|Happily manning my booth in my matching cardy|
|Booth 447 in all its glory|
|Co-ordinating pom poms|
|Portfolio book and Uppercase Magazine|
|Have a business card, some stickers, a flick through a book - or just a jelly bean and a sniff of the roses!|
|Products and mock-ups|
I can't believe it's over. What am I going to do with my life now?
I signed up for the show last September. I almost choked when I found out how much it would cost (approx $6000 including everything) and immediately started panicking. I also started working with an enthusiasm and motivation that I haven't felt in years! During the last 8 months I've been completely consumed by the preparations and I think most of my friends and family became sick of hearing me refer to 'Surtex' (though every single one of them was 100% behind me and I never heard anything but encouragement from my lovely children and supportive husband and Mum and Dad).
So was it worth it?
Oh my God! Just a bit!! Jaw droppingly worth it in fact!!
To put things in perspective I want to list a few of my worst fears leading up to the show then describe the actual outcome - so you can see how extremely positive it was by comparison.
Something won't arrive in time (before I leave) or safely (at the airport).
My portfolio books, my banners (without banners you have a blank stand), my promo materials - the timing of everything was nail biting. Obviously you want as much new work as possible involved so everything has to be ordered last minute. When I saw my tube of banners lying safely next to the luggage carousel at JFK I felt the first massive hurdle had been overcome and that if all else failed I'd have a furnished stand.
I'll get a bad spot.
I was one of the first to arrive on the initial set up day and the whole vast hall was nearly empty and I looked at my spot near the back where they hadn't finished putting up the cafe and thought, 'Oh no it's crappy, it's crappy. I've paid all this money for a crappy booth!!!'. The next day I arrived to find that loads of other exhibitors had started to set up and the booths around me were beginning to look really beautiful. I was in a lovely area.
|Stuffing cushions with Melissa on the first day of setting up|
|Hanging tissue pom poms|
|Audra and me!|
My booth will suck.
The problem with seeing so many beautiful booths was that I immediately started to worry that mine was 'wrong'. It was too pink. It was too simple. I didn't have enough pretty mock-ups or eye-catching details. Before the show I'd been shocked at how much effort it had required to organize my booth decor and had wondered if everyone else went to such great lengths. Then I saw that many of them had gone to even greater lengths than I had. Sarah Ehlinger, Bari Ackerman, Kathy Weller, Kelly Ventura, Rosie Simons and Feng Liang were all very close by and each one of them had done something amazingly special. I was very tired at that point and it took me a while to acknowledge that we'd all approached our booth design differently and each booth was striking in a unique and equally lovely way. The pinkness ended up lending a pretty warmth to my spot (a bit like a shell, I thought) and I was quite pleased with the effect in the end.
My helpers (who I didn't know beforehand except by email) will be weird and spooky.
Ha ha ha!! I couldn't have been more wrong. They were LOVELY!!!! Melissa Iwai, a children's book illustrator from Brooklyn, and Flora Waycott, an English designer from New Zealand, were both warm and funny, extremely helpful and professional and brilliant company. I felt like I'd made two new friends by the end of it. Melissa even helped me by bringing me a small table and cushions from Ikea in Brooklyn. I don't know how I would have done it without them.
|Melissa, me and Flora!|
No-one will come.
This was the big one. What if, after this colossal effort, no-one came? What if I'd thrown $6000 and 8 months of hard work down the toilet. Wrong again! They came! By midday of the first day I'd made back the cost of the show almost twice in sales. There's a huge debate about selling versus licensing and whether you should even sell at all. My view is that I'm running a business and that my business needs cash flow. I created enough cash flow to pay for this show and next year's too and then some. I also encountered plenty of licensing opportunities which will generate future income. I think this is the best of both worlds. I am prolific and have a lot of work and am not heart-breakingly attached to (most of) my designs. In fact, now I know what sold (and there was a definite pattern to what people liked) I'm in an ideal position to create more of the RIGHT stuff that clients want.
|Me in action|
|Deep in concentration|
My marketing efforts (new territory for me) will have been a waste of time.
They weren't. I attribute a lot of the traffic at my booth to something I invested an awful lot of time into. I set myself a series of deadlines when I booked the show. One was that I'd create new work up until the last day of February then for the entire month of March I'd focus on marketing. That involved creating an online look book and a promotional package (see below) that I sent out to a very tailored and thoroughly researched list of just 50 art directors - some established clients and some new. I have no doubt that this worked though while I was doing it (struggling with all sorts of unchartered territory like learning Indesign and sourcing printers) I wondered repeatedly if it would be worth the time and money. It was!
I won't have enough new work.
After the March marketing I had to tackle the banners and portfolio books - but the catch was that I had to have new work to put on/in them (this was the conclusion after asking my MATS community friends what they thought about what needed to go on banners - both marketing/ brand identity and new work). But I'd stopped designing in Feb to do the marketing. So the next deadline was to create 5 new groups by the end of April in order to put some on the banners and show some in the portfolio books and have both books and banners designed and ordered by May 1st. Phew!! That was not funny and I might plan that differently next time. But I did it. And loads of that new stuff was sold or selected for presentations.
|Yes - designing and ordering all this in a hurry was a bit of a strain!|
I'll be too tired from jet-lag, early mornings, late nights and hard work.
Adrenalin takes care of all that! I lived on it - and coffee.
I won't be comfortable and rested staying with friends.
Badly wrong again. Thank you so much Audra and Brett and Jen and Rom. You made me so welcome and it was just lovely staying with you!
My feet will hurt.
In this case I was right. They did. I wore 3 different pairs of shoes on different days in an attempt to alleviate the pain and ended up having three different sets of lacerations. My feet were in tatters (mainly from trudging too and from the show). Next year I'm wearing fluffy slippers with cushioned insoles.
So those were the biggest dreads and apart from the feet the actual outcome was fantastic. A massive added bonus was the community of people at the show - both exhibitors, visitors and clients.
The number of MATS students there was incredible and it was just lovely to walk into a place and 'know' so many people. My friend Audra, who is also a designer but works in fashion, came with me to help set up and kept asking 'How do you know her? Is she another one from the internet?" Ha ha! But I really felt they were my friends and it felt great to belong to that community and be cheered on by both the ones who attended and the ones who were at home but following on Facebook. Well done to Jacqui Crocetta for being the reporter in the field. It was lovely to meet Jacqui and everyone else.
It was also great meeting clients who I've been in contact for up to two years but have never met in person. I can see why trade shows still have a value in spite of the internet. Meeting people face to face and engaging with them, even for a short time, lends a warmth and familiarity to a business relationship.
Another huge bonus was meeting Lilla Rogers. I felt like I knew her, having been so involved with her online courses and Facebook communities for this last year. On the last night Flora and I (and Flora's boyfriend Nick) went for dinner with Helen Dardik and Carolyn Gavin and my lasting impression of Lilla and her 'gang' (I was delighted to meet Jennifer and Susan too) was that they're all genuine, warm, funny (hilariously so in Helen's case) and very, very magnetic!
So - would I do it again! Oh yes!! Would I recommend it to everyone? Yes - because there's something exhilarating, motivating and rewarding about taking that leap - but making that well-constructed parachute was no joke and there were no guarantees that it would open. But it did. Sometimes they do!