National Stationery Show Advice – How to Have a Productive Show

What doesn’t your business get out of attending NSS! I met retailers in person that until then I only knew by name, connected with retailers I met the previous year plus lots of new ones, not to mention all sorts of media folk, suppliers, letterpress printers, creative businesses/collaborators (like Aeolidia!) and other exhibitors who become new friends and cheerleaders. There is a lot of love at the show - mutual respect, admiration and overall positive vibe. If you don’t walk away totally pumped, then perhaps you’re missing something. Keep in mind, however, that NSS is just the beginning. Once you get back, the hustle is real and you have to keep the momentum going. I say NSS is not just 4 days, it’s a whole year of planning and follow-up.This is our first of a series of tips posts about how to exhibit at trade shows! This one features Golden Fox Goods, Remark Postcard Company, 417 Press, and Smudge Ink.

The National Stationery Show is a big deal show for anyone in the paper and gift industry. Many businesses have been launched there, and many rely on the yearly show to stay in touch with their retailers, find new ones, show their new product lines, make connections for future collaboration, and get press for your business.

For those of you planning to exhibit at the NSS next year, or who are building up to showing at the NSS or any other trade show, such as NY NOW, the Atlanta Gift Market, or your own local trade shows, you might be wondering how to get started, and what you should know.

We asked these NSS exhibitors how the show went for them, and what tips they could offer. These will be helpful if you’re doing any kind of in-person selling or setting up a booth at a craft fair or holiday market, too. Read on for National Stationery Show advice.

Golden Fox Goods

Missy McCullough
Golden Fox Goods

One day in sunny Los Angeles, Missy mailed a hand-painted thank you note to an Art Director at NYLON magazine. Missy was overwhelmed by her response so she started sending custom hand-painted thank you notes to all her clients, which lead to wonderful feedback. So, a light-bulb moment later, Missy decided to create a line of vibrant, whimsical, high-quality lifestyle goods that would make people smile. Worth treasuring, but never to be taken too seriously, the name Golden Fox Goods just seemed to fit.

Photo © Golden Fox Goods

Photo © Golden Fox Goods

Photo © Golden Fox Goods

Photo © Golden Fox Goods

Business and show history

We have been in business two years, and have exhibited at the NSS for two years. Most likely will exhibit in 2017 as this last one was very good for us. We are planning for NY NOW for 2017. We have done one Holiday show for Renegade and Unique in Los Angeles. The craft shows don’t compare to wholesale in volume of sales for us but I really enjoy doing the craft fairs to get feedback from the end-user. It’s excellent market research for a particular region.

We are 99% wholesale and 1% retail. Now that our wholesale side is more established and steadily growing we are working on a plan to push more traffic and sales through our e-commerce site.

Best moments at the NSS

A best moment was when a dream retailer in Europe stopped by our booth and told us that they saw our goods in Liberty of London and purposely sought us out at NSS. I have been trying to find their buyer’s contact info for the last year, finally gave up the search, and they just stopped by our booth and knew who we were. As a young company our promotional efforts are a high priority, but as of this year I have noticed buyers seeking us out more which is so nice as finding new ways to constantly promote can be exhausting sometimes.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

We connect with existing retailers, meet new retailers and receive press. This year our children were old enough to stay with their grandparents so after our NSS time we were able to attend a lot more parties and events and network and hang with peers and retailers. It was nice to have time to establish connections and find similarities with buyers other than just business. Also, I am constantly inspired in New York, I will find any reason to travel there.

Remark Postcard Company

Rebecca Hummel
Remark Postcard Co

Remark Postcard Company designs greeting cards, postcards, gift cards, and other paper products. Each of our products is hand-drawn or painted and designed by Rebecca Hummel. We are based out of Orlando, FL.

© Remark Postcard Company

© Remark Postcard Company

© Remark Postcard Company

© Remark Postcard Company

Business and show history

We’ve technically been in business 4 1/2 years, because I created the business name and registered as a sole proprietorship in December, 2011. However, I had NO DIRECTION AT ALL, and the only real goal for me at that point was to have an outlet to make things (as hobbies, basically) and then be able to get rid of them and hopefully break even on cost.

I did some farmer’s markets and holiday markets, and even a few low-level art and craft shows – trying to sell postcards, drawings, paintings, weaving, crochet, and baked goods. I started making postcards because I’ve always liked them, but I’ve gradually moved into cards, SLOWLY narrowed my focus and gotten very excited about having a real stationery business.

I had a hard time narrowing my focus because I want to try every artistic method I hear about, and a lot of the serious handcrafts as well. And carpentry. Well, you see my problem. I was afraid it wouldn’t be fun to lock myself down to only one area. And afraid it wouldn’t be fun if it was a job. But it turns out I LOVE making cards! I think I could do it happily for the rest of my career! I’ve got lots of ideas and there is so much potential diversity in subject matter and design I won’t be bored. That was a ridiculously tangential answer to your question.

I don’t do any other shows. I’ve heard gift-buying wholesale shows can be good, but haven’t tried one yet.

We are 80% wholesale, probably. But that’s not based on a huge sample size right now. I’m planning to focus on wholesale this year, though. I think it makes a lot more sense than direct retail because of my products’ low price points. I have to sell a ton to make a profit, and retailers already have the stores… they’re just looking for good products.

Lessons from the show

I was kind of ready. I’ve done a lot of art shows with a friend of mine who does those for a living, so the environment was familiar. I got one of the smaller, more shallow booths because I’ve learned it makes a big difference to get your product right under people’s noses. It needs to catch their eye while they’re still in the aisle, and be easy enough to look at without them needing to make the commitment to walk into the booth. But I need to take the concept farther! I’ve got more ideas for eye-catching booth designs for next year.

I also knew there would be a huge amount of exhibitors going into it. But I didn’t realize how mind-numbing it gets to walk past hundreds and hundreds of booths selling the same type of product (cards). I don’t know how the buyers could possibly look closely at every booth’s offerings. And I think visual overload can prevent buyers from seeing your products if they are just wandering. It would make a huge difference to have buyers looking specifically for you. So I know I’ve got to do some kind of pre-show advertising next year. I want people coming specifically to see me!

Mistakes, advice, and tips

I had to decide before the show if I would spend money printing order forms, or if I would some kind of electronic ordering system. I went with the electronic option, since I think I’d have to end up there anyway. I did practice with it beforehand, but was still too uncomfortable at the show. I ended up hand-writing all the orders and then putting them into my system and sending a confirmation email after the customer was gone. Not the most professional looking thing I could have done.

417 Press

Michelle Secondi
417 Press

417 PRESS (pronounced four-one-seven press) | Graphic design and letterpress printing studio based in Montreal, Canada. Known for sassy and smart letterpress printed greeting cards and paper goods. 2016 American Greeting Card Association Rising Star finalist. 2015 and 2016 National Stationery Show Best New Product finalist in multiple categories. As seen in Stationery Trends, The Paper Chronicles, Domino, Parse and Parcel, Q&A Letterbox, Oh So Beautiful Paper, 8 Balloons and Roasted Montreal.

Photo © 417 Press

Photo © 417 Press

Photo © 417 Press

Photo © 417 Press

Photo © 417 Press

Photo © 417 Press

Business and show history

I have been a freelance graphic designer for 12 years, specializing in corporate print design as well as custom wedding/event/personal stationery. In 2013 I purchased and restored a platen press, and launched my wholesale stationery business at the National Stationery Show in 2015.

NY NOW looks interesting and I’ve heard there are a couple of gift shows in Toronto that attract a lot of buyers because stationers don’t typically exhibit there, but for now it’s just the National Stationery Show. I did a few markets and craft fairs and was successful at the universities, but I’ve come to realize that Montreal is simply not my target market.

Approximately 60% of my business is still corporate work and custom work, and 40% mainly wholesale. Of course, it’s the wholesale portion of my business that I’m most interested in expanding and also the one with the most potential.

Lessons from the show

This was my sophomore year at NSS, but my first with my own booth. Last year I debuted as part of Ladies of Letterpress, which was great, soft entry into the show. With that experience under my belt, I felt ready to grow and move forward. I was definitely ready for it, the only thing that I found really stressful was getting hard walls into and out of Javits!

Mistakes, advice, and tips

When I drew up a floor plan for an 8 x 10 booth, I really wanted an central island and it seemed like I had a ton of space for it. I accounted for the poles, the depth of the walls and shelving and I still had a good 42” clearance around the table, but when looking at past booth photos I noticed very few exhibitors had a table in the middle. When I reached out to other exhibitors for advice there were varied opinions, but the one that stuck with me was, “be flexible.” Sure enough, after one hour with my counter height table in the middle of the booth we moved it to the back wall. It felt like a tango every time someone came into the booth, so it was immediately clear it wasn’t going to work.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

What doesn’t your business get out of attending NSS! I met retailers in person that until then I only knew by name, connected with retailers I met the previous year plus lots of new ones, not to mention all sorts of media folk, suppliers, letterpress printers, creative businesses/collaborators (like Aeolidia!) and other exhibitors who become new friends and cheerleaders. There is a lot of love at the show – mutual respect, admiration and overall positive vibe. If you don’t walk away totally pumped, then perhaps you’re missing something. Keep in mind, however, that NSS is just the beginning. Once you get back, the hustle is real and you have to keep the momentum going. I say NSS is not just 4 days, it’s a whole year of planning and follow-up.

Smudge Ink

April May
Smudge Ink

Smudge Ink is a stationery company and letterpress studio that was founded in 2002 by Kate Saliba and Deb Bastien. After 14 amazing years of business, the duo hand-picked April May to become the new owner in 2016. Smudge Ink is known for its signature florals and bright, happily nostalgic correspondence! As Smudge Ink’s family of people and presses has grown and changed, so has its product line, establishing itself as a stationery and gift brand.

Photo © Smudge Ink

Photo © Smudge Ink

Photo © Smudge Ink

Photo © Smudge Ink

Business and show history

Smudge Ink has been in business for 14 years, but I just became the owner in February of this year!

Roughly 90% of our greeting cards + gift line sales are wholesale vs. 10% retail. We have a great network of sales reps across the country and in Canada!

This was Smudge Ink’s 13th year at NSS, I believe. We do plan to exhibit next year.

In the past, Smudge Ink has exhibited at NY NOW, but NSS has always been our best show. For the time being, we’re taking a break from other trade shows and we don’t participate in many markets or fairs. Every year, just before the holidays, we host our own market with other local vendors in our studio so local Smudge fans can get some holiday shopping done!

Mistakes, advice, and tips

This year our setup was pretty easy. We did a lot of pre-show prep work, like drilling holes in our walls so make it really easy to hang the shelves. There’s always something that needs to be dealt with on the fly, though. This year it was lighting our paper cutout installation pieces. We’d planned to use some clip on lights to illuminate the installations on the aisle side of our short return walls. When we go to the show, we realized that the lights weren’t really powerful enough. Ultimately, we decided the walls looked better without the lights. It was okay, but we really put a lot of time into those paper cutouts and I think in the end they were mostly overlooked. It was a bummer, but now we’ll be able to better plan for those walls next year!

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

We like to attend NSS because it’s a great opportunity to meet our customers in person. It’s really fun to put a face to a name. We build email and phone relationships with people and when we meet them in real life it’s like seeing an old friend. There’s often hugging involved! The show is also a great opportunity to catch up with our sales reps and talk about our newest products and what the trends are in their neck of the woods. Plus, we get new customers every year who discover us by walking the show and we get to speak with some of our vendors. It’s a jam-packed few days that are pretty productive.

Ultimate trade show packing list

I have a bonus for you today! 14 stationery companies shared their own trade show packing lists with us, and we’ve compiled it into a master list. You can also peek and see each business’ exhaustive list, with things like how many catalogs they bring, etc. The one thing everyone agreed on was to bring at least four different kinds of tape! Want this? Sign up and nab it below:

Ultimate Trade Show Packing List

Download our ultimate trade show packing list and be totally prepared