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)

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