January is usually the time when everyone starts anew with grand plans for the year. For the print and product designers of the world, it’s not exactly a quiet time of year. We’re already thinking Surtex, Premiere Vision, & Print Source. When the world descends on New York in a few weeks for Fashion Week NYFW (Feb 6-13) there will have already been numerous trade shows centered around print and pattern for fashion and products, and one of the world's largest gift shows, NY NOW. Designers exhibiting at any of these shows are in the final stretch of planning and sending their samples and booth setups to New York already. Whoa! Premiere Vision New York, Print Source, Surtex, and NY Now happen early in the year, which means “planning anew” for these exhibitors happened sometime late last summer.
I have consciously decided not to jump into exhibiting. I’ve done my fair share of trade shows in New York. Even when I lived blocks away from the Javits Center and could “run home” to make something I needed to finish my booth, I found it expensive for the amount of exposure I got. Granted this was at the Accessorie Circuit back in the early 2000’s, but the idea was the same and the options to share work online were far, far fewer. The investment of between 5-10k is a major decision. Most designers and studios I know, unless they are downright huge and represent dozens of artists, have a hard time justifying the expense. I know I do.
So how do I sell my work if I don’t go to the shows? Well, admittedly, it puts the burden of exposure and developing relationships on me. I have to be committed to getting my name, work, and products seen. I’m just as dedicated as those who spend months prepping to exhibit, but I’d like to think I put that trade show prep time into creating more great prints and patterns for manufacturers and brands.
THE TOP 4 THINGS I DO TO SELL WITHOUT TRADE SHOWS:
I do incredible amounts of research. I’ll read all of the press I can find and figure out what makes a company fit. I’m also honest with myself about which companies are a fit for my work and style. Starting with a good list is key. Note: I learned the hard way that asking someone else to do this research is never worth it. Someone who is the Creative Director for Marketing and Brand is VERY different from the Creative Director for Product Development.
Think about building relationships. As Patricia at the Design Trust says, “People buy from people they know like and trust”. It’s not about a single email and never getting in touch again. You have to make an effort to be known. Think about how you can be helpful and respectful of their time. Be yourself.
Develop a strong brand and style. It’s good to be memorable and for clients to know what to expect from you, now and in the future.
Be Flexible. Travel, Skype, Zoom, make it possible for you to sit down face-to-face. Make it easy and comfortable for your potential clients. Another option? Custom web pages. If I know a client is looking for something specific, I’ll put together a private page just for them showing them prints, patterns and mock-ups to help them see how my work is a good fit for their project.
I would much rather spend my money traveling to cities and places where my potential clients are and scheduling one-on-one meetings than hope that they walk by my booth and notice my work. In a way, I’m taking matters into my own hands. This route is not for the faint of heart or shy. Emails go unanswered… there are lots of crickets sometimes, but for all the contacts that are not a hit, there will be one that is.
For my fellow designers who are shipping out their last boxes and gearing up for showtime, I wish you luck! I know this is how many designers have found their break. Now that they have combined Surtex, NY NOW and The Stationery Show the number of companies coming through has increased, to be sure. This puts the odds more in your favor!
I plan to send out lots of work before the shows this year and will start up again as NYFW concludes. I know my emails and calls will be better received by manufacturers and designers weeks before or weeks after the shows. If you’re a print buyer, product designer, design or creative director and would like to check out my online print library, get in touchHERE to request a password. If you’d rather call or schedule an online chat, I look forward to hearing from you.