Surtex is a premiere art licensing show that happens every year in May in NYC. Becoming an exhibitor there was one of my goals for 2016. Now that I have my first Surtex under my belt as an exhibitor, I was able to reflect on my experiences and narrow it down to My Top 10 Lessons Learned at Surtex 2016. I’ve written this with the first-time exhibitor in mind. These are my opinions based on my experiences and of course, everyone's experiences are different! Overall, it was a great show and I learned a ton along the way, so I wanted to share My Top 10 Lessons Learned...enjoy!
1. Research & resources
If you are considering exhibiting for the first time, spend a lot of time researching if this would be the right move for you. You can google many blogs written about this by other exhibitors. If you haven’t already, check out the Surtex website. There are many great resources available. I purchased Khristian Howell's guide, TradeSHOW + TELL. It provided step by step tasks, like timeline checklists and booth planning. Here is the site for TradeshowandTell to learn more. I also needed the advice of a coach who has exhibited at Surtex to help me determine if it was the right decision for me. I hired Jeanetta Gonzales, a talented and experienced designer and instructor, who coached me by providing an overview of all the details involved in exhibiting at Surtex and helped me to determine if it was possible. She also reviewed my branding and social media and offered lots of great insights and feedback! Learn more about Jeanetta Gonzales's coaching services here. Once Jeanetta decided to exhibit herself, I wanted to find a coach who had experience but wasn't under the pressure of exhibiting. I hired Dariana of Dari Designs to help me navigate through all the tasks I needed to accomplish and break them down into manageable chunks. She also kept me accountable with my progress, which was just what I needed! Learn more about Dariana and her Surtex Journey here. I also joined two Facebook groups: TradeSHOW + TELL (hosted by Khristian Howell) and Heart2Art Talk (hosted by Anne Was Here and Jeanetta Gonzales). These are great communities with talented artists and designers who offer support and generously share their knowledge.
2. Planning & organization
Start planning and preparing as soon as possible. I made my decision to exhibit at Surtex in January (I consider this sort of late, with Surtex happening in May). Since I was a newbie exhibitor, I knew I had so many things to do, but it seemed overwhelming. I didn’t quite know where to start, so I started by creating more art and scanning every day. I really didn’t get a strong action plan in place until March (crazy late), when I hired Dariana of Dari Designs. Her coaching helped keep me on track so I could meet all of my deadlines. I don’t think I could have done it without her helping to keep me accountable. We had regular Google Hangout meetings and used Trello to collaborate and track all of the many tasks and projects. For collaborative project management, Trello is a great tool.
3. Keep it simple
As soon as I made my decision to exhibit for the first time at Surtex, my overriding strategy for making it happen was to keep it simple. For me, this was the only way I could achieve this monumental task. That "keep it simple" mindset guided me throughout all of my decision making processes, like booth design, collection creation, advertising, look book layout and travel arrangements.
4. Start early
Start as early as possible, (don't wait as long as I did if you can help it)! I made it happen but it became quite stressful and down to the wire at the end. In retrospect, I would start working on my new collections in the summer and fall. I would recommend starting to layout your look book and booth design in fall/winter. Trade show banners, look books, business cards, post cards and any marketing materials all have to meet printing deadlines in advance, so you want to give yourself plenty of time for all of that. Some of the printers I used were Smart Press for banners, Blurb. for my look book and Moo for business cards. I was thrilled with the quality from these companies.
5. It's all about the art
Only show your strongest work and that comes from developing your style. I spent the previous year developing my style and posting my art on Instagram almost every day. This gave me invaluable feedback. I took some of my most popular designs and made them into banners for my booth and collections for my look book. Take the time to see what is trending and then create it in your own style. Post your artwork regularly on Instagram to gage what is resonating. Create as much art as possible. It takes a while to create collections (these need to go into your portfolio or look book). As time got short, I created small collections, to keep it simple. When it was time to print my look book, I only had 80 pages, my goal was 100 pages, but I ran out of time. The feedback I got at the show was that my look book was great quality and just the right amount of pages, not too overwhelming. Sometimes less is more.
6. Consistent branding
Branding is more than just a logo, it is your voice. Does your unique style come through? What do you want others to think of when they see your work? I tried to keep my branding consistent in all of my marketing materials and social media channels. But I also wondered what people would think when they saw my artwork on a large scale in my booth? Was it cohesive? Did it represent me? Did it look like the brand I envision? I received a lot of positive feedback at the show, so I think I'm on the right track but it is a continual learning process! For me, it can be challenging to see it objectively and so I recommend getting feedback from others you trust in the industry.
7. Booth design decisions
Designing a trade show booth can be daunting...so many decisions that can make or break you! Where to start? Again to keep it simple, I chose to show a variety of my best work, rather than trying to come up with an overall theme. I also laid out my booth design in an elevation view and 3D mockup. This process really helped me to envision what my booth would look like. Be sure to double and triple check your banner measurements before ordering. The wrong measurements can be a costly mistake! Include some product samples in your booth if possible. If you don't have any, have some of your designs printed up on mugs, phone cases, pillows, dishes, etc. There are lots of great print on demand companies like Zazzle or Society 6, to name a few.
8. Booth Volunteers
I highly recommend getting as much help as possible in your booth during the show. I let people know in the Heart2Art Talk Facebook group that I needed volunteers to help me with my booth in exchange for a badge to Surtex (which costs about $400 each). You get a few extra badges when you exhibit). This was a win/win for everyone! They got to walk the show and see how it all works and I got the help I needed in a busy booth. The help from these amazing volunteers was invaluable! Another shout out to Dariana for helping me setup and tear down my booth. I don't know if I would have succeeded without all of the help of these amazing ladies!
9. Have Fun!
The best part of the trip was meeting so many wonderful, kind and talented people! It was fun to see them on social media and then be able to meet them face to face! There were meetups and after parties to attend and we also got together to do some sight seeing. I recommend staying an extra day or two after the show to explore the city if you can!
10. Follow up
Trade shows are such a huge investment of time and money, so don't forget to follow up as soon as possible! I printed up contact forms with questions and details to be filled out on the spot at the show for each contact and stapled their business card to it. This made follow up a fairly easy process.
That's my top 10! I hope you find it useful in helping you decide if you want to be an exhibitor at Surtex!
Thanks for reading this, would love to hear you thoughts!