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National Stationery Show Prep Tips

by Arianne Foulks

October 11, 2016

nns advice -- I get so much out of the National Stationery Show. This show brings people, ideas and opportunities right into my booth. There are people that I would not have the chance to meet and talk with otherwise. So many doors get opened wide and then wider. I also love being with my peers and having the chance to talk and learn from others who have been in the business for a long time. New orders and reorders are a big part of the show.

This is the second in our series of tips posts about how to exhibit at trade shows! This one shares NNS advice from Colleen Attara, Bruno Press, LARK+RAVEN, and Smarty Pants Paper Co. 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.

NSS Advice

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.

Colleen Attara

Colleen Attara

Fascinated by what others leave behind, I sew intimate treasures into a narrative using my words and photographs. These pieces are my mixed media collage prints and greeting cards. My line has grown to over 60 prints and over 100 cards and is sold in over 80 stores nationwide. I believe we are all woven together and our stories are a common thread.

colleen-attara | nns advice
Colleen Attara, photo © Jeff Wojtaszek
colleen-attara-booth | nns advice
Photo © Colleen Attara
Photo © Colleen Attara
Photo © Matt Pauselius

Business and show history

I have been in business as an artist for 12 years and the last six years have been full time. My line of greeting cards and prints have been part of my business for about three years.

Wholesale keeps growing and I think that is because I have focused heavily on it and what gets our focus grows. I have put a lot of energy into the wholesale part of my business and hiring really good reps that believe in what my line represents. I would say right now that my business is 65% wholesale. The other 35 percent is retail, teaching, and grants and installations.

This is my third year at NSS. I am already thinking and planning about my booth for next year. I love NSS!

Right now, NSS is the only trade show I do. I am considering adding in the Atlanta Gift Show in January. I do other shows that make sense for me based on ease and getting feedback for new designs. There are some shows I try never to miss. I love Clover Market on the Philadelphia Main Line, which is in the spring and fall. This is a juried show with amazing goods and artist vendors. I may not do them all, but I show up each season. I teach at Squam Art Workshops and they have a magical art fair on Saturday night during the New Hampshire retreats. There is also an art fair at the art center next to my studio during the holidays. I do not miss that ever. I like being with the public and seeing how they react to my work. I am in about 80 stores right now and knowing how my work affects the public really helps me communicate well with the stores that carry my art and the reps who sell it.

Lessons, advice, and tips

I think each year you learn or realize something that will make the next year even better. I would say the best thing I have done ever since the start is move my studio into my booth at NSS. My studio furniture is vintage and eclectic. Surrounding myself with objects and furniture that are part of my everyday gives people a really good feel for who I am as a designer. Another plus is that I am really at home in my booth.

Other than that, I would say good lighting is important. I did not have this the first year. Also, for the past two years, I have brought along my vintage Royal typewriter named Flo. I think people enjoy stopping, typing and chatting. Having something in your both that is interactive and engaging is good.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I get so much out of NSS. This show brings people, ideas and opportunities right into my booth. There are people that I would not have the chance to meet and talk with otherwise. So many doors get opened wide and then wider. I also love being with my peers and having the chance to talk and learn from others who have been in the business for a long time. New orders and reorders are a big part of the show.

Bruno Press

Mary C. Bruno
Bruno Press

My father, Don Bruno, was a professor of art at the College of Saint Benedict and St.Cloud State University. He was also a freelance designer, the best in the world. He started falling in love with letterpress in the eighties and began acquiring presses, type, and everything else needed to set up a great little shop in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

I spent a lot of time printing with my father and when he passed away suddenly in 2003,
the shop was handed over to me. It is a great legacy and I have made it my own with a lot of blood (from linoleum block carving), sweat (from pushing deadlines), and tears (from missin’ my pop).

Photo © Bruno Press | nns advice
Photo © Bruno Press
Photo © Bruno Press
Photo © Bruno Press

Business and show history

I moved back to Minnesota to take over my father’s print shop after he suddenly passed away in 2004. I had grown up an “art kid” and spent a lot of time in the shop with my dad. When I came back I was just trying to figure out what I could do with all this equipment and naturally started making funny, swear-filled cards, ’cause no one else was doing it then. I would say that I became a business a few years later and was concentrating on funny, off-the-wall cards by like 2006. I think I sold my first batch of wholesale to a sweet boutique chain in Minnesota called The Electric Fetus and I decided I could actually make some money doing this! I was marketing to myself, I wanted cards that spoke to people like me.

I guess I have been in business since 2006, I went full time in Bruno Press in 2011 but I have been printing forever.

I would say that 70% of my business is wholesale and then the rest is some retail (I cherry pick a few awesome local shows), I teach workshops at colleges, high schools, and the like, I do some custom printing, not wedding invites (which I don’t really care for) but like posters and unique stuff for cool people. I do design work as well and it works for me to have a few pokers in the fire for when the card business waxes and wanes.

2016 was my fifth year exhibiting at NSS and I am on the fence about the show and whether or not I will attend next year. I am always so disappointed with the traffic and I think it is too long. I love being in NYC though, really it is the funnest week of my year. Expensive though, for sure. I do not do any other trade shows, I look into it and but can only really afford the one, it is all such a crap shoot.

As for other shows and markets I try to find really well attended Indie Craft Fairs, and I do great at those. I like ones that are not too far away and are only one day long. I have a great set up for shows, which is important and I have done it all myself with a lot of trips to Home Depot. It is a great look and I have won a few “Best in Show”‘s which helps. They are hard work too and you have to do your homework and apply early. The local craft fairs in my area, including my own holiday art crawl that I host in my home town are the very best for me, I clean up at those, probably because I have a strong “fan” base here, and it’s fun.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

As for mistakes and all that, man, I have made them all, I have spent so much money trying to keep with the Joneses at the trade show until I decided that I don’t need to follow some pre determined plan that someone else came up with. for the last 4 years my walls were not hard, they were fabric and the whole thing fit into 2 checked bags! No one noticed and the buyers that I wanted to attract did not give 2 shits about my walls. They were looking for kickass cards and that was what I showcased. I try not to spend any time looking at what is “trending” or hot, I do my own thing and then I am never chasing anything down. Trends come and go faster than you think so I think it is best to keep it about yourself.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

The pro and con list of trade shows is easy, I LOVE networking with buyers, bloggers, other makers, all of it! I am good at it and I learn a ton from talking with other people. Buyers have been so good to me and enjoy sharing feedback with me about the show, my card line, things that they wanna see all of that. I love to meet other makers and talk shop, share experiences and get inspired, I love to collaborate with others and work together building each other up instead of being shitty and competitive.


Ali Macdonald

Inspired by her grandmother—a brilliant, bold, and often outlandish artist—Ali Macdonald founded LARK+RAVEN in 2014 to showcase designs that gleefully toe the line between cheeky and chic. Ali uses unconventional media to create the bright, one-of-a-kind patterns and characters featured on all of her products. Here’s a hint—like the morning lark and the mischievous raven, these beautiful prints aren’t always what they seem.

lark-raven } nns advice

Business and show history

I founded LARK+RAVEN in November 2014. I started making stationery in February of 2015. 75% of my business is wholesale.

I’ve attended the NSS two years. I hope to attend next year! I’ve done Renegade and a few pop-ups. I love setting up shop at West Elm Local in DUMBO. The staff there is amazing and I always have a great time meeting people.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

NSS is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with existing retailers and to meet new ones. I’ve made a lot of connections at that show that have led to amazing collaborations. I’ve made friends with wonderful designers and artists who are very generous in providing support and insights. As my business grows, I find that preparing for NSS helps create structure in terms of working towards certain deadlines. If I didn’t have to prepare for a show, I would likely be off track in creating a spring catalog, releasing new items, and reaching out to buyers at an opportune time. It’s also really great to see all of your products on display because it forces you to reassess what is and isn’t working.

Smarty Pants Paper Co.

Kate Thurman
Smarty Pants Paper Co.

Smarty Pants Paper Co is all about bright colors, bold graphics and vintage style. I screen printed my first note card (on a Gocco) at the age of nine, and have had a passion for art and printmaking ever since. I started designing stationery 2005, and what began as a handful of cards that were hand printed in the corner of a spare bedroom has grown into a company with a variety of functional and giftable items such as gift wrap, washi tape, and art prints.
The Smarty Pants studio is located in Knoxville, TN, where I still print the majority of my products using my Kelsey Model X letterpress, and my Risograph machine.
Photo © Smarty Pants Paper | nns advice
Photo © Smarty Pants Paper
Photo © Smarty Pants Paper
Photo © Smarty Pants Paper

Business and show history

I’ve been dabbling since 2006 with craft fairs and consignment. I decided to do NSS 2013 at the very last minute, but I wanted to change my business name and rebrand before introducing myself on a large scale, so Smarty Pants Paper Co. started in March of 2013.

In the last 12 months, sales have been 70% wholesale, 30% retail. I’ve exhibited at the NSS for three years (I skipped 2014 for baby reasons), and I plan to exhibit again.

No other trade shows yet. I like to do summer markets if they are convenient, and holiday craft markets since I don’t get many wholesale orders during winter market season. Last year I did the Summer Renegade in LA, Summer and Winter Retropolitan in Knoxville, and Winter Porter Flea in Nashville, Crafty Supermarket in Cincinnati, and Crafty Feast in Columbia. Markets make up about half of my retail sales, plus generate more sales on my site.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Tips: You don’t have to spend $10,000 on your booth. Don’t give out a catalog without getting a business card in return (I keep a notebook to write down emails of people who ran out of cards). There are lots of free opportunities to get your brand more exposure, like the best new product competition. This year NSS had a trading card deck scavenger hunt, and I submitted a design and was chosen to be in the deck. Most of the people who came by collecting cards weren’t my target market, but some of them were and took catalogs. It was fun and not much effort for me.

Mistakes: Pre-show mailers are super duper important, so is your booth location. I had a horrible booth location my first year, and since I decided to exhibit at the last minute and didn’t have much time to prepare, I didn’t have a mailing list. I purchased a mailing list from NSS for stores in the southeast, and sent a digitally printed post card. I don’t think any of the stores I sent cards to stopped in. Very few of my accounts today are in the southeast, so I missed my mark with location as well. I also had postcards printed up to hand out at the show because I had been given advice to have something smaller than a catalog that still showed my products to give to buyers who didn’t want to carry around a catalog. I don’t think anyone took them. I shipped my booth to the warehouse, and they are not at all careful with your boxes. One of my chairs was broken and my table had a hole punched in the top. Last year and this year I opted to drive my booth up in a van. It was much less hassle and the travel time isn’t all that different since I live in an area with a tiny airport and inconvenient flight schedules.

Last year I paid $250 for the enhanced directory listing (bigger and with my logo) and that was 100% not worth it. From what I could tell, all the traffic to my booth was from people walking by, mailers, and people who saw my products in the best new product awards. Oh, and skipping a year after only exhibiting once, while unavoidable, was basically like starting over as far as reaching potential stores.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I get exposure to shops I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise, and I’ve met people from department stores, big online stores, and press.

We have a lot more NNS advice to share; you can find it here!

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:

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