Wednesday, July 30, 2008

preparation for the national stationery show part 2

the booth...
yep, this deserves a whole post dedicated to it. the booth is the physical manifestation of your business -- it represents what you're all about, blah blah blah. true, the booth is very very important -- but in my humble opinion, it is secondary to what really matters....your product. the number one thing to understand about the booth in our opinion is that you want to attract people who are within viewing distance in to take a look at your products.
in our minds, there are several factors to performing successfully in this task:

location, location location: no, we're not talking homes here, we're talking prime locations within the Javits. take a look at the exits, entrances, things around you. do you want to be by the women's bathroom (where there's almost always a line, but is a weird weird space to be in our opinion), or by the back where people take their breaks / and where the "new product display" resided this past year (we did not approve of this new move)?

there's a bit of strategy to consider here. we've seen many companies just take what they are given without knowing the layout, and get stuck in the boonies with very little foot traffic, or are thrown in somehow among some weird products. take a look at the companies around you-- it's hard when there are big names right next to you, as people sometimes bypass your booth to see what all the commotion is about. people who generate a lot of traffic directly across from you sometimes steal attention as well, as people who walk through your aisle look in the wrong direction when passing your booth -- rendering you...invisible. what works best are similar demographic companies with widely differing senses of style. these companies, when placed near one another, tend to help each other out in terms of traffic.

one thing people also don't know is that there is a big difference in atmosphere from the front to the back, from the middle to the sides. first of all, aisles 1100 or lower are under the lower ceiling area, so this gives a company a cozier/busier/more intimate feel. now why wouldn't you want this? first of all, the booths are generally smaller -- i think 6x10s and 8x10s. second, there are tons and tons of companies packed in such a small space, so you can get lost pretty easily. some of our friends love that area, and it makes especially good sense for exhibitors who come to the show by themselves, as they can make friends easily here and have neighbors watch the booth on short breaks. this results in the third reason it may not be so hot -- since a lot of the people who exhibit in this area like it, they tend to keep their spots, so the primary locations here are all but taken.

corner booth, 6x10, 8x10, 10x10, double, triple, etc?
corner booths get a lot more exposure, and usually more traffic at the cost of a more expensive booth fee, as well as the loss of a wall for any kind of display. we used our walls to display our line, so corner booths were not an option. next year, we're contemplating a switch to the corner. it just feels better, and is more inviting.

the smaller booths are also located in the lower numbers, with bigger booths in the higher numbers, unless you purchase multiple booths. needless to say, bigger = costlier. it all depends on how big your company and its range of products is, and how much you can afford.

hard walls, drapes, or use their drapes but hide them?
i'm not sure why the javits even bothers including those nasty drapes with your booth purchase. with the money we pay to get a space, all of the dividers could have been made with hard particle board or some other cheap material, and everyone would have been ecstatic to get a "hard wall." at least it would be more functional that way-- you can't hang anything off those drapes -- and they are ugly... maybe it's because they want to be able to charge us over $1000 for foam core walls to be installed? seriously? for temporary walls? you can't even save it afterwards. while we think it's a rip-off, a lot of people still get them because otherwise, you're stuck with those drapes.

another option is to make your own walls-- if you live within driving distance, or you are simply loaded with cash, and you or someone you know or can hire has a penchant for woodworking, you could make your own walls and keep em! this is a great option (and you can get really creative here), but then you have the problem of where to store them afterwards.

yet another option, purchase and make your own drapes (this is what we did). the main reason we decided to go this route was because of the cost of the foam core walls, and also the distance we had to travel to get to this show. we needed something portable, something that could collapse so we could store and ship easily. if you get the right material, you can sew in some anchors and use zip ties to stretch your fabric into a nice, solid surface that mimics hard walls. just bring along some downy wrinkle release (to get rid of the wrinkles from shipping), and you're golden. make sure, however, that the material you get is fire retardant, or is treated with a fire retardant, because the javits has regulations to uphold.

you can't, however, just purchase drapes and throw them on. you need to be able to do simple measuring, cutting and sewing to make nice edges and reinforced holes (if you want to stretch or just be able to hang the fabric). the javits center provides hooks (all you can carry) that you can use to hang them up.

you could also hide these walls with furniture and storage/display systems, but in the end, where are you going to put your logo, and your booth number? things to consider. you gotta deal with those drapes somehow.

electricity, lights, plug or column in your booth
these things all need to be purchased. the center gives you an outlet, but no lights. you can buy a spotlight or a set of lights you can hang on your wall posts, but otherwise, you're on your own. you can only use up to 400W in lights, so basically four 100W light bulbs max. we bought some clamp lights from home depot, with four 100 W bulbs (remember to bring extra). these worked well enough for us, and was cost effective/easy to transport.

make sure you don't get a column in your booth (this severely detracts from your booth setup/plans) -- unless you plan on incorporating this column into your design somehow (a display system?). some people get caught with this thing -- see if you can request a different location. also, there is always this big block someone gets stuck with in their booth (for some reason it's always us) that has everyone's main power cord plugged into it. we suspect people around us get there really early the first day, so they can pass this little "gem" onto some other adjacent booth. it's not a huge deal, but it can get bulky and unsightly. hopefully, you have enough space in between booths to stash it.

flooring, byof (bring your own floors)
they give you nothing here, and if you order through them, it's pretty expensive (not to mention the color choices are pretty eye-jarring). you can get a carpet roll from home depot (some are pretty cheap, but of course thin), or order from a company like flor and get them in tiles. other options include those cushiony foam tiles which interlock, and you can even get those in a wood grain design -- so it looks like you have hardwood floors. these can all get pretty pricey, but people in general appreciate the feeling of cushioned floors, especially having walked around in a huge convention center all day. again, up to how much you wanna spend. we just went with the carpet roll from home depot, and provided chairs for our visitors.

for booth ideas, here are some examples from the show website.

preparing for the national stationery show - part 1

if you've never prepared for the national stationery show, you've got your work cut out for you. in this post and following posts, we'll lay out what we've had to go through, and what things you should possibly consider, through the perspective of an exhibitor traveling cross country to the nss.

first up: research, research, research. (should i even go?)

before we even considered throwing down the exorbitant amounts of money it takes to exhibit in a trade show across the country, we made sure we'd done the necessary legwork.

using the web wisely: it is an infinite resource of information -- we looked up other people's experiences about traveling to the show, example booth setups, what is included in a standard exhibitor package, what people send to potential buyers before the show, etc. we spent countless hours online, bookmarking and taking notes on an open word and excel spreadsheet.

making sure our product was unique, and would stand up to the competition: there are so many exhibitors that do the old "one-and-out." they spend all this money to go to the show, expecting to write mad orders and talk to tons of interested buyers -- and end up sitting all lonely in their booth, watching people walk by and cursing the show and their luck. then we don't see them again the next year. it's all in the preparation...make sure that your product is not only presented in the best light, but also that it will hold its own in relation to what's out there. do some searches, read lots of blogs, and find out what people in your chosen demographic like. make sure that no one is doing the exact same thing you're doing (and possibly doing it for longer and *gasp!* -- better).

decide what makes you special (you should be able to verbalize it if someone asks you)-- then, go for it. keep your target market in mind when designing your products, and don't be afraid to show them around to get feedback. we made sure to consult anyone we felt within our demographic, and made changes to our designs based on what they said, or just listened to them and agreed to take certain risks. a general rule: don't compromise on quality to be cheaper -- there is always someone out there who can do things cheaper.

starting early: we started preparing for the show a full year and a half before. at least this was for our first time. subsequent times took less effort because we already knew the drill.

number of products: this is part of the research process -- if you have a ton of ideas/designs, think about ways to present them so that buyers don't get overwhelmed. if you don't have so much, consider creating more or find ways to organize and display in your booth to make it look like more, or really showcase what you do have.

it all depends on the exhibitor, but we had about 100 cards at launch. people thought we'd been there awhile because we had so many. i blame bumble girl, who cracked the whip on me to create so many; my hands still haven't recovered from the stress ;) -- anyways, most people start out with a lot less, and each year add a little that makes up their "new line." i'd wished we had less because as you would guess, some designs got less orders than others, and you're stuck with a lot of inventory issues-- not to mention a few buyers would walk around the booth aimlessly and hopelessly overwhelmed by the options (they can't buy them all, after all! there's this thing they have called a budget). in recent years, we've been consolidating and have put our new designs through a fairly rigorous 'user testing' process to wean out the weaker ideas. we've also started discontinuing some of the older stuff, to make way for the new. less is more, as they say. quality over quantity, you get the idea.

organize: use excel, or whatever scheduling program you'd like. but we felt it was important to print out a calendar sheet and post it onto our fridge so we would know what tasks would need to be completed by the end of the week. this way, things didn't escape our attention, and we didn't end up trying to do 50,000 things a week before show time.

walking the show: we were never able to actually do this, since we were all the way in california, but we did try to walk other glm shows, such as the california gift show and the san francisco show. though much smaller scale, it gave us an idea of what to expect. still, if you have the means, try to walk the nss -- it's a much grander scale, and you can see first hand the level of creativity and the vibe that the show has. walk into booths and talk to the owners directly about their experiences/advice. but make sure they are not busy with buyers first -- just good show etiquette :) also make sure they know you are "considering exhibiting in the future" and would just like to ask them a few questions. if you aren't upfront about this, they may think you're a competing/potential idea/style stealer, because yes-- it happens.

consider a web presence: for us, this was a given. i'm a graphic/web designer and bumble girl is a developer/it business analyst, so we were able to throw this up without much cost to us. in any case, owning a site isn't that expensive -- there are really cheap hosting rates available now. you could probably hire on someone to help you do development or translate your designs onto the web -- i can't speak to much about that since i have no experience hiring freelance workers. in any case, the return on this little investment can be huge. you could have a side income (or primary, for that matter) from an online shop, and not to mention start getting some traffic through blogs or other sites. at the very least, create a blog for your company (it's free) -- and start posting. it's free and cheap marketing/advertising, if you do it right.

read the national stationery show official web page:
they have information on pricing, examples of what you get for your money,what you need to order (i.e. electricity--what??) booth samples, etc. etc. this will let you know what you will need to do to make the booth space yours -- and mind you, there is a lot to do!

stay tuned for part 2-- were we discuss......the booth!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

new releases!

some new releases in our online store --

inside reads: error: you are too old.

inside reads: you rock!

inside reads: Yep. You're getting up there. Happy Birthday!

check out more at

Friday, July 11, 2008

bumble ink in cool mom picks

one of our announcements got featured in this great site called "cool mom picks." a very useful site with cool finds from paper goods to diapers to baby clothes and food. thanks for the mention, guys! we're also offering a 15% discount to cool mom picks readers, off any online orders through 8/15. click through here for the code.

Monday, July 07, 2008

netflix versus blockbuster

we used to own a blockbuster monthly plan, and i had never felt the urge to go onto and surf/rate and pick out movies. i would see a movie preview somewhere, or suddenly remember a movie that i wanted to see, and i'd go on and do a search to add it into our queue. well, we cancelled that plan awhile ago because we weren't using it that much, and we were keeping movies longer than we should have. it was a bit of a waste for the 20 bucks a month that we were paying.

well, we recently decided to hop back onto a monthly plan (since we felt the itch to watch, and the rentals were adding up), but this time, we're trying out netflix. low and behold, i'm addicted. i'm sitting there rating all the movies i've ever seen, clicking deeper into movie descriptions to read each synopsis and watch a preview of the movie instantaneously. I also like to read the reviews by other netflix users, and the professional reviews by the likes of ebert and roeper.

i was convinced that this was a new and exciting development in the internet, and that no one else did this. i told bumble girl, "this is great! how come blockbuster didn't do this?" she was like, "they did." then she proceeded on an hour long rant about how blah blah blah, i never notice details, and blah blah blah, i never listen blah blah blah (i don't really remember at this point, i kind of zoned off here and was watching a Hulk preview).

anyways, being a snobby designer, i think the real reason i didn't notice blockbuster's features was due to its uninteresting and visually unstimulating user interface and design. that's gotta be it, right? netflix has been doing this longer, and it shows. for some reason i felt compelled to rate movies because first of all it was fun, and second of all: i truly believed that their system could then accurately suggest other movies i would like. i just didn't believe that with blockbuster, and certainly did not enjoy surfing through their site. it felt like such a chore.

sure, with blockbuster it was cool to be able to return movies to any store and get another movie instantly, or be able to print out additional free coupons each month in case you didn't want to wait for your other movies to come in the mail. but really, we only took advantage of this like once or twice in the year that we had it.

netflix's plans are also cheaper. also, there is the option at netflix to watch movies and tv shows (that they have -- a limited selection) instantly on your computer. this is really cool when you're bored of surfing, or eat lunch at your desk, or whatever.

conclusion: netflix wins. score one for design! judging from my past decision of virgin america over jet blue, i'd say i sense a theme here. but maybe red is just cooler than blue.