National Stationery Show 2014:
Budget and Expenses

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

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 Structure

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.

Walls $800
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.

Lighting $200
Instead of renting lights, we bought eight clip lamps and LED bulbs that we’ll be able to use at future events.

Electrical $150
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

Seating $250
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!

Counter $300
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.

Catalogs $50
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.

Giveaway $450
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.


What’s missing?

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:

Lodging $0
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.

Flooring $0
We specifically designed our booth to utilize the dark gray concrete floors of the convention center, completely eliminating the cost of flooring.

Signage $0
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.

Frames $0
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!

 

National Stationery Show 2014:
Booth Setup + Installation

At the end of our last post, we had just finished a marathon six week construction process, packing all of the pieces and parts into a U-Haul van for the trip to New York. Today, we’ll show you how we went from this…

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…to this…

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…in under 48 hours. Let’s hop in the van!

The trip to New York was a relatively easy drive. We’ve been driving a lot of trucks and vans over the last year, so that helped. It was rainy and van’s door was dented, whistling loudly the entire time. We have not-so-great luck with vans.

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Ten (or was it twelve?) hours later, we make it to New York. We hadn’t been back since our hasty exit last August, so it felt weird to be driving back through the Holland Tunnel with yet another van full of stuff. We arrived at our friend’s place in Greenpoint (thanks Dan!) and crashed for the night. We woke up early on Friday morning to be first in line at the Javits for hand-carry load in.

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After dragging ourselves out of bed at 6:30am and driving across Manhattan to the Javits, we’re the first van at load-in, just as we had planned. This time, we brought a cart. With four wheels. Because it turns out that some rules in the show manual are made to be broken. (See last year’s story for more details on the cart situation.) That’s Dan helping us load in.

We arrive in our space and everything looks great!

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Except for one small problem.

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Surprise! A bunch of thick cables are routed through a 18″ square metal plate in the floor, conveniently located right where our hard walls need to stand. We have a van to unload, so we’ll have to deal with this little problem later.

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Between the three of us – two people making cart runs to the booth space, and one watching the van – we have the van unloaded in less than an hour. Dan takes the van back to Greenpoint, leaving us at the Javits to figure out this cable situation. After consulting with the electrician on site, we learn that the cables can’t be moved, so we proceed with the only viable plan and start building our walls around them.

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The first few panels go up without a hitch, but the cables were seriously ugly. The trap door was perfectly positioned to land directly under one of our wall seams, making every single panel crooked in its own unique way. We also found that our booth space was a few inches shorter than advertised, so once we moved our walls into place, they jutted out into the aisle. It just wasn’t working.

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We make an executive decision to redesign the booth on the fly, removing a 2′ panel and rearranging others in order to move the back wall forward, in front of the ugly cables. At this point, we were pretty happy that we had designed a modular system that could be easily rearranged.

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After solving those problems, the rest of the booth went up quicker than we had planned. As the day wore on, people started filtering out of the convention center. Working late at night was like having the place to ourselves and we made a lot of progress in just a few hours. By 8:00 pm, it was starting to look like a real booth! The counter was assembled, lighting was wired, and art was starting to go up on the walls.

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By 10:00 pm, we were just about finished. Our empty containers were packed and we were about ready to go home. From the time that we pulled up to the Javits at 8:00 am, we had unloaded, set up, redesigned, and completed our booth in 14 hours. We looked at each other and laughed as we remembered how long it took us to set up last year’s booth. And we didn’t even have to build the walls!

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Once we were finished, we put up a sign…

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…took a few final pictures…

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… and said goodbye to the Javits Center until the show opened on Sunday.

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Want to see the finished product? Check out our 2014 National Stationery Show booth tour. Next, we’ll wrap up this series (finally!) with a look at our budget and parting thoughts after exhibiting at our second trade show.

 

National Stationery Show 2014:
Booth Design + Construction

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Last week, we shared a tour of our completed National Stationery Show booth. Today, we’ll go back in time and show you how we designed and fabricated the entire booth ourselves, from the walls all the way down to the fixtures and furniture.

The beginning of 2014 was super busy for us, between client work and a speaking gig in Portland, so we weren’t able to focus on this project until the middle of April. By the time we got started, we had six weeks to design and build our 10′ x 20′ booth, finish our new product, and produce our samples for display.

Our preparation process for this year’s show was drastically different than last year. Not only did we have an entire garage to work with (thanks mom and dad!), but we also took all of the construction into our own hands, building our own walls and transporting the entire booth via U-Haul truck from Ohio to New York. Here’s how we did it.


Our Booth Design + Construction Process:
National Stationery Show 2014

As I mentioned in our last post, our goal was to create a gallery-inspired layout that gave us ample room to showcase our expanded range of wall art and greeting cards.

We knew we’d need hard walls for our booth, so I called around and got a few quotes from companies that build the walls on-site, like we did last year. When the estimates came back at over $6,000, we decided we’d need to build them ourselves.

So, we headed out for the first of many trips to Home Depot.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Our first priority was to build walls that would actually stand up. Above all else, we knew we needed strong, sturdy walls to support 30+ pieces of framed artwork and a (very heavy) feature wall of wood paneling and shelving.

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We designed a wall system that would be easy to assemble on-site, using a mix of 2′ x 8′ and 4′ x 8′ reinforced panels of 1/4″ plywood. This project took the better part of a week. Here’s a little video montage of all the action, courtesy of Omar and iMovie.

After the panels were assembled, it was time for a test run.

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The corner stands! We crossed our fingers that the rest of the panels would stand up, too.

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Next, Omar started on painting duty, coating each panel in two coats of flat white paint. Meanwhile, I assembled our card wall, using wood slats to create alternating rows of wood paneling and shelving. We tested it out with a prototype card.

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Once we made sure the feature wall could stand, it was time to disassemble the wall and start staining.

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Two quarts of stain and a day later, the slats were looking good! After working late into the night, it was always nice to see what everything looked like in the morning.

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With the wall panels completed, we moved onto our next project: the counter. After some quick sketches, it came to life.

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Fully functional! But it’s missing something. Wouldn’t it look great with wood slats to mirror our feature wall?

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Of course it would! Back to the Depot for more slats and more stain. At this point, we had gone all out on everything else, so one more trip and five more slats seemed like no big deal. Might as well!

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Two adorable Bengal kittens supervised this entire process, by the way.

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Another late night.

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At this point, time was running out. It was the end of April and we hadn’t put the entire thing together yet. Would it stand? We’d need to be on the road in a couple of weeks, so it was time to put it to the test…

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With some minor reconfiguring, it stands! Even with our way-too-heavy slat wall.

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We were going on 4 weeks of nonstop work and exhaustion was setting in. Now that the walls were up, we had only a couple of weeks left to fill them with artwork.

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That meant it was the perfect time for all of our printers to go on strike, naturally. I spent many afternoons on the phone with Epson. Eventually, they cooperated.

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Success! A week later, art was on walls…

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Buttons were punched…

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Banners were printed…

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And the details started to come together.

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Once the walls were standing and the art was up, it looked like a real booth! At this point, it had been standing solidly for over a week, so we felt confident that it wouldn’t fall over during the show.

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We finished just in time to tear it all down, pack it up…

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And cram it in the back of a U-haul van for the drive to New York.

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Tomorrow, I’ll recap the drive to New York and the installation process onsite at the Javits Center. See you then!

 

National Stationery Show 2014:
Our Booth

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

It’s the end of July and another month has flown by. It’s been a busy summer here at These Are Things. We have been so busy that I’m now more than a little behind on writing about our experience at the National Stationery Show. (Oops!)

Today, I’m excited to share the next installment in our NSS 2014 recap series. Read on for a full tour of our booth, along with a peek at some new pieces that will launch later this year.


As I mentioned earlier, we upgraded to a 10’ x 20’ inline booth. Our goal with this expanded space was to design a gallery-inspired display that showcased our expanded range of wall art and stationery. We also wanted establish a clear walking path through the space.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

The solution was a more complex floor plan than last year’s design. By playing with the shape of the booth, we were able to split the space into clearly defined zones. This added complexity definitely made the construction process more challenging, but we found that the end result was well worth the extra effort. (I’ll share more details about our design, construction, transportation, and assembly process in a future post.)

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Similar to last year’s booth design, we built a small wall facing the aisle. We used the space to highlight one of our favorite new items: a new style of custom map prints.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Two flags hang from either side of the booth to increase visibility from down the aisle. This is one of my favorite details!

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Here’s a closer look at those new custom maps. They’ll be in the shop this fall along with an expanded range of personalized map options. (I was going to say summer, but let’s be real. With how quickly this year is going, summer will be over before we know it.)

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

This custom built feature wall showcases all of our new greeting cards.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Narrow floating shelves are built directly into the wall and seamlessly transition into our main gallery wall.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Gallery-inspired title cards display pricing and other relevant information.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Our gallery wall features some of our favorite bestsellers as well as a bunch of new work. We’re playing with a few new formats, including fancy wall scrolls. They’re one of those projects that have been on the to-do list for a few years, so it’s exciting to see them finally coming to life.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

A low, gallery style bench added seating and helped direct the flow of traffic within the booth.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

You can see more of our new wall scrolls and continental maps here. We had so many new things that it was impossible to show them all one one wall, even a big wall like this one.

On the right side of the booth, we carved out space for a 4-foot long counter. The idea was to create a separate “checkout” area to finish the experience. The flow of traffic through the booth naturally ends up here, where buyers can help themselves to a postcard or stop for a quick chat.

This arrangement worked perfectly, making us accessible to our visitors without awkwardly hovering in the corner of the booth. I could easily get up to help a buyer while Omar stayed at the counter to take orders with our fancy iPad-powered point of sale system. Of all the improvements we made at this year’s show, the counter was one of the most functional.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Behind the counter, our original Modern World Map hangs proudly. This custom gold leaf frame matches the slat wall. (Of course!)

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

For our giveaway item, we wanted to do something inexpensive and fun. When we stumbled across this vintage coin operated vending machine at a flea market earlier this year, we thought it would be the perfect addition to our booth.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

We filled it up with 1” pinback buttons. It worked about 50% of the time, adding a little gambling-style thrill to each turn of the handle. Along with the vending machine, we displayed some simple takeaways: postcards, business cards, and stickers.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Dropping in a coin is half the fun of a vending machine, right?

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

And here’s some of the buttons you could get from the machine. There were a bunch of different designs, including a few rare cat heads. We’re thinking about offering some pin sets in the shop eventually. Who doesn’t love pins?


Next, I’ll show you how we built this beast by hand, stuffed it in a U-Haul van, and reassembled it in a significantly smaller space than expected. It’s always an adventure in the Javits Center!

 

National Stationery Show 2014:
Our Second Year

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

After five whirlwind weeks of post-show madness, we’re finally getting a chance to sit down and write about our second year exhibiting at the National Stationery Show. It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole month since we were standing in our booth at the Javits Center in New York. Time flies when you’re printing, folding, and framing all day!

Fortunately, the delay in posting means good news: the show went really well. Since our van rolled back into Ohio at the end of May, we’ve been busier than ever, shipping These Are Things goods to new retailers around the country – and even a few around the world. We’ll be introducing you to all of our new stockists over the coming months.

During our week in New York, we also had the chance to meet a bunch of our blog readers in person, which is always fun. Big thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hello! We were blown away by how many of you read last year’s extensive recap of our first trade show experience. A few first-time exhibitors even mentioned that our posts armed them with the extra knowledge they needed to tackle the show this year, which was awesome to hear. 

We promised that we’d write a recap of our second year at the show, so let’s get to it! From our super-sized booth to changes in our product line, we have a lot to cover. This week, we’ll be sharing all the details of our experience exhibiting at the 2014 National Stationery Show, including:

  • The results of our first trade show and the strategic changes we made for our second show
  • A photo tour of our new-and-improved booth, including a preview of new products that will debut later this summer
  • How we designed, built and transported our booth
  • A detailed account of how much money we spent (and where we saved)
  • What we’ve been doing in the weeks after the show – and what’s next

Let’s get started by reviewing what happened in the twelve months since our first show and what we chose to do differently the second time around.


National Stationery Show 2013: The Results

Our very first trade show booth: completed!

Above: Our first booth at NSS 2013

After exhibiting at the National Stationery Show for the first time in 2013, we walked away from the experience with one big question: was it worth it? A successful trade show is about more than the money, but it’s no secret that these shows require a significant up-front investment to participate. After the show, we were eager to find out when (or if!) we’d see a return on that investment in our first year.

I’m happy to report that in the twelve months following the show, we did make back the money we spent to exhibit in 2013. In addition to the sales, we also saw the following benefits:

Established ourselves. We’ve been working in this industry for nearly five years now, but we’re new on the wholesale scene. Exhibiting at the National Stationery Show gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves and our company to a new audience, most of whom were not previously familiar with our work. For those who had seen our work before, the show was a chance to prove to them that we’re a “real” company that is capable of exhibiting at a show of this caliber.

Opened new accounts. During the 2013 show, we wrote orders with a number of new boutique retailers, most of whom have reordered a number of times throughout the last year. We also scored our first large national account, seeing our products land in over 80 Nordstrom stores as a part of their 2013 holiday pop-up shops.

Licensed our work. Thanks to connections we made at last year’s show, we’ve started to explore opportunities to license our illustrations. Last summer, we inked a deal with a calendar manufacturer to create a new style for national distribution in 2015. (The samples arrived last week and they’ll be in stores this fall. See what I mean about trade shows being a long-term investment?)

Connected with press. After making connections with the press in 2013, we’ve been featured in each quarterly issue of Stationery Trends magazine, saw our work land on countless NSS roundups, and wrote a guest post for the official National Stationery Show blog.

Learned a lot. For better or worse, exhibiting at NSS in 2013 highlighted weak spots in our business. As a result, the past twelve months were spent restructuring our operation to strengthen those weak points and increase scalability. Without the added pressure of a trade show, we might never have discovered these parts of our business that weren’t working at 100% efficiency.


National Stationery Show 2014: The Plan

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Above: Our second booth, new and improved for 2014!

After learning so many valuable lessons in 2013, we knew we wanted to go back to the show in 2014 and put them into action. Here are a few of the biggest changes we made for our second year:

Went big. The biggest change we made was the most obvious one: we upgraded from a 10’ x 12’ corner booth to a 10’ x 20’ inline booth. There were many reasons for this change, and it was an expensive choice to make (double the square footage = double the booth fee!), but the bottom line is that we needed more wall space to showcase more art. We’ll talk more about our booth design later this week, but overall we’re happy with the decision to go bigger.

Did it ourselves. In 2013, due to space and time restrictions, we hired out many parts of the booth construction process. We paid a company to build and install our hard walls and used a third-party fulfillment company package and ship all of our orders. This year, we were able to do it all ourselves, gaining more control over the final product and saving lots of cash in the process.

Cut corners. Since we didn’t know what to expect during our first year, we ended up going overboard in many areas that didn’t matter as much as we thought they would. As a result, thousands of dollars (and about 900 catalogs) were wasted. This year, our goal was to make some conscious cuts. By eliminating unnecessary expenses, we were able to save ourselves a lot of time and money while putting together an even more impressive display.

Listened to feedback. After taking all of our customer feedback into consideration, we spent the winter in the studio making changes to our line. This year, we offered more customizable options and more cards. From our product to our booth layout, we designed the entire experience with the customer’s perspective in mind.

Changed our expectations. Above all else, our experience exhibiting at the show last year helped us revise our expectations for this year. Trade shows are a long-term investment. It’s all about establishing yourself as a reputable company with a consistent presence. This year, our main goal was to show up with a super-impressive display and tons of new work. Anything else beyond that would be a bonus.


Next week, we’ll walk you through our new and improved booth design, complete with lots of photos and a peek at some of the new products that we’ll be adding to the shop later this summer.

If you have any questions about the world of trade shows, please feel free to leave a comment below! We’ll answer as many questions as we can throughout the week (and beyond.)