Let’s talk about PREP! This is a lengthy post so I’ll get right into it. After I made my deposit to secure my space, I was glued to my computer in search of all things NSS. There was A LOT of everything. Deadlines are crucial so thankfully there is a general Exhibitor Checklist to give you an idea of where to start. Also, the staff at GLM was so helpful, I emailed the sales manager weekly and still keep in touch with her now. (Thanks, Trish!) Preparing for the show pretty much started as soon as I received my confirmation until the last hour before I flew out to NYC. I’m not going to sugar coat it, I was stressed to high hell. I think every exhibitor was and if they weren’t, they’re lying, lol. Here’s a list of pretty much everything I did in 4 months:
A) Book my flight and hotel: I’m lucky my mom is a travel agent so she took care of my plane ticket and even flew me on points. She also found a great hotel less than a 10 minute walk away from Javits that had free WiFi and included breakfast. (This was important! I didn’t have time to search for food every morning and they had free coffee/tea 24/7 too. Thank you, Quality Inn!) Because I was such a keener I didn’t realize move-in dates weren’t announced yet when I gave my mom my flight preferences. I had the option to fly in on Friday to start set up but I, for some reason I will never know, decided that taking a 6am flight would suffice, not thinking I would have to get up at 3am to be at the airport for 4am. What the heck was I on? Next time, I will fly out with one full day to set up just to leave a window for delays — because there were a few. First, US customs took forever and at 5:30am the airport was packed. Then, when I finally ran to the gate like a crazy person, the flight was delayed for 2 hours in Toronto and I was freaking out, it was the long weekend and everything was booked solid. Thankfully, I got to the hotel around noon and had enough time to set up without staying late. Sheesh. Being within walking distance was great, and the cab fees would’ve made up for the pricey rate. This way I didn’t have to rely on transportation and could sleep in before the show started everyday. I had to lug supplies back and forth for setup and teardown too so that was handy. Highly recommend splurging on a close hotel if you can!
B) FREE to-do’s:
- Announced the news on my website and on all social media accounts
- Joined online greeting card/craft groups and followed NSS/fellow exhibitors on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest
- Made a profile on Signature Mix 365, a directory of exhibitors and their products for attendees to preview (I got leads from here so it was very useful)
- Signed up for pre-show webinars (these were very informative and interactive)
- Submitted a Featured Product to be shown on the home page of the show’s website
- Entered the Best New Product Competition under the Paper Love category (I was a finalist out of 500+ entries, what an honour! This entailed creating a 11″x17″ display board after nominations are announced in late April)
There’s a plethora of accessible information on the show’s website under the Exhibitors tab, I was overwhelmed but learned to only read what applied to me and to not scare myself silly. Aside from the booth itself (which I will cover in my next post) I didn’t really know what else I needed. Turns out it wasn’t a lot, but they took a lot of time to finish.
C) PAID outsourced materials:
1) Catalogues: This is what you are leaving behind for potential buyers so you’ll want to allot a few weeks to design this beast. I started too late, missed my FedEx shipping deadline and had to lug the 50 lbs with me to the airport — not fun. It took a month to finalize the 16-pager. I added a ton of new designs to each of my card categories but the most time consuming part was the photos. I use natural lighting so during the gloomy winter days I didn’t get one single usable shot and had to wait for better weather. The booklet comprised of a company and artist bio, best-selling products (I chose 120 cards out of the current 170+ designs) , what’s coming soon (items I wanted to test at the show before committing to produce), ordering/shipping/product/pricing info, order form and of course my contact info (visible on almost every page). I decided to print my booth number on the front cover because I don’t have to call it out elsewhere and future buyers will know the version they have is the one given at the show. I didn’t want to spend more money on stickers, a lot of people do this because they had existing catalogues they could use but I printed these specifically for NSS. I had 200 made and was too conservative in handing them out on the first day of the show so I had a lot left over. I would still recommend printing at least this many because you will need to mail them to follow-ups after, but I would ship them to the hotel ahead of time if I were to do it again and not be so stingy with them in the beginning! I made line sheets as a back up if I ran out of catalogues.
2) Line Sheets: A condensed version of your catalogue on a double-sided lettersize page. Catalogues are heavy and buyers walking the show may not want to lug them around, so this is a great alternative and a more cost effective way for you to direct them to your website or to a virtual catalogue. There were enough people that only wanted to take the line sheets so I’m glad I made them; however, I printed 200 as well and it was also too many. Next time I’ll only print half. Since I have so many designs, I only listed the card categories and product options on the front, and the back with the company and artist bio, and the ordering/shipping/product/pricing info. My contact info is on both sides. A couple of retailers that followed up requested a catalogue and a line sheet so this was a worthy expense.
3) Postcards: These doubled as pre-show mailers and takeaways. I was careful to word it so it could be used as an invite and as a keepsake if you’re picking it up from my booth. I printed 500 and have a bunch left over, but the cost was very reasonable and they were small and light to bring back so I didn’t mind. Only the back is printed with show info so they could be used for future projects. These mailers were effective, a few retailers contacted me for further info and two placed orders at the show. Also, everyone loves snail mail so it’s a nice surprise amongst the stack of bills and everyday flyers. (Check out the awesome Superman stamps!)
4) Business cards: I am always redesigning mine because the curse of being a graphic designer is that the ideas just keep coming. As soon as you think you’ve finalized one that you’re happy with, you think of another design that is even better. I stuck to my “donut ever let me go” theme and printed 500 new cards. I didn’t put my booth number on them so the ones left over wouldn’t expire. When there were lulls at the show, I happily sat down with my pink marker to write the four digits on the back of a handful of cards each time until they were almost gone. Always have your booth number on all printed materials, if you’re hard to find, potential buyers may skip you and opt for other booths. Remember it’s a 3.5-day show and orders might not be placed on the first visit. I’d say there’s maybe less than half left over, but like the postcards they were not expensive, small and lightweight, not to mention a necessity and I’ll use up the remaining cards.
5) Order Forms: I didn’t want to use the Square Reader because it needed internet which is insanely expensive if you purchase a reliable connection from Javits, and I require buyers to pay for shipping so I didn’t want to make live transactions on the show floor. I had 60 custom carbonless order forms made and took 20 with me. These were a must! You don’t want to be writing an order twice because it leaves room for errors and it will take up a lot of time for you and the buyer. You only need a 2-part but could splurge for a 3-part if you want to include another copy when you send out the shipment. I didn’t print the booth number on these because I knew I wouldn’t use up too many. These will be handy for future local orders made in person.
D) Make/Prep SAMPLES of each product (I also created 20 new designs):
- 360 Packaged Cards: one for display, one for back up display and one for potential sample requests. I could’ve done with two copies but better to be safe.
- 3 Packaged Sets of Buttons, Magnets and Keychains and 8 singles of each for display
- 4 of each Tote Bag styles (16 all ironed and 4 filled with cardboard inserts so it would stay flat on the wall)
E) Make and buy GIVEAWAYS because no one refuses freebies:
- I made different designs of buttons and keychains: these were a hit and I branded each one with the show name/year, my booth number and website. They doubled as a promo to my existing buttons and keychains. However, I made too many! But I’ve been trading and giving them out to exhibitor friends after the show so that’s been fun. No big loss, only a few hours of sleep!
- I bought candy: I found the most perfect pastel pink/yellow/blue lollipops that matched my booth colours and people were thankful for the treat. They weren’t expensive and I only had a handful left over… they’re all gone now, lol.
F) Gather SUPPLIES/TOOLS: I put everything I thought I’d need for setup/teardown in a tupperware container and this was an absolute must. I chose a clear plastic box incase security went through my luggage they could see what was inside without dumping everything out. I brought scissors, box cutters, painters tape, masking tape, carpet tape, scotch tape, stapler, elastic bands, screwdriver, wrench, sharpies, zip lock bags, plastic bags, garbage bags, packing string, glue dots, sharpies, pens… you get the point! Things that didn’t fit in the box were extension cords, phone charger, camera, calculators, clipboards and such. I did end up using almost all of these items and wasn’t missing anything — phew.
G) Put together PRESS KITS: Custom presentation folders are expensive so I bought clear cello bags with a reusable seal as my press kit envelopes. These were a saviour because I didn’t have time to (nor wanted to) design a new layout and add another expense to my budget. From the recommended 30, I made 20 and inside were my catalogue, a line sheet, a postcard, a business card, a card sample, a custom pinback button and a small blurb about the company. Nothing fancy but it did the trick because it led press/media to come by. NOTE: The press area was a far walk from my aisle, I only went back once during the whole show to replenish. Next time I would try to go with a booth neighbour the first time so we’d both know where our kits are in the area, then take turns going upstairs to restock them.
- The free webinars I mentioned are a must. There’s a live chat during the slideshow and a Q&A at the end of each session. They go through everything from logistics to what to do if you’re approached by a licensee on the show floor. I got tons of advice and tips about booth setup including lighting, flooring, colour recommendations etc. and even suggestions on how to act the part (don’t eat, use your phone or look bored!).
- I read a super helpful post by These Are Things regarding budget and expenses for their 2013 show. I also emailed Jen afterward to ask follow-up questions and she was awesome. A booth neighbour and I thanked her and Omar in person because we were both so appreciative they were willing to share their secrets! It’s because of them I didn’t print 1000 catalogues, lol.
- I Googled the heck out of the search term “National Stationery Show Booth” to look for inspiring photos. I saved an Ideas folder on my desktop and plopped anything I liked into it for future reference. I gleaned and pieced together what I thought would work for me and made it my own.
- I asked a lot of questions and wasn’t shy about it! The stationery world is full of creative, smart and friendly peeps who once was starting out just like me. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to send an email or fill out a comment box, and lo and behold I’m now really good friends with my fellow exhibitors and we built a great relationship with each other during the entire process! It helps a lot to speak to someone regardless if they’re a veteran or a newbie like yourself, as long as they’re willing to chat with you :)
Of course, if you can, walk the show first. The tickets are a bit pricey but it’s a very worth investment if you plan on exhibiting. I would’ve gained a lot more knowledge if I had the chance to do so, and you’ll meet lots of great people that could help you out. With the help of social media I did connect with a bunch of awesome exhibitors even though I didn’t know a single person before!
That’s the gist of my prep! If I think of anything I missed I will add it as I remember. The booth is its own monster so that will be detailed next in Part 3. I don’t know if this post made things more confusing for you or if it helped, but I welcome any comments or questions! I will reveal costs later as I’ve yet to tally up my receipts and am currently disputing a fee I was charged for at the show. If you’re gleaning for info I hope you can use this post as a guide for what you need based on my experience. Every exhibitor will have done things differently and what worked for me may not work for everyone else, so please keep that in mind ;)