05/31/2011

NSS recap :: part 4…finding the end of the internet (aka researching)

Posted in meant to be sent, NSS national stationery show, wholesale tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 10:05 pm by meant to be sent

once my collection got under way and i had signed on the dotted line for my booth contract, i kicked my researching into overdrive…

researching for my booth, researching for vendors/printers/products to use for my collection—an ongoing process that is a big task in itself—and researching the (many) rules for the show. i can tell you i have done a lot of research for my business, but never have i ever done so much research in a six month period. ever. ever.

after a certain point (probably starting in about december) i literally spent every ounce of time i had (that i wasn’t designing or working) researching. and boy did i learn a LOT—about what i wanted/needed for my products, what would work and what wouldn’t and who i could depend on.

{ sidebar :: during this time i also may have gotten a bit sidetracked by wanting to expand my product line for the launch at the show. i went back and forth about this for a while…going to add stuff…not going to add stuff…ultimately i did end up introducing a line of boxed imprintable designs! though i kept trying to add more! cA-raZy! that’s what sleep deprivation does i guess! }

though i researched what seemed like a million and one little things, the two main things i researched like crazy were: potential vendors (for printing, albums, paper, packaging etc) and stuff for my booth.

vendors
when i decided to do this new line, i knew i did not want be my own printer any more. the time and energy it takes to prep files and do the actual printing and fulfillment was just not something i wanted to deal with. and in the spirit of simplifying and streamlining (the premise behind my collection) it made a lot of sense to shift the production outside to allow me to simplify things and focus on designing.

so the search was on. i knew i needed a great digital printer. but i also wanted to offer letterpress, offset and thermography as options in my books. again, trying to be a bit different.

my goal: find a one stop shop that could do it all and at wholesale prices. i needed a place that understood wedding stationery but that was flexible enough to be open to other sizes, products and papers. this. was. DAUNTING. and i can tell you i pretty much found the end of the internet in all my searching. seriously. i even started a petition in hopes of alerting printers that there is a need for what i was looking for…as i suspected, there are lots of other designers looking for a one-stop-shop, too! (feel free to sign it if you want! :D )

i’ll tell ya…finding a good printer is not easy. and it’s even harder to find one that offers multiple types of printing, is good at what they do, will offer wholesale pricing and not require you to run 1000 pieces as a minimum.

so after TONS and TONS of researching, asking around, tweeting and networking, i found a handful of good options (that are actually all still in play) and have landed on two printers that cover it all, and will be my go-to’s.

below :: a look at the first test run from one of the digital printers

so why did i choose these printers?
because of these key things that were super important to me:

1. pricing: obviously had to offer wholesale pricing
2. quality: obviously had to be great quality
3. response + turnaround time: so important to feel important! so if it takes weeks to (or worse never!) hear back from someone, it’s just not going to work out.
4. flexibility: i am trying to be a bit different so it was key that i find a printer open to that as well…someone willing to testing papers that did not have limited sizes/products

{ tips }
on top of the things listed above, make sure you can get test prints from your printer. if it is digital printing, find out what kind of digital press they are using and (attempt to) understand the capabilities and limitations of their equipment. ask them to push the limits if that is what is best for your product…all they can do is say no! also, make sure you are working with pantone colors from the start. good digital printers can match pms colors! (initially in my sleepless haze, i was just using cmyk colors and had to backtrack! no fun!) but DO A TEST. pick your colors and send a swatch sheet to them to run. find out what settings you should use in your file to get the closest to PMS colors as possible. then match up the test swatches to a pantone book and marvel at the results! :D (FYI most colors are pretty dead on, but not all, hence the testing!) starting with pantone colors (even when printing digitally) just makes it that much easier to A. get more consistent color in your orders and B. transition to other print methods that use PMS inks.

if you are using an offset or letterpress printer, find out if they have a house PMS inks and/or paper options. understand what the fees are to use colors outside of their house inks/paper and if paper is included in the pricing they are giving you. also, keep in mind if you are supplying paper, make sure you know how much overage they require (extra paper) per color or run.

fulfillment is something to consider as well when selecting a printer—and i am still thinking on this. but there are some vendors who will not only fulfill for you (ship printed orders direct to your customer), but will package orders just how you want them! using tissue paper,  a logo sticker or clear bags and a nice gift box and ribbon etc. talk about streamlining! definitely something i am considering.

paper, paper and more paper
beyond printers, there are paper and envelopes to consider…if you are only going to offer white/ecru as options, then you are likely not going to get hung up on this…but for me, color is a HUGE part of my collection and my style. i heart color! :) so just white was not going to cut it in the new collection. another thing i got hung up on was wanting to use euro flap envelopes. ahhh euroflap envelopes. can i just say that EVERY envelope in every color should be available as a euroflap?!

below the beginnings of my vast paper swatch book library (it’s about double this now)

oddly enough, the envelope thing was another huge sticking point for me…and, like the color palette, took waaaaay longer to finalize than i anticipated. i just sooooo wanted that extra touch of style in using color and euroflaps…but was having a hard time A. finding a printer who had them as part of their standard line-up even just in white/ecru, and B. finding all of the colors i wanted to use with that flap style. loooooonnng story short, i did not find what i was looking for. BUT i did land on a color and paper palette with lots of colors available in euro and some in both square and euroflap…which ties right into wanting to offer lots of options in the books. yay!

albums
finding an album vendor can feel somewhat elusive. trust me they are out there, you just have to master your google skills and network and ask around. one thing i found to be a great way to search (for multiple things) was doing an image search instead of or in addition to a regular web search. i am a visual person, so it was easier for me to spot what i was looking for that way and quickly see if it was at all what i was looking for. however, there is some great stuff hiding in regular web search too, so don’t discount that entirely!

one of the things that was super tough was finding someone to do just a few albums for the show, so i could launch the line without having to purchase 50-100 albums up front. this was not easy and i had to do some improvising to put the finishing touches on them myself (which will be slightly improved for the final albums in stores!) but, i ended up finding a great source that was able to do just the quantity i needed for a decent price and they turned out great!!! more details on those up next!

the booth
when i first set out to exhibit, i knew i wanted to do whatever i possibly could to make the whole booth process an easy-breezy one…even if that meant it was more expensive. that probably sounds a bit strange, but when faced with something so big and unknown, there was comfort in just knowing it would be taken care of. at the time, totally was worth the extra cash for a tiny bit of sanity. so while i pretty much stuck to that thinking, i did make some compromises and eliminate things as it got closer to the show and charges started to pile up. more details on where i landed and what was left out a bit later….

i am not gonna lie…there are a TON of things to consider and research regarding your booth. for me, on top of everything else, one HUGE thing was that i was re-branding during all of this, and my new look was not done until mid march! so a LOT was up in the air look-wise… BUT i knew the vibe i wanted for my new brand, so that helped steer me in a good direction from the start, even tho i had no idea what my logo would look like or the final color palette would be for most of the process! yikes!

i did know i was going for a preppy, modern, glam, sophisticated look. i picked out a handful of chairs/tables all with similar looks, some more glam than others, a FABULOUS chandelier (which i later found out due to my booth location and astronomical charges to install it, i could not do—but…maybe next year! :D) and a cabinet (i designed!) for product and albums.

below is a quick idea board i threw together with some of my finds that i was swooning over for my booth

really, i pretty much had the booth figured out very early on. however, i did not finalize and order it until the month before. yea, i know. crazy…started early again, but still so much to consider, plus things evolved along the way that made me reconsider a few things…like my product line for instance…i had hoped to have another new product ready for the show, but found out about a month before NSS that it wouldn’t be ready, so that was a big deciding factor on how much storage / display shelving etc i would need.

one thing i highly recommend when researching is pinterest. it. is. amazing! it is also a huge time sucker too, so beware of all the pretty pictures! :) but i used it a TON to gather inspiration for my line, my brand and my booth. follow me on pinterest to see more!

so it was ironic that the one thing i thought i had figured out way early on and just needed to “place the order” for, turned out to be just as chaotic as the rest of the preparation and still came down to the wire!

the furniture
like i said, i knew i wanted to keep things simple…with a glam, sophisticated look using stuff that would add to the booth, not overwhelm it or take away from the products. that coupled with the fact that the idea of freight terrified me with the cost and potentially having to assemble things on site and then having to store things after. don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine option and most people do that, but for me for the first go at it, simplicity felt better and just couldn’t wrap my head around the logistics of all that on top of everything else at that point.

so, very early on in my booth planning, it occurred to me to rent furniture…it was a perfect idea for me not only for simplicity’s sake but believe it or not, cost as well…at least given most of the furniture i was interested in. of course over time, it would eventually pay off to buy some bigger pieces and do the shipping, but i had a feeling i would also be changing things up from year to year and had already started racking up the bills for this year, so buying a pricey (though fabulous) statement piece was not on the table.

so i looked into lots and lots of boutique-y event rental spots around the city. of course, being in MI i had to rely on their websites for pictures and dimensions. some were super easy to work with and got back to me very quickly, others not so much. but most had pretty similar prices but, of course they get ya with the shipping/delivery charges too. and one of my favorite places that had SO much amazing stuff was way higher on the delivery charges.

so, i had to compromise a bit, but it all worked out and ended up with simple pieces that fit the booth perfectly and did not entirely break the bank.

FYI: with any shipping/delivery to a tradeshow they really get you on charges…more on that later.

the walls
i originally looked into both hard walls and foam…hard walls were thrown out the window pretty much right away…so i was considering foam walls with a flood of color and a wainscot along the bottom of the walls with one of my patterns. i still like the idea of this and just might go that route next year :) but i was having a tough time deciding on a color and pattern without my branding final.

but as my brand came to life, we decided to use a few signature patterns as part of my look…the main one was going to be a chevron pattern, and i had seen a tone-on-tone version on pinterest and fell in love. and so the quest began to find a way to get my chevron pattern on my walls.

again, i researched a TON…and just when i thought my dreams were crushed by the waaaay more expensive show recommended vendor, i found a source that was MUCH cheaper even though i had to have the walls freighted to javits. (lots of you asked about the walls so, more details on this later!)

below :: the inspiration for my booth walls that i was swoooooning over!
(click image for source)

and…all the other stuff
there are soooooooo many more things to look into…and for now, let’s just quickly skim the surface…
for the booth, as mentioned there’s of course the walls and furniture, then there’s lighting, flooring, shelving, electricity (yep, electricity is not included in your booth fee!), shipping/freight…and before the show (aside from any preparation for your products), there’s a preshow mailing (to design, print and mail) for which you need to gather a list of retailers (NSS supplies a list, but it is not targeted specifically for your audience, so you need to comb thru it for solid leads), and order forms, line sheets, catalogs, giveaways and best new product entries to prepare, as well as a press kit. then a bunch of general things like travel, hotel and planning for any kind of events or meet ups you might want to go to…

so if you are going to be exhibiting, or at all interested, research as much as possible. you’ll learn a ton and it is super important to do the leg work even if ultimately you get a great vendor referred to you…because only you can know what will work best for your brand and business PLUS you will stumble on some unexpected stuff and learn a lot along the way.

a great source was an amazing bootcamp put on by my pal katie from kelp designs along with other fabulous exhibitors, retailers and press peeps…you MUST check it out! NSS puts on seminars too, but there was something about the bootcamp that was so real and candid that really made a difference.

much much more details on the booth, albums and final collection coming up!

up next :: PART 5—pulling it all together

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NSS recap :: part 2…decision time!

Posted in meant to be sent, NSS national stationery show, wholesale tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 8:02 pm by meant to be sent

once i got back from my NSS whirlwind trip, i was SO excited and almost positive i was going to do it. i mean, i knew i wanted to, but it was a BIG decision both personally and financially…so i thought on it for pretty much the whole summer…

so how do you decide to exhibit?
for me, i knew i LOVED the custom work i had been doing, but the thing was, there is only one of me…and i can only do so many custom designs at a time. so i wanted a way to supplement that work with products that were turnkey and ready-to-order. this was originally sparked by my peacock and nautical invitations that i realized i was getting tons of orders for, pretty much just as they are. so i thought, what if i had a whole line of ready-to-order designs and maybe some boxed stuff?

i thought a LOT about what my line would be—probably the biggest thing i thought about! what would i debut with—an album? multiple albums? all wedding? mix in holiday and baby? just boxed stuff??

again, being a custom invitation designer up until this point, it wasn’t an easy decision…i took a lot of time thinking about it and once i felt like i had a good solid idea (though i waffled about it for a while still!!) that got me even more excited about the idea of exhibiting (more on this later)…so in early fall i contacted GLM and said sign me up! :D

side note : don’t hesitate to apply as soon as you decide you want to exhibit! i probably would have signed up a bit sooner, but part of the reason i didn’t was because when you apply, you submit your application and product photos…as i mentioned, i didn’t exactly HAVE products (yikes!)…so i kept holding off… BUT i knew i needed to sign up early to get a good/small space.

{ tip: corners and small spaces (6×10/8×10) go quick so sign up early!! }

so i finally contacted GLM in early fall and asked if i could apply even tho my new product line was not done so i didn’t miss out on the space i wanted…they said DEFINITELY! just send photos of the type of products you will be selling…i.e. photos of my custom work was fine. they just want to see what type of product you are selling/your style… so they can place you in the right area etc.

so, whew. that was a relief. i was in!

so what next?
after you apply and are accepted, they will send you a contract and at that time you provide the booth location you would like…now, they will try to accommodate you but it’s somewhat unlikely you will get exactly what you want….but you should definitely let GLM know where you prefer to be. i checked out the floorplan and tried to remember the flow of the show from walking it previously. plus i knew where some of my twitter pals were and tried to get near them! it worked :)

about booth space
when i originally requested my space, i tried to get the smallest space available (6×10), but even 8 months before the show those spaces were gone! so i ended up with an 8×10 booth, which worked out GREAT and was just a bit more than the smaller one, in the grand scheme of things!

originally, i was assigned a booth in the 1500 aisle, which is a fine space but had a feeling that i might want to move based on what i remembered from the layout of the show…so i requested to be moved

note: moving is based on availability, but you can move with no additional charge unless your booth size changes!! — and ended up pretty much right in the center of the show and next to a twitter pal, dingbat press! it was perfect!

now things were getting serious…i had a real space and my own address at NSS!! i actually pinned up the floorplan of the show on the wall in my office with my booth highlighted. total dork, i know, but it kept me motivated and focused as i designed and planned. keep your eye on the prize! ;)

here’s a quick run-down of the planning process so far…
1. first things first…consider exhibiting (is it right for you/your business?)
2. walk the show/network/gather information (i went twice, but i would at least try to go once to check it out)
3. check out the NSS website FAQs and exhibitor info and photos of past shows they have on the site—there is lots of info, but sometimes hard to navigate
4. make the decision to exhibit :: ask yourself…do i / will i have a product that can be sold wholesale and still make a profit without being way overpriced? what is that product? is it different from the competition? how? IMPORTANT :: set yourself apart one way or another!
5. research. research. research. (this will continue throughout the planning process! you will research until you have reached the end of the internet! )
6. sign up! contact one of the show reps listed on the NSS site prior to applying if you have any questions. they are SUPER helpful. kelly bristol was my rep, and she is fab!
7. decide on what size space you think you need. most first time exhibitors go with the smallest spaces. it makes sense financially and usually you are not debuting with a TON of products, so you don’t need a ton of space. but choose what is best for YOUR company and products. and keep in mind, that you are only paying for the space and need to fill this space with EVERYTHING ON YOUR OWN!!!
8. pay the deposit to reserve your space. yup. already time to fork over some cash! to give you an idea of the timing for payment…i reserved my space in mid october and my first payment (about 50% of the booth fee) was due about two weeks later. the final balance was due two months later. so be ready with the initial booth cost when you sign up!

one thing i will point out right from the get-go…if you are not sure about something…ASK. ask your rep, other exhibitors and designers (me if you want!)…most people are VERY willing to help! more on this later too…

next up :: PART 3 — what to show?

NSS recap…here we go!

Posted in meant to be sent, NSS national stationery show, wholesale tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 7:53 pm by meant to be sent

holy moly…it has been exactly 1 month since my last blog post…actually, anyone that’s been following along lately knows that in the last 3-4 months posts have been few and far between as i got ready to exhibit at my very first national stationery show.

but i’m back!! and ready for a tell-all, mega-post about the before, during and after…

so this is going to be an epic multi-part post because i had originally planned to do progress posts with lots of pics as i prepared for the show…but, um yea. that didn’t happen! so i am going to try to cover it all now…

i EVEN became pretty much twitter-less in the months leading up to the show…trying to minimize distractions and well, mostly just because it took pretty much every minute i had to get ready for this beast-of-a-show! it. was. pure. insanity. but i did it…and am SO excited with how it all turned out…

so read on for commentary, random tips and details, the nitty gritty and behind the scenes looks…and of course how it all came together at the show!

and PLEASE let me know if you have any questions you’d like answered…though i am planning to cover pretty much everything under the sun! :)

here goes!

this all started about a year ago…i decided last may (at least in my head) that i wanted to exhibit this year. so i took whirlwind, 36-hour trip to NSS 2010 to walk the show one more time before i officially decided to make my debut as an exhibitor. i HIGHLY recommend doing this if you are at all considering showing at NSS. definitely walk the show first! it is an invaluable experience to get to see first-hand not only what the show is all about but just how BIG it is.

this trip was way different for me than the year before when i went in 2009 with my pal kate from custom paper works. it was so amazing and i remember we were so overwhelmed  just looking around and taking in all the paper goodness! i mean, it. is. BIG. (and i heard it used to be WAY bigger!)

the three years i have been to the show (including this year) it has included about 800-1000 exhibitors….so there is a LOT to see and even more to consider if you are exhibiting.

last year when i took my quick jaunt to NYC, i had a much different goal than the year before…in 2009 we went for fun and to see what it was all about and just see all the amazing eye candy.

in 2010 i went to NSS on a mission…i knew i wanted to see the whole show again, but in a more focused way… from the perspective of a potential exhibitor, taking in as much as i could. i also wanted to look into some new vendors on the supply side (where all the paper people, printers and other suppliers hide out!)…as well as network and meet some of the awesome people i had met on twitter and in the lets talk stationery forum in the previous year. (i bring this up because networking is a HUGE part of attending and exhibiting at the show, plus the show last year is really where my NSS journey began!)

so, during my 36-hour trip….

i had a fab lunch and walked the show with some of the girls from LTS

i met some of my twitter pals…

found some awesome stuff, loads of ideas and new vendors

and did some mini site-seeing while in route to javits in the awesome spring weather we had!
(not so much this year tho…rain, rain and more rain! blah!)

all in all, it was an AWESOME trip that got me super excited and a little more prepared for the loooooong road ahead getting ready for my debut at the show…

next up :: PART 2 — decision time!

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