Friday, May 30, 2014

Surtex - Jumping off a cliff with a well-constructed parachute!

Happily manning my booth in my matching cardy

Booth 447 in all its glory

Co-ordinating pom poms

Portfolio book and Uppercase Magazine

Pretty stuff
Have a business card,  some stickers, a flick through a book - or just a jelly bean and a sniff of the roses!

Products and mock-ups

I can't believe it's over. What am I going to do with my life now?
I signed up for the show last September.  I almost choked when I found out how much it would cost (approx $6000 including everything) and immediately started panicking.  I also started working with an enthusiasm and motivation that I haven't felt in years!  During the last 8 months I've been completely consumed by the preparations and I think most of my friends and family became sick of hearing me refer to 'Surtex' (though every single one of them was 100% behind me and I never heard anything but encouragement from my lovely children and supportive husband and Mum and Dad).
So was it worth it?
Oh my God!  Just a bit!!  Jaw droppingly worth it in fact!!
To put things in perspective I want to list a few of my worst fears leading up to the show then describe the actual outcome - so you can see how extremely positive it was by comparison.

Something won't arrive in time (before I leave) or safely (at the airport).
My portfolio books, my banners (without banners you have a blank stand), my promo materials - the timing of everything was nail biting. Obviously you want as much new work as possible involved so everything has to be ordered last minute.  When I saw my tube of banners lying safely next to the luggage carousel at JFK I felt the first massive hurdle had been overcome and that if all else failed I'd have a furnished stand.

I'll get a bad spot.
I was one of the first to arrive on the initial set up day and the whole vast hall was nearly empty and I looked at my spot near the back where they hadn't finished putting up the cafe and thought, 'Oh no it's crappy, it's crappy.  I've paid all this money for a crappy booth!!!'. The next day I arrived to find that loads of other exhibitors had started to set up and the booths around me were beginning to look really beautiful.  I was in a lovely area.
Stuffing cushions with Melissa on the first day of setting up

Hanging tissue pom poms

Audra and me!

My booth will suck.
The problem with seeing so many beautiful booths was that I immediately started to worry that mine was 'wrong'.  It was too pink.  It was too simple.  I didn't have enough pretty mock-ups or eye-catching details.  Before the show I'd been shocked at how much effort it had required to organize my booth decor and had wondered if everyone else went to such great lengths.  Then I  saw that many of them had gone to even greater lengths than I had.  Sarah Ehlinger, Bari Ackerman, Kathy Weller, Kelly Ventura, Rosie Simons and Feng Liang were all very close by and each one of them had done something amazingly special.   I was very tired at that point and it took me a while to acknowledge that we'd all approached our booth design differently and each booth was striking in a unique and equally lovely way.  The pinkness ended up lending a pretty warmth to my spot (a bit like a shell, I thought) and I was quite pleased with the effect in the end.

My helpers (who I didn't know beforehand except by email) will be weird and spooky.
Ha ha ha!! I couldn't have been more wrong.  They were LOVELY!!!!  Melissa Iwai, a children's book illustrator from Brooklyn, and Flora Waycott, an English designer from New Zealand, were both warm and funny, extremely helpful and professional and brilliant company.  I felt like I'd made two new friends by the end of it.  Melissa even helped me by bringing me a small table and cushions from Ikea in Brooklyn.  I don't know how I would have done it without them.
Melissa, me and Flora!

No-one will come.
This was the big one.  What if, after this colossal effort, no-one came?  What if I'd thrown $6000 and 8 months of  hard work down the toilet.  Wrong again!  They came!  By midday of the first day I'd made back the cost of the show almost twice in sales.  There's a huge debate about selling versus licensing and whether you should even sell at all.  My view is that I'm running a business and that my business needs cash flow.  I created enough cash flow to pay for this show and next year's too and then some.  I also encountered plenty of licensing opportunities which will generate future income.   I think this is the best of both worlds. I am prolific and have a lot of work and am not heart-breakingly attached to (most of) my designs.  In fact, now I know what sold (and there was a definite pattern to what people liked) I'm in an ideal position to create more of the RIGHT stuff that clients want.
Me in action

Deep in concentration

My marketing efforts (new territory for me) will have been a waste of time.
They weren't.  I attribute a lot of the traffic at my booth to something I invested an awful lot of time into.  I set myself a series of deadlines when I booked the show.  One was that I'd create new work up until the last day of February then for the entire month of March I'd focus on marketing. That involved creating an online look book and a promotional package (see below) that I sent out to a very tailored and thoroughly researched list of just 50 art directors - some established clients and some new.  I have no doubt that this worked though while I was doing it (struggling with all sorts of unchartered territory like learning Indesign and sourcing printers)  I wondered repeatedly if it would be worth the time and money.  It was!

I won't have enough new work.
After the March marketing I had to tackle the banners and portfolio books - but the catch was that I had to have new work to put on/in them (this was the conclusion after asking my MATS community friends what they thought about what needed to go on banners - both marketing/ brand identity and new work). But I'd stopped designing in Feb to do the marketing.  So the next deadline was to create 5 new groups by the end of April in order to put some on the banners and show some in the portfolio books and have both books and banners designed and ordered by May 1st.  Phew!!  That was not funny and I might plan that differently next time.  But I did it.  And loads of that new stuff was sold or selected for presentations.
Yes - designing and ordering all this in a hurry was a bit of a strain!

I'll be too tired from jet-lag, early mornings, late nights and hard work.
Adrenalin takes care of all that!  I lived on it - and coffee.

I won't be comfortable and rested staying with friends.
Badly wrong again.  Thank you so much Audra and Brett and Jen and Rom.  You made me so welcome and it was just lovely staying with you!

My feet will hurt.
In this case I was right.  They did.  I wore 3 different pairs of shoes on different days in an attempt to alleviate the pain and ended up having three different sets of lacerations.  My feet were in tatters  (mainly from trudging too and from the show). Next year I'm wearing fluffy slippers with cushioned insoles.

So those were the biggest dreads and apart from the feet the actual outcome was fantastic.  A massive added bonus was the community of people at the show - both exhibitors, visitors and clients.
The number of MATS students there was incredible and it was just lovely to walk into a place and 'know' so many people.  My friend Audra, who is also a designer but works in fashion, came with me to help set up and kept asking 'How do you know her?  Is she another one from the internet?"  Ha ha! But I really felt they were my friends and it felt great to belong to that community and be cheered on by both the ones who attended and the ones who were at home but following on Facebook.  Well done to Jacqui Crocetta for being the reporter in the field.  It was lovely to meet Jacqui and everyone else.
It was also great meeting clients who I've been in contact for up to two years but have never met in person. I can see why trade shows still have a value in spite of the internet.  Meeting people face to face and engaging with them, even for a short time, lends a warmth and familiarity to a business relationship.
Another huge bonus was meeting Lilla Rogers.  I felt like I knew her, having been so involved with her online courses and Facebook communities for this last year.  On the last night Flora and I (and Flora's boyfriend Nick) went for dinner with Helen Dardik and Carolyn Gavin and my lasting impression of Lilla and her 'gang' (I was delighted to meet Jennifer and Susan too) was that they're all genuine, warm, funny (hilariously so in Helen's case) and very, very magnetic!
So - would I do it again!  Oh yes!! Would I recommend it to everyone?  Yes - because there's something exhilarating, motivating and rewarding about taking that leap  - but making that well-constructed parachute was no joke and there were no guarantees that it would open.  But it did.  Sometimes they do!


  1. When the work it as gorgeous as yours, of course, you will succeed!! CONGRATS my friend, well done!! You were ON FIRE!! yay yaaaaaaaaa!

  2. What a beautiful, well thought out post! I'm hoping to go to Surtex next year, and I already have butterflies in my tummy about it. It's wonderfully reassuring to hear from other artists there that is in fact a doable feat.

    Congrats on all your success! I'm not surprised at all given how lovely your work is. :)

  3. Thanks for that lovely comment Cate!!! It IS doable!! xxx

  4. Sounds like you had an amazing show! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Victoria! I didn't even get a chance to visit your booth! I had a quick wizz around during set up and saw the splash of colour and wanted to come back, but we were just too busy or eating haha So glad you had a great time! Bring on next year! xx

  6. Hi Victoria! Beautiful job! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on selling vs licensing - it's on my mind a lot these days too :)

  7. Great recap Victoria! Every time I walked past your booth I was in love with all of the color and cute little animals! I like that you discussed the option of selling outright even though Surtex is usually thought of as a licensing show. I did run into a few manufacturers there who were only buying outright....and how great to already see the financial return for all of your hard work! Hopefully see you there next year! :)

  8. Victoria,

    I really loved reading your post about Surtex. I am smiling from reading it and your experience with it all. I felt like I was there along with you while reading it and cheering you on. Congratulations on your successes. Your work is beautiful and inspiring!
    Have a Beautiful Day, Kathryn

  9. Your work & booth look fantastic!! I love the way you write about your experience here and sounds like it was an exhilarating show. I know Melissa Iwai from a children's book illustration group, she told me how impressive your body of work is. I'm pretty amazed at how much work, not to mention, money goes into exhibiting, but it sounds well worth it. Not sure I'll ever be ready, but it's fun to read artist's posts after the show. Congrats on making it through and your success!

  10. cheers victoria, you did it and made it work [astonishingly beautifully too] coming all the way from italy. you are such an inspiration!

  11. I loved your post. Thanks so much for giving so much detail! Your art is amazing.

  12. So good to read this amazing report, Victoria. COngrats for the effort and for the success. Your work is fantastic and the recognition is well deserved.

  13. Wonderful post Victoria! What an amazing amount of work you did in such short time. Bravo!

  14. What a wonderful recap Victoria! I really love reading it and I have to go back and re-read it when I get more energy. I am so glad to hear you only spent 6k (lower than what I've heard!), and you made twice as much back and then some more, and there were licensing deals on top of that. Wow. Good for you! Big congrats! Not sure if you remember me but it was nice meeting you on the last day!

  15. I think this is the best Surtex post review I have read! Very inspiring. Congratulations on what was obviously a very successful show for you.

    I want to walk it next year, to get as much information as possible so I can be as prepared as possible the next year.

  16. Such a fab post, and more over such beautiful work! Your success, yes is down to your hard work but also to your great talent :)

  17. Hi Victoria. What a lovely read! And congrats with all your successfull sales too :D
    I wanted to meet you at the end of the show, but I couldn't find your booth in the end because I kept bumping into people. I was with forest foundry.
    Maybe next year! Xxx

  18. Hi Victoria, great post! I didn't really get the chance to speak with you at Surtex but your booth was one of my favorites and I'm not surprised at all you did so well.
    The selling outright versus licensing debate certainly is interesting. And it's really interesting to see you did so well selling outright, very smart to cover your costs this way, quick and easy. We (the Forest Foundry girls) focused more on licensing this year, but may sell more outright next year too.
    Congratulations on your success!

  19. love how you answered and beat out all the doubts that came to mind / wow wow wow! thanks for sharing!

  20. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing - I'm loving reading all these Surtex posts. So good to see that it can actually pay to invest so much. I'm so pleased you did so well, but not at all surprised, as you make such stunning art.

  21. WOW wonderful post. SO glad it worked out for you but then again it's no surprise as your work is wonderful, Surtex is one of those shows that I say maybe one day as it seems so $$$ and out of my league.

  22. WoW! thanks for this wonderful and honest post. I loved your booth every single bit of it!Your work is amazing! I appreciate you sharing all this info, specially the selling/licensing part which has been a struggle for me to attack if I decide to exhibit. I wouldn't think waiting a year to get revenue. Best of luck and hopefully I will be seeing you there.
    Rosie Martinez-Dekker

  23. Your stand looks amazing with all your beautiful work. So interesting to read all about the preparations and the actual show. Congratulations on such a successful exhibition.

  24. Thanks so much for this post. I don't think any of us who have seen your work in MATS had any doubt that you were going to do amazing!!! So happy, so happy for you; you work so hard, and you are so talented, you deserve every bit of success you got, and success yet to come.

  25. Thanks you for this post! I don't think any of us that have been your classmates in MATS had any doubt that you were going to be amazing at the show! You work so hard and you are so incredibly talented, you deserve every bit of success you had and every success yet to come. Well done and congratulations!

  26. wow gosh Victoria...thankyou for this wonderful insight into all your fears, worries and then absolute successes...I am soooooooo pleased for you that it was such a positive experience. Your work is beautiful and you deserve it all!!!

  27. Brilliant, post, Victoria! I loved meeting you and Audra and Charlotte and Flora and all the MATS folks. It was an amazing experience. Thank you so much for letting me help you out. You are such a huge inspiration. Your booth was amazing, and it just tickles me that it all fit into ONE little suitcase (sans table and pillows!)!! Shows how much you can do when one is organized, focused and directed and fuses those skills with design talent!! Hope you had a nice trip back and have a little time to relax with your family! :)

  28. You're my hero. Wow - AND learned InDesign? So inspiring. You're living proof it can be done, and your work is just so fun and beautiful! Congrats!!

  29. Wow! What a fantastic insight into your experience of Surtex - thank you so much for sharing. It's massively inspirational - I'm currently doing Art & Business of Surface Pattern with Rachel Taylor and doing Lilla's course later this year and my dream is, one day, to be able to exhibit at Surtex - you've made it sound even more awesome than ever and I'm so happy to hear it was a great success - your work is gorgeous!

  30. Victoria, Congratulations for such a nice booth and designs! I enjoyed reading your post a lot! You must feel very proud!well done! very inspiring!

  31. Victoria, I loved your post. I am also a fellow MATS student and you were very helpful to me and my work so I appreciate all your help.
    Your booth and your work is just amazing. Well done and I'm delighted everything went well for you. I want to walk Surtex next year (still not ready to exhibit). Thanks for your insightful post xx

  32. Absolutely beautiful work Victoria! So pleased it went well for you and this post is a fantastic read, I'm hoping to attend Surtex in the future so it was nice to hear an insight to what happens on the run up to it! Emma x

  33. Thank you for such and honest post. Of course you did well! Your work is amazing! Congratulations and I'm so happy that all of your hard work payed off. Can't wait to see what happens next for you!

  34. Wow, such a great post Victoria. It was so nice to hear about your fears and the excellent outcome. Your work is beautiful. It is all well deserved.

  35. I was there, and your booth was stunning. I just wanted to stare, but then I had to pinch myself - you are looking weird ;). Loved your work before, now I love it even more!

  36. What a great and helpful post! Thank you so much for sharing it!

  37. I just want to say how absolutely flattered and grateful I am for all these comments and kind thoughts from everyone. You can't imagine how encouraged and supported I feel when I read them. Thank you so much!!!! xxxxxxxxxxxx

  38. What an wonderful, inspiring & uplifting post this is! Thank you so much for your very honest and real account of what sounds like a brilliant experience for you. You deserve all the success you achieve after all the hard work you put in and because your work is beautiful! Thank you for making it feel like something doable...I'm soooo tempted to book that stand for next year now!

  39. This is a great post, one of the best and detailed about Surtex I've ever read! Thanks so much, Victoria, for sharing with us your thoughts, fears and success! I, too, hope to exhibit there one day and this post is really encouraging :)

    I agree with everyone here, your work is just lovely and I'm not at all surprised it sells so well.

    I have a question, if you don't mind me asking: Did you find Surtex helpful with the pre-show promotion? Is it through them that you got the list of contact with art directors? I think it's a great idea to send a look-book to companies before the show.

    Thanks so much for this amazing post, Victoria, and big congrats on your success!

  40. Hi! Thank you!! I think Surtex offer a visitor list that you can buy but I didn't make use of it. I researched the art directors myself. It's very time consuming but worth the effort I think.

  41. Thank you for your prompt reply, Victoria, I appreciate it! I agree, I think it's worth the time and effort. You did an amazing job and must feel very proud! Thanks again for sharing your experience with us! All the best to you!

  42. Great post, it sounds like you had a successful Surtex. Your booth looked fantastic I especially love the bunting!

  43. WOW ! thanks for this amazing & informative Surtex blog post. & congratulations that the show & your work was a hit, and that the expense of having a booth paid off - I'm not surprised because your work is great and you can tell that you did not miss a detail, not a one.

  44. Wow! I love when artist are open and generous with information! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. As I am working to transition my business in this direction, I found this SO helpful! I love the special details you included in your booth decor...they really helped flesh out your brand.