It has been awhile since I last posted because we just wrapped up our first National Stationery Show (NSS) and (as everybody probably knows) it takes quite a lot of time and energy preparing for it especially when we are first-time exhibitor. As I am sitting here and writing this post, it suddenly strikes me how fast time has flown. Just a year ago, I was still working a 9 to 5 job for a design studio and now I am here talking about my first trade show experience for my own business! That being said, our business did not explode or anything – We are just growing one step at a time. NSS was definitely an important milestone for us as we fully prepare ourselves for the wholesale market.
If you have read my previous post about our first Renegade craft fair, you know we have a tendency to overdo things (=.=’) so we started preparing for NSS almost a year ago. Here are some tips we find useful as a first-time exhibitor:
1. Plan early: It took us about 7 months in total to prepare for NSS ’16. We started in November 2015 with a big to-do lists we combined from other NSS posts, and every month steadily checking off items one by one. Big items like booth walls and furniture, you’d want to do over multiple weekends (watch out for the Christmas and Presidents Day’s sale to grab things on the cheap for your booth). Other items like catalogs, mailers, press kits, giveaways, etc. could take a while to print and assemble to it is important not to wait until last minutes.
2. Advertise your brands through multiple venues: We spent A LOT of time on hand-assembling our mailers and they did bring many buyers to our booth. We also prepared 40 press-kits (with catalogs, business cards, samples and promo cards) that brought some press people to our booth as well. Our Coloring Collection was a finalist for Best New Product Award so some buyers saw our entry and visited. We made sure our entry in the Show Directory showcased our best-sellers. There was a coloring event giveaway and we participated in that also. I’m sure there are many other venues you could try (sponsorship, advertising, NSS email blasts, etc.) but the point is for a first-time exhibitor, we did not want to limit how people heard about us.
3. Make sure you’re subscribed to the NSS newsletters: About two or three months before NSS begins, the newsletters start coming out every two weeks (and every week as it gets closer to the show). They are always chockfull of info to remind us of deadlines and to-dos (who knows we needed insurance). There are instructions to finish your online profile, submit info, enter Best New Product Awards, etc. in the newsletters. Along with the very extensive Exhibitor Set-Up Manual that NSS folks did an excellent assembling, these newsletters serve as handy guide to throughout the process.
4. Make use of things you already have to build the booth: We are fortunate that we live in New York. That helped us save so much since we didn’t pay for plane tickets, hotel rooms or shipping fees. We also made sure we used everything we already had to create our booth. It made a lot of sense since we wanted the booth (and the brand) to be an extension of who we are anyway. The rug, the chairs, the desk’s legs, the plants, the wooden hands, the flower vases, etc – they all come from our apartment here in NYC! I didn’t have a chair to sit and work for a week but it’s okay – We saved a lot while getting a lot of compliments for the booth.
5. Always collect information while running your booth: Not all people buy at the show. Not all attendants are even buyers! But we keep track of everyone we had a conversation with or came in our booth. We discovered a lot of info and opportunities that way: printing deals, freelance projects, and potential leads to follow up.
6. You need an appointment to install your electricity: Yes, after you book and pay for the electricity, you still need to see the electricity guys (they are at the front of the aisles) to reserve a time slot when they come and install everything. FYI, you need to pay extra for the labor fee of installation before the show and removal after the show too. It was about $150 for us.
7. During move-in and move-out, take advantages of the porters that come with your booth fee: Yes, your booth fee already includes the porters’ service. They have big carts that can carry everything from your van and you can sign up at the entrance door (there is a guy with his clipboard and pen ready to write down your info and call the porters.) Remember, you’re not allowed to use anything more than two-wheels to move your things, but you can pull your van/car up right to the front entrance to load.
8. Be choosy of shipping company: We ourselves didn’t have to ship anything but we heard so many horror stories about damaged, late and lost crates so be aware. Put your products in your carry-on if you can in case there are problems with the crates or checked-in luggage (you can always buy booth stuff or clothing in NYC for plan B).
9. Take good care of yourself and dress accordingly to Javits Center’s AC schedule: Bring enough water and food. Bring someone to help you run the booth. Warning: the Starbucks line at Javits is amazingly long and slow so be prepared! They turned the AC off completely during set-up and turned it on once the show started. The air was blowing strong where our booth was (to the point they blew our cards off the shelves!) so make sure you have some layers to adjust.
10. Be nice to other exhibitors and make new friends: For first-time exhibitors, NSS could be a unnerving experience and we know the pressure to make sales is on everyone’s minds. But stopped for one second and looked around and you could see a great deal of other small brands trying to make a living just like you do, probably even going through the same struggles. To us, NSS was a bonding experience with other brands we only saw on Instagram before. Even though we are a new brand, I feel lucky to know some amazing stationery people who have helped and motivated us in many ways and we will always try to do the same thing.
So these are some tips we figured might be helpful to first-time NSS exhibitor. Below are a few pictures of our process. Hope this post is somehow helpful! Feel free to leave comments and questions.