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2 crafters’ experiences at the national stationery show

A few crafters in the Crafty Supermarket family went to New York City last month for Signature Mix, a massive trade show that includes the National Stationery Show. It’s a ginormous event that draws 900+ exhibitors and thousands of buyers from around the world who are looking to stock their stores with the hottest new products. (Unlike our indie craft show, Signature Mix is only open to buyers and the press — there’s no shopping, just order-placing.) We talked to Kate of cat stationery line Kate Funk (who was there for the second time) and Maya of seed bomb pioneers VisuaLingual (who was there for the first time) about how it went:

Kate Funk

How did the show go overall? 

I think it was OK, but you can never really tell at the show. Last year I went into it thinking that I was going to get a whole ton of orders from new stores and was super let down when that wasn’t the case. But what I didn’t know was the majority of the business I would see from the show came afterwards from all the people who took my card or catalog and contacted me later. So even though I was let down last year it was worth it, and I’m hoping the same will be the case for this year.

kate funk at the national stationery show, signature mix

How long in advance did you start planning?

This was my second year so I had a little advantage knowing what all goes into the logistics. We started putting thought into getting ready for the show last fall. I spent most of the Christmas craft fair season sitting in my booth and brainstorming the new products we wanted to make. January through April is always my slow season, which gives me a chance to relax and just focus on making new art. We had everything done and off to the printers by April. The month leading up to the show was spent on logistics and booth design. Luckily, we already had our booth made last year, so this year we just had to repaint it and change a few things around based on our experience the first time around.

What did you do to get prepared? 

There’s so much. You constantly think that you are almost finished and then 10 more things will pop up on your list. First and most important is your products. I remember a good piece of advice that I read when prepping the first time: “Focus on your products. That is what people are there to see. Your booth just needs to stand for four days.” You also need to make sure you have a line sheet or wholesale catalog prepared. Then there were lots of little things to get printed, such as business cards and carbon copy order forms (I needed a way to give copies of orders on the spot and the cost of internet at the show is crazy expensive). Lastly I needed to do all the booth prep — lighting, flooring, wall colors, furniture, a way to cleverly hide our coats as you don’t get any storage at all. It makes craft fairs feel like a breeze now.

kate funk at the national stationery show, signature mix

What went really well? 

I think just being able to get my stuff out there to people who wouldn’t normally run across it is always great. It seemed most people who placed an order with me had headed to my booth with that intention. But the people who didn’t even know about my stuff and saw it, enjoyed it, and took a card are the exciting prospects, because you have no idea what they’ll lead to.

What didn’t go so well? 

It seemed that attendance was really down this year, sadly. I heard a rumor it was down 48 percent. So there was a lot of downtime of sitting in the booth.

kate funk at the national stationery show, signature mix

What would you do differently next time?

I’m not sure there will be a next time for me. I love the show and getting a chance to see everything going on in the awesome world of stationery, but the location is just not for me personally. I’m a country/Midwest girl at heart and heading to New York is a huge stress to me that I don’t know if I can handle a third time around (plus the costs of staying there are outrageous on top of the already huge show costs). I still think trade shows are a good endeavor — I’m just going to search for ones that aren’t in New York for my next one.

VisuaLingual

How did the show go overall? 

This was our first time, so we didn’t have concrete expectations. Other exhibitors seemed to think our booth was busy, and we did hear from some veterans that the show seemed a bit less well-attended this year. From our perspective, we managed to get everything done in preparation, and our booth was still standing by the end of the show, both of which seem like victories for a couple of first-timers. We can’t really do a comprehensive assessment until after we’ve tallied up our holiday wholesale orders, which will be in about five months.

visualingual booth at the national stationery show, signature mix

How long in advance did you start planning?

We had the initial conversation about participating exactly two months before the show opened, so our time frame was very compressed. We got everything done that we’d wanted to, but a lot of exhibitors plan for six months or so, which seems ideal, especially for a first-time exhibitor. That way, you can weave the show-specific tasks into your regular schedule without losing your sanity or getting overwhelmed.

What did you do to get prepared? 

Tons of things! I’ll break this down into four categories:

  • Booth preparation: We designed and built our walls and shelving, chose and purchased the other fixtures, and designed booth signage. Our booth was very simple, but we needed to make sure that we were using our limited space well and making the most of the fact that we had a high-visibility corner.
  • Collateral: Before the show, we sent out postcards to all current and past retailers, press and other contacts, as well as stores that might consider stocking our products. We wanted to make sure people coming to the show would stop by our booth! We also designed and printed new business cards, line sheets, order forms, press kits and giveaway swag.
  • Products: Since this was our first time at this show (or any trade show), we didn’t feel too much pressure to debut a lot of brand-new products, but we did have a few. We also produced inventory in anticipation of orders.
  • Elevator pitch/spiel: We took a step back and really tried to think about introducing ourselves and our products to new people. This was reflected in planning our booth, product photography and collateral design, as well as in figuring out our talking points in different situations.

visualingual booth at the national stationery show, signature mix

What went really well? 

Given our short timeframe, we did a really good job of establishing deadlines, schedules and lists to get all of our tasks accomplished. Our worst nightmare was that we’d forget something really basic and critical, but that luckily didn’t happen!

What didn’t go so well? 

We really wanted potted plants in our booth, but it made sense to purchase those at the last minute in New York City. Unfortunately, we had limited time and struggled to find exactly what we’d envisioned. The plants we ended up with were still a nice touch, but we were a bit disappointed with them.

visualingual booth at the national stationery show, signature mix

What would you do differently next time?

We would do a better job of anticipating our audience. In our case, we focused on meeting lots of retailers but lots of wedding planners stopped by our booth as well. While wedding and event favors are a big part of our business, our display and collateral didn’t really reflect that.

Maya also blogged about her trade show experience here! Thanks for sharing your experiences, ladies!

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