Our First NSS: The Recap
Last month, we exhibited at the National Stationery Show for our first time, and it was incredible. We've been busy printing cards, filling orders and following up with the amazing people we met at the show. Here's the recap of all we learned, what we'll do differently next time, and all the things I need to gush about.
THINGS WE LEARNED
Buyers = Friends The people who placed orders with us were kindred spirits. They laughed at the humorous cards, awww'd at the sweet cards, and were incredibly encouraging. Meeting our buyers face to face was a wonderful reminder that these people are our friends! We enjoyed meeting them, talking with them and hearing their thoughts. I want to keep remembering that through the year. It's hard to remember to follow up with a business contact, but easy to remember to check in with a friend!
Follow your gut. There were a lot of things I was worried about right before the show. Will buyers reject our non-standard card sizes? Will black envelopes be a deal breaker? Will anyone order? Will our work be too different from everything else at the show? (I had moments of second guessing everything I've ever done.) But at the show, the buyers' comments were overwhelmingly positive. Not a single person questioned sizes, envelope colors, or any of the other things I had stressed about. They were super encouraging about our low-tech image making and print methods, and our line's simplicity and masculine appeal. Many of our buyers were male or buying from our line for their male customers. I'm not a dude, but I am married to a dude. And I'm really not a "girly" girl. The stationery industry can be very feminine, and I was worried we'd stick out in a bad way. But it was really nice to hear from buyer after buyer that our work is a welcome change. So I suppose the lesson here is: You followed your gut when you made these choices in the first place. Stick to those decisions. Consider them good ones until you hear differently. Ignore the blinding pre-show panic.
Planning for emergencies is actually a good strategy. While asking myself crazy, irrational questions was bad for my sanity before the show, it actually came in handy once we got to New York. I was really worried about checking suitcases with all our paper goods inside, so I put almost everything in two carry ons. (They ended up being 40 lbs. each - sorry Brad!) Well, the 5 hours our bags spent on the runway in Chicago and deplaning the suitcases in flash-flood-warning rain in New York left our checked bags COMPLETELY soaked. Thankfully, they were only filled with clothes, plastic bins with tools, etc., and one box of catalogs. We had to hang dry all of our clothes, and 5 catalogs were damaged, but it could have been MUCH worse. (Also, rest in peace blowdryer and curling iron.)
I also packed two of pretty much everything. In different bags. And had a back-up box at the studio, just in case. Something will go wrong, and planning ahead (in obsessive detail) gave me greater confidence to know I could tackle most problems as they came up.
You need a helper. Brad came to New York with me, and it was incredibly helpful to have someone on hand to help with set-up, bring me coffee, watch the booth while I went to the bathroom, and for general moral support. I can't imagine tackling the show without my right hand man.
Plan ahead. I went to Paper Camp in October, and started preparing for the show as soon as I got home. I had most of the major things done months in advance. I ended up getting really sick a few weeks before the show, so I didn't pull any late nights in preparation. My body just wouldn't allow it. While I was laying in bed, I was feeling really thankful that I started preparing so far in advance. I've done things for the business in the past in a way that allows me to become completely overwhelmed by stress. Others can thrive under extreme pressure, but it gets ugly for me without plenty of sleep and checked off to do lists. (Trust me.) The advance planning I did allowed NSS to arrive without any major breakdowns. I planned thoroughly, prepared months in advance, and ignored all impulses to majorly change or add to my original plan. I'm sure this coming year will have its own challenges, but I want to prepare similarly in advance. That basically means starting to design next year's line right now. (And we've got our first C&Co. new line brainstorming day on the calendar!)
THINGS WE'LL CHANGE
Solo booth. Exhibiting with Ladies of Letterpress was absolutely the right choice for this year. It gave me a show under my belt, lots of lessons learned, and the validation that this whole tradeshow thing is a good idea for us. But next year, we're planning to tackle our own booth! Brad and I spent time before the last day of the show walking around and looking at locations, booth sizes, etc. We've got a lot of exciting ideas!
Hard walls. The walls we had in the Ladies of Letterpress booth were 3/16" foam core, and they felt really flimsy. They had seams and zip ties in all the wrong places. Every time the booth behind us did something on set-up day, the wall would sway dramatically. I was running to make sure my standing shelf didn't get pushed over every few minutes. Not ideal! I know hard walls are more expensive, but I feel like the extra cost is worth it to look more professional and be less precarious. I'm researching several options - rent them, build them ourselves and ship them, etc. This part is scary, but we will tackle it one day at a time. (Only 11 months left! hahahaha.)
Shoes. I am on an epic quest to find attractive, comfortable shoes for next year's show. I made some pretty terrible shoe choices for this year. Standing in one place from 10 am to 6 pm for several days is rough. I didn't have room for a chair, and Vans are a bad choice for long term standing. (Be they cute and chambray or not!) We ended up taking a late night teary-eyed (on my part) walk to a Manhattan Kmart for Dr. Scholl's inserts. Your cute and comfortable shoe suggestions are welcomed!
Sit. We saw several booths with a cocktail height table/bar, and a cute stool. This is genius. You're up high enough to not look like a slacker, but you also get to take a load off every once in a while. Genius.
Eat. Our intention was to go grocery shopping on the night we got into town, and to pack lunches, snacks, etc. for during the show. But our flight was delayed 5 hours, and it was midnight and POURING when we arrived in New York, so that didn't happen. Decent food is hard to come by in the Javits, and will cost you approximately your firstborn child. We were warned, but didn't have a ton of other options. I didn't take very many food breaks during the show, and that's just not a great idea for health. But it seemed like every time I went to take a break, someone would come to place an order or ask questions. Brad did a great job helping, but I wanted to be there. I think the solution for next year is a stash of small, hearty snacks that can be eaten quickly while hiding around the corner.
More gift items! Bigger line! Keep going! I have so many ideas. So many. Notebooks full of ideas ranging from impossibly crazy to simple. This coming year we will continue to focus on growing our selection of items. We've got a whole booth to fill!
THINGS THAT WERE AWESOME
Instagram: awesome. I met so many people at the show who I'd been chatting with on Instagram for months beforehand. It felt like a giant reunion with all my best friends from the internet. So many hugs and high fives. We met fellow designers and printers, Seattleites, and store owners/buyers who we've connected with on Instagram. We picked up a huge quantity of followers at the show (using #nss2014), and several people mentioned that they saw us on Instagram and made a point to find us at the show. Social media win!
Our Ladies of Letterpress neighbors: amazing. We spent several days in close quarters with the other ladies o' letterpress, and they were nothing but delightful. It was really fun to experience the show with so many others who were also debuting. We lent each other tools and tape, watched booths during potty breaks, and talked non-stop. I miss them!
The weather: perfection. After the first night's crazy rain, the rest of the trip was awesome. It was sunny but still cool, gorgeous every time we went outside. We didn't get much time outside, but it was really nice to walk out of Javits and see sunshine. We filled our free time in New York as full as we could. We caught up with old friends, saw some sights, ate delicious food, and enjoyed the city every moment we had. New York and I have reached a decision. We like each other. It's official.
Tradeshow Bootcamp: invaluable. In addition to the camaraderie of the LOLP booth, I had the support of the Tradeshow Bootcamp community on my side. I've gushed about TSBC before, but I'll do it again. Those people are solid gold. I was so proud to have the TSBC Alumni ribbon on my badge! One quick anecdote: A few weeks before the show, all my planning for acquiring the standing shelf in my booth fell through. It was the one piece of furniture I needed, and it was looking grim about how much money I'd have to spend to get it there. I posted something on the TSBC facebook group, and Sam from Near Modern Disaster (a fellow Washington D.C. Paper Camper) volunteered to pick it up at IKEA for me and deliver it to my booth. AMAZING. I got to the Javits, and there it was. I cried when I spotted it, because it was such an amazing and supportive act of kindness. (Her box of whiskey and assorted items of appreciation is shipping soon!)
Ladies of Letterpress We exhibited in the Ladies of Letterpress shared booth with 13 other businesses. Constellation & Co. had a 5 feet x 8 feet section of the booth, and all of the businesses shared the costs of the booth, carpeting, walls, lighting, some advertising, etc. We were located in the 2400 aisle, all the way at the end. It would have been a terrible location, except that our booth was giant and pretty darn inviting. It seemed like buyers were making it to us, regardless of the location.
If you're a female letterpress printer, join Ladies of Letterpress. (Because duh.) And if you're interested in exhibiting at NSS, this is an amazing way to start. It's significantly less expensive than having your own booth, and it gives you a chance to get your name out there and learn all those first tradeshow lessons with a smaller financial investment.
New Stores! We walked away from the show with 11 new stores in 10 new cities! My goal was 10 orders, so I really can't complain! (For a full list of our stockists, check out our stores page.) You can now buy C&Co. products in 15 US states and 3 Canadian provinces! Our little business is growing, and we're so excited to see what comes next.
Top 5 NSS best sellers: 1. You & Me Card - I expected this. But it also tied with: 2. Bitterness Card - I did not expect this! (Non-standard size, and a black envelope. Who knew!) 3. Independence, Sweet Independence - Another surprise! A lot of buyers mentioned that the summer patriotic holidays are hard to buy for. 4. Library Cards, Overdue Bday & Page Turner - This was actually our only birthday card on the wall. I know, I know! I'm working on it.5. Chipboard Postcard Bundles - Their simplicity and open-ended creativity were attractive to our buyers!
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment a few blocks away from Javits. It was so convenient to have a walking distance place to stay, and it was really relaxing when we got home every night. Plus, it ended up costing less than most hotels. Hopefully the Airbnb hoopla in New York gets settled before next year. We plan to rent the same place again if possible! The photo above is the view from the apartment building's rooftop deck. There's nothing in the world like waking up to see the sun rise over Manhattan!
We spent 9 months preparing for the show, and it feels like we've been preparing for it since day one of C&Co. (So I suppose it deserves this crazy long blog post.) During the show, I sustained a level of enthusiasm and excitement that was just ridiculous. It was awesome to see the booths of companies I've looked up to for years, to meet SO MANY amazing people, and to write orders for incredible stores. It never got old. I loved it, every second. (If you don't ask my feet.) It was a joyful, wonderful, life changing couple of days. I cried like a baby when we walked away from the Javits on the last day. The show was 100% wonderful for us. There's been a lot of conversations in the industry about cost, show size, etc. - but from the eyes of this first timer, there's nothing like the National Stationery Show. Can't wait for 2015.