When I was getting ready for my first show last year, I found many Surtex recaps very helfpul, so I’m back (finally!) to jot down a few of my thoughts, in case they are useful for other first-time exhibitors.
Overall: It was fun and worthwhile! I’ve heard other people describe it as a great life experience, and that is just how I felt, too. It felt like an achievement to accomplish all the steps needed just to prepare & get there, and then it was an excellent feeling to be brave and to put myself and my artwork out there during the show.
Some things that worked out great: 1. Sharing the experience with another artist. I was so fortunate to have Shannon Hays as my booth partner, because she is super-organized & knowledgeable, as well as very talented & an all-around nice person. She made up a schedule several months before the show, covering when we needed to do various tasks, order banners & promo materials, etc., in order to stay on track. She had such great ideas for designing our booth, and was so good at talking to all of our booth visitors, knowing just what questions to ask them. And all in all, it was just fun to share the whole experience with a friend.
2. Booth: I thought 100 square feet worked out well for us to share. We ordered the counter to stand at (and hide all our extra stuff in!), and one shelf each.
3. Banners from Smartpress: We ordered vinyl with grommets in the corners. We put them up using tons of command strips all around, and secured them with fishing wire at the top, just in case. It took us a few hours to get everything set up.
4. Postcards and business cards from Moo. I ordered 100 business cards (‘Moo size rounded’), plus 100 postcards (original matte medium, 50 each of two designs) to give out. This amount worked out for me, and the quality was great. I also had a bunch of greeting cards printed up with various illustrations. I displayed these on my shelf and on the counter, and gave out a few as promo items.
5.Client interest forms: We created a form to fill out for each potential client, with space for name, company, email, and notes about what types of images they were looking for. After each visitor left the booth, we’d take a moment to staple their business card to a form and quickly jot down a few notes about the company and what they were looking for. Then we could put the form away, and we’d be ready to talk to the next person. This was extremely helpful because at times when the booth was busy, it was surprisingly easy to get confused about who said what. Having a few notes for each was very helpful.
6. Hotel: I stayed at the Even Hotel on West 35th. It was very friendly & nice, and a relatively short walk from Javits. Plus there was lots of food nearby. We had a good Italian dinner nearby at Tavola, and in the morning grabbed breakfast + bag lunch around the corner at an Essen. It was also a short walk to Penn Station, which was handy since we traveled by Amtrak.
Some helpful items to have on hand in the booth: • Command strips, fishing wire, packing tape, scissors
• Refillable water bottle, bag lunch with ice pack, snacks
• Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, chapstick, hairbrush
• Battery charger for phone
• Notebook + pen, intake form, stapler, folder, paperclips
Things I worried about that I wouldn’t worry about next time: 1. I didn't have any fun giveaway items, just my postcards, business cards, and a few greeting cards. This stressed me out at first, but ultimately I felt that what I had was enough.
2. What to wear. I was concerned about not having the right clothes, but once I was there, I realized that neat-and-presentable was perfectly fine!
3. Not having adequate art (or worse, having someone say something mean!) This one seems funny now, because everyone who stopped by was truly kind and enthusiastic.
Things I would do differently next time: 1. Have more Christmas/Holiday designs on hand. Even though I'd heard people recommend this, I didn’t really have a lot. I would definitely focus on this next time.
2. Possibly handle portfolio presentation differently. I had almost all of my portfolio in a blurb book (plus some extra printouts), and I was generally pleased with it. For peace of mind I ordered two copies — I left one in the booth overnight, while I carried the other back to the hotel with me. I’m not 100% sure, but next time I might opt for printed sheets in a binder, in order to have greater flexibility to add and remove images.
3. Give more thought to how much I'd like to sell particular designs for, and be more prepared to discuss prices.
4. Finalize designs as I go along through the year. When I was putting together my blurb book, I found that many designs were almost — but not quite —100% final, so I had to spend time putting finishing touches on them. I would also keep the format of my Surtex presentation in mind as I go along, so I don’t have to reformat a bunch of things at the last minute.
5. I would try to clear the schedule, and start planning in earnest in January & February, and to have banners, printouts, and promo pieces wrapped up in March & April. It’s simply no fun being down to the wire!
6. And I would try to have some life balance in the last couple of weeks prior to the show. This is a big one! As the show got closer, I spent all my time at the computer, trying to churn out as many designs as possible at the last minute. As a result, I ended up injuring my shoulder, and I couldn’t draw or work on the computer for about 4 months, had to do physical therapy, etc. Next time I would definitely aim for more balance, and I'd understand that getting a few more printouts done would not make or break my show, and it would be MUCH better to take time to exercise & relax a little.
Those are my main bits of advice. You can see pictures of our Surtex booth in my previous post.