Surtex 2017 Recap Part 1: Booth Set Up

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links. I never promote anything I don’t love and use myself. And although I may earn a small commission for sending business their way, there’s no cost to you!

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.

Surtex 2017 Recap Part One: First Impressions as a Newbie |

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.  

Surtex 2017: My First Trade Show Experience |

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 {AFFILIATE}, 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!

My Surtex 2017 Booth |

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 {AFFILIATE} than you think you'll need for your banners. 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).

Surtex 2017: Lizzie and I - Accountability Partners |

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!

FREE Product Brainstorming Worksheets | DSD 2016 SugarHillCo Blog Hop

Happy Digital Scrapbooking Day to all you talented designers out there!

If you're confused as to why the link to Scotty Girl Design took you here, well let me try to explain as quickly as I can: I retired from digital scrapbook design in June and decided to shift my focus to surface design, but also to be able to devote more time to helping digital designers (like yourself) streamline their businesses and maximize their design time. If you'd like to know more about how I came to my decision, you can read about my 3 main reasons for retiring.

Now let's get to the reason you're really here – your FREEBIE! When it came time to design something for this blog hop, I didn't want to do my "usual freebie"; I wanted to create something that could really help you in your business each week.

Below is a set of brainstorming worksheets designed to make your design time much smoother. All you need to do is take an hour before you start designing and write down or sketch all your ideas for your next collection. Click the image below to start the download.

The set above is for letter sized pages, however, I don't want to leave all the planner gals hanging, so I've made an A5 size as well. CLICK HERE to get the A5 size instead!

Next up in the blog hop is Wendy Page Designs, but if you like my brainstorming worksheets and want another FREE design resource to help you plan your products, don't hop outta here just yet! Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of this post.

DSD Specials at SHCO

I'm sure all you designers out there have been working hard for weeks to get ready for this weekend! To celebrate this amazing holiday, the entire SHCo store is 60% off from October 1-3 – including 7 new products of mine (one is a HUGE textures bundle for only $10).

FREE Product Planning Guide for Digital Designers

I wasted so much design time in my first few years as a digital designer and the main reason stemmed from not doing any pre-planning; I just jumped straight into design mode. If I had only taken a few hours each month to build a solid plan for future products, I would have saved myself HOURS of time.

So over the last two years, I dedicated a lot of time to developing my own product planning system so I could stop wasting time and I want to share my system with you.

Product Planning Guide: A Resource for Digital Design Creatives | Copyright ©2018 Shannon McNab |

If you ever feel like you don't have enough hours in the day for design or are constantly scrambling to put together new products each week, this guide can help.

In the 12-page guide, I share with you my three part system that I personally used over the last two years. I lead you through each part step-by-step so by the end you can implement your own product planning strategy.

How Product Pre-Planning Can Save You Lots of Design Time

When I first started designing digital scrapbook products back in 2010, I had no idea what I was doing. I’d be full of inspiration one week, only to be scrambling to come up with ideas the following week. Sound familiar?

How Product Pre-Planning Can Save You Lots of Design Time |

I wasted so much design time in my first few years as a digital designer and the main reason stemmed from not doing any pre-planning – I just jumped straight into design mode. If I had only taken a few hours each week (or month) to build a solid plan for future products, I would have saved myself HOURS of time.

Here are three time saving benefits to developing a product pre-planning system:

1. You Have Many Ideas to Choose From

Creating new designs is easier when you already have several good ideas to choose from instead of trying to come up with something on the fly. When I realized this, I decided to devote an entire day to building a list of possible theme ideas for future products.

Now you definitely don't have to take a full day to build an ideas list, but even 1-2 hours of focused brainstorming can easily give you at least a dozen good ideas for products down the line.

This is one step in the product planning process that is often ignored since we have so little design time to begin with, but to me it should always be the FIRST step in building a solid pre-planning system.

2. Gives You a Roadmap to Follow

Many designers (myself included) will often think of an idea and just start designing. This spontaneous method of creation can be a healthy part of the design process when you're wanting to experiment or stretch your design skills.

However, when it comes to developing a fully realized product (especially if it's a multi-product collection), I think going in with a bit of a plan is a much better place to start. By spending just an hour or so brainstorming ideas, you'll be giving yourself a plan of attack and visual cues that will help you during the design process.

And by creating your own mini product plan, it means that if you get stuck at any time while you're designing, you can just revisit your plan and know what step needs to come next. Without a plan, you'd probably end up wasting more time looking for inspiration to give you new ideas.

3. Makes You Feel Productive

It's such a great feeling to look back on your day or week and feel like you got a lot accomplished. That's because everyone likes to feel productive! And I don't know about you, but feeling productive is one of the main things that keeps me motivated to work on "the next thing" on my to-do list.

That's why I love creating a product list anytime I make a new collection (you could also do a list of tasks needed to complete a single product) because I can immediately see how far along in the design process I am. And nothing beats the feeling of getting to physically check something off a list – it can really empower you to keep going!

So how do you create an easy to implement product planning system??

Well, I'd like to share with you the three part system I developed and personally used for the past two years! In my new FREE Product Planning Guide, I lead you through each part step-by-step to help you implement your own product planning strategy and gain back some valuable design time.

Here's just a taste of what you'll learn:

  • Why building a design idea library is so important for long term success
  • How to discern good product ideas from bad ones
  • Creative and unusual places to hunt for inspiration
  • Tips for keeping your design files more organized
  • How to build a product inventory spreadsheet from scratch

Want more creative business advice? Check out these recent blogposts:

10 Ways to Get Your Creative Mojo Back When You Feel Uninspired

One of the questions that comes up frequently in my Creativity Clan FB group is “How do I get myself out of a creative rut?” 

10 Ways to Get Your Creative Mojo Back When You Feel Uninspired |

It’s something that seems to plague all creative types at some point, often in frequent intervals throughout the year. I’ve definitely had my fair share of “loss of mojo” moments, so I know first-hand how frustrating and self-defeating they can feel at times. So after researching different ways to help get out of a creative rut for my DDClan’s Q&A Monday session on the subject, I wanted to share a list of 10 of my favorite ideas (most of which I’ve personally tested and found helpful at some point in my career):

#1: Take a Quick Break

If you’re working on something and it’s frustrating, walk away from it for a bit. Go take the dog for a walk. Read a chapter in a book you’re reading. Just do something completely unrelated to work for at least 15 minutes. Hopefully after you’ve had a chance to switch gears, you can come back with a fresh mindset.

#2: Take a Sabbatical

Have you ever had a feeling of dread with your business or felt constantly overwhelmed by all the work you needed to get done? If so, then you might consider taking a longer break (one week at minimum). 

When I hit an exceptionally difficult rough patch in my business in early 2015, I took a full month off and it was the best decision I could have made. It allowed me to take a mental work break and also helped me to reflect on where I wanted my business to go. Since then, I started implementing week-long breaks regularly into my work schedule and I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful for me to avoid burnouts.

#3: Work on Something Else

While meeting deadlines is an important part of a well run business, if you’re designing something and just not feeling inspired, consider switching gears and working on a non-creative business task. 

Maybe you have customers you need to reply to via email or you need to strategize what you’ll post to social media for the next two weeks – just pick something that’s completely unrelated to the creative task that’s frustrating you. By switching gears and completing something else for your business, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment which just may help to get you out of your creative slump.

#4: Write a Good Things List

To be honest, when I first heard of a “grateful list” as a strategy, I thought it sounded a little hokey, but you know what, it actually worked for me! When you’re feeling completely uninspired, get a piece of paper and make a list of everything that you’re good at or that’s working in your business. It can be something as small as “I got 1 new Instagram follower today”. 

After you’re done, reflect on the list. You will probably realize that although not everything in your business is running perfectly, you still have a lot going for you. I recently used the same method for my personal life when I was having a not-so-good morning and although it didn’t happen immediately, my mood vastly improved by the end of the day. 

#5: Get Off Social Media

You’ve probably heard the quote, “comparison is the thief of joy”. I find that quote especially relevant in the age of social media where we can see all the amazing work other artists are creating. 

Being connected is a great thing when it helps to fuel your creativity, but as soon as you find yourself feeling jealous or “behind” in your business because of what someone else is doing, it’s time to shut your phone off. Next time you feel this way, try to only check social media during non-office hours.

#6: Make Sure Your Basic Human Needs are Met

We all know that we should maintain a healthy lifestyle, but so many of us don’t (myself included). Having a well-rested and nourished body is not only good for your long term health, it can have positive effects on your business. 

I realize that in especially stressful times it can be difficult not to scarf down an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting or get the 6+ hours of sleep you need a night (both of which I’ve done at least once in the past month), but those are the times when it’s most crucial to maintaining healthy habits.

10 Ways to Get Your Creative Mojo Back When You Feel Uninspired - (Tip #7: Change Your Scenery) |

#7: Change Your Scenery

I bet that 90% of the time, you work at the same place every day. Especially if you work from home by yourself (which let’s face it, can be incredibly lonely at times), it can be incredibly liberating to mix it up and instead spend an afternoon working at a coffeeshop or library.

Personally, I love spending at least one morning each week working at a local Starbucks. The buzz of activity around me is very energizing and because I’m not at home with a million other things that need my attention (like laundry or sweeping), I’m much more likely toy stay on task.

#8: Work for Just 10 Minutes

Sometimes when you’re just not feeling it, working for an entire day on design can feel like a monumental endeavor. Instead, try setting a timer for 10 minutes and tell yourself that’s all you have to do. If you’re still not feeling creative when the timer goes off, you can feel good knowing you at least gave it a shot.

However, what’s likely to happen is that you’ll start to hit your stride before those 10 minutes are up and just decide to keep working. I’ve tried this a few times (especially for tasks I’m not as excited about) and it works like a charm.

#9: Put a Fresh Twist on It

There’s probably a few tasks you get caught up on during the design process and chances are, they are the same tasks each and every time. Maybe you are trying to create a themed Halloween collection, but you just can’t fathom sketching another pumpkin or ghost OR you get stuck when you go to pick a Halloween color palette.

Instead of just doing the same old routine, why not try to put a fresh spin on things? If you don’t enjoy creating Halloween motifs, maybe you should consider alternate, but similar themes like Day of the Dead, zombies, or monsters. If you get stuck in a rut picking color palettes, go to sites like Design Seeds to get inspired and choose a non-traditional color palette. Just by doing something a little different and outside your comfort zone, you may unlock some creative juices.

#10: Stick to Your Plan

I’m a firm believer in pre-planning, especially when I’m working on large projects with lots of moving parts. The best part of having a plan is that when I’m feeling unproductive or lost, I can just revisit my project notes and get immediately back on track.

Don’t have a plan, don’t panic? In my 12-page Product Planning Guide, I share with you my three part system that I personally used over the last two years. I lead you through each part step-by-step so by the end you can implement your own product planning strategy.

Why Chasing Trends May Be Diluting Your Brand

Every time a new trend emerges, how often do you find yourself chasing it? 

Why Chasing Trends is Diluting Your Brand & the Simple Solution to Fix It |

Pineapples are EVERYWHERE right now, so does that mean you should bust out a pineapple-centric product? Or maybe there’s a new product category emerging (like mobile ready fonts did in 2014) and you feel like you have to join in to stay competitive in the marketplace. But by following all the new trends, you are on the fast track to diluting your brand.

Let me illustrate my point by giving you my own personal example of this – I’ve fallen victim of the “shiny new trend” several times myself.

In late 2013, hand-lettered script word brushes were a becoming a big trend in the digi scrapbook community (due in part to popular designers like Karla Noel and Paislee Press who adopted hand lettering before it was a trend) and designers who had never created hand lettered products were jumping on the bandwagon left and right, including yours truly. 

The only problem was, hand lettering was NOT a strength of mine at the time. But that didn’t dissuade me; I went on my merry way, designing some hand lettered words for a Christmas collection in December 2013. Not surprisingly, my brushes didn't sell well because 1) my execution was poor, and 2) it's not something my customers expected to see (or were interested in purchasing) from me. Looking back at it now, I cringe that I put something so blatantly not “me” in my shop. 

Why Chasing Trends is Diluting Your Brand |

The biggest problem here was that the only reason I made that product was because it was “on trend” and I never stopped to think about whether it would fit with my existing product catalog or my brand.

Luckily there is an easy way to avoid the trend trap: you simply have to take a beat and think about whether this new trend fits within your strengths and aesthetic as a designer. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What themes or products am I known for?
  • What are my strengths as a designer?
  • Is the market already saturated with this trend?
  • Does following this trend make a positive impact on my brand or product catalog?

By taking 10-15 minutes and analyzing whether or not this trend works for you and your designs, you will save yourself time and unnecessary heartache if/when your trendy product doesn’t sell well.

If I had done that in the fall of 2013, I would have realized that my strength was typeface-based word art, and NOT in writing phrases by hand. I wouldn’t have created those brushes, but instead put that time and effort into some other product that was more in-line with my design aesthetic.

Analyzing a trend can also be really good for highlighting weak spots in your business and can be a catalyst for you to expand your design skills. Since understanding my own lack of hand lettering skills in 2013 and realizing it’s an area I wanted to improve on, I’ve made a concerted effort to practice drawing letterforms and am now quite confident in lettering abilities. 

Peter Pan Hand Lettered Disney Quote |

So the next time you’re wooed by an emerging new trend, take a step back and decide whether it’s something that fits within your brand. Because it’s always better to be known for designing a few things really well than it is to be known for doing everything only ok.