After the big schlep to get susyjack* to the National Stationery Show, I mentioned that I would blog about my experiences. But, what I didn't realize was that the experience was really so much more than just "The Big Show". So, after thinking about it a little bit, I thought I'd break the post up into three parts....the pre-show, the during show, and the post-show. Hopefully, that will be more helpful to anyone who reads this and is thinking about participating. Keep in mind, I'm in no way the national stationery show expert... but the first time counts for a lot.
Deciding to Participate
The first step in participating in the show is registering. A big commitment, both financially and personally. Think about this very early...Before you take the plunge. The smallest booths sell out quick, and spots need to be reserved well (months!) ahead of the show. Check the NSS website or give them a call, and make a note of when spots are going on sale.
Before you register, there are a few things you should consider, because you will spend lots of time and money on the effort. Before the show, there is lots of buzz on blogs about people participating, and it's easy to feel like "Oh my God. I should be there, too!" But, keep in mind, participating is a business decision, and has nothing to do with how people see you, or how legitimate you are as a creative businessperson.
1. Are you really committed to your business, enough that the dedication of time and money will be an investment that makes sense?
2. Are you willing to see the show as an experiment, and not take it personally if it Anthropologie doesn't come running, rabid for your items, into your booth?
3. Are you prepared for ancilliary costs? Because there will be lots of them... from shipping, to booth decorations, to hotel to weird last-minute purchases from a stressful NYC Staples.
4. Are you willing to ask other people for advice and reach out to those who might help you get a handle on preparations?
PREPARING TO PARTICIPATE.
I was speaking with someone else you may know who participated in NSS the other day, and she had something really interesting to say... to paraphrase, "The show is actually much longer than 4 days. It's really what you do before, during and after". Her concept is that you should be able to extend the show experience well beyond the actual 4 days you're there...and actually, business-wise, this makes a lot of sense. It's a big investment, and it pays to squeeze every last drop that you can out of it.
Booth Location Assignment + Show Contract
NSS/GLM Show Management will send you a contract with your booth number, your payment due, and a map of where your booth will be located. Look at this carefully. If you get a booth, and you don't like where it's located, ask for a switch by calling and speaking to someone in person before signing the contract. While it may not be possible to switch spots, it will NEVER be possible if you don't speak up. Throughout this whole process, remember, you have to be your own advocate.
Your Show Plan Schedule
It's important to set deadlines for yourself and meet them. The reasons for this are manifold, you'll cut down on stress, carve out time to address any random stuff that pops up, and be buttoned up come showtime. Things you might want to consider adding to the timeline are below:
Your Collection / Production and Inventory
What you show is up to you. No one's going to walk into your booth and tell you you don't have enough, or the right kind of items. There will be lots of paper people at NSS, but also lots of people who own more widely based retail venues. Respect the show...don't show up with a booth full of handbags or potted plants. But, you can also add in some other items that you might feel are appropriate parts of the collection.
In the best case scenario, you will prepare your set of items and all of their packaging way in advance (at least a month and a half), so that you can include images and information about these products in your collateral surrounding the show...advertising, postcards, catalogues, price-lists. The trick is to create desire BEFORE you get there. Because the show is big, it's best to have people show up already looking for your booth than to expect that they'll just 'discover you.'
A common misconception is that you need an entirely new collection to debut at the show. This is the bucket I fell into. But, if your time is limited, you might consider adding a few new designs, and also showing off what you've already got. If you've been selling in a limited way thus far (through etsy, locally) chances are, that buyer from Papyrus isn't going to know about you yet, so even if you consider your items 'last year's news'...there is probably some merit to showing them, if you still have inventory and can work them in in a cohesive way.
Also remember, you need to decide how much to print up for the orders you're hoping to get! Most buyers are willing to wait a little while to receive their first orders. But, you ought to be prepared to let them know your lead time up front.
Your 'Extended Network'
If you have been on the Etsy/Trunkt/Handmade/Indie Design or Blogging circuit, then you know how helpful your peers can be. Many people who are involved in any of these pursuits are open to offering advice about their experiences. Reach out to them, either in the forums, or with a simple email. I posted in the Trunkt fora, asking if anyone had been to/participated in the show, and got some great responses, among them, a generous offer from Anna of Modern Printed Matter, to chat and answer some of my questions. I can't tell you how much this helped to put my mind at ease about some of the tasks I was faced with. It's important to respect that your mentors won't tell you everything, like who their vendors are, or how to print up your items...they've worked hard to find those sources-- but they will be able to tell you what to expect, and maybe, offer a few valuable how-to's.
PRE SHOW PR
As mentioned up above, it really pays to let people know that you are going to be there. The show is HUGE and even if your paper is going to save the world one day, people may not find you if they don't already know you are there. Advertising and generating some excitement before you get there is key. But-- it can get expensive. So, consider targeting your approach.
Your Mailing List
Well before the show (3 or 4 months)...start generating your own list of people/stores who you'd like to visit your booth, and decide how and when you will approach them, pre-show. You might want to send a post card, a sample, or even just a simple email with some images...the more clever you are, the better it will be for you, but, remember that you've got lots of other tasks to manage, so do the best you can. The show also offers 100 free leads to new participants, so make sure you take advantage of that.
Buzz for your Line
If at ALL possible, try to get mentions...meaning, advertising that you haven't paid for. For example, a mention on a great blog, like Design*Sponge, Emma's Designblogg, Indiefixx Modish or Heart Handmade or in a magazine (there's a great article about how to get magazine press here.) The power of recommendation by a trusted source is the one of the best ways to get people over to your booth, and interested in your items.
Purchasing Ad Space
Take a good look at what you need to do: reach the most people possible. If you do consider purchasing ad space, make sure it makes sense. For example, I decided to rent a table online at PoppyTalk Handmade. Jan had the brilliant idea to run a Stationery Show-Themed market in May, called "Paper Pops". So, I jumped at the chance to participate in that. Not only was it perfectly timed to coincide with the show, but for a fraction of the cost of an ad banner on a corporate site, I secured a virtual table and a bio spot. I cannot tell you how many people came into my booth citing PoppyTalk Handmade. Choosing smart advertisers, like bloggers who have established themselves, and have a high level of trust and rapport with their readership-- like Jan-- might garner more than a block of space and help to promote you in a more compelling way. So, find out what the possibilities are, and start inquiring politely and early.
Free Ad Space
NSS will send you lots of email. Don't throw it out without looking at it. Sometimes, the emails will contain info about advertising 'opportunities' that cost an arm and a leg, but sometimes, there will be an opportunity to send material to a periodical looking to feature new vendors and collections in their pages. Take advantage of this. One of the best things I did was to send information to Stationery Trends, after I had seen them mentioned in an NSS newsletter. A month later, I got a call from their editor, and they had selected susyjack* for a feature in their 'fresh picks' section. Not to mention, the first day of the show, this editor gave a talk on trends, and further mentioned my items to her guests, along with a slide of the work. Great publicity for me, and didn't cost any more than my time.
Your Collateral and Web Presence
Don't forget to schedule in printing up business cards and price-lists or catalogues, or even little takeaway gifts for your booth. If you can't afford, or don't want to print a catalogue, a pricelist will work just fine. However, if you are only giving out a pricelist, make sure there is a way for potential buyers to revisit your items-- either by giving them a sample, or by taking their card and sending them a pdf of your items, or, by creating a website with images of your products on it. Buyers are visual people, and it helps to have images they can look at, even after the show.
Easy, out of the box ways to create a web factor are:
Big Cartel ( a great and affordable way to set up a quick storefront and ecommerce site)
ISSUU a new ...FREE...service which can take a pdf and convert it into an online book (saves paper and $$!) view examples here
GLM and their set-up company, Freeman offers info on what you need to do to build out your booth. But, it's CONFUSING and, I found, more stressful than it's worth to try and read. So, take all of their legal and fine print with a big grain of salt. Basically, you are renting a space, and you can do whatever you like with it. As long as you can get it there.
Designing , Planning, and Furnishing your Booth:
Things worth considering. Before you go too crazy planning your booth to perfection, be sure to consider it's feasibility as a temporary structure:
1. Do you want to reuse your booth at another show-- will you need to dismantle and ship it back home or elsewhere?
2. What is your budget for shipping the booth items to the show?
3. How much merchandise do you have?
4. How can you create a space that shows off your products while telling a story about what your company is really all about?
Remember, people are ultimately there to buy your products, not your booth. So, it's important to create an environment that not only shows off your items, but also creates a great environment for visitors to enter into. Your furniture, props, layout and signage will tell a great story for you if you consider them in advance. There are lots of great ways to decorate...some choose fabric to hang as walls, others choose foam-cor board to create a hard-walled effect (great if you want to use shelves) and others truck in their own walls (peg board for example). The more involved your walls and decor are, the more they cost to ship, and the more difficult they will be to set up...so, you might want to do a test-run with some materials at home before you get to the show. In fact, I highly recommend that. There is nothing worse than planning to use gorilla glue, finding out it won't hold, then running around NYC to find another option. So, test out all your structural items for durability before they ship out.
Again, don't throw out the NSS Newsletters and Emails. They often have great deals on carpet, walls and show services to consider.
Functionality of your Booth
Your booth needs to work and do a job for you, as well as look great. Technically, it's your home away from home, so make sure it's a comfortable space to be in, and to make sales from.
For example, you will want a place to write orders, and to lay your items flat. People love to pull stuff off the walls and look at it more closely, planning the look for their retail venue, so be sure to have a table, or some sort of surface available. You will need also need a place to sit down. Standing all day is hard. Four days of standing; nigh impossible. Consider 2 chairs. One for you, one for your guests. Also, you will need storage. Your coat, purse, food, cell phone, whatever you need for the day isn't of interest to potential customers...plan to have an out-of-sight spot to keep these things in. Many people with smaller booths have a surface that does double duty, for example, a table with cabinets underneath.
Getting it there
Items that can't be carried in by you on a luggage wheelie will have to be shipped or freighted, and loaded in from the back of the Javitz by the employees of the center. Don't worry-- as long as your stuff is shipped on time, and you have labeled the items correctly with the label templates GLM provides, you'll show up to set up, and your stuff will be there...waiting magically for you in your booth. You have the option to ship right to the show, or to send stuff to the Freeman holding center and have them bring it over for you.
All of the walls, carpeting, etc. can either be brought in by you, or purchased prior through a GLM/Freeman associate which includes installation by the Javitz set up crew. I chose the latter, so when I showed up, there was my black carpet and white walls, all set up, waiting to be decorated with my paper, furniture, and shelving.
Installation occurs show-wide over 3 or 4 days on a tiered basis-- meaning, that your items won't be delivered to your booth until the day you are cleared by GLM/Javitz to start setting up. The largest booths (like Martha Stewart, Hallmark, etc) are given the most time..3 or 4 days to set up..they are huge productions and almost like stores in and of themselves. Smaller booths are given 1-2 days for set-up. Looking at your show floorplan will help you determine, by booth number, when you should be able to get in and get started.
A note about sharing booth space:
Although GLM/NSS technically doesn't really allow it, they will consider it. But, unless you are sharing with a group of organized individuals who you have known for a while, or a group in which you are being sales-represented, you should think VERY carefully about whether or not to share a space to save money. Keep in mind how much organizing it takes to present yourself visually and personally at the show, and ask yourself if you can handle the risk of sharing that responsibility with an x factor. If you do select to co-own a booth, it pays to plan ahead, and create an overarching plan for how you and your roomate will tackle the task. Setting up a schedule with deadlines will help to build trust, and if your co-pilot isn't meeting or responding to the deadlines you've both established....you know what you need to do.
Finally, just a note about staying in NYC during the show-- it's expensive (duh, right?). If you're not a go-go-go party animal, consider indulging in a hotel room that will be a comfortable retreat for you. You might even want to see if other new attendees want to share a room or suite and split cost. As far as housing yourself, there are lots of ways to skin the proverbial cat, but remember, this is a high energy event, requiring you to be 'on' for several days. Make sure you have a place to stay where you will wake up at your best. You need to be fresh faced and ready to make great use of the time you are at the Javitz. Getting enough sound sleep, enough to eat and time in a quiet personal space is a good way to ensure this.
Okay. That's it for now. I'll return next week or shortly thereafter with a DURING SHOW post. : )
UPDATE: Read that post HERE