Saturday, May 23, 2009

National Stationery Show Saga Part 4

What's left to say? This'll be the last in my long-but-rushed 4 part series about the NSS.  ( I'm sure we'll have more little stories to add later.)

At opening on Sunday morning at 9 am, along with the last exhale of stress, anxiety and pressure went the last bit of energy that we had.  

We were starting to visibly slump by 9:10 and despite my warnings regarding how unprofessional coffee breath can be, Carol went off in search of coffee.  She missed our first most excellent visit of the morning/day/show as the ladies of Sealed With A Kiss dropped by.  Seeing the dumbfounded look on my face as they asked if they could place an order, they kindly suggested that they could drop back in later.

Stationery people are so nice.

I spent the rest of the day trying to find patterns in how/what/why people made visits.  Pseudo-psychoanalysis is my specialty, with a side of sociological cause determination.  And a minor in filling-in-gaps with inference and bullcrap.

So, from my extensive random sample of one, these are the conclusions I came to:

Sunday seems to have more independent stores and owners.  They are there bright and early and someone mentioned that they go straight to those booths they know or know they want to see, before doing any wandering.   Most of the morning was spent with people who knew we were at the show.

Random passers-by judge you in less than three seconds.  The sea of booths in the Javits seemed ultra-overwhelming to me and I can't even imagine giving every booth a fair shake.  You have to have something there to let them know what you're about *immediately*.  We didn't.  To most we must have been just another "pretty card" booth.  The next day we printed up some signs that simply said "the HateMail collection" and I was astounded at the difference this made.

Monday seems to be more of the business-type buyers.  And they show up late.  Things were quiet until about 11, but came in big rushes after that.  I think a little of that "go where you know first" mentality still applies.

There were some things we thought we had to bring.  Business cards, swag (in our case, some of our "And To Think..."  as postcards), order/line sheets, buyer info sheets, press kits and catalogues.  We almost got them all.  Except the last one.   And frankly, for a *paper* industry, I was pretty shocked at how forgiving and open everyone was to getting a PDF catalogue.

Carol thought a bowl of chocolate would be a good idea, but honestly, it only seemed to attract crabby people who wandered in from the ICFF show downstairs.  And they would grab *handfuls*.  Maybe they were Type 2 and going through lows.  That would explain both the crabbiness and the need for chocolate.  See?  Master of sociological cause determination.

Neither Carol or I are really excellent at high pressure sales.  While other people were standing at the entrances of their booths, we sat at the back.  When people came close to the booth, we found that saying "good morning" actually took their attention away from the cards, as their eyes turned to you to reply.  Three seconds is all we got, and we weren't going to waste it saying "good morning".  If we passed the three second test, then we moved into the 2 minute stop, at which point we would say "good morning", hand out the business card and post card and ask if they'd like to be added to our list to receive a PDF catalogue (which actually ended up being a good way to get their business cards).  Anything after that was gravy.  We made up a "show special" which made for an easy segue of suggesting an order without sounding pushy.

And thus went Sunday and Monday.  I left Monday after the show to catch my flight back home.  Two boys and a day job awaited.  

Thursday, May 21, 2009

National Stationery Show Saga Part 3

I wrote up this whole, very long, very specific thing about the steps I took to create our booth at the NSS.  Then as I read it over, I realized that no one would care.  (But if you reaaaaallly want to know the specific dimensions and stuff I did for the booth, just drop a note.  It was sheer genius I tell you.)

I used about $90 of materials to create the booth.  In addition, there was about $350 of household furniture (still not "commercial goods" regardless of what U.S. Customs says), $180 worth of curtains and curtain hardware, $75 for the rug and about $40 of lighting.  Oh, and we paid our good friend Roger $100 to make the sign, which is waaaaaaaaay less then we could ever even think about  getting it for anywhere else.  $835, almost all of it is coming back home and you might see it again in these blog pages as Carol finds new places and uses for them around the house.

We won't be bringing home the walls though.  There's a part of me that's sad, because they're just so kickass, but then I realize what a huge hassle it would be to get them back home, PLUS what the hell am I going to do with 4 fake wall panels at home?  Hmmm... maybe I could make my own ghetto version of a panic room.

Setup took us four and a half hours.  And that wasn't to completion.  We left with no signs up, no cards up and everything piled in the back "alley".  But our eyes were crossing.  We needed sleep.

The next day we got up bright and early and stopped at the deli next to the hotel (Travel Inn: ghetto hotel but I would never ever stay anywhere else ever because of location and free parking with in and out privileges).  I can't remember the name of the deli, but it is AWESOME.  It's like the Cold Stone Creamery of bagels.  You ask for strawberry cream cheese and the guy takes a wallop of fresh strawberries and chops them up with the syrup jam stuff and folds it into the cream cheese.

We were back at Javits by 8 and put up the sign and the cards and the finishing details by 9.

We were ready for business.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

National Stationery Show Saga, Part 2

This will be the portion of the blog of no interest to people never planning on doing the show, and of some interest to those who might plan on doing the National Stationery Show some day.  This section discusses some of the regulations/logistics we were concerned about as first time exhibitors.

We rolled up to the Javits Center slightly before 4.  The literature sent has mentioned that there are specific loading zones, and that we shouldn't be using the front doors.  We can't find any loading zones and the valets in front tell us to go through the front doors.  Perhaps because it's so late, it is easy to get a spot in front.  There are other people unloading as well.  I can't even imagine what this place might've looked like at 10 am.

The literature also bans certain dollies and carrying items which require two or more people.  Again, you see all kinds of violations of this. 

Lastly, the literature tells you that the show prep closes up at 5.  We unloaded our last piece at 5.  We set up until 9:30pm.  When we left, other exhibitors were still there setting up.  Apparently, on the last night before the show, the carpet crew lays new carpet down for the show and works until 2 or 3 in the morning.   They're very nice and have no qualms if you're there too.  

Our booth was an 8 by 10 in the section where the ceiling goes from low to high.  Ideally, I would have preferred to be in a location with all low ceiling or all high ceiling.  The lighting seemed lacking in the transition area.  If you're in this area, I would recommend strong lighting towards the back of the booth.

There were a couple of items which I designed flexibly in our booth in order to compensate for any inaccuracy in the setup.  The booth provided consists of a "pipe and drape" setup.  They specifically say to make a 3 inch allowance between your pipes.  I built our booth in multiple parts, with adjustable steel brackets and found them to be very necessary.  There was roughly a two inch discrepancy between our left wall and our right wall.  If I had made the booth exactly, we would have run into serious complications during setup.

There were two things I was unprepared for.  The provided drapes do not remove easily.  I thought they would just unhook and be ready to be packed away.  They're not.  They're of the variety with the sewn pocket that the rod slides through.  We had to work around them if we wanted to strap any of our own items to the pipe.  The second thing was that you share the pipe and drape with your neighbor.  I had expected each booth to have its own setup.  Depending on how you or your neighbor choose to decorate your booths, the backs of certain items may be peeking through or over.  I felt bad zip-tying to the pipe as the zip tie was clearly visible on the other side.  Placement of light clamps would also fall under this.
The pipes have about 6 inches of travel at the top end, which makes the walls seem flimsy, but I can't see any risk of tipping.

The back of the booth had a 2 foot "alley".  We stowed some of our stuff there and took little snack breaks back there.  There was a mouse running around during one of those breaks.  The power source was back there.  Javits uses weird plugs, then provides one long extension cord that ends in one standard three-prong female.  We plugged our power bar into this and then snaked everything we needed from there.  

The existing floor appears to be black painted concrete.  It's sticky.

The required fireproofing spray we purchased was never checked on.  Nor did anyone hassle me as I pulled out my cordless drill and worked on the setup.

The ultimate lesson?  All the rules don't really apply to the little guy.  I bet if Hallmark tried to break them, they'd get busted, but no one cared about the little guys in the little booths.  That is very YMMV of course.  We still followed most of the rules and would probably do our best to follow most of them in the future.  But like I've said, I have that fear of Teamsters.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

National Stationery Show Saga, Part 1

Our trip to NYC began at midnight on Friday.  Our original plan of leaving at 4 on Saturday morning was scrapped and replaced with a plan of leaving at 7 on Friday night.  I guess midnight was just the compromise.

Our border crossing experience involved one tunnel crossing, one denial of entry into the United States, an armed escort by two border patrol officers carrying stop strips, a bridge crossing and two discussions with customs officers that an ottoman from our living room and a breakfast table from our sunroom shouldn't really count as "commercial goods".  Thank god the second guy bought our argument.

Time Spent: 3 hours.  

The lightning began just as we breathed our sigh of relief at having made it through customs.  Then the deluge came.  The kind that makes you use the double time setting on your wipers, but it still does no good.  

Detroit highways are currently a mess of construction and detours and bad signage.  I think about how we sometimes give very important jobs to the lowest man on the totem pole.  I think detour signage falls into this realm.  With the rain and the lightning and the disorientation combined with the passing of the same area 4 times, the night started to take on a strange "Blairwitchy" kind of feel.

Then there were the accidents.  The first one happened directly in front of us.  One Explorer travelling at a pretty good clip and changing lanes, rear ends another Explorer who is already probably doing about 50 mph.   Hard enough for the back tires to come off the ground.  After we shake off the initial "that could have been us", we creep around the scene just slow enough to see that everyone is alright and exchanging information.

As we continue on, a transport next to us slams on his brakes and starts to swerve into our lane.  Carol slows down as we come up on another accident.  Four cars, bad damage, two spun around.  None have their lights on and none have their hazards flashing.  Just four random cars crashed and stopped in the middle of the night on the interstate.  In all, the next forty minutes has 24 cars involved in various accidents and leaves us paranoid and shaky.

We finally travel about 45 minutes out of our way to catch another southerly highway and get back on track.

Time Spent: 2 hours  - a total of five hours have passed and we're still only about 45 minutes from home.

The rest of the trip is fairly uneventful.  We roll in front of the Javits Centre at about 4 pm.  

Time Spent: 11 hours  Total Time for trip: 16 hours.  Total time since "head on pillow" sleep: 34 hours.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Except I didn't say "Fudge".

I don't know why I like things customized.

I'm not sure if it's because I'm a control freak and I want everything *just* my way.  I don't know if it's because my needs are peculiar and unique and not met by standard, off-the-rack items.  I don't know if it's because I'm cheap and think that I can make things my way for less than the going rate.

But I like things customized.

And the best way to get it done your way is to do it yourself.

Which for an overambitious DIY'er can get you in a bit of trouble.  

So.  When Carol mentioned that she needed a setup for her booth at the National Stationery Show, my mind whirred.  Visions of LCD screens, track lighting and real furniture ran wild.  I wondered how big of a stereo I was allowed to bring in and whether the neighbors would complain.

I wanted to get a projector and shine a logo on the floor.  Like Oprah does.  OPRAH.

But then I read the restrictions.  Fireproofing.  Of *everything*.   Electrical costs *per plug*.  Teamster rules against what I was allowed to carry in, how I was allowed to carry it, who could do the carrying and what I could carry things with.  And no tools.

Suddenly, some of the sparse displays we'd seen last year started to make sense.

Three hard walls fell to two.  Then to two halves.  We retained most of the original ideas, but lost most of the electrical.

But I was determined not to lose the wall shelving.  "It's okay,"  Carol insisted.  "We'll find another way to display the cards."

"Fudge that," I growled.  "This fudging thing would have a fudging fireplace if it was up to me, but there's no fudging way I'm losing the fudging shelves."

Can you imagine how cozy a fireplace would've been?  And I'd offer a nice cup of hot cocoa straight from the microwave.

And I bet a crepe griddle would really bring in the customers.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lee's gonna be so mad...

...when he finds out that I used his special breakdancing cardboard to spraypaint our booth sign.

We leave for the National Stationery Show in NYC next week and things are getting hectic around here. Still so much to do, but we can't wait and we'll take a bunch of pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Miss Cake.

There's a phenomenon out there which I call "second year med student disease".  Essentially, it's where second year med students start to get very hypochondriacal (made-up word, I call dibs) about all of the things that they read about in their textbooks.  I know the condition has a real name.  Perhaps a second year med student out there could enlighten us.

With the rise of the internet and webMD the condition has spread far beyond the range of second year med students.  Everyone now has the capability to be hypochondriacal (still maintaining originator claim and rights) or at least attribute everyday symptoms to rare and exotic diseases.

On that note, convinced that we have Celiac disease or wheat allergies or both, our house has gone gluten free.

At the outset, I made the stipulation that no products explicitly labeled "gluten-free" were to be purchased.  I wasn't going to pay 6 bucks a loaf for some pseudo-bread.  So we've been doing pretty well with rice, potatoes and corn.  In some ways it almost feels like Atkins, but with french fries.  And Doritos.

But the one thing I've come to realize is that in a world of convenience and portability, gluten is often the edible wrapper that holds it all together.  Pizza, hot pockets, sausages and burgers all rely on gluten to keep it all together.  Anything remotely considerable as "car-food" comes bundled up in a gluten package.  Even chicken strips.

Taco Bell has been my sanctuary as I learn to adjust.  The hard corn shells are the last refuge in a wheaty world.  But even that selection is minimal.  Tacos is all.  Everything else comes in a flour shell.

But I'm finding other work-arounds.  Today I had a cheesy beef and rice extravaganza and ate that thing like an oversized Go-GURT tube filled with Mexican goodness.

Necessity.  The mother of invention.