Surtex Tips from a Pro

©Ronnie Walter
©Ronnie Walter

So it’s just a few weeks away from a couple of art trade shows; namely SURTEX and the new and swanky Blueprint Show.

If you are exhibiting at either of them, you may officially start your freak-out now. As a veteran exhibitor of SURTEX, CHA, and Licensing Expo, I’ve got a few tips that I have learned over the years. And now I’m going to share them with you.

You’re welcome.

Here’s the dealio. You’ve already paid for the most expensive 10’ by 10’ space– not just in New York, but probably in the world. So you need to make it count. I did the math for you and for the average cost of your booth, adding travel expenses and materials cost divided by three and multiplied by 365 days it would cost you roughly $973,000 a year to live there. Of course a 10 X 10 space in New York is probably considered luxury digs.

That’s a lot of money.

So let’s go through a few things to make it all worth your while.

  • Don’t wimp out. You need to stay engaged– all day, every day of those three precious days you will be there. From the moment they say “Welcome to the Show” to the last announcement that says “We can’t wait to see you all next year!) you need to be bright, you need to be open and you need to stay engaged. I had one of my best clients come into my booth 10 minutes before the show closed one year! We made a connection and ended up doing a very nice deal over several years so don’t discount the end of the show. There are people still walking the aisles and they are still doing business. So stay alert. Stay engaged.
  • Never ask the following question: “So what are you looking for?” They are looking for art. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be there. Ask a more concise question like “Are you looking for seasonal or everyday?” or “Are you looking to fill a specific look in your line?” You will get a much better answer and they won’t be irritated that you can’t come up with something more original or meaningful.
  • Make sure that you feel good physically while you’re at the show. Here’s the trifecta of de-railers that are totally within your control. (picking up a nasty cold or other icky bugs are just bad luck).
    • Go easy on the alcohol. I know how tempting it is to go out and celebrate with your new and old friends, but as soon as someone says, “Oh, let’s just have one more” that will be your cue to say, “I gotta go—I’ll see you tomorrow!” The shows are stressful enough without adding a hangover to your meetings.
    • This is not the time to try out the best Mexican restaurant in New York. Or the hottest most exotic Thai dish you can find. I’m talking tummy issues, people! You know—gas? If you thought that 10 X 10 booth was small before…got it?
    • Get some rest! More than likely you are sleep deprived from all of your prep and the stress of worrying about whether or not your banners will stay on the wall. Call up ocean sounds on your phone, wear earplugs, mind your caffeine intake. No sleep makes for a very long show.
  • Try not to eat in the booth. If you must, eat something that you can swallow easily like yogurt or small bites of granola bars because you never know when someone’s coming. If you’re in the middle of a giant sloppy sandwich and the best client ever comes along, they may very well pass by because they figure, “Oh, the poor thing is hungry so I’ll just come back later” And trust me on this one—if they say they will come back, many things can happen where they cannot make it back—like their next meeting ran overtime, they forgot which aisle you were in or they just plain forgot. Sometimes I think there are gremlins in the Javits Center that abduct potential clients who say those three little words “I’ll come back”. If you need more to eat than yogurt or granola bars, find somebody to help cover your booth while you’re gone. Now– pretend like I’m your mother. No chewing gum in the booth!  It just looks sloppy! Use Tic Tacs or Altoids or some other breath freshening product you can swallow easily if you need to talk to someone. Just don’t choke. That’s typically bad for business.
  • Get in early! Coming in early to the show (even 15 minutes) can be just the ticket to feeling calm and relaxed when the doors open. Don’t be that artist racing in at 20 minutes past opening schlepping her bags and super hot coffee while eating an enormous bagel. Yes, things happen, but leave earlier than you think you should.
  • Make friends with your neighbors! I have made life-long friends at trade shows, and you know how everyone is always talking about finding “your tribe”? Well, here they are! Be helpful, be generous. Cover for each other for bathroom or snack breaks. Also, if you have a potential client in your booth and they are looking for something that you know is not your style or anything that you can accomplish for them, and you know someone that could? Make the introduction! The artist will be grateful and that client will know what kind of person you are.

Hey, you’ve got this, right?

And here’s a fun little announcement! I am going to be in New York meeting with some of my “coachees”, some trending shopping and sourcing for one of my clients. I am offering a 20 minute meeting with artists who would like to sit down with me! (I am limited to 9 people max) I will be available Monday May 16th  from 11 am to 2 pm. If you have a burning question, or would like a quick portfolio review, I am there for you. I will not be able to meet anyone on the show floor. If you want to get one of the sessions, just contact me here or email me at ronnie@ronniewalter.com and we’ll set up our meeting. It’s just a little thank you to this industry that has given so much to me and my career. UPDATE: My schedule is now full for the free spots, but I will be at the Monday morning meet-up on Level One from 8:15-10:30 am (with an awesome give-away!). Hope to meet you there there! (and of course, take advantage of the super offer below after the show!)

And… this is big, people!

I am also offering a free 20 minute “get to know each other” coaching phone call so you can see if we are a good fit or to help you clarify your needs if you’re ready to fire up your creative career. Have a look at the testimonials on the right side of this website to see the kinds of things people have said about me. If you’d like to set up that phone call, click here.

Wishing you all the best success at the show– whether you are with an agent, have a solo booth or are attending as part of the discovery phase of your creative career; I know one thing for sure–it’ll be a ride!

5 thoughts on “Surtex Tips from a Pro

  1. Ronnie – I hope everyone with a booth at the show will read and absorb all of this information!! While obvious while reading, we know that almost everything you note as “Don’ts” will be someone’s “Do’s;” who will then complain after the show that they can’t understand why SURTEX was a flop for them, and it mus be someone else’s problem!! As usual, GREAT ADVICE from an experienced GREAT ADVICE giver!!

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