Surtex first-timer tips!

So Surtex is just about 2 weeks away. I have butterflies just writing this — so exciting, so scary! I think back to last year when I was exhibiting for the first time and have to say that I’m a million times more chilled out about everything this year… once you have the experience, you know what to expect and it’s a lot less scary. So, I thought I would share a few last minute tips for new exhibitors! Things that would have comforted me last year had I known, things that could come in handy, and a little reassurance. For the record, I am by no means a pro at this, like the fabulous Surtex guru Tara Reed, who is responsible for holding my hand last year via her super-informative Surtex e-books — but I think the first time is the hardest time, and seeing that it still feels quite fresh, I thought this might help someone out there.

Print your forms!
Okay, this is important — make sure you bring documentation of everything related to the show (or if you have access to it on a mobile device, that’s fine too). Everything is probably going to go smoothly, but you just never know when something pops in and tries to mess with your flow, and you just want to make sure you’re prepared. The show is run by GLM/Surtex, but the facilities are outsourced to the Javits — so there is a little room for error. Example: last year, I ordered a tall table (vs. the shorter table) for my booth, but when I arrived there was a short table at my booth. I thought, no problem — I’ll just go find someone to replace it. But the Javits staff, while friendly, said their instructions showed I should have a short table. They said that they would swap it out for me, but that if I didn’t have a record showing I’d booked the tall table, I would be charged a labour fee which was something crazy, like $300 or something. A bunch of people ran into this situation and LUCKILY, I had printed the confirmation and hopefully everyone else had too. Basically what I’m saying is, it never hurts to cover your arse. If you ordered shelves or special furniture — bring the confirmation, and the placement form for where you’d asked for things to be installed. Your registration badge confirmation — bring it. Basically any confirmations you received — bring it with you!

3M is your friend
So many Surtex exhibitors *swear* by 3M command strips, and I am one of them. They are incredible. I used 5 small command strips per banner and they weren’t going anywhere. Plus, they’re easy to pull off at the end and leave no markings — something to keep in mind, because you are responsible for leaving the booth walls in the same condition as when you started.

Bring cleaning supplies!
You’ve probably already thought about this, but it’s a must! Last year I ordered shelves for my booth and they were in fine condition, but they were *filthy*. But they cleaned up just fine with some of those cleaning wipe thingies.

Last year I read that you couldn’t stand on the chairs to hang banners, as a safety concern. And a legit one at that. But coming from Canada on a plane, I was wondering how the heck I was going to manage bringing a stool or ladder with me — I am short, so a small foot stool wasn’t going to cut it for me. In the end, I left it at home and it all worked out just fine. Those chairs are sturdy… but please don’t quote me on this.

Streamlined snacks!
This was another great tip from Tara Reed. If you’re at your booth and starving, you don’t want to be pulling out a big dish of spaghetti from under your booth to sneak a bite when nobody is looking. I had a few friends helping me last year, letting me go for lunch breaks and things, which was extremely helpful so I didn’t really have to eat food at my booth. But sometimes after 5 hours of standing there, you’re going to need to shove something in your mouth. I had some easy-to-eat snacks under my table, like nuts, dried fruit, crackers, grapes, small easy-to-eat things. It’s like on Top Chef when they have to cater a gala and are told to prepare an amuse-bouche. If you must eat at your booth, you don’t want to be caught eating awkward food.

Be prepared with your terms
Try to go into the show with your terms figured out — do you sell artwork or only license? Are you willing to do flat-rate licensing agreements or are you strictly about royalties? What are you willing to budge on for the right client? Last year, I had a ton of people ask if I sold my artwork outright and I was so new to the game that I wanted to make everyone happy and just didn’t want to say ‘no’ to anyone. I still don’t, and I will always try and make it work if it’s someone that I want to work with — but if it’s not a good fit, it’s not a good fit. If you aren’t particularly interested in the product category or don’t see that working with a company will bring value to your business, don’t back down and sell artwork. You’ve gotta look out for yourself. Don’t compromise if you’re not going to be happy with the deal. Try and go in with a clear vision of what you’d like to do and do you best to stick to it. It’s good to think about this before the show so you’re not caught off guard!

Be right back
This might be obvious, but just in case you didn’t think of it (there are a million other things to think about). If you have to leave your booth to run to the washroom, and you don’t have anyone there helping you, at least leave a sign saying you’ll be back in 5 minutes. You don’t want to lose out on that dream client who stopped by at an inopportune time. I swear, last year, every time I left my booth some awesome client would stop by and I’d curse the timing of it all… so it can happen.

Happy hour!
I haven’t heard much about this but I think they do it every year — last year they had a happy hour thing after the show on Monday. Free drinks and the chance to chat with some other exhibitors. Also, there are usually some social events for Surtex exhibitors so keep your ears open in case there are. Last year I missed it but Monica Lee had hosted an event and lots of exhibitors went. A nice way to actually be able to chat with people — not so easy during show hours.

You made it! You really made it!  
It was such a surreal experience walking into the Javits centre with all my booth supplies last year, trying to find the booth that I would call home for 3 days and had the opportunity to be a game-changer. Be proud of yourself for taking on the challenge, for getting there, for all of your super hard work. And enjoy it, savour every second. Greet every person that walks by with a welcoming smile. And remember to keep your chin up — there will be some slow periods, and your work won’t be the best fit for every client that walks by, but keep your eye on the prize and focus on the good connections you’ve made. And the new friends you’ve made. And the fact that you made it to NYC and competed in an international marketplace for something that you’re passionate about!

And then breathe…
I relied on adrenaline to keep me going through the show and keeping my energy levels up. Last year, I felt very much alive and excited about everything until 5pm on the last day, when the show officially closed, and I literally just dropped behind my booth and burst into tears. This might sound crazy, but it was just the whole experience coming to a close — a mix of joy and exhaustion. I was so happy, but I also felt my body breaking down and giving in. Give yourself a nice relaxing evening, a low key and healthy dinner, a good dose of vitamin C, and a good night’s rest. And hopefully you have some time to enjoy the city before you ship out.

Best of luck at the show everyone! Looking forward to meeting you all, so soon!!
(I’m at booth 741!)

*****I got a few emails with other questions today so I thought I’d add them to the mix! *****

I didn’t get electrical for my booth. I used an iPad to present my portfolio, and as long as I charged up the batteries before I left for the show in the morning, mine lasted all day long with no issue. Tara Reed mentioned that if you run out, you can use the exhibitor centre upstairs to grab some power if needed. But again, I didn’t need it! But on the same topic… Last year I needed to iron some things, and had posted on the Surtex Linkedin group to see if there would be outlets. I was assured there would be some for us to use, but when I got there, the power source mentioned wasn’t there. I went on a wild goose chase trying to find power and was told by the Javits staff that we weren’t supposed to use it. We ended up sneaking around to make it happen, but this year, just to be safe, I’m just going to iron everything at the hotel!

Flame proofing
Ahhhh, the eternal issue of flameproofing! I don’t think anyone is clear on this! But this is what I was told last year when I asked, and it’s the same explanation this year. Basically, if you have fabric in your booth and it has your artwork on it — then you’re all set. No need to flameproof. BUT if you have linens in your booth that don’t have artwork on them, those should be flameproofed. Honestly, the rationale doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me — fire doesn’t exactly discriminate — but I suppose it would be tricky for people to only show products that were flameproofed so they’ve made concessions. If in doubt, there are apparently special flame-proofing ‘dips’ you can use to dip your fabrics in and it flameproofs them but I didn’t have luck tracking them down. But if the fabric has your artwork on it, you’re good to go.


  • April 30, 2014 at 3:32 pm // Reply

    Elizabeth, I’m such a big fan of your work! Thank you so much for sharing your very helpful & valuable tips! I’m walking Surtex for the first time this year and am planning on exhibiting in 2015!
    I can’t wait to see your booth and I hope I’ll get the chance to say hello!
    Good luck to you!

    • April 30, 2014 at 3:44 pm // Reply

      Thank you so much Susanne! Hopefully we’ll have a moment to say hello at the show! :))

  • April 30, 2014 at 6:25 pm // Reply

    Agh, I had a ‘be right back’ sign on my print list, and though, nah, I won’t actually need it. Back to the printer! Nice list, thanks for posting!

    • April 30, 2014 at 7:41 pm // Reply

      I found it handy… better safe than sorry? I was going to send this post to you, glad you found it!!

  • May 7, 2014 at 12:01 pm // Reply

    Thank you for sharing such valuable tips. Definitely gonna bookmark this one.

  • May 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm // Reply

    Dear Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing your very useful tips with the SURTEX newbies. I don´t exhibit this year but hope to do so in 2015 and I going to remember your great posts.
    Good luck to you, your art is wonderful!

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