National Stationery Show FAQ, Part 1

National Stationery Show FAQ with letterpress printed arrows in background

Editor’s Note: For those of you wanting to create your own paper goods company, I’m now teaching an online course called Stationery Business 101: Starting Strong

The National Stationery Show FAQ, Part 1

Trade shows can be overwhelming. The first time Kirk and I took Sycamore Street Press to the National Stationery Show, I’d only been out of school for a year and a half, and Kirk was actually still in school! We had little retail experience, little wholesale experience, and very little business experience period. And somehow we survived. Not only that, but we did well enough to consider it worth our while to return the following year.

Now we’re old pros (ha ha) and we’re coming up on our fifth time exhibiting at the NSS. A few of my paper peeps have been asking me for advice about the show, so I thought I’d post them here for everyone’s benefit. If any of you have something to add, please chime in down below! These are just my opinions — I’m sure there are many ways of doing things. If there’s something you’re curious about that I haven’t covered, let me know. I’ll be doing a part 2 soon! – Eva

Q: How much is it going to cost me to do the show?

A: This number can vary wildly! You will need to do a lot of research to see how much you can afford and how you will budget everything. But a good rule of thumb for a small company exhibiting in a single 10 x 10 foot booth is to plan on spending around $10,000. This includes the booth, electrical, displays, catalogs, travel, etc… everything related to doing the show. It does NOT include the product itself. Like I said, though, this can vary quite a bit. Our first year, we were able to drive to the show, and take all of our products and display in our car (instead of having to ship it with a freight company). We also stayed with friends instead of getting a hotel room… so we probably did it for about $5000 that year.

6 more Q&A’s to help you figure out the National Stationery Show after the jump!

Q: I was reading in the set-up manual that everything in the booth has to be flame-resistant – from the walls, etc. Does that mean that, for example, the table, chairs, lamps, FLOR carpet tiles, any sort of paper displays (I had been planning to make huge paper collage cut-outs of my designs, either from paper or foamboard) have to be treated with flame-retardants? The manual recommended some outside companies as well as their own flameproofing services in the Javits Center. I was wondering what your experience was with this – do you have a company you would recommend?

A: The only time we had to worry about flameproofing was when we hung curtains. But I heard a way that someone got around that… just offer up the curtains (or whatever the item you’re concerned about) for sale. Because products don’t have to be flameproofed. I haven’t tried this workaround myself, though… do so at your own risk. I’ve seen other companies use big paper flowers and things like that without a problem. But I also saw a company make a booth out of cardboard, and then have to tear it all down the day before because it was deemed a fire hazard. If you want to be on the safe side, use hard walls or go through one of the show partners (Manny Stone) to order foam core walls.

Q: I was also wondering how important it is to have a professionally printed catalog. We use for postcard printing and they do catalogs, too – but the lowest rate is $3000 for an 8.5×11 in catalog! Do you think store owners would frown at a copy-shop printed catalog that’s been spiral-bound? I asked one of my store owners and she said our catalog was fine, even on the more professional end, and showed me someone else’s catalog that had been copy-shop printed and stapled…but I thought it might be good to get a second opinion. 

A: Simple is fine, especially your first time. We get our catalog printed with a local commercial (offset/digital) printshop and it’s actually less expensive (for the amount we’re doing) than a copy shop. It’s definitely not $3000.

Q: How many items should I have in my line? 

A: When I first started Sycamore Street Press in the fall of 2007, I was working at a fantastic paper boutique called On Paper in Columbus, Ohio. Joan, the owner, told me that I should have a selection of at least 30 cards. Less than that, and buyers are going to feel like there’s not enough to choose from. Recently, I asked Dan Collier of the Daniel*Richards rep group what he recommended. He said somewhere around 100 – 120 is a good amount of cards to have in a line. Less than that feels like there aren’t enough options. More than that and it starts to feel unwieldy. Now of course, these numbers are only referring to cards. There used to be a lot of companies who would have a booth full of only greeting cards and nothing else. I feel like this is changing, though. Most paper companies from small indie makers to large corporations seem to be showing a variety of paper products in their booths. Some are branching out into categories beyond paper, too. This leads to the next question…

Q: What types of products are popular / should I bring? 

A: Emily of Clementine, writes a very informative column for Oh So Beautiful Paper. She devoted a whole post to this recently. A hint: flat things sell!

Q: How you display different lines? Do you display the lines separately, or do you divide them by occasion (birthday, holiday, etc…) with different lines mixed together? I’m asking because my mom also has a line, and I also have linocut and hand-drawn designs in addition to collage, so I’m not sure if I should display them separately or not.

A: There’s not one right answer to this. Ultimately, I prefer to display collections together, because it has a stronger visual impact. But then you can have a box of samples where they are grouped according to occasion, if buyers are interested in seeing them organized that way. (It helps for them to have a place to sit and flip through the cards, if you go that route.)

Q: What’s this about the stationery show changing its name?

A: The National Stationery Show recently changed ownership. It also combined with two other shows: Gift>It and Creative & Lifestyle Arts. These three shows together are now called the Signature Mix Marketplace. (I know, it’s confusing…. and new ownership is also behind the new name for the NY Gift Show: NY Now.)


Stay tuned for the National Stationery Show FAQ, Part 2…


Leave a Comment

  1. Beth says:

    Thanks for sharing your insight Eva! I’m curious what you think of the new signature mix – we are in the process of applying. Do you think a gift section of the stationery show will be well received by buyers that are typically only looking for stationery?

    • Eva says:

      Hi Beth! I can’t say for sure since I am not a buyer or a jewelry designer BUT I do think there’s a market for that and that you would stand out because there aren’t many jewelry makers… and jewelry is such a great item that I feel like most boutiques sell… great as a gift, doesn’t take up much space, etc… Always a good idea to attend the show first if at all possible, of course. :) Good luck!

      • Beth says:

        Thanks! I went to the show many years ago when I represented Quotable Cards and I fell in love! I’m hoping to emphasize my letterpressed packaging to stationery store buyers. :) Turns out, we’ll be in the #fresh section so hopefully I’ll see you there!

  2. Erin says:

    How many catalogs would you recommend to bring? This is my first year at the NSS so I’m a little unsure of quantities. Thank you!

  3. Andria Sato says:

    Hi Eva,
    Thanks so much for your insight—we are making our debut this year and are in full planning mode. I’m so appreciative to hear about your experience… now on to read part 2!

  4. I remember when you were just starting up in Columbus. I started grad school at OSU in 2007. So glad to see that your business has really taken off. Congrats!

  5. Thank you for posting this!! I recently started to sell invitations and stationery and was contemplating on attending, not presenting. Any tips for a first time attendee?


    • Eva says:

      Hi Desiree, Attending the first time you go is a great idea! Just walk the show, take it all in… Look at the displays and products and think of a way you can make your own be different and stand out from the competition. Also, pay attention to what locations are good, what kind of lighting, walls, and flooring might work the best, etc… Be friendly, talk to vendors, and introduce yourself, but if a buyer or member of the press enters the booth, politely excuse yourself. Have fun!

  6. Elle says:

    Great tips, thank you! We are showing at the National Stationery Show for our first time this year and are wondering what the deal is with Wifi. It’s so expensive, do most vendors get it? Or is it not really something we need if we use paper line sheets with carbon copy paper?

    Thank you SO much again for being such a wonderful resource for first time exhibitors!

    • Eva says:

      Hi Elle, Congrats on doing the NSS! It’s been a couple of years since I did the show, but when I did, we just used carbon copies to take orders and didn’t bother with the wifi. Seems really antiquated, though, doesn’t it? :) Best of luck with everything!

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