Hard walls vs. soft walls: This was a big one for me. In the end it came down to fireproofing and the hanging of the drape. With fireproofing, if you wash the fabric in the machine (say after the show) – you’ll have to re-fireproof most likely. I can’t deal with that kind of unpredictability esp. if NYFD is going to light a match to it and do the 10 second burn test. Don’t get me wrong though, fireproofing is SO important. I would not have realized it had we not had the burn accident with David. I can only imagine how Javits would go up in flame were a booth not fire retardant.The other reason I elected to forgo fabric was because really- I wanted to use burlap or linen. Both highly flammable. I had some really cool ideas that just didn’t pan out Maybe I’ll get daring 20 years down the road.

I’m also OCD so I like to have as much control as possible with out losing my mind. Hard walls were good for that. They are reasonably predictable and were easy to re-surface. They were expensive to ship though, especially if you shipped them in full panels like I did (48x98x48 was our rough shipping dimensions). Fabric would have been so nice in regards to not shipping freight. My other hang-up was literally the hang up of the drape. You have to use s-Hooks or some other genius way to work it. You cannot remove the existing drape due in part that your neighbors (heaven forbid) use the designated drape provided by GLM. It can get complicated quick.

Hard walls vs. foam core: This was a matter of cost for me. Being a first time exhibitor, I felt like I had been backed into a corner. It was either Manny Stone (they do great work but at the cost of an arm and a leg – or what seemed like it) or going solo with hard walls. My concern was cash. It seemed steep to fork out that kind of money to just throw in the garbage at the end of the show. In the end though (after seeing the shipping bill), it was about an even expense had I decided to use Manny Stone. Upon talking to others though, there are other foam wall options out there which I’ll be considering for next year seeing that we left our walls behind in the end.

I still really loved my hard walls though and think we might give it one more try for next year. I’ve learned that having walls that fold out are fine. As evidenced in Rebekah’s booth from Wild Ink, their system is modeled so well. Great job Matt and Rebekah! I really want to continue to do something more economical that still looks beautiful.

I anticipate that – because I’ll be re-building the booth walls again for next year – we’ll make some adjustments so it can fold up and ship on a regular pallet. Then ship it out once and spend the $1100 – followed by storage at a local NY facility. We are still in the research arena for that one, but I think it would be a much better value in the long run to store for a couple hundred/year vs. shipping back and forth for a few coats of paint. (after all, who says you can’t spray-paint at javits ;) I also believe that by re-using, some of that booth cost will go into re-investment for future shows. It will also force me to be creative with what I have. I’m not totally objected to foam walls either though. I can see the worth in the amount of ease for set-up. It seems like the least painful way to do a show – and can save a couple of nights in the hotel if you have a system down for setting up your booth.

Booth location: While you don’t have too much say on where you are located, I think it is best to book with GLM early and see what your options are. Main entrances are always good, but I feel that as a letterpress printer, next year I want to be closer to other printers. I would think normally you don’t want to be near competition, but in the case of our business, there is a lot more potential by exhibiting together. Printer friends, what do you think? I think it would be awesome to have a “printer’s row” but who knows, maybe a mix is better for variety. I think the only thing I won’t do is be in the 2100s again unless its further up. We had a not so good experience with reps from another annual booth wanting to cross into our booth and chit-chat while buyers were around. Not only did they have NO manners, but they also proceeded to tell us that little businesses rarely come back. It was sort of a slap in the face. We are totally different markets and excuse me if my cards don’t sing and do tricks. It was annoying thinking back on it and their lack of courtesy.

Shipping vs. Storage: This one never crossed my mind until we were in full swing at the show. I thought everyone shipped their booths. Back and forth along the pony express…I have yet to decide if this is the best solution for Dingbat Press but will be considering storage for next year and thereafter. Shipping from the west coast is the devil. I’m not joking. Wile you use up space in a semi-truck, and fuel is expensive – it is utter rubbish how much it costs. I mean, not that I want to drive all the way yo NY to offset that cost, but storage seems like the winning solution for someone rural or on the west coast. There were a few booths/exhibitors I met that based their booth design off of the same walls year after year, and just stored them in NYC. They have been successful, booths looked fabulous, and it has saved them heaps. I’m leaning towards that “heaps” even if it takes another year of shipping to see the reward.

Travel & Hotel: This one was a no-brainer to me. I am not a city girl by any means. I may wear cute clothes but that’s about as far as it gets. I wanted my hotel as close as I could possibly get it to JKJCC. We stayed at the New Yorker, 4 blocks away. By booking last spring I got FABULOUS rates, and all you have to do is provide your CC to reserve the room. If your dates change you just need to provide advance notice (72 hours). You don’t pay until check out (and I ended up putting it on a different card than I reserved the hotel with). It was easy and painless.

For flying: if you have miles, use them or save them for NSS travel. I realized that as flights get more expensive as the dates near, so do the points per flight (at least on JetBlue they do). I made the mistake of not booking before Thanksgiving and luckily still had enough miles to cover two round trip flights for Matt and I. Next year I’ll be booking on Cyber Monday and have set alarms already to do so.

For weather: Plan for Rain!!!! It rained the whole time I was there and I didn’t even bring a jacket (you’d think I’d know better considering it snowed here 6″ the day I flew out). With the rain I walked everywhere b/c cabs were scarce. If you cab, you will need to plan ahead. No last minute mumbo jumbo. Also, get to know your both mates or book with friends at the same hotel. That way you can split cab fares. For me, we don’t have ANY food but food we cook at home in Driggs. So I saved and planned to eat out. We used YELP for all our food recommendations and I’m glad to say I had delicious meals the whole trip!

Attending your first year: Try to attend within a year of launching a new collection. Buyers will still get excited seeing your current goods in person and it will save you a lot of money not having to plate and print a whole new collection in addition to the cost of the show fees. If I were to do it over again, I’d have done my collections new last year and launched the same collections with a few new pieces in 2011 especially since it was a debut year. Next year will be so much easier though because I’ve gotten over the “new collection” road block. It was beyond stressful to feel like my collections were from 2009 and that everything needed to be updated desperately. At least it’s over with.

To book or not to book: While I booked (created a wedding album) this year for representation in retail stores, I wouldn’t recommend it for new exhibitors unless that is your full business model. It was very expensive for little return, and as much as I love the buyers that rep us now in their shops, I don’t know if there is really a return for either of us? The cost to manufacture the book far outweighs the production of plating, printing and designing (I’m speaking in letterpress terms, obviously for offset or flat printing it would be significantly cheaper). It is a large undertaking and minimal reward. I am the kind of gal who has to try everything once though. We’ll keep working hard on the book and supporting it, but there is a lot to consider before taking it on.

Booth research & Design: Thankfully over the last few years, coverage has gotten better on the internet so research is pretty easy regarding what your options are out there. Basically I read the contract a thousand times, then sketched out a bunch of concepts, and made a final decision. In the end I always knew it was going to be silver leaf. I just couldn’t not do it!!

Ask and you shall receive: This is the scariest part of the business but the most rewarding. It took a lot of courage to ask questions, and to know that some of them are ridiculously stupid ones. It took even more courage to approach people you really looked up to in the business and to ask them for help without looking incompetent. What gave me nightmares the first few months, turned in to some great friendships. When I finally realized I’d never get some answers if I didn’t reach out and ask the questions – I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? They laugh and you feel dumb and you pick yourself back up and move on.

In an industry that prides itself on innovative design and production, it was nerve-wracking finding the guts to put myself out there. I have worked hard myself to perfect our processes, and my design style and to try to be independent as well as known in my little niche. I can understand that it is hard to share those practices to just anyone. What finally gave me the courage outside of needing to know answers though was the fact that I was confident that I could bounce ideas off another designer or printer and know that I could come up with something original even if they gave their experiences. Part of the reason I wanted to share these complex emotions and brain arguments with you was so that maybe you’d reach out to someone that you really admire and let them teach you too. I’m so glad I asked, and was able to make new friendships. I’m so thankful that there were those before me that forged the way and shared their insight both pros and cons to exhibiting, putting yourself out there, and the risk involved. I’m so thankful that when I did ask, people could laugh with me and not at me. And I’m really just happy to be part of such a GREAT community of people. I know not all industries are like this one. Lastly, I’m really quite humbled that someone would be willing to teach others considering what they reveal could potentially be intellectual property. This ask and you shall receive helped me learn that I wanted to share what I have learned for others that are just as frustrated as I was my first year.

Family: This one was the toughest. I have the most supportive parents, husband, kids and in-laws. They have put in much more to our relationships than I have these last 12 months. Being a mother is not easy. It is a full time job and my working and being a mom in no way undermines the other women out there who choose to be a mom full time and forgo commercial work. I think their job is often harder with less “pats on the back”. Your kids aren’t going to give you a pay raise for getting the house cleaned every day of the week. For making them do their chores. There are a lot of “this house is boring” or “I don’t want to clean my room” or “eeeeeewwwwwww” after you’ve cooked a delicious dinner. There are in our house injections to give, blood glucose to be tested, runny noses to wipe, diapers to change, tangles to brush out, nails to paint and ER hospital visits. Late nights were filled with either snuggling children or sitting in front of my computer. By choosing to work, I have to also choose my sacrifices. Yes I have an “outlet” that is creative and fun. But there are harrowing moments often that make me ask, is it all worth it? I don’t know if 50 years down the road I’ll regret having my own business while my children were young and my marriage was fresh. I also don’t feel like I am throwing away their childhood though. I do know that every time I feel like I’m missing out that it is time to step away from whatever I’m doing and take a time out. I am not good at stepping away – but at least I know that I need to. Its a balancing act that isn’t ever really defined – but I’m honored to be part of a family that loves me and hopefully knows I love them too.

On handling stress, overextending yourself, and learning to let go:: I’m not very good at this one. I have prozac to help me with my OCD (the cat is out of the bag – she’s a crazy lady)!!! Pre-prozac I would literally obsess about everything. It was unhealthy. The best thing for stress was to learn how to have fun. Its a whistle while you work sort of thing. At the end of the day, sending emails at 3am is not worth anyone’s sanity. I have vetoed that for at least the next few months. ON letting go: perfection will never happen – the biggest thing to realize is that there will always be more emails to send, more tweaks on a design, more cards to be printed, more time on the computer to be logged, more accounting to catch up on, more twitter RTs to be had (or mentions or whatever). But sometimes less is more. I have to tell myself that every day or I’d need a lot more than prozac.

On doing custom work in conjunction with a major tradeshow: Again thank you to all my amazing clients. They have all put up with some missed deadlines. I know and am aware of it and it kills me. To be realistic, I will not be taking on custom jobs for April or May next year in part to focus on NSS 2012. This is so we can have ample time to prepare during the final 6 weeks pre-show, I can continue to be a mother, and my clients won’t think I’ve bit off more than I can chew (and I won’t think I’ve bit off more than I can chew). While our custom work is our bread and butter, we’ll be booking out project in advance from here on out so we aren’t stacking so much on top of each other.

On asking for help and humbling yourself: I’ve realized that as in my bio on the about page, the older I get the less I know. If anything, NSS 2011 taught me to trust myself and to trust others. But most of all, to be yourself.