Time sure flies when you’re busy! Between moving homes back in March, building 2 new Skillshare classes, and exhibiting at BOTH Surtex and Blueprint this year, you could say my blogging time has been a bit limited in 2019.
That doesn’t mean I’m out of ideas though. In fact, I currently have a lengthy list of posts just waiting to be written. But I wanted to cut right to the chase and get to the number one question I’ve been getting asked this year:
Surtex or Blueprint, which trade show is better?
What a loaded question! There’s many different factors that can affect your success at a trade show. It’s actually quite common for two exhibitors at the same show to have a completely different experience; one might say it’s amazing and the other thinks it’s terrible.
Of course if you’ve followed me for awhile, you know I have a lot more experience with Surtex; I’ve been showing there since 2017, yet this was my very first time exhibiting at Blueprint. And while I still want to share my thoughts on the subject (more on that at the end of the post), I thought it was important to share other designer's perspectives too.
So I asked 5 other designers who’ve exhibited at BOTH shows to share their own insights with you!
“From an exhibitors point of view, Blueprint doesn’t have the organizational polish that Surtex does, but that simply goes with the fact that Blueprint doesn’t have the price tag to back the manpower. I was impressed with the load of work carried by the two organizers—also fellow exhibitors no less!
In short: rather than an extensive handbook, a help desk, and grunting guys walking around with toolboxes as you’d see at the Javitz, we artists were forced to forge relationships via helping hands and spreading answers. Perhaps, though, this was a critical first step in breaking a culture of autonomy and competition.
A chill atmosphere with a sense of camaraderie is something Blueprint is known for. It’s an attractive point. But I wondered, could it retain the professional airs of Surtex... particularly in restored warehouses filled with tables and retractable banners? The vibe felt more business casual and pragmatic, “we’re looking for art. What do you have? Let’s make a deal.” I jive with that vibe. I admit that I miss those decorative extras, but only long enough for my practical business-mind to kick me back to reality.
I thoroughly enjoyed Blueprint. The camaraderie, the quality of clients, the simplified approach! Those three aspects are fostered, not organic in a realm of individualistic creatives eager to see a return on investment. It takes work, and they’re aspects to be greatly proud of.”
“I did Surtex 2016 in the Design District, so my perspective on it may be a bit different. Honestly, I feel, looking back that I should have just gotten a regular booth. For the money that I paid and the tiny size (think telephone booth), I could have been out there on the floor with everyone else.
I feel that the show promotors at Surtex didn’t do a great job of promoting the Design District, it was waaaaayyy in the back and I heard one comment that people thought we were students. Also, it was hard to find the contact information for registered buyers, but after much digging and a little luck, I was able to unearth a list and set up a few meetings. I did meet about 50 new contacts and a year later had 3 new licensing partners, including a fabric license. So was it worth it to me? Yes. It was my first show, it got me to get it together and I feel that by doing these shows, I meet way more people at them than just cold calling new clients.
I’ve exhibited at Blueprint 3 times now, 2 in NYC and one in SF last year. I like the atmosphere and booth structure, lower cost and new option to rent just one table. It’s definitely more relaxed than Surtex, but still the high quality of artists is there. I do think that by not being at the same time as Surtex this year, the show definitely feels like it was slower than the previous year and I think 3 days instead of 4 would be a better time frame. I’ve met a lot of great contacts at the shows and I think quality over quantity here.
The flow of information from the organizers at Blueprint sometimes is sporadic and could be more centrally located instead of sent via Facebook/ email, perhaps a password protected page for exhibitor information to be updated weekly. And day of operations could be farmed out and handled by a local events coordinator – hire someone for the front desk, day of logistics, etc. The organizers are kind and open to suggestions for improving the process along the way. I also love meeting a lot of my IG/FB friends in real life! That is what really makes the days and evenings fun!”
Exhibited at: Blueprint 2018 (NY), Surtex 2019 Design District
“From my experience, Blueprint is slightly more oriented to stationery, card designs and characters, where companies are looking to buy designs outright. Surtex is a much bigger show, both in terms of attendees and exhibitors, with companies looking to find designers and particular styles to potentially license them in the near future. In the end, Surtex was a much better fit for me.
One thing I learned from both experiences was that in order to stand out you need to have a unique style, otherwise you end up getting lost in the middle of so many talented designers that are showing more or less the same thing.”
“We are two design studios who launched our individual surface design businesses at Surtex: two artists, one booth! We then followed our Surtex debut with Blueprint in May. We are longtime artists/designers and friends, and knew immediately that sharing a booth was going to be the best option for us. As a result, we were able to share many of the costs for both of the shows.
We were happy with the connections we made at both shows. The layout of Surtex was nice because everyone was exhibiting in one section of the Javits, next to NY Now. At Surtex it was a mix of buyers, manufacturers, art directors, students, fellow artists and exhibitors from NY Now and The Stationery Show. There is a lot of energy around Surtex because it is combined with the other shows and the Javits Center is full and buzzing. As a result, you don’t get much - if any - downtime because people are always walking by, even if they don’t stop.
By contrast, Blueprint was split between two buildings and multiple floors and in a smaller venue. The smaller venue made it more intimate and easier for set-up and logistics, but the energy was different because we weren’t all in one space. Therefore it felt quieter and there was more downtime between visitors. We also had the opportunity to chat and connect with a lot more of the other exhibitors at Blueprint than we did at Surtex, which was nice.
Both shows have their merits and we can’t say that one or the other was better for our particular businesses. While Surtex was costlier and more involved, it was definitely still worth the investment to us. We appreciated the professional atmosphere.
Blueprint was logistically easier and more affordable and we were able to re-use many of the items we had already prepared for Surtex. The community vibe meant we were able to connect with more of our fellow artists. We hope to attend both shows again next year and think that our preparation will become more seamless and easier with every trade show we do!”
Surtex vs. Blueprint from My Perspective
I’ve Exhibited at: Surtex 2017-2019, Blueprint NY 2019
As I said at the beginning of this post, I have a lot more experience at Surtex, so my view is a bit biased towards Surtex over Blueprint. Still I hope you find my viewpoint helpful!
Communication & Organization
Amy touched on this point in her write up, but the flow of information (or lack thereof) and the unorganized booth setup at Blueprint were some big points of frustration for me.
Part of that comes from Blueprint only being around since 2015 (while Surtex has been around for over 3 decades). I think the organizers are still working through some growing pains of a quickly expanding show.
However, I truly believe most of the communication issues could be resolved by hiring a dedicated show coordinator year round.
Since the event organizers are based in the UK, yet all the shows are in the US, it might be helpful to have someone here that could take some of the pressure off of them.
However, bringing on a full or even part time coordinator would be an added expense that would likely increase the cost of the show. Personally though, since there’s still a large cost difference between Blueprint and Surtex, I think a small bump in price per booth would be extremely beneficial to exhibitors and therefore, be absolutely worth it!
Boutique Style Trade Show
The main appeal of Blueprint, besides the lower price point, is the more relaxed, boutique-like atmosphere. However, the show expanded exponentially this year to almost 150 booths and because of that, they had to book two separate venues to accommodate all the exhibitors. The result was confusing for buyers and designers alike. And personally, I felt that Blueprint lost some of the charm it had when it was a smaller show.
I even heard from both buyers and exhibitors that Blueprint felt too big this year and it might be better to limit the number of exhibitors to 100 or so booths. I think that would go a long way to recapture some of the initial allure of Blueprint as a low-key alternative to Surtex.
Of course, limiting the number of exhibitors would require the organizers to curate who exhibits at the show, which would mean extra time and effort to sort through applicants, so who knows whether that’s a viable option or not. However, I do feel that if the show gets much bigger (even if it continues in a single venue), it will lose some of it’s original appeal for both buyers and exhibitors.
The Age Old Question: Quality Versus Quantity?
Beyond the logistics and communication, Blueprint felt very slow and quiet for a trade show. But it was my first time there so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. My solution was to keep in contact with exhibiting designers who had been there in past years too and they all confirmed that buyer traffic felt much lower. The effect was that many exhibitors (especially first timers, myself included) left the show a little disappointed.
To give you concrete numbers, I only filled out 18 intake forms at Blueprint, compared to 49 at Surtex this year (thats 63% fewer contacts). And of those 18, only 7 were new-to-me companies, as opposed to 36 from Surtex (which is nearly 80% less). And although the quality of contacts gained is ALWAYS more important than quantity, this business is first and foremost a numbers game.
It’s simple math: The more contacts you have and the more companies you send art to, the more likely you are to license your art and increase your design income.
My experience is especially skewed since I had great success from Surtex this year – I gained enough licenses and commissions afterwards to pay off all my expenses from the show in less than 3 months. I know that’s partly due to me being a repeat exhibitor; it was my third time showing at Surtex. So it may not be fair to directly compare my experiences at Surtex and Blueprint, but it’s impossible not to when it directly affects my business.
As it stands right now, I have yet to receive any contracts directly from new buyers at Blueprint. To be honest though, it’s still a little early to make a final determination. At past shows, it’s taken me upwards of 1-2 years of fostering a new relationship before any licenses or commissions come from it, so I’m still optimistic I can see a return on my investment at Blueprint.
So, Surtex vs. Blueprint: Which IS better?
The only way I can answer this question is: Surtex is better for me.
Each show has it’s pros and cons, serves a slightly different clientele, showcases a unique vibe, and offers a different price point, but that doesn’t mean one show is any better than the other. It truly is an incredibly personal decision and the only way you’ll know which show is right for you is by exhibiting at one or both.
If you’re on the fence between the two, I’d suggest walking each show in person before you exhibit, because there’s no better way to get a feel for them without ponying up at least a few $1,000 dollars first.
As for me, I’ll definitely continue to exhibit at trade shows in 2020 and perhaps beyond – I still feel there’s no better way to meet new companies and expand my design business.
I’d been dreaming of visiting Morocco for the past few years, so when my husband and I were planning our next travel adventure I knew where I wanted to go.
It’s probably no surprise that my main motivation for traveling to Morocco was to get inspired by all the patterns it has to offer. And it DEFINITELY didn’t disappoint!
There were even instances where I was so overwhelmed by the color and artistry we saw that I completely forgot to take photos. Luckily, I still remembered to pull out my camera often enough to capture a few magnificent shots.
What I did not expect was to completely fall in love with the country and it’s culture.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to a lot of amazing places, but I can say without a doubt that Morocco is the single greatest country I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting.
It’s hard to articulate what made Morocco so special, but I’ll do my best. First off, this was a trip of firsts for me: first time in Africa and outside the Western world.
Also, I found the Moroccan people to be among the most welcoming I’ve ever met. Nearly everyone we interacted with from our tour director (who was the BEST I had ever seen) to the shop keepers to the children playing soccer in the streets, were warm and friendly.
Prior to our trip, we did have some friends and family who voiced their apprehension about us travelling to a developing nation that was predominantly Muslim (99% of Moroccans follow Islam). And while I appreciated their concerns, I found their worries completely misplaced.
Of course, some of the street vendors can be VERY pushy which takes some getting used to, but there was never a moment in Morocco where I felt unwelcome or unsafe. On the contrary, nearly everyone we encountered seemed genuinely happy to greet us, even the camels.
Some of my favorite memories from the trip were moments not originally planned on our itinerary. One in particular that made a deep impression on me was visiting a family’s home in a Ksar near Erfoud (just west of the Sahara desert).
In America, there’s a lot of focus on buying new gadgets to make life “easier” and working long hours to make a living, yet we often feel lonely and disconnected. But in Morocco, there’s a much larger emphasis on the importance of community.
This contrast was never more apparent to me than while standing on this family’s rooftop and literally seeing their entire community built around them (ironically snapping photos of it with my multiple gadgets: a dSLR and iPhone).
Then there were the quintessential Moroccan experiences that made the trip exceptional. Like our 90 minute camel ride to a desert camp where we spent the night in the middle of the Sahara desert.
It was an otherworldly experience riding along the dunes where as far as you can see there’s nothing but golden sand.
Then all of a sudden, a little oasis comes into view.
Morocco felt familiar and foreign all at the same time and to me, it’s that clash that made it so unique to my past travels. I was also in awe of the ever changing landscapes (did you know Morocco has forests and even a winter ski town? I didn’t, I stupidly thought it was all sand).
Oh and I haven’t even mentioned the food yet! The food all throughout Morocco was incredibly healthy and delicious. Each meal was usually accompanied by cooked salads and olives, and ended with mint tea (which was divine). Just writing about it is making my mouth water!
Also on previous trips, when it was nearing the end of vacation, I felt exhausted and ready to return home. But not in Morocco. Although I was exhausted from the all the travel, I wasn’t ready to leave.
I could have easily stayed for several more weeks … or months.
By now, I think you get the idea that Morocco now has a special place in my heart. And if it’s a place that is on your must-see list (as I really think it SHOULD be), I heartily suggest you make it your next destination. And not only for its beautiful patterns, but also for its beautiful culture and people!
When I signed up for Surtex 2018, I was nervous about how my second show would measure up to my first experience in 2017:
Will it be worth it to come back?
Would I meet any new contacts or just the same people?
Will the time and money investment pay off again?
Each year you exhibit is a gamble and you never know whether it's going to work out. However, three months post-show, I can tell you that exhibiting for a second time at Surtex was absolutely the right decision for me.
It's been about a year since my last recap from Surtex 2017's show and nearly everything I wrote in that post is still relevant this year. However, there were a few things I learned in my sophomore show at Surtex that I thought would be helpful, especially for those of you on the fence about exhibiting (or thinking about coming back to exhibit after taking a year or two off).
Six Lessons Learned from my 2nd Show
In some ways, my second year at Surtex felt much like it did the first time: setting up the booth was still exhausting, several of the same exhibitors and buyers from 2017 were there, and Surtex was still using that awful orange carpet (and it still cast a weird glow on all my photos).
But there were lots of changes I noticed too: it was cooler because we were on the 1st floor of the Javits instead of the 3rd, the Design District was split up and flanked both ends of the show, and instead of an after show mixer, they handed out beer and wine during the last two hours on Sunday and Monday. Sipping red wine at 4pm in my booth was quite the treat!
However, most of that stuff is pretty frivolous when looking at the bigger picture. Exhibiting at Surtex is first and foremost about getting your work in front of art directors and buyers. It's about gaining momentum, licensing your work, and building a business you can eventually sustain yourself on.
With that in mind, here are the six lessons I learned from exhibiting at this year's show:
#1: Protect Your Time Pre-Show
Unsurprisingly, it takes a LOT of time to prep for a show – especially in the final 3 months leading up to it. That's not something I gave much thought to when prepping for 2017's show, as I was new to surface design and didn't have any major clients at the same time.
Instead, I poured all my time into creating as much portfolio work as I possibly could and designing everything needed for exhibiting at the show. Never at any point did I get overly concerned about not being able to finish everything on my to-do list.
Fast forward to February 2018. I was busy prepping for the show again, however, I also had client projects (several with late March or April deadlines) and I ended up feeling very frazzled when May finally came along.
Don't get me wrong, having client projects is great AND it's a crucial part of my business to continually receive commissions throughout the year.
My big mistake was poor scheduling and setting unrealistic expectations on what I could feasibly accomplish at that time of year.
Surtex 2018 | Photo courtesy of @surtexshow
So for Surtex 2019, you can bet I'm going to do things differently. Especially since the show's date has been moved up 3 months, it's now even more important that I protect my time and make sure I'm not overextending myself in the months leading up to the show.
#2: Booth Location is Important
It makes sense that the closer your booth is to the front of the show, the more foot traffic you'll get. However, it's not a theory I could test until I had done the show for a second time.
In 2017, I was about 15 booths back from the front of the show. I remember at the time feeling like the traffic was slow (mostly due to discussions with friends that had booths near the front – they saw many companies I never did).
Compare that with 2018. The booth I got was much closer (about 6 booths from the front) and I noticed a huge difference, especially on the first day. By the end of the show, I had filled out over 50 intake forms (compared to just 37 last year).
So my advice is to pick a booth as close to the front as you can.
I should note here that Surtex does give priority to exhibitors based on the amount of years exhibited at the show (which seems fair) – so if it's your first time, don't be alarmed if you're placed near the back of the show.
With that in mind, I also want to reiterate that even with the slow traffic, 2017's show was still a success for me. So your booth location isn't the only thing that matters.
#3: Each Year is Unique
One thing I was genuinely concerned about when returning for my second year was the attendee traffic. I don't just mean the volume of people I'd see, but also whether they'd be new companies or mostly those I'd already met or worked with from last year's show.
However, my fears were misplaced because at least 80% of those who stopped at my booth were new contacts. More interestingly, many of those people also attended last year's show and were surprised to hear that I had exhibited in 2017.
The lesson here is that you can never predict who will stop by your booth and that the ever changing landscape of attendee traffic is actually a GOOD thing.
Going into my third year, I realize that I will see different companies at the 2019 show and although not all of them will pan out, I know I will likely gain many valuable new contacts.
#4: The Show is Still Nerve-wracking
You'd think that after your first show, you'd get over the fear of talking about your work and the first day jitters wouldn't be as intense. That's what I thought anyway. Boy, was I wrong!
I was just as anxious this time around. Putting yourself out there is both mentally and emotionally exhausting. There are moments of pure joy when a buyer swoons over your designs, but there's also times when you want to hide under your counter after a really uncomfortable interaction.
However, knowing that each show will give you butterflies and you can expect both negative and positive experiences is a bit freeing.
And of course the good news here is that you're likely to have many more positive experiences than negatives during the course of a show.
Chatting with potential clients in my booth | Photo courtesy of @surtexshow
#5: The Surface Design Community is Everything
The easiest way to sum up this lesson is to quote the caption from the last photo I posted of Surtex 2018 on Instagram:
"More than ever, I feel like I’ve found my tribe: people who are warm, supportive, and exceptionally talented. To every single person I met and talked to, I’m grateful to have shared in your design journey, even if only for a brief moment."
This year's show definitely convinced me that I'm in the right industry. Not only have I had the pleasure to work with some great new clients that I saw at Surtex, I've met some of the most kind-hearted and brilliant people on this planet through surface design. I am talking, of course, about my fellow designers.
Of all the interactions I had at Surtex this year, nearly ALL of my favorites were with fellow designers, most especially with Lizzie, my accountability partner (and booth buddy).
It's so rewarding to be part of an industry filled with friendly, talented people. And it's something I never want to lose sight of!
#6: Follow Up is Still the Key to Success
My main focus in previous blogposts has been about the prep work that's involved with exhibiting, but I haven't really shared much about post-show work. And that's a something I want to change because I think it's actually the MOST important part!
During this year's show, I'm happy to say I sold/licensed 2 designs. However, since Surtex I've worked on commissions from 4 new companies and licensed 6 designs. To put that into another perspective, the pieces sold during the show accounts for about 6.5% of my income for the year, yet my deals post-show account for nearly 40% (with the possibility that the percentage could be even higher come Dec 31st).
This illustrates just how important it is to follow up with all those juicy leads from the show as most of the action happens in the months (and even years) following it.
So even though you may be exhausted after coming home after exhibiting (rightfully so), don't shrug off that post-show work. Instead, set aside a few weeks and strategically work through all your contacts. You won't regret it!
There's so much more I could say about exhibiting at Surtex, but I'm going to stop before I get too long winded (maybe it's already too late for that).
As always, I hope you find my insights helpful for your own creative journey. I wish there was more information available to designers about exhibiting and I aim to do what I can to change that.
If you have any questions about the show or any topics you'd like me to discuss, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
I'm sure by now, you've heard the news: Surtex 2019 is moving to February.
There were lots of mixed feelings about the change among exhibitors at this year's show. Frankly, it was the most talked about topic on the show floor. Many designers were already convinced they wouldn't return, while others were a bit more optimistic.
No matter where you stand on the issue, I think it's important to take some time and think about how this change could affect us and our industry. That's why I put together a little pros and cons list of Surtex 2019 moving to February.
I complied this list based on my conversations with exhibitors and buyers at both Surtex and Blueprint this year and tried my best to remain neutral when discussing each point, even though I've already made my decision (read to the end if you'd like to hear what I think).
Why Moving Surtex to February is GOOD
Cheaper Flights & Hotels: Every penny adds up when you're exhibiting at a trade show. Late May is the beginning of the summer travel season in NY and because of that, it's more expensive to fly to and stay in Manhattan. February, on the other hand, is considered "off-season", so it's possible to score better prices and save a little bit of money.
An Earlier Show Could Mean More Sales: There doesn't seem to be a consensus on this, but I've heard from several people (both designers and buyers), that May is simply too late in the year for many companies to look for art. By pushing the show back 3 months, it gives us an opportunity to connect with companies who's buying season is earlier in the year.
Access to NY Now Companies: Instead of exhibiting with the ICFF in May, Surtex will now be at the Javits during the NY Now show. At the January 2018 NY NOW show, there were 2,300+ exhibitors from multiple markets like home furnishings, gifts, and children's products. Conversely, ICFF's May 2018 show only featured 900+ exhibitors within a single market: home furnishings. The breadth of NY Now means we have the potential of reaching a much wider range of companies.
Why Moving Surtex to February is BAD
Winter Weather in NYC: The average high during February in New York City is just 40 degrees – yikes! It's also the time of year when bad winter storms strike, causing travel delays and canceled flights. If the right storm comes along at the wrong time, we may be stranded in Manhattan afterwards or worse, not even make it to the show.
Too Many Shows at the Same Time: There's an abundance of shows early in the year. Printsource takes place mid-January, as does the Gift Show in Atlanta, Creativation in Phoenix, and Heimtexil in Germany. There's also NYFW happening the week after Surtex. With all the shows happening around the same time, both exhibitors and buyers may have to choose one show over another because of time and budget restrictions.
Less Time to Prepare for Next Year: At this moment, there's exactly 7 months and 2 days until Surtex 2019. To put that into perspective, at this same time last year we had 10.5 months. Think of how much new work you could accomplish with an extra 3.5 months? Less time to prepare will mean having less new work to show.
Of course the decision to exhibit at Surtex will ALWAYS be a personal one – each designer must decide what's best for them.
But I hope that by discussing the potential problems and benefits of Surtex moving to February, it will at least make your decision a bit easier, especially if you're considering exhibiting next year.
Surtex 2018photo courtesy of @surtexshow
My Personal Thoughts on the Matter
As I mentioned at the beginning, I've already made my decision – I plan on returning to Surtex in 2019. And while the thought that there's only seven months from now to prepare is freaking me out a bit.... ok, a LOT, I still believe I can have a successful show.
What's most important to me is to keep the overall view of my business in mind when making these major decisions. The fact is, I made great new contacts at this year's show and am confident that I'll meet my income goal by the end of 2018 (my goal this year is almost double my income from 2017).
I truly believe that if you put in the work and focus your energy where it needs to be (namely on consistently connecting with buyers and designing new work for my portfolio), it won't matter that the dates of Surtex have moved.
It's all in how you approach it. You can either look at it as an opportunity or a disadvantage. For me, I'd prefer to view it as an opportunity!
I'd love to hear what you think! What are your thoughts about Surtex moving to February? Love it? Hate it? Indifferent? Tell me in the comments below.
P.S. I hope to write up my thoughts on this year's show, much like I did for 2017's show, a little later this summer. If you have any specific questions about exhibiting, please feel free to post them in the comments below or .
By all accounts, my first time exhibiting at Surtex in 2017 was a success. I reached the goals I had set for myself, connected with lots of new-to-me companies looking for art, and finally had a chance to meet countless designers I "knew" online.
But that doesn't mean there's no room for me to improve. On the contrary, my freshman experience at Surtex highlighted just how much more I have to learn about this wonderful industry. So as I'm gearing up for my second time at Surtex, I thought it would be fun to reflect on what I did last year and ways I hope to improve my experience this time around.
This will hopefully be the first of several 2018 Surtex blogposts and just like my 2017 blog series, I hope to highlight aspects of the trade show experience that aren't as talked about so I can help others avoid the mistakes I made.
Of all the aspects of Surtex preparations, the one area where I feel I have the potential to improve the most is my marketing efforts. Last time around, I spent very little time marketing myself to companies and looking back it was a huge missed opportunity.
So I spent a few weeks at the beginning of the year, taking a closer look at what I did in 2017 and developing what I hope is a stronger marketing plan that will pay off for me at Surtex. But before I dive into what I'm doing differently this year, let me recap what I did last year and the lessons I learned.
A Heavy Focus on Social Media
I spent a LOT of time creating lots of square Surtex images (seriously you guys, I made 11 of them) to post to Instagram in the two months leading up to the show.
Of course they're pretty and visually represent my design style very well, but I'm not sure there was any benefit to doing so many simply because most of my IG followers are other designers and not brands I hope to work with. Looking back, I wish I had spent less time on creating these Instagram images and used that time elsewhere.
A Lack of Company Connections
I spent a couple of weeks last March creating a spreadsheet of companies I wanted to work with, researching their current product lines, and tracking art directors down with a month long LinkedIn Premium trial.
But after all that hard work, the ONLY thing I did with the information I'd obtained was send them a single postcard in the mail announcing my Surtex debut. Ok, that's not entirely true. I actually did InMail message a few of them on LinkedIn, but didn't send a single email to any of them to introduce myself and my art prior to the show (mostly because I didn't have their email addresses).
It's funny because at the time I was so incredibly proud of myself when I put the big batch of postcards in the mail, yet I didn't realize that the effort, time and money I spent was mostly wasted because A) many of the contacts I had weren't even the correct person to talk to and B) I didn't try and cultivate a relationship with them first.
So if I had to pick one regret from last year's show, it would be that I didn't dedicate enough time to find the correct company contacts and start a dialogue with them prior to the show.
Not Identifying My Strengths
The back of my marketing postcards that I sent to art directors had my booth number, contact info and then simply said:
"I'm Shannon, a surface designer from sunny California! I'll be in New York making my Surtex debut and I'd love to meet you!"
It can't get much simpler (or more boring) than that! I mentioned in my May 2017 blogpost that I kept things simple for a number of very good reasons, but what I failed to realize at the time was that I wasn't giving these art directors any important information about how I work or what makes me different from other designers.
The surface design industry is incredibly competitive, with talented designers around every corner, so I was doing myself a HUGE disservice by not addressing the reasons why an art director should work with me over another designer.
My Marketing Plan for Surtex 2018
There is a steep learning curve in figuring out certain parts of this industry and although I feel my marketing efforts in 2017 weren't all that effective, I feel the experience I gained was worth the lack of results. So with that in mind, here's my plan of attack for this year's show:
Cultivating More Client Relationships
Since the beginning of the new year, I've been contacting new companies every other week. By starting earlier and working to build a relationship with them prior to the show, my hope is that more art directors and buyers will come to my booth and I'll receive more licensing and commission inquiries as a result.
I feel it's equally important to build upon the client relationships I already have, especially for those I met at last year's show. I send out a newsletter with new art once every two weeks and also send individual follow up emails to my contacts once a month. By staying on their radar and showing them I'm still interested in collaborating, I hope they'll continue to work with and buy art from me.
Being Laser Focused with Targeting Marketing
This one is the biggie! It is so important to me to make sure I'm contacting the RIGHT person. Tracking down contact information is time consuming enough as it is, so it's a waste if I'm taking a "shot in the dark" hoping I've found the right person.
The reality of this is that it's going to push me outside my introverted comfort zone as I'll likely have to resort to calling companies to obtain the correct contact (which honestly terrifies me because I hate talking on the phone). But as Neale Donald Walsch said:
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
That's going to be my mantra anytime I get anxious about this process. I just have to keep in mind that it's a worthy endeavor and one that could potentially have an enormous impact on my career.
Demonstrating my Talent to Potential Clients
My approach to my mailer is going to be a bit different this year as I want to make sure to articulate my strengths and what sets me apart from other designers.
Of course that's nearly impossible to achieve in a single postcard, so my current plan is to create a small booklet with a little bit about my design strengths. It will showcase new art, cover some accomplishments I've made over the last year, and most importantly, have a space for me to write a hand written note to each recipient explaining why I'd love to work with them and their company.
By being clear about who I am and what I can offer, my hope is that art directors will give my art some serious consideration and will decide to make the trip to Surtex to meet me in person and chat about surface design.
Only time will tell if my new approach this year will pay off, but you can be sure I'll be blogging about it after the show!
Maybe it's because of my previous experience as a scrapbook product designer, but I've always had a soft spot for designing coordinate patterns. They play such an important role in the world of scrapbooking; customers constantly look for simple patterns to complement more complicated ones on their pages.
That's why nearly all scrapbook collections out there feature double-sided papers; the A-side is reserved for unique and/or busy patterns while the B-side is the place for simpler, complementing ones. You see something similar in bolt fabric lines; a few stunning hero patterns sitting next to several other simpler designs to help round out the collection.
Both the scrapbooking and bolt fabric markets are unique in how much they focus on patterns when compared to other parts of the surface design industry. However, even as I've personally shifted towards more illustrative work, I still find a lot of value from including coordinates alongside hero patterns and illustrations in my portfolio.
Actually, I feel it's such an important part of a well rounded portfolio, that I'm sharing 3 reasons why you should consider including them in your portfolio too!
#1: Adds Value to Your Designs
You probably already know how competitive the surface design industry is, so you should always try and package your designs to be as attractive to buyers as possible, especially because art directors want to get the most out of their budget as possible.
So when an art director is looking for new art and asking you to send them designs, think about which scenario provides a better outcome:
Scenario A: You have single holiday pattern with lots of detail.
Scenario B: You have that same detailed pattern sitting with 2 additional patterns that complement it.
If you were the art director, which would you choose? All things being equal, you'd probably choose the option that gave you the most to work with.
Try Something: Cover the 2 coordinates on the piece below and view the hero pattern on its own. Now remove your hand. Doesn't it look more enticing seeing it all packaged up like this?
#2: Shows You Understand Pattern Mixing
There are many instances in surface design where a product features multiple images or patterns together, so it's important to show buyers that you've thought about how different patterns can work together harmoniously.
Now not every designer will have to understand pattern mixing (like an artist who focuses on editorial illustration for example), but if you're looking to get into a market where larger pattern collections are more common OR you're interested in taking on commissioned work from art directors that involves multiple patterns, confident pattern mixing is an important skill to develop and will make you all the more attractive to work with.
#3: Attracts Buyers Looking for Simple Designs
This may be a much less obvious reason, but it's one I was surprised and ecstatic to discover. It wasn't until I was reviewing my notes from Surtex last year that I realized how much impact a single coordinate pattern could have.
Sometimes art directors or buyers want something different, something understated, which is the perfect opportunity for simple coordinates! I had no less than half a dozen people at Surtex giving my coordinates more attention than their main pattern counterparts.
Crazy right?!? I had no idea that would happen, but I'm happy I had so many designs that included coordinates. The #1 favorite coordinate of the show: the fun polka dot you see in my holiday design below.
This is just another reason it's important to be able to give your client options. If I hadn't included some of my quirky coordinates alongside hero patterns on my booth banners and in my portfolio, some people I talked to at the show may have just passed my booth by. Think about those potential missed opportunities??
I hope I've convinced you how important and helpful it is to have interesting coordinate patterns in your portfolio. And I hope as you create new work, you'll consider adding some to your designs.
However, I also know lots of designers struggle with creating quick, yet interesting coordinate designs to enhance their portfolios.
That's why when deciding what my first Skillshare class would be, I realized this was the most helpful topic I could start with. My new class, How to Create Strong Coordinate Patterns, is just 15 minutes long so you can gain valuable insights fast and then immediately apply what you've learned to your portfolio.
The beginning of a new year can be wonderfully motivating; you have a well of ideas and energy and can set exciting new goals. However, did you know that only 20% are still working towards them come February and by the end of the year it's only 8%?
The reason goals are so hard to stick to is that most people don't develop a plan to get themselves from Point A (where they are) to Point B (accomplishing their goal).
I was once part of the 92% that didn't stick to my goals, but last year was a wake up call. My 2017 goal was to exhibit at Surtex and successfully land enough work to exceed the costs of the trade show by 150%. And I'm proud to say that I had hit my goal by August.
But it wasn't just a fluke that I achieved my goal. It was because I was so driven to make it happen AND I developed a year-long plan to help keep me on track. So today, I'm sharing 3 helpful tips to help you achieve (and exceed) your goal!
1. Set a Meaningful Goal
This may sound obvious, but in order to be successful, your goal needs to be something that excites you to your very core. Whether it's an income goal you wished you'd reach someday or landing one of your dream clients, pick something that will keep you motivated all year long.
There will be times during the year where you'll struggle, but if you have a goal you're eager to accomplish, you can tap into that excitement and help it carry you through.
In order to create a solid plan for your goal, you need to contemplate everything you need to do to get there. Take out a piece of paper (you'll probably need several) and write down every task you can think of to help you work toward your goal, no matter how small.
If that feels too daunting, start by breaking your large goal into smaller goals or categories and work through them one-by-one. By focusing on smaller aspects of your large goal, you're less likely to get overwhelmed.
When I did a brain dump for my 2017 goal of exhibiting at Surtex, I broke down tasks into the different aspects of preparation for the show, like exhibiting logistics, marketing, building my portfolio, etc.
Then I worked on each category one-by-one until I had 3 full pages of tasks I needed to complete.
Don't get too hung up on whether you've thought of absolutely everything. You can always come back to your list and add to it.
3. Stay Accountable
For your goal action plan to work, you need to continually keep it in mind. One of the best ways to do this is to find someone like your partner, close friend, or family member. Tell them what your goal is and have them check in with you every month to keep you on track.
You could also get a accountability buddy; it’s especially helpful if they are in the same industry and/or are working towards a similar goal. Or you could announce your goal on Instagram, to your email list, or even in the comments of this post (hint, hint!). Declaring your goal publicly can help make your goal seem more real, plus you’re likely get some people to cheer you on.
I was so fortunate enough to have an accountability partner for Surtex. My friend and fellow surface designer, Lizzie Clark, was also exhibiting for the first time in 2017, so it was the perfect solution for us to pair up. We Skyped every other week and emailed in-between; it kept our to-do list in the front of our minds and little by little, we checked off everything together. She's been an incredibly supportive partner-in-crime!
Want to Achieve Your Goals This Year?
The business life of a designer can be a struggle, but developing a road map to get to your goals can make the journey a lot easier. So if you liked my tips in this post, but are struggling to figure out how to reach your goals or expand your business, my Goal Getter worksheet can help!
I'll walk you through the entire process step-by-step from setting the RIGHT goal through developing a plan to stay ahead all year long.
2017 is almost gone and another successful Christmas Art Countdown is in the books! You can see the entire countdown below OR view the detail of each individual design in my Instagram feed.
This year's advent countdown definitely challenged me, but I came out the other side with an abundance of new holiday art (I'll be adding at least 15 of these to my portfolio), plus a few lessons learned. Here's my reflection on this year's experience:
A Focus on Illustrative Work
For last year's Christmas Art Countdown, my focus was split between hand lettering, patterns, and illustrations. However, after the overwhelmingly positive response to the few illustration pieces in my portfolio at Surtex, I've spent a lot more time working to develop my illustration skills.
So this year, I focused a LOT more on drawing characters – there are 12 designs this year featuring character art (contrasted by 3 from 2016). I'm happy to say I feel much more confident creating character illustrations now. It's fun when you can look back over just a few months' work and see your designs progress.
I'm also hoping that my shift in focus towards more illustrative work will land me more design contracts and commissions this year. Only time will tell if it's going to pay off!
Of course I was vacationing in Disneyland with my hubby which is hard to complain about, but that meant I had to do some serious art making ahead of time. Luckily, I found the time to finish the first 10 days of the countdown before we left. I also managed to sketch out all but the last 4 days in my sketchbook.
Posting every morning while on vacation was surprisingly easy to remember. I think the most challenging part was coming home from Disneyland and immediately jumping back into daily designing. By the time the end of the countdown rolled around, I was just about out of creative energy (and am happy to take a break between now and the new year).
Encouraging Others Keeps Me Inspired
Perhaps my favorite part of the challenge this year was opening up Instagram app each morning and looking through the #christmasartcountdown2017 hashtag to see the art my fellow designers were posting. Since it was the 2nd year of the challenge, there was a LOT more participation, which meant tons of beautiful art to scroll through.
Seeing everyone's individual interpretations of the prompts and cheering them on all month long was really rewarding and it helped to keep my creative juices flowing. I really appreciate the surface design community on Instagram and look forward to cultivating even more friendships on there in 2018.
So just like last year, I guess the big question is will the Christmas Art Countdown continue in December 2018? And right now, I'm not 100% sure. I quite enjoy the challenge of daily art making for 24 days (it's about as long as I think I can handle), but I have no idea what is in store for me next year. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!
Fortunately, 2017 has been a tremendous year! I crossed my biggest artistic goal of exhibiting at Surtex off my list and am looking forward to a bigger and better year in 2018.
And that's where the Christmas Art Countdown comes in! Just like last year, I'm utilizing this challenge as a way to create lots of new holiday art in a short time period. From the designs I created for 2016's Christmas Art Countdown, I added 16 of them to my portfolio; I'm hoping for a similar outcome this year.
For those of you who followed along with this challenge last year, you may notice two big differences in this year's list:
There's no difference made between illustration/pattern and hand lettering prompts. That's because I'm focusing on illustration and pattern work since I already have a fair amount of typography based designs in my portfolio. Of course, typography will inevitably creep in on some of them because I love hand lettering so much!
The prompts are simpler. The reason for this was two fold: 1) I'm looking forward to sketching out multiple ideas for some prompts and hopefully a few of the final designs will be unexpected, and 2) I tried to choose words that could be interpreted in a number of ways. Variety is the spice of life after all!
Now you may be wondering why I'm bothering to post the challenge so early, but if there's one thing I learned from doing the Christmas Art Countdown last year it was:
Being prepared pays off!
I firmly believe that the only way I was successful in posting daily images for the entire challenge in 2016 was all the pre-planning I did. And because I'll be on vacation (at Disneyland, of course) for the first week of the challenge, this year it's EXTRA important that I plan ahead!
As a matter of fact, I've already sketched out ideas for the first third of the list and hope to have most of my prompt ideas in my sketchbook by the end of the month. My plan of attack is that by the time Dec 1st rolls around, I'll have at least the first 8 designs completed and ready for Instagram (which will make leaving for a week long vacation at the beginning of the challenge a little less stressful).
Now I'm Challenging You!
While I really loved doing my own Christmas Art Challenge last year, what made it even better was seeing all the designs my fellow designers posted on Instagram. So with that, I'd love to encourage you to join me! Maybe you see a few prompts that inspire you or you want to challenge yourself to tackle the entire list – either way I'd love to see what you come up with!
Feel free to pin the image above to Pinterest or share my post on Instagram so you'll remember the prompts for each day. And be sure to use the hashtag #christmasartcountdown2017 anytime you post your work so I can see your lovely designs!
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.
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.
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:
There were 3 standard booth sizes available for Surtex 2017:
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.
Choice of Accommodations
You may have noticed that my hotel cost seems incredibly high. But there were two major reasons for this:
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).
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.
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!
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.