Back in January I wrote an article for the Storque reviewing the book Craft, Inc by Meg Mateo Ilasco. The book is a business primer for anyone in the craft field. One section of the book discussed the basics of showing your work at a trade show. Since I was already planning to attend the National Stationery Show (NSS) in New York, I decided this would be a great opportunity to pop in on several Etsians who were participating in a large trade event. Prior to the show, I interviewed six designers but was lucky to run into several more during the show. Those I interviewed included my friend Hannah at piebirdpress, Katie at micahandme, Shelley at albertinepress, Marty at letterarypress, Lisa at sweetbeets, and Jennifer at jhilldesign. They gave wonderful insight for anyone interested in this often daunting and sometimes mysterious scene.
A trade show is a ‘trade only’ event where sellers (you, the craftsperson) show their wares to buyers (retailers from small boutique shops to big box stores) in hopes of landing wholesale accounts. Trade shows are not open to the public and to “walk the floor” you usually have to either have a press pass, an exhibitor pass, a retailer pass or otherwise prove you are in the biz. Most trade shows occur over several long days in which the buyers can either place orders at the show, or take your catalog home for what you hope will they will buy later. One thing to note is that you do not actually give them the goods at the show. You simply have a display featuring your items. When buyers place orders, it is up to you to set your terms which include how soon after the show you will ship them their items.
If you do decide that you are interested in selling wholesale, and you have the means to produce larger quantities of your products, as well as having enough items to attract a variety of buyers, then a trade show may be a worthwhile investment. But note that it IS an investment which can quickly add up to a pretty penny. Booths can cost $2000+ for only a 10’ x 8’ booth. This doesn’t include electricity, flooring, walls, furnishings/display, not to mention travel and hotel expenses for the week. For this reason, I would suggest making sure you have a well developed line with several years in business under your belt before tackling the trade show circuit. Also, once you commit to exhibiting at a large trade show, it is often an unwritten expectation that you will exhibit every year (unless you ask for a sabbatical).
Sweet and simple sums up the sweetbeets booth display:
The National Stationery Show is the largest paper goods trade event in the country with approximately 1300 exhibitors and nearly 15,000 national and international retailers. Sweetbeets says it best: “I decided to go to NSS because it is THE show for my market and will help me expand the wholesale side of my business.” It runs 8 hours a day from Sunday till Wednesday annually in mid-May. While the smaller booths chosen ranged from 10×6’ to 10×10’, the majority of these lovely gals chose the 10×8’ booth as their temporary home away from home. As for years of experience, this was the third year for two of them, the second for one, and for three of them, this was their very first year. When I asked how long they had been preparing for the show, many of the first year exhibitors said they started planning for the show 1 ½ to 2 years prior. As micahandme put it, “About a year and a half ago… I came across an article online about a girl who attended (NSS) the year before. I made a promise to myself that day that I would be an exhibitor at the 2008 show …and it’s a promise that I’ve kept!”
A gorgeous wall of cards by micahandme:
When it came to the money, most of the exhibitors I interviewed had budgeted roughly $5000-7000 for exhibiting. Some were spending as much as $10,000 and one as little as $3000. The discrepancy in costs often is attributed to where you stay (with friends vs. nearly a week in a hotel, if you have to travel far to get there and even the costs of getting your display to the show). These costs also don’t include the expenses involved with developing and manufacturing their lines.
So how many products do you need to have at a show like this? Obviously the more products the better, with more choices for the finicky buyer to choose from. But a large line also means that many more designs you will have to produce. The number of items available at these ladies’ booths varied from around 50 up to nearly 150 different designs. Some of the larger companies had designs running in the hundreds of items. While hundreds of products may be a little out of your capability, it is important to have realistic goals. letterarypress told me, “If I take enough orders to cover expenses, I will be thrilled. My main goal is to open as many new accounts as I can, meet with reps, and maintain a presence in the industry.”
A fun display for letterarypress’ cards:
Of all the ladies I spoke with, jhilldesign was the only one sharing a booth with three other companies (two of which also have Etsy shops — Tara Hogan of Ink + Wit and Anna and Sean of Sub-Studio). This allowed them to afford a larger booth than they would individually. But don’t think you can cram 10 of your best buds in a booth with you. Large trade shows have serious rules, many of which involve how you can and cannot share a booth. Typically everyone sharing must be represented by a larger “rep group.” Some of Jennifer’s best advice on gleaning info: “I always tell people to find someone who does what they want to do and ask them every question under the sun.”
A trio of beautiful displays from tarahogan, substudio, jhilldesign:
So if you are considering a future in the trade show market, hopefully these final words of advice from the two veterans of those I interviewed will inspire you — yet keep you grounded at the same time. Piebirdpress mentions, “The wholesale world is pretty brutal, and you have to be really serious about your business to get involved. You really can’t go to a show like NSS and expect to print cards per order, or produce editions of 50 cards at a time. If you aren’t equipped to step up production, you will flounder….If you do decide to go, a creative booth display is really important. Make sure you wear good shoes and dress comfortably…You should have plenty of promotional materials available: linesheets, business cards, giveaways… It’s important to be really friendly to everyone, and be prepared to point out what makes your cards special, even if nobody asks.”
A deliciously decorated booth from piebirdpress:
Lastly, according to albertinepress, “Participating at NSS or any other trade show is a huge endeavor. Don’t go in unprepared, and don’t expect to be a huge success overnight. Spend a lot of time to make sure that you’re reflecting yourself and your work in your booth display. Buyers are visiting over 1000 booths (or rather, walking by over 1000 booths). You need to give them a reason to stop at yours. Then you need the products to keep them there. But have fun!”
Stunning patterns and colors from albertinepress:
Some other Etsians I ran into include:
The orangebeautiful ladies are sitting pretty in their lovely booth:
A warm and welcoming feel from dutchdoor:
Overall, the show was wonderful to see. Every year I come away with a new list of designers I admire. My favorite part, hands down, was meeting the talented and lovely Etsians exhibiting. Even in the larger booths, when I asked if they knew of Etsy, they all were like… “Oh yeah, yeah.. I know Etsy.” That was a nice feeling.
American Craft Council Baltimore Show
Craft and Hobby Association
EXTRACTS (bath and body trade show)
George Little Management: A trade show organizer
International Contemporary Furniture Fair
New York International Gift Fair
Philadelphia Buyers Market of American Craft
For extended coverage of the show from more of a design perspective that includes Etsians and non-Etsians alike, visit my blog at www.paper-stories.blogspot.com.
Looking for more info about trade shows? Check out this post on the International Gem and Mineral Show!