Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A first timers guide to The National Stationery Show

I decided to take the leap this year and exhibit my brand new card line at the National Stationery Show. For a first timer preparing for a large show is daunting at times. I would like to share some of my experiences here in the hopes that I can help another novice prepare for their first show. Today I would like to discuss how my husband and I designed and built the booth walls. As you can see from my booth, I have a lot of products to display, so my first challenge was figuring out how to make it all fit into an 8x10 space. To design the space, I tacked up large sheets of newsprint to function as visual references for the walls (you can often get free end rolls of newsprint at your local newspaper printer). I used drywall tape to function as shelves (drywall tape is L shaped tape so it sticks out from the wall like a real shelf.) On the paper tape shelves I placed paper examples of my cards, prints, etc; I sometimes used tack to make the papers stay on the shelves. (Tack is a putty like substance found at your local office supply store used in place of tape, the tacky nature allows you to move paper without damage to paper or walls.) With this system, I was able to move the shelves around until all the products worked visually. I decided to place my prints on the left wall, my cards, pendants and a large sign along the back wall, and my frames and pillows on the right side wall. Then I took the measurements from the paper design to build the real booth space.

I decided to use light weight door-skin wood for my walls. My thinking was that I would like to have walls I could use again. In hind sight due to the extra shipping expense, I would opt for foam walls instead. (Not the foam walls you buy from the trade show because it is very expensive, but foam walls you buy and construct yourself, which is not difficult to do. How you place foam walls is similar to how I constructed the wood walls. I will describe this in more detail when we get into construction. Here are a couple foam manufacturers, http://www.foamboardsource.com/ and http://www.diversifiedfoaminc.com/. Make sure to get flame retardant foam due to the trade show fire codes.

If you live close to the trade show and can transport the walls yourself than wood is a great option; it is durable and can be used year after year. I constructed seven wood panels for the 8x10 walls. From the photo you can see I hinged the panels so they could fold for easy transport. I reinforced the sides of the panels with a framework so the thin panels would not warp. Next the walls were primed and painted a gorgeous lemon, lime. Then we built a jig for drilling holes through the framework where the shelves would attach. The jig allows you to drill multiple panels and have the holes align across the panels. We also built a jig aligning the bolt holes on the shelves. We attached hanger bolts to the pre-painted shelves. The hanger bolts slid into the pre-drilled hole in the wood walls. A wing-nut screwed in place from the back of the wood panel to firmly attach the shelf to the wall. The shelves easily came off for shipping by unscrewing the wing-nut and pulling the bolt out.

I designed the middle of the back wall panel to be a sign. I created the sign in photoshop by patterning an original painting for the background, and adding my business logo for the centerpiece. I then sent the jpeg file to spoonflower.com to made into fabric. I stretched the fabric across the upper and lower parts of the middle panel and hinged the panels like all the other walls.

We drilled holes through the upper and lower sections of all the walls, where the panels would be zip-tied to the metal framework of the booth. We packed up the folded walls to ship by wrapping the corners in foam and sheets. To construct the booth at the show, we unpacked a panel, laid the hinged panel on one side and attached the shelves with the hanger bolts. Next we opened the panels to their full 8 feet, and zip tied the panels to the framework; then we repeated this with all the panels until the booth was constructed.

If you decide to go with foam walls, drill holes into the foam panels just like the wood, and attach the shelves with wing-nuts. Also like the wood walls you attach the panels to the frame-work by drilling holes, in the top and bottom of the foam panels, and then zip-tie the foam panels to this framework. I recommend requesting a middle-bar for your framework (typically you only get an upper and lower cross bar), if you have smaller panels this allows you to zip-tie in the middle of the panel as well.

Last we placed the art up on the shelves, and then labeled each item. The labels were created with an Avery label in Word, using a word template. I choose a clear address label so it would blend into the shelf. Voila! the art and labels are up, Yeah! Stay tuned next week to learn how I created the flooring, and lighting for the booth.

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