Wow, what a whirlwind the past month has been! After spending a week in New York for Surtex, I came home and immediately hit the ground running with my post trade show follow up. . . and that's what I've been doing for the past four weeks.
I've had lots of time to reflect on my first trade show experience at Surtex and, not surprisingly, I have a LOT to say about it! So instead of trying to cram all my thoughts into one blogpost, I've decided to write a few posts over the next month or so, where each will cover a different topic.
In today's post, I'll be focusing on my booth setup, plus share my own personal Surtex prep horror story. I hope you find the information helpful (especially for all you future exhibitors out there).
Surtex Booth Set Up
My husband and I arrived in New York late Friday night and tried to make it to the Javits Center as early as we could manage Saturday morning.
The moment we stepped onto the escalator of the Surtex entrance, I was immediately full of excitement! I've been dreaming about exhibiting here for so long and I think it finally sunk in at that moment that I was living out one of my dreams.
Finding my booth was easy, but then came the major task of actually setting up the booth. I'm sad to say that in all my excitement, I didn't actually take any pictures on setup day, something I regret.
Also, the lighting at the convention center is awful, made even worse by the vibrant orange carpet; it cast a weird, orangey glow on all my photos of the booth. So of few photos I managed to take with my phone during Surtex, most of them are unusable. No joke – the two photos you see below have been HEAVILY color corrected in Photoshop.
Tip #1: If you want to get great photos of your booth, bring a quality camera. I have a Canon dSLR, but didn't bring it since I was trying to pack as lightly as possible. Lesson learned!
Ok, photo rant over! Let's get back to booth set up.
I'd say 85% of setup consisted of getting the banners hung into place. I had an 8x10 booth, so I had 9 banners for the booth panels and 3 for the counter.
Now you would think hanging 12 banners wouldn't take too long, right??? I thought so, BUT I WAS WRONG! After borrowing a step stool from my across-the-aisle neighbor, Virginia Kraljevic, and having the help of both my husband and my good friend, Kirsten, it took us over 4 hours just to hang the banners.
It probably doesn't help that I'm a perfectionist which meant several banners needed to be repositioned multiple times so the horizontal breaks I designed into my banners lined up.
Luckily, we still managed to finish hanging the banners with about two hours to spare, which gave me plenty of time to set up my sample products (seen on the shelf in the image below) and decide how I wanted my counter laid out.
Tip #2: If you have an 8x10 booth or larger, have at least one helper with you during setup day. I saw a few exhibitors putting up their booths solo and have no idea how they managed to pull it off!
Besides setup taking longer than I anticipated, I encountered a few other minor hiccups during the day. However, by Sunday morning my booth looked great and I'm happy to say I got lots of compliments on it from exhibitors and buyers during the show.
Here's just a few more things I made note of during setup day (in no particular order):
- The Javits Center doesn't turn on the air conditioning until the show opens on Sunday, so plan on wearing breathable, summer clothing. I had heard this rumor ahead of time and made sure to wear a tank top, but I still got too hot! Next time, I know to pack shorts.
- Buy more Command strips than you think you'll need. I purchased two packs (96 strips total), but somehow we still ran a few strips short. Luckily, my friend Lizzie (see the two of us in the photo below) was two booths down and gave me extras she had. If I had to do it all over again, I'd buy 3 packs.
- When designing the banners, avoid any horizontal breaks that need to match up on adjacent panels (like I mentioned above). Also, light colored backgrounds make the Command strip "bumps" more visible than dark colored backgrounds. I'll definitely change the way I design banners in the future.
- If you're going to cover the counter sides, consider one long banner that wraps around the entire thing instead of one banner for each of the sides, like I did. The measurements we received didn't match up with it's actual dimensions; the width of the front and sides were smaller so I had to improvise and overlap the banners. Next time, I'll just order one long banner for the whole thing.
- If you're coming from more than 1 time zone away, consider arriving a day or two early. Coming into NY from CA late Friday and then having to get up at 8 AM (5 AM to us) on Saturday was ROUGH! Looking back, we should have arrived on Thursday. BONUS: That also means I would've had two days for setup and could take my time.
- Right before you leave the Javits on Saturday, take a quick tour of the show floor. Once the show starts Sunday morning, there's very little time to saunter through the aisles and see other exhibitors' work. We walked the floor before we left and I'm glad we did! Not only did I get to see beautiful work and what motifs were trending, but I could also make note of booths I wanted to visit during the show (mostly to meet fellow designer friends I "met" on Facebook or Instagram over the past year).
Lesson Learned: ALWAYS Have a Backup Plan
Several of the exhibitors I talked to who were Surtex first-timers had at least one horror story during their Surtex prep. Here's the story of mine – and it's rather loooong:
About six weeks before Surtex, I had my banners printed at SmartPress. They arrived two weeks later and looked AMAZING!
Because I was traveling to the show from CA and didn't want to lug the 30lb box of banners through the airport, I shipped them via my local post office to Lizzie in Virginia who had graciously offered to pack them in her car.
I paid extra for 2-day shipping to make sure they arrived with two weeks to spare before the show, but 7 days later they were still "in transit". So I went to post office to get more information only to be told that there was no guarantee the package would be delivered in time. I broke down in tears.
After the initial panic subsided, I called SmartPress to order a second set of banners and have them delivered directly to Kirsten's office in NY. They were very sympathetic on the phone and guaranteed delivery on May 18, one day before I left for the show.
Not surprisingly, the original box of banners arrived at Lizzie's house two days later. I initially told her to recycle them, but then decided she should still bring them "just in case."
Then the morning we're flying to NY, Kirsten texts me to say the package of the 2nd set of banners never arrived at her office's mail room. So I double check the tracking information only to find SmartPress accidentally sent them to my house again (instead of to the new address I gave them).
Sure enough, the FedEx guy shows up with my new set of banners 30 minutes later. Since I knew Lizzie was already driving up to NY with the first set, it wasn't the end of the world, just a final twist in a crazy turn of events.
SmartPress immediately called me after I alerted them of the mix-up and they couldn't have been nicer. Not only were they apologetic, but they refunded me the entire cost of the 2nd set of banners.
Moral of the Story: Always have a plan B, C, and even D, plus give yourself ample time to execute secondary plans if need be! I'm just grateful I ordered my banners as early as I did.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my first Surtex recap blogpost! In the next post, I'll cover some of the best (and not-so-great) advice I received, plus share a complete vendor list of who I used to get everything printed and ready to go. Look for that post sometime within the next two weeks!
In the meantime, I'd love to hear any Surtex question you may have in the comments below. Feel free to ask me anything and I'll answer as best I can!