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.
This was Sycamore Street Press’s fifth time showing at the National Stationery Show, and the first time I was completely happy with the way our booth turned out. It was also our best show yet as far as sales and press coverage goes, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Here are my top 5 tips for creating a successful National Stationery Show booth, if you are interested…
1) Great Lighting
I’ve seen people make the rookie mistake of thinking that the overhead lights of the convention center itself will be enough. Those booths end up looking dreary, sad, and lonely.
I don’t want that to happen to you! I know that just renting a booth space is expensive and it seems like lighting should be included. Believe me, I’ve thought the same thing! But you’re just going to have to pay extra for lighting. At the very least, you should order the electrical outlet from the Javits Center, which lets you plug in lights that you can clip on to the top of your booth. We did that for our booth in 2010, and it looked nice.
But this year, we decided to really go for it with our lighting. We ordered 3 Parcan lights from the Javits Center. (Parcan lights are big, Broadway style spotlights that the Javits people hang for you from the rafters.) We were in a corner booth, so we only had two walls. This meant there was one Parcan spotlighting each wall and one spotlighting the island.
Our booth shone! It was like we were on stage. Quite a few people commented on how great (and bright!) it looked. Getting 3 Parcans was a big splurge, and therefore a big risk for an indie company like ours. (They’re $450 each, so it came to about $1350 total.) But I felt like it completely paid off for us.
When it comes to your booth lighting, I’m not saying you should do the exact same things as us. But you do need some form of extra lighting, and you do need to realize how important lighting is to your success at the show.
4 more tips for creating a successful booth after the jump…
2) Be Unique / Be You
Everyone loves something fresh and original, right? This definitely holds true for NSS booth design. I’ve seen people walk right by a booth with great product because the display was just so-so. What a waste!
It can be helpful to attend the show or check out the online coverage before you start planning your own booth. (Oh So Beautiful Paper does a fantastic job of covering the show, and the Instagram hashtag #nss2014 will show you a lot, too.) But try and keep a bit of distance between you and what you see. You do not want to copy anyone else’s booth design, just as you wouldn’t copy someone’s actual paper goods designs. In fact, instead of being inspired by other vendors’ NSS booths, I would do the opposite and try and figure out how you can be different from what everyone else is doing.
For your actual inspiration, look outside the world of paper. Check out your favorite local boutiques, interior magazines, movies, museums, etc… Try to think of something that no one exhibiting at the National Stationery Show has ever done.
Make an inspiration board to collect your ideas. And collect a lot! Then narrow it down. (That’s my edited down inspiration board above.) Figure out how to put your own spin on things. And of course, make sure the look and design of your booth is completely in line with you, your brand, your aesthetic.
I’d spent a lot of time this past year honing in on my aesthetic (Minimal Bohemian), and evolving the Sycamore Street Press brand to fit that. Designing our booth for the NSS felt like the culmination of all that work. It was so much fun to flesh out the Minimal Bohemian look and create a whole 3-D experience.
Many of the elements had been in place in our booth last year or even the year before that. (The walls, island, main rug, shelves, stools, gift wrapped boxes hanging on the wall…) But this year, I was able to add some finishing touches (the green plants, indigo curtain, additional rugs, white paint, etc…) that really brought it all together and made the whole design pop.
Your booth design will pop, too, if you stay true to your own unique brand and vision.
3) Plan Ahead
As with your product, you really need to begin planning months ahead in order to have your booth ready in time for the show. Start from the foundation and work your way out to the smallest details. Try to think of every single thing you might need and get it all in place beforehand. It’s inevitable that you’ll forget something and have to take a trip to a hardware store during set-up, but try to avoid any New York City errand running as much as possible.
If you plan on exhibiting again in New York — either at the NSS or another NY based trade show like NYNow, the most economical thing is to store your booth with a local freight & storage company. (Although, our first year doing the show, we just packed everything into our car and drove it back and forth. Always an option if you live close enough.) Pack your entire booth (walls, displays, product, etc…) into a crate or onto a palette, and get the freight company to ship it to the Javits for you. When the show is over, they will then pick it up and store it until the next show comes around. It’s definitely cheaper to go this route than to ship it back and forth from New York to wherever you live every single time.
On the other hand, if it’s your first year, and you don’t know if you’ll be doing any shows after this or not, you may want to just rent things instead of shipping and storing a crate. You can order hard walls or foam core walls through the show, along with flooring, tables, etc… It’s more expensive, but less commitment and less hassle. We ordered foam core walls our first year, and I think it was a good choice.
Whatever you end up doing, just remember to give yourself plenty of time to plan, build, and ship your booth!
4) Ask for Help
I’m one of those people who hates to ask for help, but I’ve had to learn to swallow my pride. When it came to my booth design, I made a mood board and a detailed plan of how I was going to execute it. Still, I decided to consult a couple of stylists for any suggestions/improvements they might have.
Meta from One More Mushroom gave me the idea of dyeing a curtain to echo and draw attention to our shibori-influenced indigo collection. Brittany from The House That Lars Built gave me great advice in the form of a veto. She reigned me in and helped me keep the booth design clean. The two of them also helped me out with the sheepskins. I’d thought of draping them over the stools, but was worried they would be too big and look sloppy. Meta & Brittany had an easy solution for that: just trim them smaller! Of course!
For the finishing touch, I would need rent or buy some green plants and additional rugs in New York to add to the display. Meta put me in touch with her friend, stylist Kendra Smoot, who ended up sending me photos of the plants and rugs in her own apartment and giving me free reign to pick whatever I needed!
Finally, I realized at the last minute that needed help with our booth set-up. Kirk and I could do it ourselves, but it would go so much faster with one more person to help paint, run pesky errands, etc… I should have planned ahead, but with fingers crossed, I put a post up on Instagram. Two hard working and curious creative women living in NYC – Nicole Marinese and Elise Kelly — came to the rescue!
Could we have done it all without help? Yes. But it just wouldn’t have turned out as well. The input from these collaborators added the finishing touches that pulled everything together so well and made the booth really stand out. I’m so grateful.
Reach out for help when you need it — a bit of collaboration makes all the difference!
5) Make Sure Your Product Stands Out
Now, if you are going to all this trouble to create a beautiful, original, well-planned booth, you need to have beautiful, original, well-planned products as well. That should probably go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways. It’s that important.
This wasn’t our most successful stationery show just because the booth looked good. We had a big collection of brand new products that were fresh and caught people’s attention. I was taking a big risk breaking from my tried and true aesthetic, and I really didn’t know how people would respond. In a make-or-break decision, I decided to go for it. I’m so glad I did.
I realized that that’s how it had been when I first started Sycamore Street Press nearly 7 years ago. Almost daily, I was making the kinds of decisions that would make my hands shake. Somewhere along the way, though, I grew a bit more comfortable with the status quo. That’s a dangerous thing.
This past year, I decided to shake things up, and I am determined to keep that mindset. To always be looking at the bigger picture, adapting, evolving — while remaining true to my core values, of course.
If we all remember to keep doing that, I’m confident the inspiration will come to us for original, stand out designs. We will be the better for it; our companies will be the better for it, and so will the stationery industry as a whole.
Good luck at the NSS! – Eva