My First Trade Show

Hi everyone! Sorry it’s been a while since my last post. I was definitely not planning on taking the entire month of February off from blogging, but things have been busier than usual since the trade show wrapped up. I’m so excited to finally share what my experience was like with you all and maybe even encourage some fellow small business owners to have their own booth at a show!

I first learned about the National Stationery Show (NSS) in September when the director reached out to me after finding my designs on Instagram. I’d attended a couple of trade shows in the past when I worked for other companies, but had never seriously considered having my own booth at one. The timing couldn't have been better, since I'd been thinking about expanding my prints to a new line of home & gift items, and NSS was the perfect place to debut them.

With about four months to plan (closer to three, since the holidays are always insane) I was working non-stop to make sure we'd be ready. I mocked up my booth in Adobe Illustrator so we'd have a clear vision of the design and a game plan of where everything would go. I ordered wallpaper of my orange grove print to decorate the booth walls and bought furniture from Target and IKEA to display my products on. I also decided to add a ton of new prints to my line, since it was pretty floral-heavy and I’d been wanting to add some more abstract and geometric prints for a while. Honestly you guys, I worked most days from 7am-10pm and didn’t take any weekends off. I knew that if I was going to take this risk, I was going to give it my all. That ended up sort of being the mantra of the show for my team, but with a Ron Swanson twist:

"Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."

When Zach and I arrived in New York, we had about a day and a half to set up the booth. We took the earliest flight out of Denver on Friday morning, so we'd been up since 4am and just needed to power through the day. My amazing mom offered to fly out from California to stay with Finn and Kirby, which made us feel SO much better about leaving them for almost a week. We packed most of my samples in our suitcases, so between both of us we had five bags on the way out and six on the way back (two of which were the biggest duffle bags I’d ever seen in my life). We successfully dropped our stuff at the hotel, picked up all the building materials we needed from Home Depot, and booked it over to the Javits Center, where NSS was being held.

We started set up around 3pm and had a LOT to get through. The wallpaper was surprisingly easy to put up and immediately made the booth look so bright and cheery. I’d never wallpapered anything before and had always heard disaster stories about how hard it is to apply, but this was seriously the easiest process and they were on the walls in no time. I had a 15 ft wide x 6 ft deep space, so we used six rolls of wallpaper to frame the corners of the booth. Zach built all of the furniture at lightning speed, whereas I spent 20 minutes trying to attach one leg to a stool before accepting defeat and handing it over to him. We still had all the shelving to put up and logo signs to hang and ALL the product left to place, but overall the booth was in good shape at the end of the first night.

Day 2 of set up was mostly a blur. A productive blur, but still a blur. Everything always takes longer than you’d think, though, and around 7pm when my friend Jules arrived, we still weren’t even close to finished. The three of us managed to get the whole booth set by 10pm, made one final Target run, grabbed dinner, and got back to our hotel by about 1:30am. Not the best for getting a good night’s sleep before the first day of the show, but we felt really confident about how everything came together were excited for the next day.

On the morning of the first day of NSS, this incredibly nice woman walked up to my booth and said, “That’s from Young House Love!” and pointed to my wallpaper. I replied “....No?” (really professional). She insisted it was and pulled out her phone to show me an Instagram post. She was right! A few weeks earlier, Young House Love had made a blog post about the orange grove wall mural they’d purchased from my Society6 shop and had used to decorate a house they’re remodeling. I was STUNNED. I also realized I need to follow way more interior design blogs. I now sell the same wallpaper from my booth on my website because so many people recognized it from that post!

The rest of the day went so well, we almost couldn’t believe it. Multiple people stopped dead in their tracks when they saw my booth and came over to take a closer look. We talked to the sweetest people who had the kindest things to say and I was grinning so wide my cheeks hurt. As someone who spends most of their time working alone, getting to see people’s reactions to my work firsthand was just surreal. I kept saying to Jules, “This is unbelievable” and she’d reply “Believe it, dude! YOU did this!”

Over the next three days we met some of the most supportive, talented people, both as buyers and fellow vendors. My booth neighbors had all done trade shows in the past and were so open in sharing some really amazing advice. It was incredible being in a convention center full of people who were so passionate about their work. Even though I’d just met them, I felt really proud us all. I know how hard we worked to be there and how difficult running your own business can be. They all took that same bet on themselves to start something on their own with no guarantee it would work out. These people were so inspiring because they were so brave, and it had never really hit me before then that the thing I was doing was brave, too.

Having the support of Jules and Zach being there with me meant everything. There’s no way I could have done it without them. I literally couldn’t have built the booth without them, but even more than that, having them by my side working as a team was something I hadn’t felt in a long time. Zach loved the trade show experience so much he wants to do even more of them and Jules said to of course count her in. She even hand makes the candles we had at the show and will be selling on my website really soon!

All in all, it was the most exhausting experience of my life, but one of the most important and worthwhile ones. I’m so happy we chose to go and I’ll be looking at more trade shows in the future.

If you’re a small business owner and thinking about having a booth at a trade show, don’t hesitate to ask me anything! I’ve only done the one show, but I’d be happy to tell you more details about my experience.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

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