Our Experience at NSS Winter 2020
The good, the bad, the ugly [cry]. This is a long post, but worth the read if you’re going to exhibit at NSS or NY Now. We’ve even dropped the exhibitor manual below so you can peruse it if you’re interested.
It has been a mere 8-ish months since we first debuted at GCA's *Noted, our little business birthed and christened and sent out into the world.
As you may know, it was the inaugural event for GCA's stationery expo and while it was beautifully executed by the USGCA, the attendance was woefully low and most of the exhibitors lost a lot of money (including us, sob sob). Despite a major financial loss, we pulled up our britches and kept on truckin'.
The National Stationery Show, or NSS, is the biggest show in the industry, and significantly higher in cost, time, energy, blah blah blah. But hey, we're still new here and we needed to experience it for ourselves. And so we did.
We shared a booth with our dear friends at Kweer Cards because A.) We have great chemistry and adore each other immensely, and B.) We could afford a (slightly) larger booth if we went in together. We feel that our card lines are complementary without being competitive. I was also so thankful for their eagerness to share the booth because my sweet baby Ruth wasn't able to come along. She was forced to lounge on a beach in the Virgin Islands for a week. Poor girl.
Traveling from Denver to New York is a trek. Bringing a load of furniture, lighting, miscellaneous décor, and flooring just ain't easy (or affordable). We decided to go the budget-friendly route and purchase most materials in NYC and the only things I hauled on the flight were our actual products.
After reading many other blog posts from past exhibitors, we planned to use pegboard walls and Ruth designed a beautiful custom wallpaper for us to smooth onto them. The wallpaper was pretty costly, but we had done the same for *Noted and it was just too damn pretty not to do again. Once we arrived at Lowe's, we quickly realized the pegboard walls were not going to work. They needed to be stabilized somehow, and the pipe-and-drape walls provided by NSS wouldn't hold the weight of them. We switched gears and found a 2” thick foam wall panel that is traditionally meant for insulation. It is ultra lightweight, rigid as f*ck, and could easily be stabilized with those pipe-and-drape walls. Plus, really affordable. We loaded those bad boys into my rented minivan (I'm still cool, right?) and headed on down the road. It was… fun. Fun-ish. It was interesting. Neither Derek nor I are self-described handypeople so we called his dad a couple times and prayed for a swift construction. Thanks, Derek's dad.
Erecting the walls was the easiest part, honestly. It took very little time and worked like a charm. It required a bit of trimming which was pretty simple, even using a little exacto knife that we lovingly dubbed "scalpel". We secured them with glue and packing tape. Ta-da.
Next was to put up the wallpaper. We unrolled it for the first time on the trade show floor and it was breathtaking. We were in awe as we gazed silently at its beauty. It is pretty difficult to maneuver at this size, and we needed to take special care to align the horizontal stripes and be sure they were level. It took some finessing, but we managed. Here came the tricky part. Because the paper is sticky on one side, you don't have much room for error. We discovered that one tiny bubble or wrinkle would create more and more bubbles and wrinkles, traveling down the wall, creating hideous and noticeable blemishes in the paper. But it was nearly impossible to peel off and re-stick, which was different from the experience I'd had using the walls provided at *Noted. The foam walls were coated with a plastic layer that easily peeled off, sticking to the back of the wallpaper, thus making it impossible to re-stick. We panicked, cussed at it, and eventually just moved on because we had no other choice. It looked crummy and we were bummed. Our brilliant plan had failed us.
We also quickly realized that the dimensions of our booth were approximate in measurement, not exact, and the paper didn't fit the back wall by several inches. Whatever. Shake it off, right? The harder part came when the booth beside us attempted to erect their pre-built walls and found their booth to be several inches too short, also. They required our booth and the booth beside us to shift down, otherwise their walls wouldn't work at all. Terror struck us all. Turned out to be fine and now those neighbors are some of our dearest stationery friends.
In the end, our booth was finished, it fit all our product, and we breathed a sigh of relief. It didn't look as polished as we'd fantasized, but it did its job. Besides, I was exhausted and out of time so any last minute adjustments weren't really feasible.
Some lessons learned:
Foam walls are clutch. Cheap, lightweight, easy to put up, and affordable. You can even have them delivered, which we'll likely do next time.
Wallpaper is still a great option. Something with a busier pattern that camouflages any flaws will be key. Plus, it looks cute as shit.
Something with a horizontal stripe in the pattern is helpful for card placement. Trying to free-hang them is tough, requiring tape and levels and tape measure… it's a pain.
Choose your furniture, flooring, lighting and décor beforehand. This ensures the look is cohesive and on-brand, rather than having to choose what's available day-of at the local HomeGoods or Ikea.
It took a long time to construct our booth and get it ready to present. And it took virtually no time at all to tear it down. Maybe an hour.
We didn’t splurge for the lighting and electricity package we were quoted. It was something to the tune of $1350 and we just gasped in horror when we saw the number. So, no lighting or internet. It wasn’t until we arrived at Javits that we learned of other options. Apparently you can get electricity through the Exhibitor Portal for less than $200. Still, a hefty fee for an outlet, and it would have been awesome if our account rep had given us the skinny on what we’d need instead of just linking to the 179-page service manual. Literally. 179 pages. Who the frick reads that? Well, not us, obvs.
Honestly, most of our experience exhibiting at Javits was a huge pain in the tookus. The fact that we didn’t even receive the manual to begin with burns my biscuits. Trying to sift through all the online information, read a manual, etc. was just really cumbersome. You’d expect your rep to hold your hand through the process, especially if you’re a first-timer, but we were on our own. It definitely didn’t set us up for success, and we were left with a really bitter taste in our mouths. For as expensive as the fees are, I was hoping for a better experience.
They won’t allow you to use any power tools to erect your booth onsite, not even a drill. New York City is unionized, so all construction, electric, etc. will need to be performed by their onsite crew, Freeman. It’s expensive as all get-out. So, keep that in mind if you plan on assembling anything while there.
Ask your rep to give you all information at the outset and request they guide you through the process and let you know the most cost effective options. Don’t let them just forward links every time. Be persistent.
Utilize all the time you can for setup. There will ALWAYS be last minute things that come up. You’ll be relieved if you can knock off early on setup days rather than staying there late into the night, crying, as they shut down the lights.
If you want to use the Javits contractors to design your booth, it comes with a big price tag, but you can remove the foam core panels and take them home with you (assuming you drove or live locally). They can customize the panels with your design, logo, etc. and you arrive to the space with the walls already setup and ready for your final touches. You can also find a cheaper option on Craigslist (use keywords Javits or Trade Show Booth). No joke. Wish we had done this, to be honest. You can easily attach these to the pipes that are provided using zip ties.
I could go on all day about how to exhibit at Javits, what to expect while you’re there, ways to save money on lodging/transportation, etc. But this thing is already a novella, so I’ll spare your poor eyeballs. If you have questions or want to chat, just drop us a note in the comments or send us a DM on Instagram.
Stay tuned for a subsequent post about the buyer-seller experience and how we fared at NSS.