The National Stationery Show (Part TWO)

Posted June 08 2013


I am back today with Part TWO of our NSS coverage. I’ll be sharing our experiences during the show itself so make sure you go check out Part ONE if you haven’t yet. Get’s about to get wordy! 

The show officially runs Sunday-Tuesday from 9-6 and on Wednesday from 9-12. I assume it starts on a Sunday to include a weekend day for those who cannot make it during the week? From what we had heard, many non-corporate retailers and smaller shops walked the show on Sunday, and more corporate shops or bigger shops come on the weekdays. Before I get into the breakdown of each day, let me first say that prior to the show we sent out pre-show mailers to shops and bloggers inviting them to visit our booth and check out the line. 

We ended up mailing out around 135 of these to various levels of retailers and a few of our favorite bloggers and media. Not only does this let them know where you’ll be at the show and gives them a glimpse of your line, but it allows them to do some research on your products and brand prior to the show. I had mine digitally printed so I could showcase photos of the products, and then I screenprinted a polka dot design in mint and a "hello" script in black. The entire spread was scored to z-fold down to an A2 size so that it looked like a greeting card. You want to be sure to capture the recipient's attention and show what you do, but forst and foremost include your booth number and contact info.


Sunday morning was off to a bit of a slow start and then out of nowhere buyers and members of the media began to fill up the aisles. Our first few visitors to the booth happened to be recipients of our pre-show mailers! We could tell that they had done their homework because many of them were ready to write orders right away once they had an opportunity to see and feel our products. So why go all the way to New York if they were planning on ordering anyway you ask? Sure, buyers could just view a PDF of your collection online and place an order, but the reason we as exhibitors and they as attendees travel to the show is to have not only face time and to market yourself, but for products to be touched and seen in person. It really makes a difference especially with items that involve screenprinting, letterpress, and embellishments. Plus it shows you’re legit and professional enough to take such a huge step. A few questions that many buyers had for us were the following:

• What is your opening order amount?

• What is your turnaround?

• Where are you based out of?

We found it helpful to be prepared for such questions and more. It is also helpful to have a pitch ready as many times those buyers walking in were not on your mailing list and/or may have not heard of you before. We definitely gave them space to look around but always greeted them and let them know what printing methods we use (screenprinting) as this set us apart from other brands at the show. Some buyers are chatty, some are not. Some just want to look and take your card, some look and want a catalog, some will sit and write orders. I found that you can’t be offended if they look and walk away because many come back the next day! This is a HUGE show with hundreds of booths and if it felt massive to me, it must be overwhelming to buyers. I noticed many people making lists and then going back to those booths they jotted down once they walked the entire show. If they don’t come back or walk by without stopping in your booth then you can’t dwell on it. Not every shop is going to be a good fit. And your goal should be to establish accounts that you can continue to work with, not just taking one order. Also keep in mind shops have a budget and limited shelf space. And who is to say they won’t place an order with you after the show? Give them a card or a catalog and stay positive and open-minded. Another thing we kept in mind as first time exhibitors is that some shops are wary of taking on newer lines and instead they opt for brands that have been at the show before. It’s nothing personal, it is a business and they may not want to risk an order with a brand that may not be around the following year. We found it helpful that we were also showing not only The Paper Cub Co., our greetings line, but also our gift line, sass&peril, because we have been wholesaling those products for a few years now. So we were new to the show, but not new to wholesaling. There is no magic number for the amount of orders you should write at the show. As a first timer you may not, and probably won’t, make your investment back at the show itself so keep that in mind as you set your budget. The real work begins after the show, making sure to follow up on leads, continuing to market yourself, and first and foremost attending to your accounts you established at the show. Eventually, those numbers start to even out as you grow. There is a reason that brands continue to do this show every year, right? At some point you start to recoup those expenses.

Going back to the topic of questions, there will always be some questions that you just were not prepared for. We got a lot of licensing inquires for sass&peril, and honestly, I didn’t really have a solid answer prepared in that moment. Best thing to do is take a business card and follow up after the show that way you have time to think and discuss these types of things. Another point of hesitation for us was boxed sets for our TPC cards. This was something we had thought about but didn’t have a structure in place for. But hey, it is a great opportunity to get opinions of people who run shops and have first hand experience of buying them! Take advantage of their knowledge, being respectful of their time, of course.

Sunday went well overall, being the first day of our first ever tradeshow I’d say it was a smashing success! We started off a bit nervous but as the hours passed and we talked and wrote orders more we were able to shake that off. It was fun talking about our line, I mean why not!? We were proud of what we did and were happy to share it with visitors to our booth. Many were shocked that it was our first year, which we took as a huge compliment. I owe that to being prepared and doing the proper research prior to the show. (And TSBC!) 

Monday and Tuesday were a blur. A good blur, but exhausting nonetheless. These days were jam packed with not only buyers (that's Ami and Liz from Mac & Murphy and Danni from Oh, Hello Friend above), but also bloggers, suppliers, and even prospective exhibitors and students walking the show. We did the bulk of our order writing on these two days. I heard from some exhibitors that Tuesday was slow for them, but I think it is because the crowds made their way from one section of booths to another each day. These must have been the days that these crowds occupied our section of the show! There were some lulls as most of the attendees came in waves, picture 5-10 people in your booth all at once, then none. On that note, I am glad that Cesar was as adept at taking orders as I was because we both were filling our order forms with different buyers simultaneously at one point. Over these two days we got orders, media coverage, licensing inquiries, requests for info from some big box stores, connected with fellow printers and designers, and much more. Exactly why we were at the show to begin with! Check out Nole from Oh So Beautiful Paper and Kelly from Studio DIY doing their thing below :)

To say we were utterly wiped after each day of the show would be an understatement. I am so glad we chose to stay in a hotel within walking distance of Javits during the show because all we wanted to do was go back to our room, put our feet up, and relax. At least until we got our second wind and went adventuring, mainly to find food and libations :) The hotel was not cheap, this is NYC people, but we figured we’d be saving on transportation to and from our friend’s place in Brooklyn. Also it is nice to have a quiet, private place to unwind after each day. We booked it through the show managment so I'd like to think we got a deal. It was so worth it, really.

Tuesday evening we had the pleasure of attending a get together hosted by Etsy and also the Paper Party hosted by Oh So Beautiful Paper! That was a fun night just networking, letting loose, and hanging out with our new paper pals :)

Wednesday was the last day at the show, which was from 9-12 Noon, just a mere 3 hours worth of show time. It sounds odd, but there are last minute catalog and business card grabs for those who didn’t have enough time to fully see your booth and collections. Plus you never know who might walk in 10 minutes until noon. You've got to be on your A-game during those short hours!

Tear down begins promptly at noon, and boy do those booths come down faster than they were put up! It is quite hilarious. For the most part everyone is exhausted, looking forward to getting home, and ready to start fulfilling those orders! I think we were done at around 2:30, but that is also due in part to not having any walls to ship back. If you ship your own walls or use a crate you've got to stick around and wait until the Javits workers bring it to your booth. So with suitcases stuffed, we dropped off some of our boxes to the Fed Ex kiosk that we needed to ship back home, then we were off to the airport. Just like that!

Part THREE will be coming up next with the financial breakdown of the show and a few thoughts on budgeting. I’ll also discuss our goals going into the show and if we met them. I hope you’re enjoying this series of posts! If you have any questions or comments on things I covered or didn't cover, feel free to leave them below.