Trade Show Tips for Small Businesses: National Stationery Show

trade-show-tips-nss

This is our fourth tips post about how to exhibit at trade shows! This one features Foreignspell, Caroline Creates, E. Frances Paper Studio, Fox & Wit, I Must Draw, and Mr. Ellie Pooh.

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.

Foreignspell

Niki Baker
Foreignspell

Foreignspell makes art + greeting cards + onesies + journals + more for music lovers, quirky peeps, foodies & hippie dippies. Hand-pressed one by one from hand-illustrated, hand-lettered, hand-burnished, hand-carved & hand-inked rubber stamps. Made by a gal (& her cat) in California using locally sourced & earth-friendly materials.

Niki Baker. Photo © Foreignspell

Niki Baker. Photo © Foreignspell

Photo © Foreignspell

Photo © Foreignspell

Photo © Foreignspell

Photo © Foreignspell

Photo © Foreignspell

Photo © Foreignspell

Business and show history

I started Foreignspell part-time after work in 2012 because I desperately needed daily creativity and color. In 2014, I got laid off and took that as an opportunity to make Foreignspell my bread & butter.

90% of my business is wholesale. Since I print each item one-by-one it’s much smarter and more satisfying to print in large quantities. I do have items available on my website, but need to work on encouraging day-to-day shoppers to stop by!

This was my first year at the NSS. It exceeded expectations and I’m so so thrilled it was my first trade show. Unfortunately, my budget doesn’t allow me to try out multiple trade shows a year. In lieu of NSS, I’m hoping to show at LA Mart in 2017.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Aside from forgetting to bring enough pens the first day (silly!), my biggest mistake was being too timid. It’s easy to forget you’re an extension of the work. Luckily, my amazing friends helped me sell! They were incredible at talking me up.

In the future I might include the SKUs under the designs to make for easy ordering in case the main deck is being used. I left them off as an aesthetic choice, but it may not have been the smartest decision.

Seeing people light up while looking at my work was by far the best part of doing the show. I especially loved when they recognized specific song lyrics. Aside from fulfilling my inherent need to make stuff, I got into this business to spread happiness and pay homage to the music I love.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

Foreignspell is now in a ton of new shops! It’s wonderful. I’m so honored whenever a new shop chooses to stock Foreignspelll. They are the reason so many of us creative types can even think of trying to make making things our livelihood. Meeting current stockists face to face was super fun too! It feels awesome watching people flip through the deck and laugh or smile.

NSS also connected me with fellow stationers – that’s invaluable! We were able to chat about the industry, our lives as makers, give advice, etc. It was crazy awesome. Risa with Papallama, my stationery soulmate, and I met in SF before NSS to help each other stay on track and troubleshoot any trade show challenges. Since then, we’ve started a collab called Amongst Friends – which we’ll be launching soon. NSS brought me truly indispensable experiences and connections.

Caroline Creates

Caroline Hull
Caroline Creates

Caroline Creates is a line of modern, fun and earthy greeting cards, stationery and gift products that are what we like to call “green without all the granola.” At Caroline Creates, we value big cups of coffee, tribal patterns, modern hand lettering, big comfy sweaters and time spent in the mountains. We hope our products encourage you to love the earth a little more and spread love through the mail.

Designer and Owner, Caroline Hull has a background in music and was a ballet dancer at the University of Oklahoma before finding her niché in design. Originally from Texas, Caroline now resides in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Chip and daughters Fiona and Maeve. When she’s not designing, you can find her checking out the latest indie music sensation, trying to recycle everything in sight, buying more pens and most likely stalking a coffee shop. Caroline also has a passion for helping other small business owners like herself.

Caroline Hull. Photo © Caroline Hull

Caroline Hull. Photo © Caroline Hull

Caroline Creates trade show booth. Photo © Caroline Hull

Caroline Creates trade show booth. Photo © Caroline Hull

Photo © Caroline Hull

Photo © Caroline Hull

Business and show history

I’ve been in business for 8 years! Crazy to think it’s been that long. I originally was a custom wedding invitation designer but have shifted to focusing more on my brand and my shop. I’d say that shift has happened over the last 2 years. Now my online shop, greeting cards and gift products are my main focus.

Right now wholesale is a very small part of my business but I’m trying to grow it. I’d say right now, wholesale only makes up about 10% of my business. I originally started with just a wedding album, but the last two years have been growing my greeting cards and gift products in my line. I really feel like this year and next are when I’m going to see that percentage go up.

This was my third year at the NSS and my second year in a booth by myself. My first year, I was in a shared booth. I’m unsure if I will attend again next year. It’s a very expensive endeavor. Not only the show itself is expensive, but travel and lodging in New York is very expensive. I made a lot of new connections at the show this year, so I want to take a couple months to see what grows before I determine if the show was a success and if it would be worth it for me to attend again.

I occasionally will do local craft shows but NSS is the only trade show I do or have done so far. Craft shows and trade shows are completely different beasts. Preparation is very different and interactions with customers is also different. Trade shows are not cash and carry so your main goal is to show your entire line in a creative and enticing way so retailers can envision the products in their shop. For craft shows, my display is not as complicated and I have to prepare a ton of inventory. I do fairly well at craft shows, but for me, trade shows are about creating long lasting relationships so the value there can be intangible.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

The biggest mistake I’ve made is not getting enough rest! You have to be able to answer questions rapid fire from potential retailers. If I don’t get enough sleep, my brain shuts down and then I stumble over my words. The best thing I did was bring help! I’m an introvert by nature so these types of situations make me uncomfortable. This year, I brought my sister in law who is as outgoing as they come. She really helped me fill in the gaps and kept my energy levels up. I really couldn’t have done it without her. You stand on your feet while talking to strangers for four days so having someone in your corner like that is pure gold!

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

Trade shows are really unique opportunities where you can meet people and make connections that otherwise would take multiple contacts to make. This year, I met a ton of potential retailers and press. Follow up is crucial but the potential there is amazing. Plus, that initial contact is made and makes it so much easier to approach them in the future. That’s why focusing not only on sales, but also those connections and intangibles is really important at Trade Shows. You are laying foundations for the future. I didn’t really realize this my first year but now I understand that the work doesn’t stop after the show.

E. Frances Paper Studio

Ali Flippin
E. Frances Paper

The story of three sisters, two grandmothers and a bubblegum factory. Well, it’s technically two sisters and one cousin, but sisters always seemed a more appropriate term; when that cousin was small the whole family worried that she might never learn to walk because the other two never put her down. So the three grew up in the typical way: best buds, sharing jokes, dances and finishing each other’s sentences and baked goods. So after years of speculating how to work together, use Ali’s artwork, and spread positive energy, Ali started a greeting card company and brought Jenni and Pippi in soon after.

Working together every day, creating and growing a business, and hopefully making products that make people very happy is such a blessing. We pinch ourselves daily. One of the most amazing feelings is creating jobs, not only for ourselves but for women in our community. To be able to see smiling faces come to work and then PAY them is such an honor.

We strive to make all of our products remarkable, both in quality and message. We all feel that one of the best gifts you can give back to the world is to spread positive energy, so we hope your experience with E. Frances Paper is happy and full of indubitable positivity.

E. Frances crew. Photo © E. Frances Paper Studio

E. Frances crew. Photo © Maaike Bernstrom Photography

E. Frances Paper trade show booth design. Photo © E. Frances Paper Studio

E. Frances Paper trade show booth design. Photo © Samantha Hirst

 

Photo © E. Frances Paper Studio

Photo © E. Frances Paper Studio

Photo © E. Frances Paper Studio

Photo © E. Frances Paper Studio

Business and show history

We’ve been in business three years, and this was our 3rd year at the National Stationery Show. Most of our business is wholesale. Along with the NSS, one of our rep groups does NY NOW Gift in January and in August, and we are represented in their booth.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Best moment: our first NSS, I had to step out of the booth because it was too packed with buyers (!) I almost fainted with happiness.

Most valuable tip I learned during prep for this year’s NSS: Not to worry about anything that wasn’t currently in front of me. I completely concentrated on one task at a time and I found that I was much more productive and focused. Zero freak-outs!

Biggest Mistake: Not being prepared enough for POST-show our first year. We had concentrated so much on trying to create an amazing booth with amazing product that we didn’t leave time to prep enough product to be ready to immediately ship after NSS. You’re mentally and physically tired when you get home from NSS (especially that first year, where it’s all the unknown), and then to have to dive right into figuring out post-show fulfillment was extremely difficult. We learned our lesson the hard way and now spend a ton of time getting all of the product ready to be shipped so that post NSS is busy, but not too stressful.

Attending Tradeshow Bootcamp’s Paper Camp really prepared me for NSS in the best possible way. It was there that I got specific packing lists, booth help, industry standards, and a community to lean on! I would recommend anyone who is thinking about attending NSS to check out TSBC.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

Our biggest goal for the show is to find new retailers and possible collaborations.

Fox & Wit

Mary Nguyen
Fox & Wit

Fox & Wit has a bit of an odd beginning. In 2011 I made wedding invitations for one of my best friends and had hundreds of leftover envelopes and sheets of card stock. I opened an etsy shop to sell handmade cards as a way to declutter my home of the leftover stock. Somehow over time I found myself really loving creating handmade greeting cards. My methods refined of the years and I’ve expanded my company to incorporate a full line of stationery and homemade goods. What started off as an endeavor to clear out clutter has had the opposite effect. My inventory has expanded 10 fold and has taken over an entire room dedicated as my studio space. But most importantly, it’s become a passion.

Fox & Wit trade show booth. Photo © Fox & Wit.

Fox & Wit trade show booth. Photo © Samantha Hirst.

Fox & Wit trade show booth. Photo © Fox & Wit.

Fox & Wit trade show booth. Photo © Samantha Hirst.

Photo © Fox & Wit.

Photo © Fox & Wit.

Photo © Fox & Wit.

Photo © Fox & Wit.

Business and show history

I started fox & wit in 2012. Currently, about 10% of my business is wholesale and 90% is retail. This was my second year attending NSS. I’ll be attending next year for sure. When I ventured into trade show I made the mental commitment of a full 3 years and then reevaluate from there.

I’ve attended a few local craft fairs in Houston and I’ve done several pop up shops at West Elm and Madewell. Personally, I prefer doing trade shows, despite the 100x more work that goes into prepping for a trade show, over craft fairs and the like. I make connections and contact in ways that’s simply not possible at the level of pop up shops and craft fairs. For craft shows and pop ups I feel like, “okay. I made x amount of revenue” and that’s the extent of what those do for my business. Trade shows, however, I feel, “okay, I make x amount of revenue but I’ve gotten to really meet some wonderful business people in all regards (press, other stationers, retailers) to the stationery industry who have had or will have a shaping hand in my business’s growth.” The bigger expense and larger time commitment pays off better.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Smartest tip: Allot 1.5 x more time to set up than you think it’s going to take you.

Also, Katie Hunt gave the best tip yet: no one knows what your booth is “supposed” to look like except you. So if things go wrong, roll with it and do your best to recover but no need in fretting over perfection. For instance, my walls were a mess! I ended up having about 100 zip ties holding them together and up from the back because of some issues that arose when putting together the booth. They had strange buckles in them. Yet, no one noticed it (or at least was kind enough not to mention it) and I ended up getting a ton of compliments on my hand painted wall even though that was the worst wall of the three.

Biggest mistake during my 1st show was 1) not enough products to fill the booth, 2) too much of a focus on cards. I’ve definitely learned it’s good to have a diverse line of items outside of just greeting cards. People will buy cards but, for me at least, they came in because of a gift or other stationery product.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I acquire new retailers but definitely the biggest benefit is connections for future work, orders and collaboration. And because I’m a small business, it’s really nice getting to meet many of my existing retailers in person. I feel like it forges and strengthens the relationship between a small business retailer and a small business stationery wholesaler.

I Must Draw

Desiree B
I Must Draw

Desiree B. began I Must Draw by making plush creatures that fit into the palm of your hand and look up at you with surprised eyes or a surprisingly stern look. Then she brought her characters to life in cards and wood engravings. Her more than 200 different styles include the Friend Chips, Moose Willis, Happy Birdays and some puns that go straight over people’s heads; a Valentine’s Day card featured a tick dressed as a Roman—but only the Brits got that one.

Desiree. Photo © I Must Draw.

Desiree. Photo © I Must Draw.

National Stationery Show Booth. Photo © I Must Draw.

National Stationery Show Booth. Photo © I Must Draw.

Photo © I Must Draw.

Photo © I Must Draw.

Photo © I Must Draw.

Photo © I Must Draw.

Business and show history

Been doing Stationery full time for 3 years, and I’ve exhibited at the NSS twice.

Renegade, Unique, Artists and Fleas are craft shows I do and for the most part I do pretty well. I find it helps to test out new designs first hand to gauge people’s response, make sure my pricing is right, and I also get ideas for new work. NSS helps me grow my business with new wholesale accounts and access to retailers who might otherwise not see my work. It’s also pretty inspiring to be surrounded by so much talent, it makes you step up your game.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

This year I had paid for hard walls through the show which weren’t up when I arrived. I couldn’t do any of the set up on day 1 which meant working doubly hard on day two or three. Because Javits lays down carpet on day 3 of set up, you can pretty much stay there as late as you want on the day before the show, I was there till 2am but not through choice.

Smartest tip—sleep as much as you can and don’t forget to eat. No one knows if you don’t have a design up except you. Be prepared to compromise.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I get focus primarily, all the investment means that you have very clear deadlines, you can’t put off stuff you don’t want to do like making a catalog; it’s such an essential piece of marketing that it has to be ready. You also have to produce new work and it’s good to have a goal by which it will be ready.

Desiree has also posted detailed accounts of NSS 2015 on her blog.

Mr. Ellie Pooh

Karl Wald
Mr. Ellie Pooh

Like many young people, Karl Wald always knew that he wanted to make a difference in the world. A trip to Sri Lanka and a chance meeting with a paper maker named Thusitha Ranasinghe turned out to be life-changing for Karl—and for the elephants.

Elephants naturally are not favored as neighbors by farmers, who, in turn are shrinking the elephants’ habitat. When elephants trample and destroy valued crops, they are often shot and killed. Karl and Thusitha believe that providing sustainable papermaking jobs gives value to elephants.

While it may not completely resolve the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, Ellie Pooh paper is already going a long way toward raising the tolerance of farmers toward the elephants—by actually compensating them for damage to their crops. For this reason the elephant is seen more as an economic asset and less as a nuisance or threat. The people will not want to see the elephant disappear from their midst, and Ellie Pooh paper plays an important role in the saving the population of Asian elephants in Sri Lanka.

Karl Wald in Sri Lanka. Photo © Karl Wald.

Karl Wald in Sri Lanka. Photo © Karl Wald.

Product creation. Photo © Jennifer Foreman and Carl Avidano.

Product creation. Photo © Jennifer Foreman and Carl Avidano.

Trade show booth display. Photo © Samantha Hirst.

Trade show booth display. Photo © Samantha Hirst.

Photo © Carl and Kirsty Avidano.

Photo © Carl and Kirsty Avidano.

Business and show history

I’ve been in business 10 years, and my business is 95% wholesale. We have been exhibiting at NSS on and off for the last 6 years. We love the show. It’s close to home for us. We will most likely do it next year, it all depends if it conflicts with family life.

We used to do all types of shows; retail, wholesale, holiday markets, now we just do local shows. NY Gift twice a year and NSS. Next year, we may do the book show and the toy show.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

There are always mistakes with logistics that can be spendy. Unions, shipping, drayage, electricity and lights…the selling is the easy part. It would be best to let the host company handle the first show.

I usually call the warehouse and order the appropriate merchandise. It changes for every show. Always bring business cards… lots of them, handouts and freebies. Especially if you don’t have a printed catalog.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

It’s mostly connections for us. We never pay for the show with sales at the show, it is what you do after the show that works best for us. Remember, always follow up.

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:

Shipshape Collective Freebie

Ultimate Trade Show Packing List

14 stationery companies shared their own trade show packing lists with us, and we’ve compiled it into a master list.