National Stationery Show Tips From First Year Exhibitors

We asked these first time 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, so read on for National Stationery Show tips from people who are new to the show!

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 first time 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, so read on for National Stationery Show tips from people who are new to the show!

Bailey Craft Planners

Yolanda Bailey & Kathrine Craft
Bailey Craft Planners

We designed the Simply Yours Day Planner to enhance your life by helping you to prioritize, organize, and accomplish your goals. Importantly, our planners are durable to hold up to the everyday hustle and bustle at the same time they are beautiful with a feminine essence. The primary purpose of Bailey Craft Planners is to make a positive impact in the lives of women by keeping you focused, keeping you organized, and keeping you empowered.

bailey-craft-planners bailey-booth1

Business and show history

We started our business in December 2014. It took us 1 year to research all the various parts/sections of our planner while making at least a dozen prototypes. We launched a Kickstarter campaign in December 2015 with our website launching in February 2016.

We are 99% retail. We hosted at the 2016 National Stationery Show in hopes of entering the wholesale arena. We have not done any other trade shows, however, we are looking at NY Now, Atlanta’s Mart and the Southern Women’s Show.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

We made a few mistakes going into the National Stationery Show. Being a new entrepreneur, a lot of things are trial and error. We actually decided to do the show in February of this year. This was not enough time to pull everything together exactly the way we wanted it. We had to settle on some things purely because we did not have enough lead time. Good thing we were the only ones who knew.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

Attending the National Stationery Show was a great decision for our business. We gained sales, a lot of leads, and established new business friendships. Showing off our product to interested buyers is a great feeling. We would do it all over again.

Black Lamb BK

Rachele Rouquié
Black Lamb BK

Born in NYC, Rachele moved up the East Coast, living in CT and Boston until returning to Brooklyn, NY in 2008. Her work is inspired by nature, literature, and the awesome power of rock and roll.

black-lamb-bk

Business and show history

I’ve been in business as Black Lamb BK for 5 years, but I’ve had some iteration of being an independent maker and artist kicking around since 2002. Currently my business is 95% retail, but I am looking to change that, which is why I signed up for NSS!

Lessons from the show

I feel like I was “ready” because I physically had a website up and line sheets printed and catalogs and order forms and product photos I’m happy with and all that, but I don’t think I was really ready for the reality of selling myself and my products to buyers and the jargon that they use when asking questions. All thanks in the world to Jenny Topolski, who mentored our team through this from start to finish and gave me a ‘pop quiz’ where she brusquely asked me questions about ‘lead times’ and things like that to prepare me. Without that I would have felt extra lost, but it was still really overwhelming as a total one woman show to explain myself and try to look like I knew what I was doing at all times!

I learned so much. I learned that I probably didn’t need to have line sheets AND catalogs as pretty much everyone took only catalogs. I learned that for me personally, having an order form with all the items printed on it already with spaces for quantity and total was the better route. My first order I was trying to quickly write down everything the buyer was calling out and my hands were shaking with nerves and it was ridiculous. That might work for some people but it did NOT work for me so I quickly whipped up a new order form after the first night. I learned about what types of shops and areas of the country are most interested in my work, which I didn’t expect. This was my first face to face meeting with people looking at my products from all over the country and really all over the world, and it helped me see how my pricing and my style are more or less attractive to people in different markets.

I honestly am really unsure if I will do NSS again though. It didn’t really seem to be the right fit for handmade items from me and my teammates. I think I would do better at a show more geared toward handmade, or New York-centric, or maybe even gift, but I’m not sure this was quite right for any of us. That being said, if people wanted to share a space with me again, I would absolutely consider it as the financial risk was sliced 6 ways. If you have the opportunity to share a space with people you trust I would recommend it 100%.

Jenny, our mentor, curated our 6 shops so that we were all different types of stores (2 greeting cards, 2 jewelry, 2 home goods/clothing) and we arranged our booth to give space in between each shop but still give it a cohesive look so people could understand that we were a team, but separate makers. I think this was something very unusual for NSS and we had to explain it many times, but it was so worth it to save literally thousands and thousands of dollars. Also, I have no idea how I would have been able to fill up a whole booth myself! It would have looked very ‘minimalist’ to say the least.

I’ve never done another trade show, but I’ve been doing retail markets for well over a decade. This was very different because at a trade show, you are entering into a working relationship with mutual trust and all sorts of agreements with your customers. It’s not a simple exchange where they buy your item and walk away never to be seen again! I struggled with feeling ‘unprofessional’ and I really needed massive amounts of coffee to keep the smiles and perkiness going!

As this was my first trade show, I’m not really sure how it will end up financially. I made a few orders at the show, but also collected information from other shops and buyers who I have begun following up with, so hopefully they will place orders as well, but the uncertainty is something new for me. I’m used to counting my cash at the end of the day and saying ‘yes this was or was not a success.’

Mistakes, advice, and tips

I would say my biggest mistake was that order form situation. I listened to advice on both sides about how to create an order form but for me, I needed something very structured. I also wasted a LOT of money printing line sheets all dated 2016 that I may not have a chance to use ever again, which is quite frustrating. I’ll consider placing 2017 stickers on them for shows next year but it all feels very foolish.

My smartest tip came from Jenny, our team’s mentor. She recommended practicing my ‘pitch’ in the mirror. It might sound silly, but as someone who talks to herself constantly, I had no qualms about it. It really helped me get a ‘speech’ going. I often have the problem of just saying ‘HI!’ or “how are you” to people that walk by but as I practiced more and more I got more comfortable saying “Hi, how are you, this is my line of cards. I hand make everything myself and I use a lot of paper cuts and layering so please feel free to touch everything so you can appreciate their texture.” It was really awkward at first and sometimes you repeat yourself but practice makes perfect-ish.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I was hoping to find new retailers and get press for my business. I collected MANY business cards and have been reaching out to fellow makers just to say hello or follow each other on instagram. I reached out to buyers I talked to in hopes that we can build a relationship that may lead to future orders, even if we just chatted casually at the show and it didn’t seem like they were interested in being customers at the time.

Bloomwolf

Betsy & Luis
Bloomwolf Studio

Together with my boyfriend Luis, I have been able to make my dream of pursuing art a reality. The two of us have worked tirelessly to create a stationery brand that encompasses not only our love for all things creative, but also our attention to detail. From initial designs, to the final packaging, we take great care in ensuring that everything is perfect for you, our customers. Our cards and art prints display my cheerful illustrations, with influences that stem from my love of flowers, bright colors, and elaborate patterns.

bloomwolf-booth bloomwolf-art-print-wall bloomwolf-nss-card-wall

Business and show history

We started working on Bloomwolf Studio around this time last year. I had just finished teaching, and was not looking to return to the classroom the following year. Instead, I thought I’d do something that I’ve always wanted to do, so I hatched the idea of starting a paper goods company, and Luis loved it. We became an official business in August 2015, and our website launched in November. So technically, it hasn’t even been a year for us, but I feel that we’ve made large strides for our business so far.

From the beginning, I think that we knew that we wanted to have a strong focus on wholesale, so I would say that a larger part of our business is wholesale. If we put it in numbers, it might be roughly 70/30. We sell our products through retail on both our website and Etsy; and we sell our products wholesale through our website as well, and on Etsy Wholesale. We also recently finished our first wholesale catalog.

As of now, we have only exhibited at NSS. Since trade shows are such a large investment, we currently only plan on attending NSS, and possibly looking into AmericasMart Atlanta, since it is closer to us. We live in Orlando, where there are a lot of markets and craft fairs, so we do plan on looking into some of those as well.

This year was our first year exhibiting at NSS, and although we are very new to the industry, we feel that we had a great show. For this reason, we definitely plan on returning next year.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

One problem that we did have when setting up our booth for NSS was that our back wall almost did not fit in the space provided for us by the Javits Center. We made our own hard walls for our booth and shipped them to Javits beforehand. Our booth was supposed to be 6’x10′, but as everyone starts setting up, the poles that the Javits Center provides get shifted, and spaces get reduced, so we had to work hard to get our walls to fit. Luckily, one of our neighbors did not arrive until after we were done setting up, so this gave us a lot more freedom to move things around and get everything situated. Even after we got our walls to fit though, the flooring that we used, which was exactly 60 square feet, did not lay completely flat because of the restricted space. It also seemed that a lot of our neighbors had the same issue. So after this experience, we now know not to assume that the space provided by Javits will be exact, and also to arrive early for set-up, in case we run into an issue like this again.

Another mistake/tip for people that plan on having shelving that does not directly attach to anything is: make sure that you secure your shelves to the wall with sticky tack, or tape, or whatever else is available. At this year’s show, we had shelves that just rested on shelf brackets, and luckily for us, Luis knocked one of them down before the show started. This gave us the opportunity to secure them before anyone else knocked them down so we didn’t have an issue, but we did see someone else in our row have a buyer knock all four of her shelves down later in the show.

I think our best moment at the show was receiving our first order, and also having people come to our booth who recognized our cards and our logo. We loved when people walked up to our booth and said, “oh my God, it’s Bloomwolf!” Everyone at the show was super nice as well, so it was easy to make friends.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

This being our first show ever, we were not sure what to expect, but we think that it went great. It was a huge networking opportunity for us, and a great way to get our name out there. Even before the show started, we were working hard on making connections. We sent out around 180 pre-show mailers to brick and mortar stores, press, and other attendees of the show. During the show, we met other paper people and were able to talk to them about their experiences, and got lots of tips from people that have done the show for years. We also met and connected with lots of retailers and buyers, opened new accounts, and gained lots of possible leads. We also got a chance to be featured in the NSS Show Dailies, and on well-known blogs.

Chic & Nawdie

Nhung Le
Chick & Nawdie

Chic+Nawdie was established in June 2015 by designer & illustrator Nhung Le. Growing up in Vietnam and graduated in 2012 from Connecticut College with a degree in Design, Nhung worked as a graphic designer in NYC for Rafael Viñoly Architects and Union Design before building her own studio. Chic+Nawdie is exactly what Nhung has been dreaming of: a project that well balances her graphic design experience with her new-found passion for hand-painted illustration and old-school handwriting.

chic-nawdie-owner chic-nawdie-coloring

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Business and show history

We’re 1 year old this June. I’d say mostly wholesale right now (80%). This was our 1st year, and we intend to exhibit again next year. We also do Renegade Craft Fairs. They are quite good in terms of retail sales.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

One tip we have for first-time NSS exhibitors is to do smart marketing, especially if your budget is limited. There are plenty of chances to showcase products at the show (LOUIE award, Best New Product, press kits, Show Directory, etc.), so first-time/small exhibitors need to be diligent in taking advantage of all of them.

House of Beck

Erica Beck
House of Beck

A studio in the heart of Tennessee, we specialize in charming; tailored designs and hand-drawn illustrations that reflect the quirky and beautiful South. House of Beck is owned and led by designer and illustrator Erica Beck. Our paper goods are a reflection of her Southern roots, lifetime love of art and genuine desire to encourage authentic connections.

house-of-beck

Business and show history

I’ve been in business officially for two years. I’d say probably 90 percent of my business is through wholesale. I’ve sold retail via craft shows, but haven’t found as much success. Do friends and family count for retail? Ha! We will most likely attend next year.

Lessons from the show

We were very prepared because I googled the heck out of everything NSS. I also found past exhibitors and combed through as many blog posts on the subject as I could find. It’s super helpful (and free!) to listen in on the informational webinars they hold.

I learned that we made it a lot more challenging on ourselves by choosing to drive our entire booth up ourselves. By far, the most difficult task was actually figuring out how to get our booth walls in and out of the Jacob Javits Center. We had our own truck and once we were at the center I had to quickly find the GES Services office to submit a bill of lading, get a number and get in the loading dock line. All of this is to say that we will probably ship our booth next year!

It’s very helpful to make every effort to reach out to potential buyers with some type of mailer long before the show. Media exposure is also huge!

I’ve exhibited at a few craft shows and although they are much easier financially and logistically, I’ve found that attending trade shows is much more fruitful in terms of exposure. I will most likely try to attend the Atlanta Gift Market or perhaps New York Now.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Mistake: As a first time exhibitor, I didn’t need to print 150 wholesale catalogs. They cost a fortune to print and I brought at least half back.

Smartest tips: Create carbon-copy order forms. That way you’re only writing down orders once! I also created a cheat sheet that did the quick math for me on multiple orders. I’m not a math whiz under pressure! Also, I brought a batch of thank you notes and inserted visitors’ business cards in one as I received them. That way, I was one step ahead on my follow-ups when I got home.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I think one of the most valuable take-aways from the show was the networking. Face-time with potential and/or current buyers is very important. People want to see you – and they will look for you! Also, you never know what could come from connecting with fellow exhibitors.

ilootpaperie

Alice & Doris Lieu
Ilootpaperie

Bound by a love of paper goods, funny drawings and keen appreciation for puns, sisters Alice & Doris of ILootPaperie firmly believe in aiding and abetting others to steal hearts through their loot of cheeky, colorful musings. They currently work out of their cozy Pasadena apartment where pun-filled illustrations spring to life and there are many a late night spent hand packing cards with care.

ilootpaperie-booth ilootpaperie-cards ilootpaperie-wall

Business and show history

We started ilootpaperie, as a side passion project in December of 2010. At the time, Doris and I both had full time jobs. We haven’t broken out the percentage for this current year but it is majority wholesale at the moment.

We do select craft fairs. We’ve done shows with Unique and Renegade – in both LA and SF as of last summer. We’ve also done Artist and Fleas in downtown LA, the Melrose Flea Market, holiday events with Yelp. We’ve also taken Ilootpaperie to Brit & Co’s Re:Make in SF. Consistently across the board, we tend to do well at these shows. We really enjoy the interaction and the enthusiasm we encounter from working directly with the consumers at these shows.

Lessons from the show

This year was our debut at NSS, our first trade show and our first show out of state. It was an intense process preparing for the show as there were so many moving parts – from the booth design, to shipping logistics, to marketing, to prepping card samples, to coordinating photo shoots, to sneaking in some last minute additions to the line, to putting together a catalog and mailer. Throughout the process, there were definitely times where we got the feeling of “what did we get ourselves into?” but we felt it was the right time to make that leap of faith to push our company to the next level. We are in 20 or so stores in the Southern California area alone and we wanted to try to replicate that on a national level.

We learned that you should pack a dolly, even if the regulations say that you can’t use it – some rules are flexible and as we found out the hard way, we should have definitely bent that one! Also, if you decide to order the GES Veloce Wood package – there is a move in date. So be sure to find out when that is so you can plan your travel logistics accordingly. The most important is that you should do your best to be prepared, but you also must arrive ready to switch things around and problem solve constantly. And this happens no matter if it’s your first or sixth show. This is a wonderful industry to be a part of, there is a true sense of camaraderie. We’ve felt it before from our little corner of the world in Pasadena and we genuinely got a feeling for that as well at the Stationery Show.

We will see where things land – but are strongly considering heading out to New York next May again for NSS 2017.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

We would definitely say – arm yourself with as many options and back up plans as you can – multiple parts of our booth were completed with materials and scenarios that were in our back pockets as “plan D” or basically our last resort. Our mural on the booth wall, which we had intended to use an art projector to trace the outline of the artwork, wound up being partly stenciled and partly free-handed by Alice, who now can proudly say she has completed her first mural! Which then leads us to think, maybe the right tip is to start with your last resort? :)

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

For our first year, it was great to meet so many of our peers that we look up too, in addition to existing and new retailers, all in one space! Additionally, we were able to get good press ahead of the show as we were a part of the NSS Class of 70 competition winners and will continue to get some in the post show round ups via blogs etc.

Leen Jean Studios

Kathleen Ostrom
Leen Jean Studios

From the humble beginnings of a one bedroom apartment crammed with far too many paper samples, Leen Jean Studios was formed out of a dream, yes, but also out of necessity. Kathleen’s love for both calligraphy and paper sparked her inspiration for Leen Jean Studios. Starting out as a small custom wedding invitation and calligraphy shop, Leen Jean has grown to become much more than that. In a short time, it has expanded its sights and now offers greeting cards, art prints, notepads, original artwork and more. Each word is drawn by hand and each watercolor lovingly painted.

leen-jean-at-work leen-jean-sign leen-jean-thank-you

Business and show history

I’ve been in business 5 years, and business is about 65% wholesale / 35% retail. This was my first time exhibiting at NSS. I did as much research as I possibly could and spent a lot of time and effort into making sure if I was going to exhibit, that I would do it well. By the time the show came, I did feel like I was ready for it and I had a lot of fun being there. I learned that placement is so important, but also the people around me were so great. Everyone is selling the same product, but it was awesome to see how we were all so different. I haven’t decided yet if I am attending next year, but I hope so!

I haven’t done a lot of markets or craft fairs, so it’s hard to compare.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Well…I built my booth—okay, my husband built my booth—and one thing we didn’t do is make the corners hinge. We knew it would be fine as long as everyone around us wasn’t already up when we got there. And well, when we got there, everyone else around us was up! It made things a little more difficult to try and push the booth walls back without breaking them, but we slowly got them to where they needed to be! In the grand scheme of things, it all worked out, but it was just a minor detail that would have made set-up that much easier.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I had so much fun catching up with existing retailers or meeting them in person for the first time, as well as meeting new retailers, making other connections for collaborations AND getting press! All around, it was such a great way to meet people I otherwise would not have, who all in some way love paper and design as much as I do.

Rally Caller

Sarah Kaizar
Rally Caller

Rally Caller is home to curated bodies of original illustration work penned, drawn and painted by Sarah Kaizar and offered in an evolving collection of art prints, cards and novelties.

rallycaller-booth rallycaller-seals rallycaller-birds

Business and show history

I started my business in January 2016, debuting my product line at the National Stationery Show in May 2016. I launched my website, rallycaller.com, two weeks before NSS … it was a nail-biter! My business is largely catered to wholesale clients, although I do have a retail web presence.

I’m considering NYNow, the Museum Store Association Expo, and smaller gift shows around the country, like the Rocky Mountain Gift Show and the Seattle Gift Show. Each seems to cater to a slightly different audience, and although I don’t have enough trade show experience yet to say how these will impact my business, I’m doing as much research as I can to make the best decisions possible.

Lessons from the show

This was my first year exhibiting at NSS, and although it was a bit overwhelming, I generally felt prepared. I learned a lot from speaking with the other vendors around me; the warm, receptive community of the stationery world was a happy surprise.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

The best tip I have is taking the Stationery Business classes offered by Sycamore Street Press. I took both of Eva’s classes and found them each to be an invaluable resource.

Violet Press

Vi O’Brien
Violet Press

I’ve always loved papercrafting, but happening upon a DIY letterpress gadget changed my life. I began to explore the historic process of letterpress printing and fell head over heels. It combines so many things I love – antique shopping, drawing, designing, and paper!

violetpress-booth violetpress-cards

Business and show history

I started Violet Press in July of 2014 as a hobby business. I started with mostly custom work and some greeting cards here and there on etsy. In August of 2015, I quit my full time job as an attorney and dove into it full time. So, 1-2 years, depending on when you start counting :)

NSS was my first foray into the wholesale. Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking. I quit my job, designed an ENTIRE new line, printed and assembled it all by hand, and went to a national trade show in less than 10 months. What? As it stands after NSS and a few trickled in orders, I think wholesale will comprise a larger part of my business than retail. But not more than custom retail.

That was my first and only major trade show. I hadn’t even done a major craft show like Renegade before that. But I have done lots and lots of small craft, handmade and vintage shows. I’m still getting oriented to Colorado after my move from Chicago. I used to do a monthly market in Chicago that was a great source of income for me. I’m poking around now to find ones in Colorado.

Lessons from the show

No, I don’t feel that I was ready. I guess I thought that I’d just show up at NSS and people would be there to buy new stuff. But I realized that a lot of retailers were looking for the brands they already buy from. I had so many people zoom by my booth without even a glance because they were on the next person on their list. Or sneak a peak at my sign and turn away, presumably because they hadn’t heard of me before. That was a bummer. I probably should have tried to do some wholesale before just popping up there :) But it was really fun and I’m super excited to be in so many new stores. That is a dream come true. I learned the importance of marketing, give-aways (I would almost literally throw my little give away notebooks at people to get them to stop in the booth, and it worked! The majority of the people I stopped placed an order!). I learned how important brand recognition is. I learned that shoppers do not notice the tiny bubbles in the vinyl you put up or the small crack in the foam core. Hahaha. So it’s best to let those little things go because it is all so stressful! I also learned that paper people are really fun and surprisingly generous with their resources. I had the best time with my booth neighbor.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Pretty much what I said above about jumping in a little early. One mistake I made was not putting a place for the expiration date for credit cards on my purchase order sheets. I noticed it pretty early in, but I felt silly having to call retailers and ask for it. Luckily I reached everyone pretty easily. So yeah, make sure you include that :) I think my best tip was not to skimp on the follow-up. When I got back, I sent out catalogs and samples to all the stores that I didn’t see, or that hurried by, and I’ve already seen some results from that. It’s hard to invest more money in catalogs, postage, samples, stationery, etc. after a big show like that, but it’s worth it (I hope!)

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

It was my first time, but I made a lot of contacts, got new retailers, some press, and look forward to see what else comes of it.

How to prepare for your first trade show

At the show, we saw how helpful everyone was to each other, and heard over and over from exhibitors about the following two resources available to stationery businesses ready to get into the world of wholesale.

Our friend and client, Eva Jorgensen of Sycamore Street Press, offers two classes online specifically for stationery businesses:

Stationery Business: Start Strong

Create your own successful stationery business! In Stationery Business 100: Start Strong, I use instructional videos, interviews with industry insiders, resource lists and more to teach you all you need to know to get a head start in the world of paper goods.

Stationery Business: Wholesale

Would you like to see your stationery designs carried in your favorite shops? In Stationery Biz 200: Wholesale, you’ll learn all the tools to get you there through instructional videos, interviews with industry insiders, resource lists, my 7+ years of experience in the industry, and more.

The smart and savvy Katie Hunt offers a trade show boot camp. Paper camp is this September, and you can learn more about that here:

Paper Camp

We’ll teach you how to create a stationery + gift line, launch to the wholesale market and exhibit at trade shows, so you can build a sustainable, profitable business. Learn from industry pros who openly share their successes and struggles to help you make better decisions in your business An action-inducing 2-day business camp.

I have only heard glowing reviews of these two women’s courses, so be sure to learn more if you have any interest in the topic.

Free help finding the perfect wholesale price for your product

Before you concentrate hard on wholesale, make sure your pricing is where it should be and that you’re not cheating yourself. Grab this free and thorough pricing guide from Lela Barker which covers all the crazy things you haven’t even thought of yet:

Shipshape Collective Freebie

Lucky Girl's Guide to Product Pricing

Lela Barker of Lucky Break Consulting has generously let me share her product pricing guide with you here. It is thorough.

If you have any questions about wholesale, I’d love to answer them in the comments!