Should You Attend the NSS or NY NOW Trade Shows?

Trade show booth tips and more! 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.

This is our third tips post about how to exhibit at trade shows! This one features Bundle Design, Chase & Wonder, Indie Olive, and Underwood Letterpress.

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 tips.

Bundle Design

Christine Miller
Bundle Design

“I’m Christine, and I’m delighted to introduce Bundle Design–home to cheerful, cheeky cards and notes, all wrapped up in hand-drawn charm.

I’m a Florida girl at heart but have called Atlanta and Phoenix home over the last 10 years. I’m a Gator, Portfolio Center grad and Tradeshow Bootcamp alum who spent a few years in the agency world before branching out on my own when my son was born. I’m proud to design everything in-house and print in the good ol’ U.S.A.”

Bundle Design booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Bundle Design booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Bundle Design booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Bundle Design booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Business and show history

I began designing custom invitations in 2010 but only started focusing on greeting cards and the wholesale market in 2014. We are 50/50 wholesale/retail.

I have exhibited at the NSS two years (2015 & 2016). The jury is still out on exhibiting next year. It might be more beneficial for me to take that marketing money and focus it on mailers and advertising.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

My biggest mistake happened my first year when I had an in-line booth. I wasted prime real estate (the outside edges) on my booth number and graphics, instead of putting my cards where buyers would see them. I put more than half of my product on the back wall, assuming people would come in. Turns out, they prefer to glance quickly as they walk by. This year I got a corner booth and made sure to place my new products on the aisle for greater visibility.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

For me, the main goal of the NSS is getting my name out there and picking up new stores. I was thrilled this year to connect with a national retailer, so that was huge.

Chase and Wonder

David & Faye Aspinall
Chase and Wonder

“Chase and Wonder is an independent British stationery and gift brand focused on producing only the highest quality designs and products, all of which are proudly made in Britain.

The brand is based in a converted cowshed in the heart of rural England. Where possible they use traditional techniques to print and reproduce their products, many of which require hand finishing.”

Chase and Wonder booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Chase and Wonder booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Chase and Wonder booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Chase and Wonder booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Business and show history

We Set up Chase and Wonder in late 2010, so we’ve been in business just over 5 1/2 years. It is crazy how quickly time has flown! We originally set it up because my (now) wife and I were in the middle of a transatlantic relationship, and so both quitting our jobs seemed the fair way to go. It was a great leap into the unknown, and although it has had its trials, the benefits have been great. I would definitely recommend it!

The business is probably about 95% wholesale–we would like to increase our retail side though, but have focused on wholesale up to now.

This year was the second year at the NSS–I think we are almost certain to attend next year, it is a great show (although it seemed a little smaller this year?), full of wonderful companies, people and designs. Definitely worth checking out!

We exhibit here in the UK at a show called Top Drawer, usually twice a year. The other big show here is Spring Fair in February, although we have not exhibited there for a couple of years. We also exhibited at NY NOW last August. Trade shows generally work very well for us, we get to reconnect with existing stockists, and catch up on what has sold well for them, as well as meeting new stockists. They have really helped us grow our business, and although expensive, I think they are an essential part of our success.

We don’t tend to exhibit at markets/craft fairs any more, although we did a few when we started out. Our logic is that they take as much time up as a trade event, and although they cost a lot less, also earn you a lot less (generally!). There is also the risk you are displaying next to a low quality product, which generally with trade shows is not the case. On the plus side you do interact with the final buyer of the product, and get invaluable feedback.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

There is always something! It could be your product not arriving in the booth, or arriving damaged, or your walls not being set up. You just have to roll with it, and if you are well prepared before you leave you should be fine. Build in some contingency with your booth, like packing spare stock/shelves in case you need it. Failing that, research hardware stores near to the exhibition centre before you go, in case you need to dash to one!

Tip wise, I would always go for a corner booth, as you get more buyers walking past (they may skip your aisle by mistake), and we personally like wooden wall booths, as it means you can hang shelves/fixings up which (in our opinion!) gives a higher quality finish, and is more likely to attract buyers.

The best moments come when you get a ‘big’ buyer stop by your booth. They almost never make an order while there, but sometimes you will get a nice surprise order a couple of weeks later. This year we also won two Louie Awards, which as a small independent company is pretty hard to beat!

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

The main objective is to take orders, obviously, but there are often lots of bonus things that happen–not all financial, or directly beneficial to your business for that matter. An example of this is the other people/companies who you meet on the trade show circuit–some have become great friends of ours! Its nice to discuss the industry with people who understand it, and to have a drink and post show debrief after being on your feet all day.

Indie Olive

Virginia Merritt
Indie Olive

“Virginia and Dustin Merritt are the husband and wife duo behind Indie Olive. Virginia has been in business since 2008 specializing in one of a kind stationery. She began working closely with brides and grooms to create invitation suites that are both personal and beautiful.

Being self employed creatives who happen to be married is not always easy but we make it work and couldn’t imagine life any other way.”

Indie Olive booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Indie Olive booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Indie Olive NSS booth

Indie Olive booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

What to know before you go

You should know that there are valuable resources out there to help get you ready for trade shows and the wholesale market. Tradeshow Bootcamp/ Paper Camp is a great resource and beyond the initial investment you’re welcomed into a large community of stationers who have had experience with NSS and other shows. The stationery industry is a friendly one and reaching out and asking questions is totally accepted. Don’t be afraid to ask. Sycamore Street Press also has a great online webinar series full of useful information and insight into the industry. The industry is a generous one and make sure any advice you receive and that is helpful you share and pay it forward.

What the difference is between different trade shows

We only currently have experience with NSS but have been told NY NOW is a larger show. It’s great if your line has more items than only paper goods. We have pens, art prints, and some desktop accessories, for example. NY NOW is a gift show so may be a good opportunity to expand your line if you’re interested in attending. We’ve also been told it’s more expensive to exhibit than NSS so maybe NSS is a good starting point and then with success you can explore NY NOW. We decided to store our booth crate in the NY area in case we decided to do one of the NY NOW shows. I believe that is our next step.

What your business can expect to get out of a trade show

You can expect to get a lot of new contacts and feedback about your products. We made several sales with several of our top stores and have paid for the expense of the trade show with those sales but we’re told you see the actual profit come from sales post-show and the connections you make at the show that build throughout the year. Take the feedback you receive at these shows and use it, the people you meet are experienced within the industry and they know their markets. Some really great things can come from these conversations.

Preparing in advance

Make sure you send out your pre-show mailers. Also, spend a lot of time researching the stores you think would be a good fit for your products. I don’t believe our show would have been as successful if we hadn’t sent out the mailers we did. Also, make them stand out, especially if it’s your debut. It’s worth a little extra expense in this area I believe. Enter a few of your products into the best new product competition at the show. It is a great way for buyers to see a little of what you have to offer and maybe generate a little more traffic to your booth.

Underwood Letterpress

Cara Underwood
Underwood Letterpress

“Live life with passion and no regrets. This mantra is something I live by personally and professionally every day. My Italian grandmother, lovingly known as Nonie, taught me to be myself, to celebrate the simple things, to never turn down a new adventure and to live with a generous spirit.

These simple aspirations brought me to create Underwood Letterpress. I learned to letterpress print in 2005 during a bookmaking class where I authored, illustrated, hand-printed and hand-bound a series of children’s stories about my adventures with Nonie.

Immediately drawn to the combination of creativity and industriousness, I loved moving between designing and getting my hands dirty on the press. Years later, I have had the joy of crafting wedding invitations, greeting cards, social stationery and business cards. Everything we create at Underwood Letterpress is made with passion and love, and a generous dose of adventure.”

Underwood Letterpress booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Underwood Letterpress booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

underwood-letterpress-booth

Underwood Letterpress booth at the NSS. Photo by Sam Hirst for Aeolidia.

Business and show history

I’ve been in business three years, and exhibited at the NSS for two years.

I have done Unique LA and Unique SF, but have made the decision not to do retail fairs. It’s mostly a personal decision since I like to save my weekends for family. I am considering a west coast trade show or NY NOW in the future.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

The first year that I exhibited at NSS, my card line included 40 designs. I developed the line based on what inspired me and that’s what kept me going creatively. I quickly realized that my line was too small and too niche for buyers. I needed to develop my offerings to better meet the needs of buyers, particularly in the birthday category which my line was terribly lean in. By my second year at NSS, I had grown the line to 72 designs and had a balance of categories that better fit the needs of retailers.

While I wasn’t overly strategic in how I developed my card line initially, I don’t necessarily consider this approach a mistake. I needed to have fun and let my creativity flow, however, I now see how important it is to have a robust line so that buyers are able to select cards that fit with their shop aesthetic (aka, only need to purchase 10% of your line and still be able to meet your minimum opening order). I also give more attention to the categories that sell! Participating in NSS is very costly, so while it’s important to bring passion into your work, it’s also important to pay attention to the bottom line in order to build a sustainable business and brand.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I’ve expanded my store list, met new reps, made connections that lead to custom or commissioned work and have received follow up press as a result of participating. I also enjoy meeting other exhibitors who are now friends and have been helpful resources as I navigate this world of cards!

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