As we prepared for our second year at the National Stationery Show, one topic was at the front of our minds: the cost.
Trade shows are expensive. As we mentioned during last year’s recap, the biggest surprise during our first year exhibiting at the National Stationery Show was the massive amount of time, money, and effort involved. Once we committed to exhibit again in 2014, we knew we needed to get this project done quicker, better, and cheaper than we did the first time around.
For our second year at the show, our goal was to make a bigger impression while spending less money. We knew that this goal would challenge us both creatively and logistically, so we started by putting together a simple plan: eliminate unnecessary expenses, use materials we already have in our studio, and build the entire booth with our own four hands.
The result? Despite being twice as large – and way more awesome, in our humble opinion – this year’s booth came in at a little more than half the cost of last year. Success!
Want to know how we did it? Just like last year, we’re going to tell you exactly what we spent and where we saved, down to the last dollar. Why share this information? Over the past year, we’ve talked with a number of artists and designers who are thinking about signing up for a trade show. When we exhibited for the first time, we had no clue how much it would cost to exhibit. Our hope is that sharing the financial details will help future exhibitors be more informed as they consider making this big step for their creative business.
Let’s get to the numbers! Here’s the full breakdown of what it cost to put together our booth at the 2014 National Stationery Show:
Setup + Teardown
Truck Rental + Gas $950
In 2013, we were living in Brooklyn. This year, we’re living in Columbus. While the extra space and lower cost of living in Ohio certainly helped in many ways, it also introduced a new expense: getting our booth (and ourselves) to New York. Instead of freighting our setup and flying to the show, we decided to rent a U-Haul van for two weeks and drive to and from NYC. While this option definitely meant more hard labor (and trucking) on our parts, we saved on the cost of a crate, freight, and airfare.
Booth Fee $5,500
This year, we upgraded our booth to a larger 20×10 inline space. With wall art making up the majority of our product line, we knew we’d need more space than our previous 10×12 corner afforded. This year’s booth was twice as large and the fee was twice as expensive, but we knew we wanted to make a big impression for our second year at the show.
After signing up for our new and improved big booth, we started pricing out different options to have hard walls built in our space, both from Manny Stone Decorators (the company we hired last year) and the show itself. The quotes came back, unsurprisingly, at around $6,000. This was more than we wanted to spend, so we decided to build our own walls. The total cost, including our custom floorplan and decorative card wall, was a fraction of last year’s wall cost. If you have the time, space, and expertise, building your own walls is a great place to save money at a trade show.
Instead of renting lights, we bought eight clip lamps and LED bulbs that we’ll be able to use at future events.
To power the lights and run an extension cord to our counter unit, we paid for one standard extension cord to be run to our booth. We brought our own surge protectors and extension cords.
Decor + Accessories
After standing up for the entire show last year, we knew that good seating was important, both for ourselves and for our buyers. We purchased a set of stools for our counter and a gallery-style bench for our customers. Bonus: both will look great in our apartment after the show!
A beautiful, bar-height table was integral to our booth design. We couldn’t find exactly what we envisioned online, plus all of the freestanding bars that we could find were very expensive. So, we put our carpentry skills to the test and built our own.
POS System $150
Last year, we used clipboards, paper order forms, and calculators to take orders at the show. Why? Because that’s what we saw everyone else doing when we walked the show in prior years. It worked, but it was so archaic! This year, we decided it was time to move into the modern era. We set up an iPad-powered point of sale system that interfaces with our online wholesale catalog (see below) and can accept credit cards onsite. We used our personal iPads and purchased two credit card readers and a stand that can be used at future events.
Promotion + Giveaways
Business Cards + Postcards $150
Last year, we spent a lot of money getting various stickers, postcards, and other paper goods printed. We went a little overboard. This year, we moved in the opposite direction. So much, in fact, that we completely forgot to get anything printed until the day before we left for New York. 24-hour turnaround to the rescue! We had a set of 250 5” x 7” postcards and 500 business cards printed, both showcasing basic information about our brand.
Yes, $50! After last year’s expensive catalog miscalculation – we ordered 1,000 catalogs and used about 10% of them, throwing the rest into the recycling bin – we decided to go green and forego a catalog entirely. Instead, we put together an online catalog and printed 250 business cards with the URL and password. It was a risky move, but buyers ended up loving it. After walking around the Javits carrying an armful of heavy paper catalogs, buyers were thrilled to walk away with a small card.
After spending over $1,000 on giveaway items in 2013 and watching most of them be snatched up by random non-buyers, we knew we wanted to do something simpler and cheaper. Earlier this year, I had picked up a vintage vending machine at an antique show. We thought it would be fun to fill it with individually packaged pinback buttons, so we ordered a carton of empty capsules and a 1″ button maker. We’ve wanted a button maker for years, so now we have one! The machine was a big hit and I’m sure it’ll be making more appearances at future events.
Want to know the quickest way to slash zeros off of your budget? Eliminate things completely. Here’s what we crossed off our list this year:
To save on hotel costs, we called in a favor and crashed with friends in Brooklyn for the duration of the show. While it’s convenient to be stationed within walking distance of the Javits, it’ll also cost you a few hundred dollars a night. That adds up over the course of seven days. We factored in an hour-long commute via subway from Greenpoint each morning. The result saved us thousands in hotel fees.
We specifically designed our booth to utilize the dark gray concrete floors of the convention center, completely eliminating the cost of flooring.
We used our These Are Things logo sign from last year. We also printed our own price tags and other assorted signage using materials we already had in our studio.
Over the past year, we’ve been stockpiling a variety of scratched and dented frames that we already had in our inventory. After a few touch ups with a Sharpie, they were good as new.
Press Kits $0
We didn’t see any benefit from putting together press kits last year, so we skipped them this year.
The Grand Total
When we totaled everything up, we were thrilled to see that we spent a total of $8,000 on our booth at the 2014 National Stationery Show. That’s almost half as much as last year.
Running a creative business involves a lot of trial and error. Trade shows are no exception. As we learn more about what works best for us, I expect that we’ll continue to make changes to our trade show strategy in future years, just as we do with other areas of our business.
Thanks for sticking with us through this epic recap of our Stationery Show adventure! As you’ve probably guessed by the (extremely delayed) timing of this post, we’ve been busy working on a ton of exciting new projects since the show closed. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve been up to this summer!