Updated: Oct 19, 2022
I'm taking you along on my journey as a newly-minted entrepreneur. So, let's go to the epic gift and home goods trade show, NY Now at the Javits Center, which was held from August 14-17, 2022.
For busy new business owners, I'll front-load my top 7 tips right here:
Visit any large-scale trade show once before applying to be in it.
Talk to people in your same field - I found every vendor surprisingly honest about the challenges they face and generous with their tips on how to create a great booth.
Bring an old-fashioned reporter-style notepad - the kind that's spiral-bound on top and a new pen. You can grab names & make bullet points of your conversations.
Make an appointment with a staff member who organized the show. I met with Stephanie Gaspari and she was super helpful and encouraging!
Research your lunch spot off-site - the food is cheaper and tastier (I splurged at Mercado Little Spain.)
Take selfies with merchants you really like, collect their card, and write a thank you afterward. Business is all about relationships.
Rome wasn't built in a day. You'll notice the booths with 'wow' factor and tons of merchandise are the more established brands with an international reach. Spend time with folks who are early in their process just like you, and be kind to each other.
Excitement - and safety... Masked up and ready for NY Now!
Before I start the detailed tour, I want to thank Stephanie Gaspari, Sales Manager for NY Now with a special focus on 'child and baby.' She invited me to book an appointment with her so I could learn more about being a vendor in the future. She told me there are more than 280 new companies at the show this year - more than ever before, which made it seem more possible for me to participate.
I learned that on the first day of the show, most of the buyers are from smaller, independent stores . On the next two days, larger stores like Anthropologie, Nieman Marcus, and Macy's come by. Plus, the press arrives - Adam Glassman of Oprah was expected on Monday (darn, I couldn't get there!) and the Today Show and lots of magazines. Being a vendor at NY Now can get you press exposure and build your connections.
Stephanie Gaspari, Sales Manager, NY Now
Stephanie gave me a bag of NY Now branded goodies, pictured here along with many of the cards I collected from vendors on my whirlwind day.
I walked the perimeter of the event to start, then worked my way to the inside aisles.
The first vendor I spoke with was Sally Packard of Quirky Digs. She had a gorgeous style and lovely fabric products. I asked her where she gets her fabric printing done (manufacturing sources can be a closely-guarded secret, but I find if you talk a bit some folks will share. Finding great manufacturers is a quest in itself!) She shared a place in New Jersey she likes. I thanked her and continued on.
This image drew me in to the Quirky Digs booth.
I had a nice chat with artist Jessica Frasz. It was her first year exhibiting. She told me a bit about the four days of prep when artisans come in, paint their booth, build their shelves, display, and lighting.
Jessica Frasz, the first vendor I spoke with. I could feel her upbeat energy!
I strolled past another booth and heard, "I like your hat. I made it!" Turns out Carole Amper really * had * made my hat! I texted about it to my sister Sarah, and she ordered one matching mine.
Carole Amper of Toucan Hats
There were many delightful and intriguing international vendors. This company, Mallow Space, from Korea, had elegantly designed silicone mats for covering food while heating it in the microwave.
Mallow Space silicone food mats and covers from Korea
I'm already a fan of Quilling Cards, so hearing more of the story from Huong Nguyen Wolf, Chief Operating Officer, only added to my delight. She told me the cards are made by artisan women in Vietnam, and the company is a Certified Fair Trade Federation member.
Kerstin Rao of Vivid Cottage visits Huong Nguyen Wolf, COO of Quilling Cards
She proudly pointed to a Guiness Book of World Records certificate for Largest Quilling Paper Mosaic - of Van Gogh's Starry Night. She had a small-scale replica at the booth. The full-sized mural required 300 artists, took 3,399 hours of quilling, used the equivalent of 40 miles of paper strips, and 11,970 grams of glue (they use Elmers!)
Next up - a clever, naughty, fun booth from Belgium - Kaartblanche. Their slogan pleased me - 'Send cards, not texts.' I could feel a delightful and wicked buzz about the place. While my brand is focused on fine art with an inviting and elevated feeling, this place was about letting your hair down and just being silly humans together. Highly recommend!
The feisty fellows of Kaartblanche
I felt particularly enchanted as I got to know Rachel Lauren James of The Lobster Studio. Her husband Ken Crossland is the designer, and he dreams up appealing characters, then puts these characters in relatable situations. Their glossy catalogue is stunning - I highly recommend you check out their cards and stickers!
Quick shout-out to some other stationery vendors who shared honestly with me about their start-up journeys, along with some more manufacturer recommendations:
Anna Whitham of Boston whose lettering is charming
Divya, a graphic designer who left corporate just last year to start her brand MellowWorks yet was selected as a featured designer in the NY Now lobby display (yay!)
The folks at Spaghetti & Meatballs, whose cards are endearing
Stephanie S. Clark of Dahlia Press. Her letterpress cards are high-quality and charming. I learned just how much work - and repair! - goes into running those letterpress machines, and I have even more respect for her products now.
Sam Abraham and Becky Barnard of Maggie Moore Studios were a delight to meet. Their cards are a hoot and they were kind to share a printer they like in Idaho.
Jessica Howell of Rumble Cards and Ellen Walsh from Australia were sharing a booth - a clever way to save money when you are starting, plus you have company during those long days on the show floor. Thanks for your tips!
Amita Nair began her shop Amicreative in 2018. Her designs have the influence of India yet are distinctly her own.
Jessica Pierson-Turner of Finch & Flourish told me some sources for printing on cotton totes. I particularly like her mushroom designs.
Sadé Swift and Azizi Curtis of Cards by Dé had gorgeous, meaningful designs that focused on uplifting each other and social justice. If you are looking for a great brand to support, check them out!
I enjoyed the slogan from Chez Gagné - 'If you can't make it nice, make it funny.'
For old-school stationery fans who remember the Crane's paper shop in Rockefeller Center, I've got a new place for you to visit - Pineider of Firenze. Alec Linden said he's been told they actually occupy that exact same shop space that Crane's once had.
The gorgeous paper and pens are made in Florence, and are swoon-worthy (I know that's over the top, but my fellow paper addicts will understand...) Alec explained that every detail is crafted by hand - the origins date back to 1774.
It took me back to 1988 when I spent a summer studying art in Florence through a program sponsored by Murray State University in Kentucky. Walking the cobblestones, wandering into shops where paper was being marbled, feeling the quality, weight, and texture of the papers - just wonderful memories!
We'll stay in Italy for just a moment more to mention Tuscan textile company Busatti. Michelangelo Formica was at the booth and explained the process of dying the threads and weaving - all taking place in Tuscany.
Now for a burst of FUN and STYLE! I spotted David Santiago walking by, no idea who he was, and I just called out, "Love your look!" He stopped and introduced himself, complimented my dress (thank you, darling!) and told me he's doing an 'Instagram Takeover' for NY Now. I watched a few and he is a live wire - such a treat! He is president of Casa Santi Interior Design.
David Santiago of Casa Santi Interiors
I ran into my friends from in2design jewelry, based in Fairfield. These are two Swedish-American designers, Inger Mark and Inga Louise Baldwin. We've both had booths at the Southport Garden Stroll and the Tavern Market in Greenwich. Plus, I've bought gorgeous gifts for family (and myself.) Inger said she was having a great day of wholesale sales that first day of NY Now - I'm hoping it was really successful for them!
Inger Mark of in2design jewelry
Folks who visit our home notice a colorful and accent piece on our fireplace mantel, which I bought years ago at the Westport Craft Fair. The surprising element is that the panels in this piece of art are moveable. I ran into Marilyn Paletsky of Morphicism, the creators, at NY Now! I learned that Marilyn's husband Jay, who was the mastermind behind their unique designs, had passed away, and I was in tears. She's carrying on with the help of her son, and I wish them all the best.
Marilyn Paletsky of Morphicism
Now, this story is the ultimate 'Holy cow, it's a small world' moment. I walked past a booth and thought to myself, 'My brother-in-law would appreciate this design.' So, I stopped to chat with the fellows at the Clayton & Clume booth. Turns out one of them is the grand-nephew of a man I went to high school with. Before you think that's no big deal, our graduating class was all of 60 people. The other fellow I spoke with remembered a tour of a television studio where my brother-in-law works - and, when I showed him a photo of said relative, he said, "That's the guy! He inspired me to learn more about broadcast journalism because he was so fascinating!"
Small world, big hearts!
L-R: Kerstin Rao of Vivid Cottage, and the reps from Clayton & Crume: Luc Brazeau, Brandon Lamb, and Parker Kuhn
Hang in there - I've got just two more booths to talk about...
I've long been a fan of Michael Michaud's jewelry, based on casts of real-life plants and flowers. Just for fun, here are photos of a few pieces on display...
Finally, I leave you with something holiday-ish for inspiration - the ornaments of Cody Foster. I chatted with a couple of the reps. They've been in business for 25 years. They started making their products in Asia about 17 years ago.
The final photo? Well, that's a gift to my sister, Sarah, (and any of you who are still with me) for reading this far! I love you, sis!
I enjoyed the oversized bowl of ramen at Cody Foster - a tribute to their Asian manufacturing sites
You're welcome, Sarah! ;)