Interview with Kristen Amanda founder and owner of Manda Mudd.
Today we’re going to interview someone who has been in her industry for many years and has capitalized on all forms of marketing: tv, newspaper, magazine publications, radio and of course exhibiting in trade shows. We’ll ask her questions regarding her product and mostly get her insight into best practices, advice and tips of exhibiting in trade shows. We will also dig out of her, her best and worst experiences while being an exhibitor—you don’t want to miss it!
The exciting answer to our first question for Kristen is a blog post in itself! I believe her answer is a GREAT overview of the reason WHY you exhibit in a trade show along with all the benefits of doing so. You will get wrapped up in her story and at the least smile, if not shout for joy with her, as she sets her story up.
Next week we will go more in depth into the specific questions we would like her to answer as we know it will definitely help you and your business!! (Sign up below to make sure you're on the list for this 2nd part of Kristen and Manda Mudd's interview).
To give you background, Kristen is an artist and entrepreneur; painting, designing, and consulting for both residential and commercial clients.
Having served the design industry since 1977, her work has led her to a national and international clientele including Dayton-Hudson Corporation, Andersen Windows, Seagate Technologies, Target Corporation, and Pella Windows. Kristen has acted as an Artist-in-residence for several educational institutions and has received recognition and numerous awards for Manda Mudd.
Kristen Amanda launched Manda Mudd, bringing previously “pro-only” painting techniques to the soon to boom “Do-It-Yourself” market. Now celebrating its 20th year on the retail market, Kristen is pleased to share her product, Manda Mudd, with all those who love to Do-it-Themselves.
This do-it-yourself technique is so easy that Manda Mudd lives by the mantra...
Applying Manda Mudd is so easy, a child can do it!
Step 2 is applied with a trowel, creating color contrast and visual texture.
Step 3 is applied with the same trowel, giving your walls beautiful depth and complexity. You will need only a standard paint roller, tray, masking tape, and drop cloths.
Let’s start here with part 1 of our interview…
Q: When did you first exhibit in a Trade Show?
It was The MINNEAPOLIS Home and Garden Show, in what they call The BIG ONE in the Spring of 2000.
By that time I had been a mural painter for twenty six years. I’d built a respectable reputation doing work in some of the most luxurious homes and business spaces in the country. For the previous two years I’d been preparing my plaster finish product; Manda Mudd, for introduction to the newly booming DIY Market, spurned by HGTV, which was at that time just in its infancy but quickly taking root in American culture.
I found my manufacturer; Hirshfield's, a one hundred year old family owned business, who had assured me they could manufacture my product to meet demand.
And, I had an appointment with the buyer for their 30 plus retail stores across the Midwest.
The Spring Minneapolis Home and Garden Show was to take place just one week after my presentation to the buyer at Hirshfield's, and The Home and Garden Show would be the perfect venue for me to launch my product and direct customers to my wonderful Minnesota retailer!
Certain that this meeting would be a success, I booked a ten by ten booth in the show, splurging on the extra cost of a corner booth so I could get the attention of people coming from all directions.
I would market my product at the show, lead customers to Hirshfield's and the orders would come flooding in, making Hirshfield's and me rich!
Isn’t that how these fairy tale beginnings work?
I was just putting the finishing touches to my packaging and marketing materials in preparation for printing; (which was in those days far more complicated, as the world was not yet familiar with digital printing.)
I would print all of Hirshfield's locations in my brochure which I would hand out to attendees at the show along with small handmade color samples of my product.
The day of my meeting with the buyer arrived. On my way inside, I ran into the owner Hans Hirshfield; he’d been so gracious and welcoming, I was then led down a maze of hallways to the buyer's office feeling confident and excited to begin this amazing journey.
I showed “Dave” my samples, the mockups of my packaging for the plaster and the Application Kit that would be sold to the customer along with the plaster.
They had prepared a wall in the back of their shipping docks for me to demonstrate how the plaster would be applied by the consumer who might have little or no plastering experience.
After my demonstration “Dave” seemed impressed.
The other people he’d invited to see my demonstration were quite amazed.
How quickly and simply I had transformed a flat uninteresting wall into what looked like a wall from a centuries old Italian villa!
There were BIG smiles all around, a few questions, some folks wanted to try it themselves; I handed them the trowel...
Oohs and aahs followed.
Dave and I walked back to his office. I was so happy, this had all gone even better than I’d expected!
...and then his answer.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’re ready, and even if you were your product probably belongs in Home Depot, and if you’re in Home Depot we don’t want you in our stores, we can’t compete with Home Depot.”
I was dumbfounded.
“But, I don’t want to be in Home Depot!” I said.
(No offense to Home Depot, but that’s a story for another blog)
“...and I have a booth in the Home and Garden Show, I want to tell everyone at the show that they can visit your stores and buy my Manda Mudd!”
I left after much discussion and futile attempts at changing his mind, completely deflated, discouraged and demoralized.
The show was just a week away.
Two days before the show, I went to the convention center to see where I was to set up. I was in awe of all the fancy signage and towering walls that some of the large companies had erected in their giant forty by sixty foot booths. Everything was so polished and professional.
I was suddenly terrified.
What was I getting myself into?
I didn’t have the glam or glitz that all these other guys had, would I just be a laughing stock?
Twenty six years, my great reputation, everything I’d built down the drain in three days at a trade show!
And then to my horror...kitty corner from my booth was Hirshfield's booth, my manufacturer, but more importantly, the retailer who had just turned me down!
What was I to do now?
I had a product.
A really great product!
My booth was already paid for.
My brochures were ready to print, but I couldn’t list the retailers that would carry Manda Mudd, because I had NO RETAILERS!
It was too late to turn around now.
I would fly by the seat of my pants,
pretend I knew what I was doing
and I would fake it till I make it!
The night before the show, I plastered the walls of my booth with my Manda Mudd in an earthy shade of green I named “Tommy”.
I had carpet purchased, and I would furnish my booth with antiques to look like a room in a home.
I may not have the wow factor of the big guys, but my booth would be warm and charming.
With my easel out at the corner of the booth I could demonstrate how to use Manda Mudd, and I had large samples on display of the twelve colors I was offering so people could see and touch the finished plaster.
The first day of the show I stood all day demonstrating, answering questions and LEARNING.
I learned so much about my potential customer that I didn’t know: what their reservations were in using a product like mine, their fears, their tastes, their needs and challenges, and what problems Manda Mudd could solve. I learned their desires for their home environments, what made my product interesting to them, what price they were willing to pay and what colors they yearned to see.
It was exhilarating and fun to see the enthusiasm people had for Manda Mudd and how delighted people were by the idea that they could do this themselves.
Then Alan, one of the guys manning the Hirshfield's booth came over to see what was drawing such big crowds around my booth. He immediately recognized me, as I’d been a customer of Hirshfield's for over thirty years. “Kristen, what are you doing here? What is this product you're demonstrating?”
I went through my demonstration and answered his questions, and just like everyone else that day, he was really jazzed about how easy it was to use and how great it looked!
“Where are you selling this?” He asked.
I didn’t really want to say I had no retailers yet, so I said,
“Well, Hirshfield's is my manufacturer!”
“Wow, that’s great! When will it be in our stores?” He asked.
I then admitted my situation and said I was still looking for retailers.
The second day of the show Alan came by the booth again bringing with him another guy from Hirshfield's.
“Hey Kristen, this is Mike, Show him how your plaster finish works.”
I did my demonstration and Mike just stood with his arms folded and remained rather quiet for a moment, then he said, so who did you talk to at corporate about your plaster?”
I told him how I’d demonstrated Manda Mudd to “Dave” and a few others. “What did they say” he asked. I told him how “Dave” felt I didn’t belong in Hirshfield's, that I might be better suited to Home Depot. He was again quiet, arms still folded at his chest. Then he calmly spoke,
“Well, I’m Dave’s boss and I want this in our stores NOW!”
It would be another six months before I finally launched Manda Mudd in Hirshfield's.
All the things that I learned by doing the Home and Garden show BEFORE my product went to market changed how I finally presented Manda Mudd when it launched in the stores.
The show taught me what my customer needed to know about Manda Mudd in order to make the decision to purchase it.
I knew ahead of time what my customers' questions would be and was able to design the answers right into the packaging and marketing materials.
I learned what changes I could make to my packaging that would assist my customer in using Manda Mudd once they got it home.
And, I learned that twelve colors wasn’t enough, I needed more options for my customers, so I created thirty more colors to the collection, bringing the total to forty-two!
It was a blessing in disguise to have “Dave” turn me down, he did me a big favor, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for what seemed at the time like a big blow to my confidence and my future.
If you have a great idea, I recommend you take your idea out onto the floor of a trade show and directly to your customer.
Talk face to face with those you hope to win as customers, ask them lots of questions and then
listen, listen, listen.
You’ll get the greatest free education from your customers and they’ll possibly save you many times what you spent to be in the show, and then some!
The greatest gift is that by taking the time to talk to your customers, getting to know them, who they are and what matters to them and showing them that you care; you will build lasting relationships and have loyal customers who care about you and the success of your business for a lifetime.
Thank you to Kristen Amanda and Manda Mudd for this information. If you have any questions for Kristen please feel free to post below in the comments section and we’ll get her answers posted as quickly as possible.
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