Surtex 2017 Recap Part 2: Was it Successful?

I want to start off by saying that I hope you're finding this blog series helpful! I created it because when I went hunting for information last summer, there were lots of details and aspects of the show I simply couldn't find. So for me, if I can help make someone else's journey to their first trade show a wee bit easier, then that makes me happy!

Surtex 2017 Recap Part Two: How Successful Was it + Complete Vendor List & the Best Advice I Received | shannonmcnab.com

Well, it's been a few weeks since my last Surtex recap post and I thought it was about time I get to the "good stuff" (ie. talking about how exhibiting actually went for me). If you missed my last post, I discussed my pre-Surtex booth setup and shared lots of things I wish I had known ahead of time about setup.

And because I cover A LOT in this post, here's a breakdown of each section, with links so you can jump straight to what you want to read about:

Exhibiting at the Show: Discussing how I did with my three pre-Surtex goals
The Best (& Worst) Advice I Received: Nuggets of wisdom from some very smart people
Complete Vendor List: Services I Used for Everything Surtex related

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

Exhibiting at the Show

Deciding to show at Surtex when I am new to the surface design industry felt like a huge (and expensive) gamble, but I also knew it was likely the best option to get my art in front of many companies in a short amount of time. So I'm not surprised that the most common question I've received since showing at Surtex has been "Was it worth it??" And my answer is: HECK YEAH!!

If you've read my May pre-Surtex post, you might remember how I gave myself 3 goals for exhibiting at Surtex. As I mentioned in that post, having these pre-determined goals was an easy way to be able to measure my success after the show. Here's how I did:

Goal #1: Attempt to strike up a conversation with at least 50% of the people who walk past my booth.

About 70% of the people who walked by were either fellow exhibitors, buyers looking for art in a completely different style, or people going to the adjacent furniture show. The other 30% were companies/buyers who were actually interested. Of those that seemed interested, I made it a point to strike up a conversation with nearly all of them. And those that weren't? I attempted to at least give a warm smile and hello if they looked into the booth. Goal accomplished: YES!

Goal #2: Come home with at least 20 solid leads of people/companies I'd like to work with. 

After tallying all the intake forms I came home with, I ended up with a total of 37 leads. Of those, I'd consider 24 of them solid leads (and 9 that I'd be over the moon excited to work with). Will all these great leads pan out? No, but I'm ok with that. Goal accomplished: YES!

Goal #3: Sell/license 3 portfolio pieces during the show.

By far my most difficult goal to accomplish, especially as a newbie, but I'm happy to say that I mostly completed this goal. What do I mean by "mostly"? Well, a company purchased licenses for two of my illustrations at the show, but wanted another to complement it, so they commissioned me for a third piece. So while I didn't technically sell 3 licenses at the show, I felt confident I would achieve it within a few weeks. Goal accomplished: Let's say YES!

It was a great feeling at the end of the show to know that I had accomplished all of my goals, most especially because I had made enough to pay for part of my booth fee!

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Counter Closeup | shannonmcnab.com

The Best (& Worst) Advice I Received

I have a notebook full of notes for Surtex from my entire trade show journey, but some advice I received was better than others. Here are my absolute favorite words of wisdom, plus two pieces of advice I wish I hadn't followed:

Best: Register Copyrights for Your Work Prior to the Show

Who Said It: Emily Danchuk ESQ during a Surtex Copyright/IP Webinar

In order to protect your work as much as possible, you need to file copyright applications in a timely manner. According to copyright.gov, "timely" is considered within 3 months of publication of/offer to sell your work. So I registered all my designs in early May so I am protected in the event that someone copies the work that I presented at Surtex.

Worst: Have 20-25 Personalized Press Kits Available in Press Room

I mentioned this a bit in my May Surtex post, but felt it deserved to be mentioned again here. I printed 50 of my press rack cards; we left 25 in the press room and had 25 at my booth. My husband checked Tuesday morning (the last day of the show) to see how many were left in the press room and only ONE had been taken

Next year, I think I would completely forego creating press kit cards and instead just focus on a promotional postcard or small booklet that showcases my work. I'd probably still put 5 or so in the press room (just in case), but would keep most of them in my booth to hand out to the buyers.

Best: Use an Ergonomic Mat for Your Booth

Who Said It: Sandy Dumais, Illustrator

There was a big discussion in the Advice for Artists FB group about what types of shoes were best for the long hours of standing at the show. Many had great suggestions, but my favorite recommendation was from Sandy; she uses an anti-fatigue mat in her booth to stand on.

As someone who suffers from arthritis in my ankles and hips, I knew orthopedic shoes wouldn't be enough for me so I scoured Amazon for the best, compact mat I could find (see direct link below in vendor list). It fit perfectly flat inside my checked baggage and was so helpful at making my legs and feet less achy at the end of the day. 

Best: Sell Designs in Small Groupings (main print + 1 to 3 coordinates)

Who Said It: Jennifer Nelson, Art Agent

This is something Jennifer mentioned often in her Prep Talks and I'm so glad I heeded her advice. Coming from a scrapbooking design background, I'm used to creating large collections usually consisting of 6-12 patterns. However, such large groupings can be tough to sell simply because you have to sell them at a higher price (to make your time investment to create them worth it).

Most buyers I talked to had fairly specific budgets for purchasing work, so having smaller collections made it easier to license and sell my work. Plus, by showcasing one main illustration or hero pattern with a few coordinates makes the customer feel like they are still getting a lot for the price. At least that was my experience at the show.

Worst: Have 500 Business Cards with You (minimum)

I initially purchased 250 business cards from Moo, but heard that you need to have at least 500 cards so you don't run out. So I panicked and purchased 300 extra cards from Zazzle as a precaution. Now I don't know if it's because of where I was on the show floor (I was near the back) or if it's because attendance was down for buyers, but only about 120 were picked up at my booth.

That means I came home with 400+ leftovers and never needed to purchase extras from Zazzle. Especially when flying from CA where space in my luggage was precious, I have to say I was a bit annoyed I wasted so much of it on business cards. Next time, I'll probably just buy 100 new ones and then supplement with my extra Moo cards from this year (which will save me money too).

Best: Categorize Your Intake Forms During the Show

Who Said It: Anne Bollman of Anne Was Here, Surface Designer

This was hands down, the most useful piece of advice I received, so thank you Anne! Her tip was to categorize each intake form you receive into 3 groups:

  1. Companies you absolutely want to work with.
  2. Companies that you could see yourself working with. 
  3. Companies you may or may not want to work with. 

Over the course of the three days, you talk to so many people and all the details and excitement will start blending together. So after the end of each interaction with a new buyer at my booth, I would mark which group they fit into on the top of the intake form. I had a file folder for each grouping so everything stayed organized behind the counter.

My Surtex 2017 Booth: Samples Shelf | shannonmcnab.com

Complete Vendor List

Something that I felt was really important to share was who/what I used to get everything ready for the show. While a few things get discussed a lot (like banner printers and business cards), other things can be tough finding information about (like where to print carbon copies). So here's a complete list of all the great vendors I worked with and all the things I needed: 

Booth Design & Setup:

Portfolio & Marketing Materials:

  • Portfolio Sheet Printouts: Colorprint (my favorite local printer)
  • Business Cards, Press Kit Cards, & Promotional Mailers: Moo.com

Giveaway Items:

Product Samples:

Also included on my product shelf were samples from scrapbook products I designed from Becky Higgins LLC & Echo Park Paper Co.

Miscellaneous:


I hope you enjoyed my second Surtex 2017 recap blogpost. The third and final post will be all about the costs and value of exhibiting at Surtex. Since cost seems to be the #1 factor in deciding whether or not to participate in a trade show, I feel it's a really important topic to address.

Finally, if you missed any of my previous Surtex blogposts, here's links to the entire series:

September 2016: My Journey to Surtex Begins
February 2017: 100 Days to Go
March 2017: 2 Months and Counting
April 2017: Only 1 Month Left
May 2017: Ready or Not, Here I Come!
June 2017: Booth Setup as a Newbie