Surtex 2017 Recap Part 3: The Cost & Value of Exhibiting at a Trade Show

Today's post is the last of my three-part Surtex recap series and it's probably the most important one of all! Because while exhibiting at Surtex was a huge step for me, it doesn't matter much unless all the time and money I spent towards it helps propel my design career forward.

Surtex 2017 Recap Part Three: The Cost & Value of Exhibiting at a Trade Show | shannonmcnab.com

That's why this post is all about the monetary costs of exhibiting at Surtex. Cost is such an important factor in deciding whether or not to participate in a trade show as it can literally make or break your business finances for the year, so I wanted to make sure to include it in my recap blog series.
 

My Costs to Exhibit at Surtex 2017

Trade show costs will always vary and what I've posted here are my own real costs associated with preparing for Surtex 2017. And while it's a bit nerve wracking posting something this personal, I feel it's important to be completely transparent with all the expenses related to exhibiting at a trade show. Since I started this series as a way to help others in their own journey, I felt it would be disingenuous to talk about costs without providing actual numbers.

On the right is a screenshot of a cost analysis spreadsheet I created to track my 2017 Surtex expenses, broken up into four categories. And as an analytics nut, I also calculated the cost percentage for each category (to see where my money was going).


Now before you shout "There is NO way I could afford to spend that much!" I want you to know that it is possible to exhibit at Surtex for significantly less than $9K.


The Cost to Exhibit at Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

I made several thoughtful decisions that contributed to the overall costs you see above, however, many factors can heavily impact the overall cost (and make it higher OR lower). Here's just three expenses that deeply affected my overall costs:

Booth Size

There were 3 standard booth sizes available for Surtex 2017:

  • 5x10: $2,700
  • 8x10: $4,120
  • 10x10: $4,900

The 5x10 booth is part of the Design District which is only available to first time exhibitors. And while I did initially consider the 5x10 booth as a newbie, after seeing the 2016 booth configuration and the lack of privacy those exhibitors got, I decided on the 8x10 instead.

It was absolutely the right decision for me, however, I know a few designers who exhibited in the Design District this year that are not only on their way to securing deals with buyers, but one has already received representation from a well known agency. So you could potentially save almost $1,500 from exhibiting in a 5x10 booth or even split an 8x10 booth like the girls at the Pattern Social and save about $2K.

My 8x10 Booth Mockup for Surtex 2017 | shannonmcnab.com

Choice of Accommodations

You may have noticed that my hotel cost seems incredibly high. But there were two major reasons for this:

  1. My husband joined me for Surtex, however, since accommodations are a necessity when traveling for work, the entire hotel bill during the trade show qualifies as a business expense (and can be deducted from my taxes).
  2. I'm a Best Western rewards member and although I could have stayed at a cheaper hotel, I decided to reserve a room at the closest Best Western to the Javits, which just happens to be one of their Premier hotels. So while it was more expensive than other hotels, I also benefited by racking up lots of reward points.

Next year I will probably do things a bit differently and stay at a hotel that's much closer to the Javits. Also, a friend and fellow designer will likely be accompanying me which means we'll split the cost of the room 50/50. In the end, that will save me around $900.

Marketing Materials

All of my marketing costs associated with Surtex 2017 add up to less than 10% of my overall expenses, however, that's still nearly $800! If I had to do it all over again, I'd make some changes that would have saved me about $300:

  • Business Cards: I mentioned this in the last post, but I panicked and bought 550 cards yet I needed WAY less than that! I wouldn't bother purchasing more than 200-300. 
  • Press Kit Cards: I felt like these were a waste of time and money. Instead, I'd rather just print a few more promotional postcards to have at my booth.
  • Mailing Charges: I spent $70 just for 2-day shipping to get my initial set of banners to my friend's house (read the entire horror story here). Next time I know not to waste money with quick shipping and instead ship my stuff much earlier.
  • Giveaways & Product Mockups: While I didn't go overboard with either, I still feel like I didn't need nearly as much as I had. Next year I plan on getting less product mockups made and only having 100 buttons to give away.

While my costs for 2017 were nearly $9K, I plan to spend less for 2018. But I want you to know IT IS possible to exhibit at Surtex for around $5K (if you are in the Design District or share a booth with someone).

Of course I realize that $5K is still A LOT of money and not everyone will have the business resources to immediately pony up that kind of cash. However, if exhibiting at a trade show is something you're seriously considering, I'd encourage you to spend a year or two saving up for it (like Nicole Tamarin did for her first time at Surtex in 2012).
 

My ROI: The Value of Exhibiting at Surtex

It's been exactly 3 months since Surtex and I purposely waited to discuss the show's cost and value last so I had a much time as possible to track how well I did as a result from exhibiting. So the real question is what did I gain from the $8,712.34 spent on exhibiting at Surtex?

In the 3 months since Surtex, I've already secured contracts and commissions with more than 5 different companies and the income received will easily surpass my costs associated with Surtex 2017.

So yes, the financial gamble I took when I decided to exhibit has DEFINITELY paid off!

Stuck on You Collection | ©2017, Shannon McNab

However, I feel that the value of exhibiting at a trade show extends beyond just my generated trade show income. Here are just a few other reasons I feel Surtex was worth the cost I paid:

  • Company Contacts: Hunting down contact info is a tedious process. And even if you find it and cold call or email them, there's no guarantee you'll hear back or that you've contacted the right person. But at Surtex, you are literally in front of hundreds of companies in the span of 3 days AND you can actually get their correct contact info.
    Also, in the fast paced, internet age we live in, there's something to be said for having in-person conversations. I feel these connections make all those who choose to exhibit, much stronger candidates to companies looking for designs.
  • Great Market Research: Not only do you get to see what trends are dominating other designers' booths, you also get to hear what themes companies are looking for. My favorite question to ask buyers was "What are you looking for?" People who are interested in your work will be really candid and specific with what they want, so I came home with a list of motifs I'm hoping to add to my portfolio over the next year.
    For example, several companies asked for cacti and so the first new portfolio piece I designed after I got home was a cactus themed pattern (see above). I'm happy to report that it's already been licensed to a Brazilian fabric company.
  • Building Community Ties: 90% of the time, I work at home. Being constantly by myself can get lonely and that's why I am so thankful for all the connections I made with fellow designers at Surtex. Since we're all dealing with the same challenges, exhibiting at a show brings you together in a unique way. I was happily surprised to bond with several designers and look forward to seeing them at the show next year!

I realize that was a lot of information to take in, so if you made it to the end... bravo!!! I hope you've enjoyed my post-Surtex blog series and that it's given you some insight into how to make a trade show experience successful.

I'd like to continue blogging about trade shows and touch on things I haven't had a chance to yet, but I think I'll take a few months break from it for now so I can once again focus on building up my portfolio for next year's show (yup, I'm already signed up for 2018)!

If there's anything you'd like me to discuss in future posts, please feel free to post them in the comments below.