National Stationery Show ’16: Our 10 Tips for First-Time Exhibitors


Hi all,

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.



We started with mood-boards and sketching the overall look and feel of the booth then picked the main color. I wanted something deep (but not black) and give out a modern vibe.

We started with mood-boards and sketching the overall look and feel of the booth then picked the main color. I wanted something deep (but not black) with a modern vibe to make my designs (which mostly are light colors) pop more.


We then built the portable folding walls out of wood

We then built the portable folding walls out of wood (hat tips to these detailed instructions by Wild Ink Press).

Building the walls.


Skinny minimal shelves.


Walls done!


We waited until two weeks before the show to paint the walls so they wouldn't get scratched during transportation. We should have just painted them during set-up like many other people though.

We waited until two weeks before the show to paint the walls so they wouldn’t get scratched during transportation. We should have just painted them during set-up like many other people though.


The booth looked like this when we got there

The booth looked like this when we got there.


We started putting the walls together using wingnuts.

We started putting the walls together using wingnuts (you’re not allowed to use power tools to assemble, according Javits Center’s rules).


Painted last-minute signs as our original stickers didn't work out as expected

Painted last-minute signs as our original stickers didn’t work out as expected.


We chose gold details to contrast the dark walls

We chose gold details to contrast the dark walls.


Adding everything and... ta-dahhh!

Adding everything and… ta-dahhh!


One wall is for all the cards.

One wall is for all the cards.


The other one has art prints and other products. Our give-aways were displayed in a glass box and on the two wooden hands (take me!)

The other one has art prints and other products. Our give-aways were displayed in a glass box and on the two wooden hands (take me!)


Details of the cards.

Details of the cards.


Details of the cards.

Details of the cards.


It's not bad after all!

It’s not bad after all!

  • Linh
    June 1, 2016

    Congratulations on your NSS debut! Your booth looks really beautiful and professional and your cards are adorable as always! I’m sure Chic + Nawdie will go far!

    • Huy Nguyen
      June 3, 2016

      Thank you Linh. Hope to meet Indiechine someday 🙂 I follow and read your posts religiously.

  • Rubana Gaspar
    August 26, 2016


    Thank you so much for this great post.
    Your booth was so well executed, with great colours and great branding!
    I’m very eager to go to my first show but I don’t think I’ll be ready for at least 2 years yet.

    I’m really nervous and know that I have to prepare as much as possible. I have no idea how to drill holes or anything, so the challenge is to create something that reflects my branding!
    Plus I’ll be flying in.
    So many things to do, it’s exciting, exhilarating and completely crazy too!

    ***By the way, did you feel as though it was worth it?

    Thank you again.

    • Huy Nguyen
      August 29, 2016

      Hi Rubana, thank you for reading our post. We definitely feel it was worth it, and even if you decide to never do NSS again, you should still do it at least once, IMHO. For a new brand, it’s important to introduce yourself to the industry and seeing how various buyers respond to your lines and those of other brands. I’d say get all your affairs in order first (Stationery classes on were very helpful for us), and know what needs your brand is fulfilling in the industry. The show is quite expensive after all (especially if you’re not in NY area). Don’t wait too long, but don’t rush it either (2 years sound about right). And don’t worry too much about the logistics of show booth, your NSS sales rep and the show manual can guide you through the process. When you make up your mind to do it, sign up early. Good luck.

  • Songhee Lee
    February 15, 2017

    Hi Nguyen,

    Thank you for the posting. I was searching for wall situation in Stationery Show as I heard the booth doesn’t have a wall and your posting was so helpful. I have one concern . I only have three months to prepare for the show. I should build up my website, booth decoration and look for print suppliers and make products. Do you think this is too crazy if I would like to participate a show this year? Or, do you recommend for me to prepare it for next year? The sales rap is holding my place now. but I haven’t decided it yet.

    • Huy Nguyen
      February 17, 2017

      Hi Songhee,

      That does sound like a lot to do in 3 months. In our opinion, doing NSS is a big commitment in time/efforts/money. For us, we would rather do it right than rushing through (whose results will surely be noticed by the retailers and your peers). If there is someone you know doing NSS this year that you can tag along to walk the show, that’d probably be very beneficial in planning.

  • Tara James
    April 1, 2017

    Hi There! I came across you post and found it to be incredibly helpful, thank you! I’m a newbie showing at the NSS this year and I’m incredibly overwhelmed but somehow managing to keep it together. I was wondering if I could pick your brain about the mailers. I’m running into conflicting information online about who to send the mailers too. Did you research the retailers and buyers in your area and send them the mailers? Or was there some sort of buyer’s list that you purchased from a company? I bought a few ads, but like you mentioned I don’t want to limit my exposure. This seems to be like a great option to take advantage of!

    Thanks in advance for your help 🙂

    • Nhung Le
      April 5, 2017

      Hi Tara!
      There were quite a few available buyer lists but we didn’t pay for any since our budget was limited. What I did was spending lots of time finding retailers over the internet then sending them our mailers. I definitely looked up a lot of retailers in NYC, my area. I also find brands that have somewhat similar vibe to Chic+Nawdie and look up their retailers. I hope this helps and best of luck with the show this year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *