nss prep school :: booth details

Posted in NSS national stationery show tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:15 pm by meant to be sent

more trade show talk today…i’m trying super hard to catch up with some nss detail posts, so here’s one i’ve been meaning to do for a loooonnngg time (pretty much since after nss 2011!).

so without further ado…

this goes along with a post you may have seen last week with a fun infographic about something not so fun — budgets. the infographic made it more fun, but now it’s time to get serious. well, not really. but we’ll at least talk specifics and get into a bit more detail about costs and options for saving money etc. first lets, talk about the booth… (and please excuse the not so great iphone pics!)

meant to be sent nss booth

your booth is pretty much your storefront for the 4 days you’re doing a tradeshow like NSS. your booth should represent your brand and be designed to showcase your line. it’s not so important whether you use curtains or foam or hard walls as it is that the space is well constructed and styled to reflect your brand and line…and is of course cohesive with everything else from your show mailer to your website…


depending on your budget and style, there are lots of options for the walls of your booth…let’s start with the most basic…

CURTAINS: these actually come with your booth (yay for that!) but they are not anything particularly special…they may work for you if you have a more earthy or vintage brand since they’re a neutral color and what i believe is a cotton of some kind. (maybe?) most people don’t use the provided curtains, but that doesn’t mean curtains are not a viable option…. you can certainly bring your own curtains that are a perfect reflection of your brand — maybe in a bold color, silk finish or zigzag pattern…whatever goes with your look.


above : the curtains and sign that come with the booth.

budget wise, curtains are the least expensive option. the cost is pretty much whatever curtains cost….so, like anything, you can go economical and grab some from a store like ikea or you can splurge at store like restoration hardware! it just depends on your budget and the look your brand calls for.

FOAM WALLS: these are probably the most popular type of booth walls at the show, especially for smaller companies and first-timers. why? they look great (like real walls!) and are fairly inexpensive, again, depending on the look you’re after, budget and booth size you have. one thing that’s for sure is that these go up right in front of the existing curtains and are typically zip-tied to the pole frame. but there’s a variety of ways to go about getting foam walls…

  1. DIY: if you just want plain (white or solid color) walls, and are the DIY type, you’re in luck! because you can by your own large sheets of foam board at an art supply or set design shop or other similar stores and have it delivered to javits (buy local and save on freight!)… just make sure they’re flame retardant! a SUPER important show rule.
  2. HIRE OUT: if you’re not the DIY type, you can use an exhibit company for your walls (and lots of other stuff!). they can do them in white or even pms colors so you can match your branding…they are more expensive than the other options mentioned here, but include installation and provide peace of mind knowing that it’s all set when you arrive at your booth. several exhibitors go this route.
  3. SORT OF DIY: somewhere between DIY and using an exhibit company to do it for you, is the option to source your own foam walls and hire union guys to help you set them up (or set up yourself). this is what i did my first year…i used foam walls but wanted an all-over printed pattern. despite originally planning to go with option 2 above where it was all set up when i got there, it was not in my budget given the wall printing i needed. so i found my own source to order printed foam walls from (they even flame proofed for me) and had them shipped direct to javits. the cost was less, but somewhat close to doing the plain, installed, solid colored walls mentioned above. BUT, i got the look i wanted for my brand. it was perfect! though, not really re-usable. so while foam is great and fairly cheap for a really pulled together look, it doesn’t get you further than one show.


above: my printed foam walls and carpet, mid set-up.

HARD WALLS: ahhh, the “real” walls :) these are the most pricey OR most time consuming option depending on how you go about it. hard walls are typically made with a base of plywood or other hard material (maybe even actual drywall for some of the huge companies??)…and then painted or finished in another way (people get super creative!) so the cost varies widely. but this option gives you the opportunity to really do some unique finishes. (adrienne from dingbat press is AMAZING at this! check out her blog to see her booth form the last couple years and more planning info!) and also are more durable so these are typically reusable for future shows. here are some ways to go about it…

  1. HIRE OUT: using an exhibit company to do hardwalls for you is going to cost you…more than having them do foam walls for sure, however, the price can vary depending on many factors. there is an option (a somewhat strange concept) to RENT your hardwall booth. basically, the exhibit company will create the booth from your design, but you don’t really own it. and also therefore do not have to worry about storing or shipping or installation of said booth. you just show up and it’s set up for you! (like the installed foam walls above). but in this case you would contact the exhibit company prior to the next show and discuss using the booth again and modifications you might need to make, if any. an easy-breezy-peace-of-mind option, but a pricey one.
  2. DIY: again, if you are the DIY type, you can create an entire booth at home and use a freight company to ship it to the show. or drive it there yourself! driving there is the (possibly) cheaper option but depends of course where you are driving from vs the cost of flying + freight…and parking in NYC…but, this point spills over into travel, so more on that in a bit!but if you price out the materials at the hardware store needed to DIY, you’ll quickly start to see the savings for creating your own hardwall booth. HUGE savings. so much so, we’re talking possibly less than foam (installed walls option)! BUT, enter lots of hard work, mega planning (and carpentry skills!) and freight cost. however, with great planning you could use this fabulous creation year after year! yay MORE savings! plus, going this route you can still request union help to set up/tear down and pack up your booth to take back home OR, choose to store the booth in a warehouse near the convention center. this is a good option if you want to use the same exact booth year after year and only plan on doing shows in that area. BUT, it does make it difficult to modify it if needed, since it’s not in your possession or being stored with a company that can modify it for you. but LOTS of people do this.

……………………furniture + fixtures……………………

like the walls, there are lots of ways to go about this, and all depends on the look and budget you have. but one thing is for sure — every booth seems to have furniture of some kind…whether a seating area with couches or a counter area or even just a chair or two. (psst…chairs are key —you’re likely going to want something. even just to sneak a quick rest — it’s a looooonnng day of standing and buyers appreciate the break too when they’re in your booth!) here are some options to consider…

  1. USE YOUR OWN: lots of people bring things they may already own, or will invest in pieces they can see reusing at future shows or in their home or studio. doing this is an awesome way to save some cash in the long run (and get some fun new stuff for your house!) especially if you are planning to ship freight anyway.
  2. BUY IT: an alternative to using existing pieces is to purchase new items (of course), but consider having them shipped directly to your booth. you can also ship stuff to most hotels (check with yours to make sure). but, don’t forget you have to get said items to javits from your hotel. that’ll be tricky if they’re bulky like a chair or table! then, you’ll of course need to ship them back home or store them with your booth if you go that route. or, depending on the items, some people just leave them behind if it’s not worth the cost of return shipping (or they’ll sell items to passers by at the end of the show!)
  3. RENT IT: another route is to rent furniture…a great way to get some unique pieces without breaking the bank! while there are tons of things available through exhibit companies, don’t forget about local event companies too! it’s NYC after all so there are TONS of neat places with really unique stuff if you are looking to go a different route.i loved renting and will likely do it again. especially for things like ghost chairs (just $15 each to rent!) that are a pretty penny to purchase…and when i first exhibited i was not psyched about the idea of shipping larger items back and forth. i don’t know why but it just scared me :) i think just because it required a pallet or crate and i just thought whoa. was just another thing that i’d not done before and was my way of eliminating one unknown. but this year, i will likely take the plunge and go with a freight shipment. stay tuned :)


above: the ghost chairs i rented


fixtures are completely based on your products and how large your line is.

  1. BUY IT: lots of exhibitors will buy their own shelves or cabinets and reuse year after year. this may be what i do this year, at least in part. ikea is an awesome place for this. their products are pretty durable, inexpensive and usually pretty lightweight (makes for cheaper shipping!) in particular the picture ledge shelves and billy bookcases and expedit shelving units are popular items…as are many others! again, depends on your look, but there are lots of basic items there that you can finish or modify to fit what you need (again, check out adrienne’s booth!) there’s even an ikea delivery service in the NYC area! people use it for last minute/emergency items or just as a way to skip the chaos and shipping. a great way to save is to go in with a group at the show and split the fee for delivery.
  2. RENT IT: another route is renting fixtures and display units. either existing pieces or, you can even design something yourself and have it built! (see below) yep, a custom designed piece that you can rent! crazy! that was the route i went my first year…i launched a collection of wedding albums and a small line of boxed imprintable invitations and wanted a piece that would showcase the albums. so i used my walls to display pieces from each of the four collections and the cabinet i designed (below) to hold the actual books and boxed invitations. this worked out really well for me. and though it was pricey, it was the centerpiece of my booth and really helped to highlight my collection and gave buyers a comfortable spot to peruse the heavy albums. plus it was the main fixture/furniture in my booth, so i felt ok to splurge on it :) and i can reuse if i want and don’t have to worry about storing/shipping because it’s owned by the exhibit company. win win!

below: snaps of the cabinet i designed and had built by manny stone


above: my cabinet in the aisle before making it into the booth, and a bit of dingbat’s booth with hard walls in the background :) she silverleafed the walls! so neat.






……………………lighting, flooring and signage…………………...

once you’ve got your walls and furniture set, it’s all about the finishing (but super important) touches. things like lighting, flooring and signage. the reason i say they’re finishing touches is because while they’re important decisions they didn’t seem AS monumental as the walls and furniture decisions. maybe just me though! :)


there are tons of ways to go here too. initially, one might think that a huge convention center would provide enough overhead lighting. not true! you really want your work to shine (no pun intended!) and the best way to do that is to make sure it is properly and adequately lit…not just so people can see it, but so that it photographs well too! especially for when bloggers and other members of the press come by and want to take some snaps!




above: a peek at the clip-on lights

  1. BUY IT: an easy, effective and inexpensive option is to use clip-on lights. mine were from home depot and were $10 each. much, much cheaper than going through an exhibit company and there are similar options at stores like ikea, lowes, target and wherever else sells these kind of lamps! but like everything else, depends on what you’re looking for! also, consider a chandelier, tabletop or floor lamps to highlight products if those work with your booth design. a note: chandeliers may require approval to be hung or will need to be installed by the union workers if it needs to actually hang from the convention center ceiling. (something i had to eliminate last show due to the huge installation fee. sigh.)
  2. RENT IT: alternatively, you can rent lighting from an exhibit company who works with javits and the union to complete installation. or can request lighting directly from javits…they can provide you with a parcan — a big spotlight — that is hung in the rafters and positioned to highlight your booth. they are on the pricey side but give off great light. i added one at the last minute (on site at the show) and it cost much more (somewhere around $400 instead of about $300!!) than if i had ordered early. lesson=learned!

ELECTRICITY & INSTALLATION: this is a separate fee and a must for having any lighting  in your booth (other than a parcan). and this fee is pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things.  just make sure to bring some extension cords and a power strip to plug your lights into along with any electronics you may have (cell phone, laptop etc).


another item that has a lot of possibilites is flooring. carpet, or wood or masonite or??? the sky’s the limit. one big thing to consider though…COMFORT! it is a loooonnggg day of standing and buyers definitely appreciate stepping into a cushy booth floor! :)


above: jon and our union guy working on the carpet tiles.

  1. BUY IT: again, this is an area that you can easily buy and repurpose for future shows. even if you end up changing booth sizes it might be possible to add on to your existing flooring if that product is still available. this is the route i went with. i bought interlocking carpet tiles from an online store and had them shipped directly to my booth. (i ordered sample swatches first to pick a color) and after the show, i packed them up and shipped them home. easy breezy and not a huge package to deal with.
  2. RENT IT: yes, you can even rent flooring! an exhibit company is probably your best bet here. they’ll provide you with options for carpet or laminate flooring and install and remove for you. of course, this is then an ongoing cost but is not TOO bad.

whatever flooring you go with, consider adding padding of some kind underneath. some carpet tiles are available in various grades — think economy, standard, premium — but you can still add extra padding. if you do, your floor will be raised a bit but it’s worth the comfort!


signage is so SUPER important! it’s how buyers know who you are and which booth they’re in and which products they’re looking at. you can help too by making sure all your work is grouped / displayed / organized in a way that makes sense and is clearly labeled (with product name and/or item number if applicable). so it’s as easy as possible for buyers to order your awesome stuff!


above: my walls with signage and booth number printed on the walls (lighting actually was much brighter than this pic shows!)

my signage was part of my printed walls, which made things really easy with nothing extra to worry about there. (except sticking my designs all nice and straight on the walls!) a super important part of signage is to make sure you include your booth number and make sure it’s very visible! it’s like your “address” for the show and how buyers find you. so make it crystal clear!

there are of course tons of ways to go about creating signage for your booth but sooo much depends on your branding regarding materials used and what it looks like. dimensional signs made of acrylic, metal, wood etc are great options and look super professional. as do decals, which can be adhered right onto the walls (foam or hard walls) and are fairly economical. printed/mounted foam board signs or words stenciled onto your (hard) walls work well too. if using curtains, you’ll most likely need to create separate signage that you’ll hang from the poles in front of your curtains. 


well, that about does it for the booth details! let’s recap…



  • curtains
    they come with your booth but bring your own to coordinate with your brand. cost: $200-250. (based on ikea curtains)
  • foam walls
    DIY with foam board from an art store or flame retardant boards from set shop ($300-400). does not include labor or shipping. if buying regular, non flame retardant foam board make sure to buy flame retardant spray and keep the empty bottles and certificate as proof in case anybody asks during setup!
    – installed foam board walls white ($1000) or in pantone color ($1800). these are early bird rates!! price goes up after a certain date!
    printed foam walls $1400 + freight from mega print. they’re in new hampshire so not TOO far from the show. though i got hit with extra freight charge for delivery to a “tradeshow zone”. something to keep in mind!
    – union labor cost for setup $200-300 (based on 1 person for 1 hour on weekday or weekend day at the higher end)
  • hard walls
    DIY painted plywood walls starting at $200-300 (cost of plywood) + hardware + freight
    – use an exhibit company…(price varies) peace of mind and convenience but lots more than DIY


  • use your own pieces (FREE!) + freight
  • buy new ones! sky’s the limit, but use ikea or target for inexpensive pieces you can reuse or discard if shipping back isn’t worth it
  • rent it! either from an exhibit company or local NYC prop houses or event companies.
    – in my booth i rented. ghost chairs + table ($350 total, including delivery and pickup. table was too much in my opinion but was convenient!)
    -rent from manny stoneprops for today or ruth fischl to name a few.


  • BUY/DIY get ’em yourself and save! you can install lighting in your own booth if you have a booth under 100sqft and 6 or fewer lights. BUT check the manual because this seems to be unclear from year to year!
    – clipon lights: $60 for six.
    – buy from home depot, target, lowes, ikea etc.
  • RENT clip on lights: from an exhibit company: $99 each, installed. (this is the early bird rate. price goes up from there!)
  • RENT from javits: parcan spotlight, approx $300 (pre-show pricing)


  • DIY: buy picture ledges, shelves, bookcases and cabinets from stores like ikea or target. cost varies. toss after or ship back to reuse each year.
  • RENT from exhibit company or prop houses listed above. (my custom cabinet: $600 + tax)


  • carpet
    DIY: buy interlocking carpet tiles ($350) at coco mats and more.  or FLOR which is super popular too. both reusable!
    – RENT from an exhibit company…similar pricing to above, but pay each year.


  • PRINT ON WALLS included in printed foam price above
  • DIY jut the cost of materials if you have access to a large format printer or a way to create decals!
  • OUTSOURCE there are lots of places for dimensional signs, decals, etc…. even etsy!

well, that does it for the booth details! hope you find this helpful and will use this as a starting point for your own booth prep research.

want more? for tons more candid info and real show experiences, be sure to sign up for tradeshow bootcamp! you’ve probably seen me rave about it before….that’s because it’s a must going into your first show! (or your second or third or….) i’m a HUGE fan and highly recommend it. :)

happy planning!


1 Comment »

  1. […] budget 1, Budget 2,  flooring, from beginning to end, and more, and more Meant to be Sent – Booth Details, and tagged National Stationery Show Wild Ink Press – 2011, and […]

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