Budgeting for a tradeshow can feel like a shot in the dark, especially when you’re a newbie or trying to scale up. We have some experience in the tradeshow realm, working with everyone from side hustlers to experienced pros and everyone in-between. One thing we’ve found across all our students and clients is this: Splurge selectively and skimp elsewhere to stay on-budget.
Tradeshow booths tend to cost more for new stationery makers than seasoned because of the start-up costs involved in creating a booth from scratch. Designing a booth is a lot like a kitchen remodel or planning a wedding; it’s going to take longer and cost more than you expect. Count on it. Average costs for the National Stationery Show is about $7,000 to $10,000, but we’ve seen costs soar to $20,000 or come in at about $5,000.
At the end of the day, you will ultimately decide how you want to invest in and show up for your booth. But as you’re planning, take into account the four booth buckets, as we like to call them: booth, marketing, sales tools and travel/lodging. Here’s what you need to put in each bucket:
A tradeshow booth is essentially a blank canvas, with either white or black curtains hanging from 8-foot pipes. It’s up to you to find décor for your booth that is both on-brand and on-budget. Consider lighting, walls, furniture and displays you’ll use in your booth and opt for “green” items—things you can reuse at the next tradeshow. It may cost you more initially, but you’ll save money in the long run.
Make sure your ideal client knows you’ll be at the tradeshow! Use promotional mailers and flyers leading up to the event to help with this, and send marketing emails to those already on your list. You can also plan for giveaways and gifts during the show, but be sure to include these in-kind items in your budget. An advertisement in the tradeshow promotional materials is also a great way to let your audience know you’re there.
You participate in a tradeshow so you can make sales—so be prepared! Budget for order forms and catalogs so customers can place an order right at your booth. iPad ordering systems are a streamlined way to receive orders, but keep in mind that you’ll need a hotspot to capture wifi and access to QuickBooks Online, Handshake or Shopify. And don’t forget to add processing fees into your budget.
Travel & Lodging
Travel costs vary widely depending on where the tradeshow is located and how you travel there. If you have frequent flyer miles or points on your credit card, use them to reduce your overall costs. Share a hotel room with an industry friend or check out Airbnb to save on hotel costs. Chances are you won’t be in your room for long, so this is probably a great place to scrimp.
You’ll notice that we don’t include product development in our tradeshow budgets. This is something you should be doing year-found, whether you attend a tradeshow or not. So product development should be part of your general budget, as cost of goods sold or part of running a business.
Budgeting for a tradeshow can be a challenge, and you want to make sure you’re staying in the black and making sales. Our Set Your Budget worksheet is the perfect way to map out a budget, and then keep track of how you did. Download it and start planning your next tradeshow!
Relationships are key in any business, and working with wholesale buyers is no exception. You need to do your homework to ensure that you’re targeting the right people in the right organizations before ever reaching out to anyone.
Retailers are looking for vendors who communicate openly and deliver on their promises. You’re looking to establish a relationship that will buy from you consistently—because finding the right partners takes time, which can cost you money.
Here are some tips to finding the right wholesale partners the first time, with the homework you need to get there:
Focus on quality over quantity. It is much more cost-effective to have a few good, quality partners than many so-so partners. Look at potential partners’ store aesthetic and whether they sell complementary brands. When you partner with the right store, you’ll find the return is much higher. And you’ll spend less time and effort marketing to partners that aren’t ideal.
Go beyond the website. The internet is a good place to start researching potential wholesale partners, but there’s so much more to a business than just its website. Are leaders attending trade shows? How are they showing up on social media? Is there a brick-and-mortar location? What’s the clientele? What types of products and which brands do they carry? The more you know about the potential partner, the more effective that first point of contact will be.
Hunt down hashtags. The stationery business is all over Instagram. Are you following the leaders? Find out what they’re posting and hashtaging on social media and start following those that resonate with you and your product, then join the conversation.
Above all, relationships. The retail stores you work with are your customers. Focus on customer experience and do everything you can to build up your relationship and lift up the customers you work with. Find out what their customers are looking for, answer their questions quickly and completely, be flexible (but have written terms and conditions) and use every contact point as an opportunity to grow your relationship with them.
When you have the right partners in your pocket, you’ll be set up for long-lasting relationships with stores that will help you build your business—just as you’re helping them grow theirs.
Having trouble finding the right group of partners? Our printable checklist will help you figure out what to look for in a partner, where to find them and how to maintain contact.
Catalogs are on the minds of several of our alumni right now as they prep for #nss2016 so I want to share just a few reminders:
1. Give yourself plenty of time to create your catalog, especially if it’s your first time building one. They often take longer than you think to layout and you’ll need to have your photos, product descriptions and terms & conditions ironed out before you start. So plan ahead and create a schedule!
2. Proof, proof, proof your catalog. Then check again. Ask friends to take a look with fresh eyes with a focus on spelling, grammar and ensuring product numbers are correct. If you have the time, order a hard copy proof to review, too. Mistakes happen but taking your time and having several people review your catalog will help avoid them.
3. Extend the life of your catalog by dating it across two years (Ex. 2016-17). You should still be releasing new products throughout the year, but you can add loose slip sheets to add your new release until you reprint your catalog.
4. Product descriptions are critical. Make sure to include all the details a buyer needs to know to confidently place an order. Include important details about size, wholesale price, minimum order quantities, materials used and any special details about how the products are created.
I’m feeling overwhelmed. How do I get electricity in my National Stationery Show booth? And where do I order it from? Help! -Tara
The answer is a two step process:
Step 1: Order electricity through Javits (you can do this online) and most people are fine with the 500w service, especially in smaller booths. Order more if you have a double booth or plan to use high wattage lights or electronics.
Step 2: Bring several extension cords, surge protectors, lights and bulbs. You’ll plug into the master outlets and run your lights into your booth. But make sure to read your exhibitor manual so you know how many lights you can install yourself without having to hire labor to do it for you – it varies by booth size.
There are a few caveats to the steps above if you’re renting lights, which I talk about in the Booth Design + Logistics online crash course which is available until May, but this will get you started!
MOQ – Also known as Minimum Order Quantities, or the number of items per sku / style that a retailer must purchase when placing a wholesale order. Imperative to include with your wholesale terms & conditions.
When you’re determining your wholesale terms & conditions, you want to set a minimum order quantity for each product category you sell. Minimum order quantities, or MOQ, tells buyers how many of each SKU they need to purchase when placing an order. And, this will vary from product category to product category.
Some things you want to consider when determining your MOQ:
Adhere to industry standards. In the stationery world, greeting cards are sold in MOQs of 6 or 12. Gift wrap is typically 12 or 24 sheets minimum.
Consider merchandising needs of your retailers. Your products will look better on the shelves when there is a good selection. One isolated candle, bag or notebook on a shelf may look like an outlier, so setting MOQs helps retailers display your products in the best possible way.
Think practically. Sometimes setting your MOQ boils down to something as simple as what is the most efficient way to ship your product to retail stores. For example, if you can fit 4 mugs snuggly in your shipping box so that they securely get to your retailer, an MOQ of 4 would make more sense than an MOQ of 5. Don’t make things more difficult than you need to!
Excellent product descriptions and sales copy can really enhance or hurt a product line. Guest blogger, Megan Brame, an award-winning entrepreneur and founder of the Stop Sucking at Business podcast is here to offer tips for improving your copy!
I think when I say “copywriting” most people’s eyes gloss over with the assumption I’m about to be the most boring person in the world or they think I’m trying to trademark something.
I know nada about legal stuff (you’re thinking of copyrights, not copywriting)
I’m downright delightful, okay? Not boring
Let me start with: I am not a copywriter. My background was Social Sciences before I became an entrepreneur, my grammar is B+ at best, and I will defend to the death my right to use the Oxford comma. I’m not a persuasive copy superstar, I’m simply a woman that ran a business with a $0 budget for advertising. I bootstrapped my business with nothing more than cash from craft shows, wholesale, and the occasional infusion from my American Express. There was barely a budget for packaging, nevermind advertising.
So to get the word out, I had to be clever with what I had: a passion for my brand and a desire to get my products into the hands of as many people as possible. So I tried everything I could to figure out how to write crazy-good product descriptions to help me get ahead. I figured if I made it easy for my intended audience (sometimes customers, sometimes beauty editors, and once in awhile an award jury) to “get” my message, they would GET my products.
I learned how to do this so well, in fact, that I beat ginormous companies at trade shows; companies that were so much better than I was in profitability and schmoozing. I beat all of those B’s repeatedly because I knew how to talk the talk that made people pay attention.
But here’s the secret: I am lazy. Like, REALLY lazy. I get bouts of drive and motivation when it comes to product creation and big ideas, but when it came to nitty gritty details like product descriptions, I’d procrastinate and put it off as long as I could. It just felt like a whole thing, you know? So instead of researching proper copy techniques or hiring a pro, I did things my own way… and found out, weirdly enough, it worked.
Okay, so what is “my way?” I can certainly drone on, can’t I? Sorry, let’s get down to it:
The basic concept behind good product descriptions is knowing the language of your audience, and having a conversation with them. You do this by telling them what’s in it for them if they buy your product. You may have heard the phrase “features and benefits” if you’ve done any sort of business class before. “Features tell, benefits sell.” Sounds simple, but it can be hard to distinguish it in the beginning of trying to buff up your copy muscle. So here’s how it works:
My industry was skincare and home fragrance. So for my soaps, a feature would’ve been that they’re organic. And organic is great, but so what? Okay, well, they were also vegan. Okay…so what? Um, well, they…uh…clean…you?
2 of those were features, 1 was a crappy sounding benefit. Do you see the difference? Features tell bullets (organic, vegan), benefits sell what’s in it for the customer (the soaps will clean you).
When writing product descriptions that will sell, you need to craft a story in your copy that turns “okay, so what?” into “I needed this, like, yesterday.” Well crafted copy illuminates senses in your customer and invokes their imagination. It creates a story that involves your customer in the journey and conveys the passion that you have for your brand. It doesn’t yell things at them “Organic! Vegan! BUY!” instead it artfully turns the description into an irresistible urge in their brain that makes them need to buy right now.
So back to the lazy way I did things: I would do what I called “passion brain dumps” which essentially was throwing up everything I could think of about my products onto a google doc and then hacking it down into something that didn’t sound insane. It was mostly features, though. Crap. That’s not going to help anyone! So I began to figure out how to twist the features, just a little, and turn them into benefits.
So back to organic and vegan (and if you’re a soapmaker reading this, enjoy the free copy). What’s in it for the customer? Well…maybe something like:
The artisan soaps are made with oils that are sourced from small, certified organic farms around the world and are carefully crafted to ensure that all ingredients are not only organic, but vegan as well, so that you’re able to feel good about the choices you’ve made in your skincare, from farm to shower!
“Organic” and “vegan” went from bullet points to components of an experience. It may feel a little hokey in the beginning, but this is what gets the attention of customers (and juries). Instead of just listing the features of my soap, I created a little imagination game that involved: being in the shower, knowing that you’re using a soap with ingredients that are high quality and sustainable, and that made you feel good…and clean!
Let’s try it with a knitted sweater, but let me preface this with: this is not my wheelhouse, so if I get the nitty gritty wrong, I am so sorry.
The sweater is made from 100% wool and hand dyed by the sheep herder (Shepherd, I guess. Right? Again, sorry…).
Okay, nice to know. But where’s the story? What’s in it for the customer?
Howzabout instead something like:
This 100% wool sweater is perfect for snuggling up on the sofa after a day out in the harsh winter wind. Snuggling up in its warm, soft threads is an experience in itself, but look closer. Upon further inspection you’ll begin to admire the small color variations in the wool. These variations are a signature of the process that stems from the dye used by the shepherd we’ve sourced from, the nature of which give the spectrum of color palette in the wool a sense of depth and complexity that can’t be found in synthetic fibers. It’s in these small details that make this sweater impossible to replicate, as each one is one of a kind.
In that paragraph I’ve let the customer know it’s 100% wool, it’s hand dyed, and we’ve sourced it from 1 shepherd, but I’ve also invoked the idea of cuddling up with it to get away from crappy weather, and taught them that there’s a way to appreciate the special aspect of having something hand dyed and not synthetically made. I’ve created a story that put them in that awesome sweater and made it feel like a special experience.
Sometimes copy can be so good that you don’t even need amazing imagery. Case in point: Ever heard of J. Peterman (Seinfeld fans: holla if you hear me)? They’re a chichi clothing company that for years never used photographs of the clothes. Instead they used sketches (If you hit up their website, you’ll see they still use sketches as the featured image for each product) and they blew everyone away. They were known for their copy as much as they were for their clothes, and they drove their customers buh. nan. nas. (in a good way.) You have the ability to do the same.
You don’t need crazy budgets for ad spend, you don’t need to schmooze, and you don’t need to be huge to stand out. Learning the simple method of turning features into benefits can set you ahead and is the exact method I used to get the attention of over 100 editors and 5 award juries.
That’s just a quick run over of how to hack your way to better copy. If you’re not telling a story and just using bullet points, you’re missing a huge opportunity for creating desire from your visitors.
Last thing! To thank you for making it down this far, I made a workbook just for you guys that helps knock out this process (and it’s totally free). You can download the Lazy Guide to Better Product Descriptions here.
Your products (or services) aren’t for everyone. And you know what? That is a-okay!! Great in fact!
I’m hearing a lot of chatter and frustration lately from creative entrepreneurs in different social circles. You make beautiful products, likely handcrafted or personally designed and you have your own unique style & aesthetic. So, instead of feeling like you need to appeal to the masses, focus on reaching out to your unique customer base and filling a void or providing a solution specifically for them.
With the National Stationery Show less than 60 days away I’ve been getting an influx of emails from TSBC alumni and new exhibitors needing help and advice. Let’s all take a deep breath. You’ve got this!
Preparing for tradeshows can be downright exhausting, even for veteran exhibitors. Late nights, lengthy to do lists and high emotions are not uncommon before, during and after the show. But, there are ways to manage the stress and the steady stream of decisions that need to be made. Let’s calm nerves together.
Create a Master To Do List. This will be the list to top all lists. Start big and then break it down into smaller, more manageable lists. Keep in mind that this list (and its sub-lists) will be a living, breathing document that grows and shrinks. Plan to update it at least twice a week.
Map out a Plan. Pull out a calendar and plot ALL early bird deadlines for booth services, marketing projects, media submissions and everything else on your master to do list. Work backwards from your tradeshow date and assign a set number of specific tasks for each week.
Set a Budget and Stick to It. Very early on, determine how much you want to spend on your show. Factor in everything – your booth space & components, marketing materials, travel and lodging and a buffer for miscellaneous expenses. Knowing which elements are important to you, where you plan to spend your money and how much you’re spending overall will relieve some of the stress.
Make Decisions and Move On. A lot of decisions will need to be made as you prepare for your show. Do your homework, research your options, make an informed decision and move on. Be confident in your choices and try not to overthink things.
Check it Off. Take pride in checking things off the list, even if you add an item to the list after you’ve finished the task! There is something very rewarding about crossing tasks off a list, no matter how big or small.
Take Breaks. Schedule down time leading up to the show. Exercise, date night with your significant other, dinner with friends or even just a full night sleep – step away from the computer and give yourself a mental break. Taking breaks will help relieve stress, allow you to refocus and will reenergize you.
Take Care of Yourself. Eat well, sleep as much as you can, and do your best to minimize stress leading up to the show. It is easy to run yourself ragged during this time; you’re juggling other aspects of your business, family life, personal obligations AND preparing for a major tradeshow. You do not want to get sick before a show (I promise) and a little TLC can go a long way.
Ask For Help. Recruit friends and family to help you get ready for the show. They’ll be happy to help address pre-show mailers, proof your catalogs or watch your kids for a couple of hours. Remember that your friends and family are your biggest fans, they want to see you succeed and will be happy to lend a hand where they can!
Find Comfort in Community. Use social media or online forums to connect with others who are preparing for your tradeshow. Leading up to the National Stationery Show it is not uncommon to find late night dance parties, pleas for help or virtual hugs on Twitter. Even if you run your business solo, you’re not alone as you prep for your tradeshow. Having a supportive network of industry colleagues who can relate to what you’re going through is invaluable.
It is a Marathon Not a Sprint. Several of our TSBC alums wanted me to share that selling wholesale and preparing for your tradeshow should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint. Recognize that your tradeshow is just one step in the process of growing your business. Soak in every moment, learn from your experiences and enjoy the ride!
Feel better? I sure hope so! If you need additional help, be sure to join our TSBC mailing list. I’ll be sharing some additional resources and a new online course exclusively with our newsletter subscribers later this week.
At TSBC we’re always on the look out for excellent products and service providers that we can share with our alumni community and friends. Partnering with businesses that truly understand your needs and provide products / services that save you time, money and headaches are so critical. Given this, we want to introduce you to Astro Paper & Envelopes!
Tell us about Astro Paper & Envelopes?
At Astro Paper & Envelopes, we are thrilled to help fellow card lovers in getting their business off the ground. We are very flexible and have an amazing customer service team that knows a lot about paper. We’re talking about knowledge you didn’t think one could have involving paper. But the point is that we are here to help you. We are here to get you the right paper and even help you find what you may be looking for.
What types of products do you offer?
We have the ultimate collection of paper stock and envelopes. With our inventory, you are bound to be inspired and dig deep into your creativity. With brands such as Mohawk, Neenah, French, and Gmund, there is such a wide collection of papers and finishes to choose from. With cotton, metallic, and smooth finishes, there is pretty much every color of the rainbow available, and more. In addition, we also have a fairly large collection of digital and pressure sensitive labels. Of course we don’t just stock your average neutral colors, we have both digital paper and pressure sensitive labels available in lots of pretty colors.
Paying attention to the weight of the paper will ultimately make a difference in the end result as well as your satisfaction. We have a variety of text and cover weights in each brand and color we stock. Some of the cover weight papers come with a single ply, double thick, and even a triple thick option available in the Gmund Cotton line. The single ply is intended for digital press and the thicker cover is more compatible with heavier applications such as letterpress.
Do you offer other services, too?
Yes! Not only do we stock pretty paper, we also offer services such as custom cutting, scoring, and folding. We can take any parent sheet and cut it down to any size, and if needed, score it to make it easier to fold.
Where can we connect with you?
You can visit our website, astropaper.com, and browse our brilliant selection of paper and envelopes. You can also find us on Facebook, tweet us at @AstroPaper, and follow us on Instagram at @astropaper. So let your passion run wild and let us take the journey with you.
We are thrilled to announce that Litsa Babalis of That Sky Blue is the latest recipient of our Paper Camp Scholarship. Litsa was selected from more than 50 scholarship applications and will be joining us in Los Angeles in February! When we review scholarship applications, we look for a few key elements — does the applicant have strong business goals and a good sense of where they want to take this business? Do they understand the TSBC community, its value and how we can help them? And, can they spell stationery correctly 😉 Litsa’s application had heart, passion and clearly articulated where she wants to take That Sky Blue next. We’re excited to work with her!
That Sky Blue boasts a range of exquisitely designed stationery, including a wide range of greeting cards for all occasions, note cards and other paper novelty items. All products also share a commitment to the environment with the entire letterpress collection printed on 100% cotton paper recycled from the remnants of the garment industry and printed solely with soy based inks.
Here are some pieces of Litsa’s beautiful work:
Congratulations to Litsa! If you want to get in on the fun, you can join us in February. There are just a few seats left at Paper Camp, so be sure to register today.