably decrease the amount of product that we bring slightly down to 20-25 units for each.

Day 2 was the main event for us! As our primary goal with this show was the open relationships with retailers, this was the day that really mattered for us! We learned our lesson from the first day and opted for comfy shoes instead of heels. This was definitely the right call because Day 2 was non-stop! I don’t think that Connie and I stopped talking for 5 hours straight. The quality of the buyer was exceptional (buyers ranged from single boutique stores all the way to big box stores). Having two of us at the booth was definitely much needed! The layout worked out great as it allowed each of us to be showing the product without getting in each other’s way.

Some of the retailers who we spoke with included:

  • Whole Foods
  • Ulta
  • Pac Sun
  • Dermstore
  • goop

Overall, at the end of Day 2 we were tired but also VERY happy! We also had the opportunity to meet some other bad-ass skincare founders from Honey Belle, Way of Will and Bareme Beauty. The energy throughout the event was electric and we truly felt a sense of community and passion radiating from the IBE staff team and other vendors.

indie beauty expo three ships beauty co-founders connie lo laura burget

All smiles on Day 2!

After the Show

After the show, we took a beautiful train ride up the coast of California to visit friends in San Francisco. During this ride, we set aside around 30 min to do a team debrief on the show (we call them post mortems!). We reviewed what went well, what could have been better and what key learnings were. This is a very useful exercise and one that we would recommend to all teams to do! It helped us to ensure that we are constantly improving.

connie lo three ships beauty co-founder

The coastline made the 10-hour train ride fly by.

Another key task that you need to do after the show is to track for finances. We made an excel spreadsheet where everything was recorded including booth expenses, marketing materials, flights, meals and accommodations. Our total for the show was $10,400 CAD (around half of which was our table top booth cost).

Finally (and perhaps most important!) is the follow up with the contacts that we established at the show. There were three main buckets of people who we spoke with: retail buyers, press/influencers and vendors. Since Connie looks after the retail relationships, she took over the follow-up for the retailers/press and I looked after the follow-up with the vendors/suppliers who approached us. We made sure to send out first touch emails to our contacts within 3 business days of the end of the show. This helps to ensure that our brand is still fresh in the mind of the buyers.

The pay back on the show is still TBD for us, but we’re going to be tracking this closely over the next 3-4 months! Depending on how many accounts we are able to close, we will likely register for IBE NY in the fall.

EDIT: As of 2 weeks out from the show, we have already closed $60,000 CAD in orders so I’d say it’s fairly clear that there has been a pay-back off of our initial $10,400 investment! Likely going to be registering for more IBE shows in the near future!

We hope you found this blog post informative! Let us know in the comments below if you have any comments or questions - we're more than happy to help! :)

- Connie & Laura