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2014 National Stationery Show! (Part 6: POST-SHOW)

This post marks the last of my six part series about the National Stationery Show.
Here are the quick links to the previous posts:

Part 1: INTRO
Part 2: PREP
Part 3: BOOTH
Part 4: THE SHOW
Part 5: COSTS
And now, Part 6: POST-SHOW

Bottom line, NSS… was it worth it?

Pursuing your own business is always risky, you never know how it’s going to pan out. If you decide to leave your career for it, saying goodbye to a steady paycheque is even more terrifying, especially with a child in the picture so I would not recommend this route unless you have a safety net in place. (I explain why I decided to pursue a work-at-home mom status in Part 1: INTRO). I wouldn’t have been able to pay my bills if it wasn’t for my savings account but even that was dwindling too quickly after you saw my NSS expense report. If you are financially secure and have a plan, go for it. Working for myself is the most gratifying and toughest thing I have ever experienced, next to having my daughter. queenie’s cards is my second baby and I am so relieved I was able to see it strive and succeed (though, slowly but surely) this past year. A gigantic part of this is thanks to NSS — during those three and a half days in New York City, I made countless connections which led me to where I am today. Suffice to say, it was 100% worth it and I would do it again, without question.

Post-Show… now what?

When I arrived back in Toronto, I was in post-show recovery for a few weeks, maybe even months. For such a huge and expensive event, exhibitors planned and worked for months and months and after such an intense build up, it takes some time for you to be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Your brain is still constantly in overdrive:

– Trying to figure out your next steps in that critical window to send thank you notes to everyone you met
– Fill orders to meet your delivery dates
– Respond to potential stockists, clients and mail them catalogues or whatever further info requested at the show
– Research future opportunities that were presented to you but still ongoing
– Restock inventory, rethink or add to product line, change/edit any existing items based on suggestions at the show
– All the while trying to reflect on and take in the entire NSS experience to determine what road you might be headed in the following months

It’s a lot to deal with. I honestly didn’t even think of any scenarios because I went in with no expectations, not because I didn’t believe in myself and my company but because I had no idea what the heck I was doing! I secretly was keeping my fingers crossed for one order, and that to me would’ve meant I succeeded. Thankfully I got more than one! During the summer I worked everyday to keep the momentum going and continuously added stockists to my list. The work never ends, processes are long and gruelling but you have to stick with it. For example, it took half a year for my products to be in a number of stores. I’m still currently working with several companies I met at the show before I can announce them as a stockist. There is a phone book’s worth of paperwork and logistics to sort through before any contracts are signed. You might also need to source new suppliers along the way, test new printers and rethink your product line.  You need an endless amount of patience as a business owner, but let me tell you, it’s worth the wait.

Ask questions… all the time!

The one thing I learned about this entire experience, from the day I quit my job to right now, is that you don’t need a business resume for sole proprietorship. You need to believe in your brand, your products, and what they are worth. I minored in marketing in university but I honestly gleaned more from when I worked retail than any textbook has taught me. This may just be how I work, but I want to tell you incase you work the same way. Be smart with your choices, don’t say yes to everything, and ask questions. That’s what got me through a lot of uncertainty, I bugged the heck out of people who I thought would have answers for me. If they didn’t, they would no doubt offer valuable advice I didn’t think to ask. Always ask questions!

Where I am now… hello 2015!

There is always more work to do, even though I’ve had a tremendous amount of positive results this past year, I’m eons away from where I’d like to be. This is only the beginning and the overwhelming feeling never leaves. My brain is still always thinking and until the company is somewhat self-sufficient, I have to keep working and learning. I’m still an amateur in this small biz world and there is so much I have to go through before I can put my feet up and have that assistant I pine for (lol). Everything has been a lot of trial and error and that changes all the time. Everyone you work with is different and you will have to adapt accordingly. You will change. Your products will change. It’s an ongoing process and I’ve had so many headaches along the way, but it has also been the greatest journey and I cannot believe I’m on my second year! Here is my short to do list off the top of my head:

– Right now, I’m in the design phase with a top secret company that I cannot wait to announce if all things go well.
– I have to finish my 2015 catalogue for current and potential retailers, I’m uber behind because the holiday rush was insane.
– Valentine designs are underway, I’m late because of said holiday insanity.
– Re-evaluating my products because I want to add onesies and tshirts to the mix! And mugs, y’all love mugs.
– I have to get my tax documents ready… my accountant is going to hate me, there is a lot to sort through.
– I’m still not finished editing the hundreds of photos from my shoot a month ago, my website is in need of an update ASAP.
– I’m researching more Toronto shows to participate in because my first one was such a success. In the meantime, I’m signed up for OOAK (info below) and I hope to see you there!

Upcoming event:

ONE OF A KIND SPRING SHOW
March 25-29, 2015
Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place in Toronto ON

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2014 National Stationery Show! (Part 5: COSTS)

The nitty gritty of it all — the cost of NSS (for queenie’s cards, anyway).

I already posted the cost details of everything booth related in Part 3 and I’ve elaborated (or, ranted) on specifics about prep (flight, hotel, catalogues, line sheets, order forms and marketing materials) in Part:2, all so I could summarize the cost breakdowns in this chart:

So there you have it! $11,356.54 is the (approximate) total I spent on my 2014 National Stationery Show experience. Yowza.

The hotel fee really ate into my budget, I’ve made a ton of New Yorker friends since the show so if I were to ever exhibit again I would love to cross this expense off my list! I was lucky I could at least fly on points.

The booth, well, there’s tons I could have done differently now that I’ve had my first experience. But honestly, looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing because it worked out so smoothly and I know if I attempted to put anything together on my own it would’ve been a disaster.

Shipping costs was more than I estimated, as I mentioned before, I will 100% plan a month ahead of all self-given deadlines so I can ground ship all materials. It was a pain in the arse to lug to and from the airport too, what a mess!

Inventory costs included all cellophane sleeves for the cards, press kits, tote bags, buttons/magnets/keychains, and of course the cards themselves (I brought 3 of each design with me but printed extras for orders).

Marketing materials: I got a great deal for my business cards and postcards (no tax and free shipping), I’m happy with my order forms because I can use them for future orders, but I spent way too much on catalogues and line sheets. I printed/purchased 100 too many of each and now they’re obsolete. I was paranoid I would run out so I handed them out sparingly, but next time I would give one to anyone who would want to take it and I’d leave extras at my booth for after hours incase suppliers were walking the show when it was closed.

I cabbed from the airport to my hotel (and back) because I had too much luggage to bother with the subway. Flying into JFK wasn’t the most convenient but it was the only flight I could get with my points so I made do. I didn’t even think to see if there were any shuttle buses available until I went back to NYC with the hubs last month and he looked into one — though we flew into Newark the round trip ticket was only $30. Argh.

Food in NYC is pricey. Thankfully, breakfast was included with my hotel stay (such a saviour!) but a boxed chicken sandwich in Javits cost $10 — so relieved I took fruit and bagels with me from breakfast everyday. Needless to say I didn’t eat much for lunch, especially because I didn’t eat in my booth and after a big breakfast I was ok until the evening. I did splurge on dinner and desserts, I told myself I earned it after each long day at the show. I went out with my new NSS friends every night and we had a blast, from Shake Shack to fancy sushi restaurants, it was totally worth it. Next time I would bring a crap ton of snacks though, just to have on hand at the airport, hotel and at the booth. Having a water bottle was key!

Other miscellaneous purchases added up too, I had to buy a $20 US data phone plan but went over anyway because I was already speaking with local retailers after the first day, I cabbed to and from dinner a few times because I don’t know my way around the city, and I bought gifts and souvenirs which isn’t technically in my budget (shhh).

All in all, over half a year later I still feel good about every purchase and I’m really curious what my expense report would be if I exhibit again. I would like to eventually, but for 2015 I’m concentrating on local Toronto shows now that I’ve reached a wide range of stockists, all thanks to the contacts and connections I’ve made at NSS! It was an absolute surreal adventure and I loved every bit of it! Next up is Part 6: Post-Show — what the heck has been going on since I’ve come back!

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2014 National Stationery Show! (Part 4: THE SHOW)

To avoid another post-less month, I will make this one uber easy — in bullet form! Diving right into Part 4: THE SHOW!

All is calm an hour before doors open to the public

GETTING READY FOR SHOWTIME:

  • Dress comfortably and wear comfy shoes even if you have soft flooring, ultimately you’ll be standing all day so your feet will get sore, but ease the pain and don’t wear heels.
  • Eat breakfast! Use the restroom, fill up your water bottle and bring snacks because you’ll be stuck in your booth all day.
  • Hide all of your belongings and extra supplies — the IKEA storage boxes did wonders.
  • Arrive early every morning to tidy, organize your supplies (catalogues, business cards etc.) and to see if anything fell overnight.
  • Put 20 press kits in the media room but save some for your booth as well, buyers will ask if they didn’t get a chance to go upstairs.
  • BREATHE :)
queenies cards_nss booth 1369

Day 1!

THE SHOW:

  • Don’t eat or use your phone in your booth. Water bottles are ok if you take quick sips, but a big no no to coffee cups. It looks uber unprofessional.
  • Smile like you mean it!
  • Don’t ask for business cards if they don’t offer or seem like they’ll give one to you. Offer an email sign up sheet so attendees can voluntarily give you their info (a lot of people ran out of cards and others who weren’t buyers wanted to stay in touch for possible future projects).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I had no idea what dropship meant, haha!
  • Take retailers’ suggestions and follow up with them after the show, especially if you adjusted products based on their advice.
  • Staple all business cards you receive in a notebook and jot down everything you can remember about the person(s) and the convo you just had. Do this immediately after they leave your booth. You will talk to so many people, you’ll need help remembering who you met!
  • Lead retrieval is not necessary. It felt pretty invasive when vendors in the supply side asked to scan me… it was weird. Then I got a bunch of spam mail after the show, and I’m still removing my email from lists to this day.
  • Don’t be too conservative with freebies and catalogues, or anything you intend on giving away; I had a ton left over!
  • Don’t stand around and be awkward. Do something. Leave some mundane tasks to do when you don’t have visitors, like writing your booth number on your business cards or putting together press kits.
  • Have two chairs/stools, one for you and one for the buyer. You’ll need a decent writing surface to calculate your order totals, and the buyer will appreciate the chance to sit and organize themselves.
  • Rope off your booth with a simple piece of string/tape as a friendly “do not enter” signal. The illusion of a fenced off space helped but some people are jerks and will steal. The most important thing to remember at the end of each day is to bring all documents with you, especially order forms with client/credit card info. I didn’t put away my colourful pens and freebies the first night so people took them! Put away anything you don’t want people to snag because they will help themselves!
  • Dress how you want to represent your brand, some people looked like they were in uniform and others were mostly casual but still put together.
  • I had the most buyers visit me on the second day. The first day was more about visits from bloggers, students and press, but because Day 2 was a work day the buyers were on the clock and stuck around longer. I sat a lot more because you could tell when there was going to be lulls (usually after 3pm). This was when exhibitors had a chance to take breaks, mingle and walk the aisles.
  • If you want a swag bag from the Paper Party, arrive uber early!
  • Walk Surtex if you get the chance.
  • Soak it all in, you’re in New York City with your own booth at the National Stationery Show! What what!

Manny Stone taking everything down

TEAR DOWN:

  • A lot of people wanted to bolt out of there, but take your time and try to salvage what you can
  • Pack wisely, if you’re checking bags keep in mind the max weight limit your airline allows. Maybe bring a small postal scale to avoid paying for extra fees when you’re at the airport.
  • Don’t forget anything, bring your packing list and cross off all of the things you want to take back home.
  • Say goodbye to all of your awesome neighbours!

TOP QUESTIONS FROM BUYERS:

  1. What is your opening minimum?
  2. What is the cost per card?
  3. Are you the artist?
  4. What is your turnaround?
  5. What is your printing process?
  6. Where are you based?
  7. When did you start the company?
  8. What is your thought process for the designs?

NEXT TIME (things I would do differently):

  • Arrive one full day before my scheduled setup to avoid airport drama
  • Bring less catalogues and line sheets
  • Spend more time on pre-show mailers
  • Display more prints
  • Ship heavy supplies to the hotel ahead of time (!!!)
  • Work on the catalogue many many months ahead of printing deadline
  • Figure out less expensive wall/shelving options (even though Manny Stone did an amazing job, it was really pricey)

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Meeting everyone in person after months of chatting online!
  • Hanging out with Michelle from Chelleline and Bambs from Think and Ink Studio — Ladies, you made my entire show experience superbly fantastical. It’s because of you two that I had such an amazing time. Love you both!
  • Getting orders (not going to lie) and having a booth led me to a bunch of new projects I can’t wait to share with you. Yes, it takes a while post-show for the ball to get rolling and to see the ROI, but so far it’s proven to be worthwhile.
  • Exhibiting at NSS was honestly a dream come true. Never did I think it would be my first show, and a successful one at that!

Mission complete!

And there you have it folks, a very abbreviated version of my take on NSS (because I started writing in complete sentences and it was way too long!). Feel free let me know if you have any questions or comments, whatsoever! Next up, Part 5: The Cost Breakdown!

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2014 National Stationery Show! (Part 3: BOOTH)

Before After

I have never designed a booth before. I had no idea how to go about this and was completely flustered. I was on a tight budget and had lots of limitations since I had to ship and rent all of my components. The “before” photo above is all that the standard 10′ x 6′ booth package comes with, so there was a lot of work to be done! Initially, I was going to stick to the simple pipe and drape that’s included, but the curtains provided are black and I couldn’t make it work with my brand colours. With help from a former coworker who is a tradeshow manager, we looked at options that were more cost effective such as corrugated cardboard displays for the back wall, but that still left the two side walls to be black. These drawings below were created during the first sketch up phases:

Stationary with Requested Ikea FurnitureV2 Left view

Stationary with Requested Ikea FurnitureV2 Right side view

To have two white side walls, I then contemplated bringing my own fabric but the set-up manual is strict on flame-proofing and that was a headache in itself:

…booth equipment must be made of a non-flammable material. All decorative materials must be fire resistant and in accord with the standards established by the National Board of Fire Underwriters. Certificates attesting to the fact that all materials referred to above have been flameproofed in accordance with Section C-19-161.1 must be notarized and submitted upon request. Flameproofing which is not in accordance with the Atlantic City, NJ Administrative Code is a violation and unacceptable.

Ummm, yea, didn’t want to go down that route. It also states that exhibitors are not allowed to handle heavy equipment or tools:

…Any exhibitor or his full time employees may set up and take down “pop-up” displays, provided they are no longer than 10 feet, and can be handled by one person using no tools and completing the job within 1/2 hour. Exhibitors are allowed to unpack and repack their own product (if in cartons, not cases or crates). They can carry into their booth merchandise that one person can hand carry in. This does not mean that if an exhibitor has 50 cartons in a truck, he can make 50 trips to his booth.

It wasn’t possible for me to make and ship my own walls anyway but really, even if I was allowed to do as I please in my space, I wouldn’t know how to put walls up. This left me with the next option: foam walls. I hired Manny Stone because they’ve created countless booths for NSS and similar shows, plus they have a great reputation so I knew I was in good hands. The package I chose included setup and teardown of the walls and lighting so that was a bonus. For my first show, I wanted the experts to deal with the manual labour to ensure my walls and lights would stay up! One less (major) thing I didn’t want to stress over. By the way, extra lighting is a must. Don’t rely on the convention center’s ceiling lights because it’s not bright enough for your booth. I needed to purchase electrical services to plug the lights in as well (you have to pay for everything!) so that was ordered through Javits.

For variety and easy access to the cards at eye level, I decided to get 6 foamboard compatible shelves so visitors can pick up the cards for a closer look-see. This is another purchase from Manny Stone because honestly it was just easier. I used address labels for card descriptions, I pre-cut everything and simply stuck them on accordingly!

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I said I’d reveal costs in a later post but I’ll include the booth-related costs here and use the total for my summary so it’ll be easier for you to see the breakdown. All amounts are in Canadian dollars with taxes when applicable:

1) Manny Stone Booth Package – Foamboard walls with custom graphics ($2589.18), 4 LED arm lamps ($512.66), 6 shelves ($414.07), union labour (install and dismantle): $3515.90

If I were to do it again, I would consider risking putting my own lights up. For $500, even if I was charged with labour it would have been comparable. For the shelves, ditto, but I’d need to figure out where to buy them and how to secure them on the walls. All these reasons lead to why I just let Manny Stone handle the details. I really liked the foam walls so I would probably use them again.

2) Javits Electrical Services – 500 watts connection and a plug strip: $176.04

Can’t really dodge this one, you need electricity.

3) HIDDEN Javits Labour Services – Installation of 4 lights: $156.59

But uh, this was unexpected. I was dinged with this from Javits on the second day of the show because “even though Manny Stone installed the lights, Javits labour put them up.” HUH? Tried to fight it but had to pay. This sucked because I thought this was included with my package. Beware of all undisclosed fees!

Then came the graphics. The package included a full custom graphic back wall and two solid pantone colours for the side walls. I chose pantone 230C which is a lighter shade of pink of my logo. That was easy. The back wall, on the other hand, took a lot of trial and error. Finally, I decided on this:

Option 2 Revision 5 Left Wall Option 2 Revision 5 Right Side

I had a polka dot theme with my photos and continued to use it on my new website, so I wanted everything to be cohesive. I chose three popular designs with colours that went with the pink and yellow combo to be printed on the wall, and coincidentally my aisle had yellow carpets! Next time, I might consider adding more designs to take advantage of the printed wall. But I was happy with how this turned out because I brought framed prints as fillers.

IMG_2215-2 IMG_2214-2

Now to dress up the booth! First, a table for giveaways, displays, printed materials and a place for buyers to sit and organize themselves when placing orders. I chose a simple white 2′ x 4′ Ikea table rented from Manny Stone. I didn’t want to be charged with labour fees when putting it together myself, nor did I have time to go to Ikea to pick them up but I wish I thought this through because they’re only $25 each at the store! In the end, Manny Stone extended their early bird rate so I ordered two tables, which means instead of spending $50 + tax for keeps, I spent almost $100 EACH to rent them. Gah. At least I didn’t have to worry about being dinged with hundreds of dollars worth of fees… I guess. I’m kind of bitter because almost everyone was on ladders and drilling their booths together, meanwhile I was worried about using a screwdriver.

3) Rented 2 White Tables from Manny Stone: $92.33 x 2 = $184.66

Second, I wanted two chairs. This was easier. I read that it’s recommended to be at eye level for attendees walking by your booth so I almost went with barstools. However, with the two tables, it made better sense to use regular stools. I stood most of the time but these $4.99 Ikea treasures were well worth lugging in my suitcase!

4) Purchased 2 Marius white stools from Ikea: $11.28

Flooring was easy too, I bought interlocking foam mats from Walmart and they were awesome. You’ll need soft cushioning for your feet no matter how comfy your shoes are. I chose grey because I didn’t want to hire carpet cleaning services and I knew the floor would be dirty during the show. I wanted my walls to stand out so the grey worked really well with the pink and white walls. It hid a lot of crumbs (you may not be eating in your booth but attendees might), bits and pieces of paper, dirt etc. I used carpet tape to make sure the edge of the mats would stay down, I was paranoid someone would trip and fall.

5) Purchased 4 Sets of Connect-A-Rugs from Walmart: $19.18 x 4 = $76.72

Product displays! This was fun. I tried to keep everything colourful and inviting. I didn’t lay out my tabletop displays beforehand but I knew how I was going to showcase the magnets, buttons and keychains; simple magnet boards did the trick.

6) Purchased 2 Magnet Boards from Walmart: $22.53

Storage boxes were a must and I knew I wanted these ones from Ikea. I bought 2 sets to store everything: extra printed materials, giveaways, jackets, bags, wallet, notebooks, pens, extra samples, tools, etc. These were a must! I needed all 4 and they came super flat and doesn’t require tools to set up. I shipped them in my suitcase.

7) Purchased 2 Sets of Boxes with Lids from Ikea: $33.88

And knick knacks! Clipboards, gel pens, bowl for giveaways, lollipops, frames, catalogue and line sheet holders, biz card holders, adhesive hooks for tote bags, adhesive foam blocks and foam/matte boards for wall displays etc.

8) Purchased miscellaneous supplies for displays: $200.00  

***

The total cost of the booth and display supplies is approximately $4380.00
This does not include the $2122.42 fee to exhibit, which brings the total to about $6505.00 (!!!)

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s an investment. Yes, if I could, I would do it all over again! There are so many factors to consider before you decide to apply to this show, or any shows, finances being a major one. But hopefully after reading this post, you’ll find less costly ways to go about displays and figuring out alternative options to what I spent too much on — I already have, lol.

***

An important thing to keep in mind is that if you’re unable to set up a mock booth beforehand, know that it’s ok to change things up when you’re setting up onsite. This is how I envisioned my booth during the sketch phase:

queenies cards_Booth_Option 2 Revision 5 Right Side

But when I got there, the shelves were lower than expected so I simply hung the tote bags above, which ended up looking much better anyway! The second table was a good call because I needed the space, both top and below.

I was 100% happy with all of my choices despite how expensive renting the tables, lights and shelves were, and being dinged with hidden fees. Costs aside, this was my ideal booth as a newbie to NSS. With this first-time experience, I can adjust and change up my next booth with my know-hows from this year.

IMG_2233-2

Please give me a shout if you have any questions! I’m sharing all of this info with you so don’t be afraid to ask me about anything in detail, I’d be happy to help!

Coming up in Part 4 is the show itself! I’ll let you know the top questions buyers asked, what worked and what didn’t work, when/how to take breaks and lots more! :) Stay tuned!

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2014 National Stationery Show! (Part 2: PREP)

IMG_2044

My basement was Prep HQ aka disaster zone

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.

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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!)

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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): 

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  • 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:

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  • 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.

H) RESEARCH: 

  • 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 ;)

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2014 National Stationery Show! (Part 1: INTRO)

NSS2014, booth 1369 in the #fresh section!

Let’s start from the beginning of how I got into the whirlwind that is NSS :)

Last May, I was nearing the end of my 12-month maternity leave when I came across this video:

The National Stationery Show was nothing more than a pipe dream. queenie’s cards had only been a side business since 2008 and I just entered the world of wholesale that month (May 17, 2013 to be exact). I was scheduled to be back at my 9-5 like most moms after having a baby. As much as I enjoyed my job before I had Madeline (I was a photographer/graphic designer at a children’s toy company), I knew I was meant to explore other options. Having a stockist and then seeing this video all within a week left me wide-eyed with hopes to bring queenie’s cards to its true potential. I researched day and night and drove hubs crazy the next couple of months. The number one reason why I was hesitant to even submit my entry to this show was the cost. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City is THE place to be for all sorts of tradeshows. This means exhibiting at this venue is super expensive. I’ve set up a toyfair here back in 2010 so I knew how grand it really is.

Fast forward to the fall, I was still thinking about the show and being away from Madeline for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week was unbearable. I needed to change this. On October 17, 2013 (I submitted my application a few days before, not thinking I would get accepted), I received the voicemail congratulating me on becoming an exhibitor! I must have listened to that message at least 3 times to make sure I heard it correctly. I felt completely elated, much like when I got accepted to university back in high school. I talked it out with hubby and accepted the offer (!!!). Before I knew it, the holidays rolled around, and with the support of my amazing family, I decided to leave my full-time position in the new year to pursue my own business.

On January 17, 2014, exactly 8 months after I dropped off my first wholesale order at a local retailer, I was saying goodbye to coworkers I’ve known for 6 years and was absolutely terrified. Part of me (and a lot of others, I’m sure) thought I was out of my mind to leave a secure job with benefits to risk it all for a dream — especially because I’m now a parent with endless bills to pay. But a part of me also thought this was the greatest move of my life (I must say, I’ve had nothing but support!). Designing and creating truly makes me happy and I sincerely believe queenie’s cards is my calling.

Since becoming a work-at-home mom, I’ve been working day and night to prep for this gigantic show. I read everything relating to NSS, watched all the videos, spoke to friendly fellow business owners who were kind enough to offer advice to a newbie like me, and I was totally overwhelmed. There was so much I needed to do in a very short amount of time. Companies spend a full year preparing for this and I had less than 4 months to catch up (another vital reason why I wanted to concentrate on the business 100%, evenings and weekends just wasn’t enough time). Plus, we had already planned a family vacation to Boston for a week just one month before the show! My calendar was starting to freak me out. I tried to do one thing at a time but really, I was multi-tasking like crazy. Oh, and did I mention I have NEVER done a show before? Not One of a Kind, not a local art show… nothing! I had no idea what I was getting myself into! So aside from documenting my NSS experience, what helped me get through a lot of unknowns was reading blogs that generously took the time to tell the world their journey through it all. I hope to be of the tiniest smidgen of help to anyone who might be going through the same thing as I was, and to also let you know how everything unfolded for me!

There is so much to say, I’ve divided this post into six parts:

Part 2 of this series will detail all of the prep that I went through leading up to the night of my flight. I’ll write about what worked and what I would do differently next time (if there is a next time!) and all sorts of tidbits for first-timers.

Part 3 will be about the booth from concept to setup and teardown. There are lots of things I’m glad I did and a few I would change if I were to do it again.

Part 4 is all about the show! From 10am on Day 1 to the last hour of Day 3.5 (it ended on a Wednesday afternoon). This was the fun part :)

Part 5 is the scary part… the cost! I’ll have a breakdown of the major expenses for my little 10 x 6 space. Everything added up so quickly.

Part 6 will be about breathing a sigh of relief! I’ve been back since last Thursday night and I’m still recovering from the utter exhaustion of the past week. This last bit will be continuous as I start to go through the post-show stages.

Thanks for reading and stayed tuned for the rest of the series! :)

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Filed under Photos, queenie's cards, Tradeshows, Videos

I’M SO EXCITED!

LOOK!

Website Screenshot

The new website is FINALLY ready! This was an ongoing project since last November and I stayed up all week to finish the last touches. There’s still a few kinks to sort through but it’s up and running, with FREE WORLDWIDE SHIPPING ON ALL ITEMS! This promo ends March 31 so place your orders now! I still have a ton of products to add but until then, feel free to let me know if you’d like any customizations, as always! I have a new blog but don’t worry, I will still be posting here because I like you all too much! :)

TWO more months until the National Stationery Show in New York City. TWO! I have sooo much to do, and a week will be lost next month when we take a family trip to Boston because hubs is running the marathon again. I’m stressed to high hell but hopefully everything will work out — it has to, right? I’m praying to the stationery lords that attendees will forgive my lack of budget for the display booth and focus on my designs. It’s insanely expensive ($2000 for the 6’x10′ space alone) and I’m now realizing I should’ve created a kickstarter campaign. If all goes well this time around, I will definitely try to rally up some backers next year.

This is what I’ve been up to since I left my full-time job in late January, working hard to get everything ready for this prestigious gala. Companies spend a full year prepping and I have less than 6 months to catch up. If any of you have any advice for tradeshows, please please please let me know! I’m all ears!

Side note, Madeline is turning two years old just 5 days before I fly out to this event. How did that happen?

EDIT
By the way, look what arrived from Society6!

queeniescards_S6 phone case

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Filed under Photos, queenie's cards