May 23, 2009

NSS 2009 pt the 4th: My show, it runneth over.

"For me New York will always have the luster and magic of a
Brand New Adventure around every corner..." Jacob Javits,
New York Senator from 1957-1981.

I predicted on this blog not too long ago that this year's NSS was "going to suck hard," and I believed it, but there were some factors in the fucked economy equation I hadn't considered.

When I arrived at the Javits the day before the show to setup, I was shocked at what I'd seen, and was washed over with the feeling that something incredible was about to happen at the Javits Center. What was it that I saw? The number of manufacturers/exhibitors had severely dropped off, what I estimate to be at about 35% less than the usual attendance.

The empty view depicted here was full of exhibitors at NSS 2008. This year, a whole block of real estate was shaved off the entire length of the back end of the Javits Center.

Surtex, an image/licensing show that happens simultaneously with the NSS, used to be on the second floor of the Javits Center. This year, it took up an estimated 20% of the main floor where NSS exhibitors used to reside. Additionally, two full rows on the south end of the show were vacant and hidden by curtains.

This is the smallest the show has been in the four years I've been in attendence. And what does that mean for the exhibitors? I have theories.

1) Crap successfully flushed: I often refer to the Javits floor as a sea of crap--as every dumb ugly and poorly manufactured product imaginable have made certain ailses an unappealing walk to buyers, thus causing harm to those who are doing quality work and hidden in the rubbish. This is the first show I can say that the sea of crap has dried up considerably and it was a very attractive show. My theory is that the economy has made buyers more careful about the products they carry and that those who make inferior product simply couldn't drum up the dough to attend. Good riddance.

2) Less exhibitors = More exposure. One of our best trade shows in BBH history was the Toronto Gift Show, which was about 75% smaller than the Javits shows I've been accustomed to, and its because it was easy to stand out. With a small show, buyers can walk the entire floor in a short amount of time. I have NEVER seen the Javits floor so full of traffic as I did at NSS 2009- and I don't think it had anything to do with how many buyers were in attendance.

3) Less competition. Alot of my favorite vendors failed to show this year. Buyers come with a spending budget and they have shelves to fill. They had plenty of time to snoop around and figure out what it was they wanted, and then spent their dollars. I think alot of us benefitted from the lack of choices.

Erika Firm of Delphine Press sets up her booth the day before the show.

The exhibitors I talked with about the show came here with low expectations, as did I. We were ready for dissapointments. But the general consensus when it was over was that everyone did alright, considering the circumstances. For me, an okay show is when you've almost broken even, a good show is when you do break even, a great show is when you come away with more than you had hoped for, an excellent show would be if you wrote twice as many orders than you spent on being there. I haven't an excellent show just yet, but we had a great show. In fact, we wrote more orders at that show than in any show to date, and a third of that revenue happened in one crazy flurry on Monday afternoon. Those who do so-so at the shows need to remember that customers that like your work become repeat customers. And some people who snoop out your work wait as long as a year to place their first order. And if you are picking up sales reps, well then that opens a big old barrell of potential cash for years to come. It's not about what you come away with, its what is bound to follow that really counts.

The BBH booth unpacked and ready to be assembled.

I think the primary reason for coming away with some healthy figures was an across the board price hike on our product. We've been tired of breaking even at shows, and have seen colleagues wholesale their single cards at 2.50 for some time now. Our cards were mostly 2.00, some at 2.50, very few at 3. We simplified the formula to a flat 2.50 for everything and it has really made a difference in the last month since the change has happened, we tested an order that totalled $1000 using our new pricing structure and found it made us close to an extra $200. We also had shifted our minimums to dozens last August, and it immediately had positive effects on our sales.

An important part of these shows is meeting and chatting with the folks you've known for years but never really get to see. David Kidwell of Crane's Paper, who has a strong presence on the letterpress listserv, arrived in our booth at almost the exact same moment as Kathryn Hunter of Blackbird Letterpress and Alison Bozeman of Birddog Press came to say hello.

Three pairs of wings.

Aside from a very nice string of orders, we have regained representation in the Oregon territory, have an interested lead for an OH + PA rep, and most importantly, and most exciting, is that we've finally cracked the UK market with a very distinguished UK distributor--who we've been flirting with since our first NSS in 2006. On the last day of NSS 2009 we finally shook hands-- international distribution is a whole different ball game, the distributor has to eat big duty and shipping costs, and so goes half price on wholesale, which wouldn't have been feasible given our old prices, but now seems like a worthwhile endeavor. I said I'd do it with the right quantities, and took the bait when he said he'd do a minimum of 50 dozens per style, and if I treat this gig as custom work, making stuff to order, it's very worth our while. BBH will be represented in a show in London called Pulse, which happens in two weeks. I'm very curious to see how that plays out.

Barry, my favorite Bartender in NYC, hails a crowd of adoring drinkers.
We were introduced to him via Spitfire Girl last January and my liver hasn't been angrier at me since. He tends bar at our new Javits dive of choice, The Hudson Yards Cafe, which is a mere block from the show.

I've very little else to say about the show in general. We set up our booth late in the day, and were having drinks at the Hudson Yards by 9 pm. Barry, who will drink right along with you at the bar, kept us entertained until 2 am, after which point the bar emptied of everyone but Kyle and I, and at which point free liquor drinks were passed across the bar and shots were poured for BBHers and staff alike. Next thing I know, I'm awake in my bed 2.5 hours after the show was supposed to start, with no recollection as to how I made it to my hotel. We beat our record for late arrival to a show, waltzing in 3.5 hours after it had started. A hell of a way to start the week.

I had come to the show swearing up and down to myself that I would not spend money at the show for the retail section of our studio this time around, as we have alot of heavy investments being made in beefing up our equipment this year, and we've run out of room to display product. But of course I caved. Only for a select few.

Up next in the NSS report, a feature on who I bought from this year, plus a guest blog on the NSS from my long time pal and one of the original conspirators of BBH, Buzz Poole.

A small collection of manufacturers gather post NSS at the Javits Statue.
L to R: Sabrina Moyle (
Hello Lucky,) John Arquette (Delphine,) Mike Foley (Random Cookie,) Brandon (BBH,) Kyle Durrie (Power & Light) Martin & Michelle Yeeles (Bob's Your Uncle,) Ken & Shino (Fugu Fugu)

May 22, 2009

I'll never tell.

I generally avoid talking about how cool Asheville is to anyone I don't know... having been born and somewhat raised in what used to be a peaceful and spacious beach town that in less than two decades became an endless parade of stripmalls and standstill traffic, as folks north of the Mason-Dixon line realized how dirt cheap real estate was in our oceanside paradise and cockroached it all to hell.

Now I have probably contributed to the eventual buggering of West Asheville, as Men's Journal, who interviewed me about my neighborhood, has named it one of the 30 best places to live in the U.S., and the coolest neighborhood in the Southeast. So far, for the most part, it has attracted like-minded and considerate citizens-- we'll see how long we can keep it up.

Asheville has long been supportive of the Mom & Pop business model, its downtown area has stonewalled any efforts by corporate chains from entering its domain, and in 2004 when Wal-Mart came creeping at the fringes of the city, the citizens went into an uproar. The vandalism quoted from the article in Farrell's voicemail (at the top of this post) is best described here by Green Anarchy:

Anonymous saboteurs used on-site construction equipment in the dark of night to ram into the shell of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Swannanoa River Road, causing an estimated $900,000 damage. The vandals entered the site and hot-wired a dump truck and drove it into different areas of the building.

The demolished Wal-Mart eventually went up again, as planned. Months after BBH had moved from my basement into its current retail location, Wal-Mart tried to hit us from the West Side, a mere mile from a string of blossoming small time shops. The concerned citizens of West Asheville managed a more peaceable way of forcing them out, as described here in our local rag, the Mountain Xpress:

In a less-extreme example, West Asheville residents rallied to stop Wal-Mart from setting up shop on Patton Avenue. After months of meeting on weeknights, parading through the streets flying banners and turning out en masse at local-government meetings, an ad hoc citizens' group triumphed when the retailer withdrew its proposal.

Tourism is what makes this town thrive, and many who visit eventually come back to stay. I did. Because besides the whole community thing there is enough edenic wilderness in the immediate area that you could hike every weekend and never see it all in a lifetime. However there are those who visit and trash the place, and those who come to live here, and trash the place. The highway south of us is being widened and eventually six lanes will pass through Haywood Rd, a block away from where BBH currently resides. Stripmalls are currently being built in the same area where "progress" is taking place.

If you've ever been to Graveyard Fields, a hot hiking spot on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will have no problem seeing what I mean by inconsiderate visitors: trash everywhere, piles of poo and toilet paper on the side of the trail, throngs of people talking at the top of their lungs and cars all jammed into one tiny parking lot-- an absolute zoo.

Where I go you got to get dirty, wet, and sometimes hurt, but you will never see a budweiser can and nary a beer belly but my own, because most tourists never want to work that hard to see something this beautiful.

Time for a dive into a top secret swimming hole.

The asheville area is also an east coast mecca for kayakers, as creeks and rivers are bountiful--and when I moved to Asheville I landed into a hornets nest full of kayakers. My first hike was a creek hike, and I haven't been able to do any other kind of hike since.

The creeks here flow through beds of granite, making the waters crystal clear. Boulders abound. You climb, you slide, you leap, you land, you wade, you swim, you problem solve to get to your goal. But there is no finish line. It keeps going. Miles and miles of waterfalls.

The keen sandal--invented by a sailor, protects the toes, grips wet rock, hugs your foot tightly, and is perfect for amphibious travel.

When I take someone to these secret locations, I warn them: prepare to get your feet wet. Prepare yourself for a treacherous journey.

I generally end a creek hike with a cairn.

I think I've said enough here. I won't divulge where I get my hikely rocks off--but if you ask nicely I might take you there myself. Now then, comes the answer to why I'm even sharing an ounce of info on my best kept secret, sweet Asheville: if you are crazy enough to read this blog I guess yr alright enough to join the party.

May 16, 2009

NSS2009 Part the the 3rd: All the shite that happened between the last time I blogged and this morning.

5 sleepless nights, 10 new cards, 14 new T-Shirts, 1 new electric paper cutter, 1 honest to goodness near death of an employee/apprentice, 1 flight to NYC, 54 hours spent recouperating in a bed in the basement of my mother's home, a 2nd reunion w/ my twin bro Tony replete w/ the expected family drama, and 30 straight hrs of my latest obsession, Battlestar Galactica (6 more hours to go before I'm done, people.)

Reinking the little guy.

I've NEVER seen someone clean the big guy like this. Thankfully, Emily signed a waiver.

The printing of Rinaldo's Doo-Hickey.

A 30o run of 4 designs printed from 9pm to 1:30 AM. Rinaldo's Doo-Hickey and Say "Moo" topside.

The beast that replaced our crappy manual Challenge paper cutter, an electric 30" Challenge paper cutter w/ digital readout- a huge investment made on the mere fact that the provider took a shitty deposit and no interest financing.

At 1:45 AM, the night before I left for NYC, an intoxicated woman drove a Subaru thru the patio of the Admiral and into the building, missing our friend/employee/apprentice Emily by mere inches. Emily survived, her drink, and the glass it was in, did not. 25 people were on the patio, all jumped away from the oncoming vehicle, none were hurt, damage was approximated to be about $50K. She was issued a DUI after trying to fake a breathalizer test, and she had no collision insurance, nor will her insurance cover the damage she's done. She hit a phone pole at the back of the parking lot in reverse before putting the car in drive, revving up the engine, and plowing through the patio at an estimated 45mph. I assume that she will be paying for this damage etc for the next decade. It was the second time the Admiral had been hit by a car, the creepy part is that the car landed in the exact same spot they had repaired less than a year ago.

The West Asheville Police Force brought out 8 cars for the incident. The girl was arrested for blowing with less force "than an elderly person w/ emphesema." It should also be mentioned that she jumped out of the car after putting it through the building screaming "I'm not drunk!" followed by her downing several glasses of water and forced puking in the unisex bathroom.

I heard the crash from inside the bar, which was filled w/ dust and smoke w/in seconds. Also, iphones should come w/ a flash.

T-Shirts AHOY Pt 2.
I'm really amazed what a great model our apprentice Nicole is for our new T-Shirt line. Farrell, of course, is a whore for the camera, as I learned watching his brief UNCA acting career. These are all prototypes and we're actually going to be altering 75% of these designs based on our newfound knowledge of the Tshirt biz. Most of these shirts designs came out smaller than we'd hoped for. Forgive the photo clarity folks, we're working as fast as we can to make some kick ass product.

St. Mommy.

Definitely the crown jewel of our apparel, the MILF ACADEMY hoodie.

One of the few BBH classic's that made TSHIRT fame, Mark Doin' Himself.

Nicole has now been crowned as the penultimate disco bitch.

I designed this as a kids T. Nicole makes it work for the ladies.

Go Play Outside! A fave among BBH patriots.

A message of love shared btwn myslf and college buddy Dan Land.

My oldest sister's ex-husband and my little bro Matt, chilling before the day of BBH reckoning. We discuss the possibility of a surfing trip during my 3 week NJ stay.

I want to frak the ever-living crap out of Kara Thrace.

Kyle prepares for NSS on the NJ Transit Train for her part in the show the BBH way: Hours before setup!

May 12, 2009

This is it.

They probably won't make it to the show... we just now started printing from the negs we got today.

Couple more.

Damn Tyler, these are just plain mean spirited. Congratulations!

Tshirts Ahoy!

Who cares if they're crappy photos. 5 shirts in today. 9 more coming in tomorrow. We're pretty happy.

Drunkmail finally pays off.

How many mornings have I woken up and regretted all the emails I've sent the night before? More than I care to admit. We got a little tipsy at the shop last night & I decided to email Blue Barnhouse's favorite band to tell them I'd be interested in helping them out with some sort of special edition packaging. Imagine my surprise when the frontman emailed me back the following morning and asked if I was capable of putting together 100,000 insanely intricate packages for their next album. A few hours later the co-president of their record company emailed me and we've been shooting emails back and forth all day. I'm not saying any names until some handshaking happens but believe me, if it happens, it will be the highlight of my career, and likely the largest project I've ever taken on to date.

Here we go.

I leave for NYC for the NSS tomorrow afternoon, and as is BBH tradition, I am suddenly out of my gourd making last minute designs after having goofed off/procrastinated for the last month and a half. Here's what we churned out today, negative arrives in an hour and we get printing. All of these captions are by Tyler Dockery but the last one. Someone had written the caption on the image and I have yet to figure out who it was.