Launch report: Children’s Club 3/08
Today we have an excellent trip report from Kimberly Owen on her first launch at the Children’s Club show in New York. Even if you’re not doing kids wear, it’s definitely worth reading. Pictures (other than the monkey, long story) are at close. Thanks Kim!
I just returned from Children’s Club where I launched my line of boy’s clothing, size 2T-7, called Moonfly. The show is held four times a year in the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, and after walking several other kiddie shows, including MAGIC, ABC Kids, and KIDShow, I chose to travel all the way to NYC to launch at Children’s Club. I felt that I would reach the broadest audience with this show so I made the trek to the east coast for my first tradeshow. The show is juried, so you must submit about 6 samples and go through a review before they allow you to participate in the show.
I was a late entry into the show, I signed up only six weeks before the show was held, and so I really had to scramble to prepare for it. Why was I such a late entry? Well that’s another article I’ll have to write entitled “Demons in the Machine, Everything that can go wrong in pre-production, will definitely go wrong! Most especially if you try to prevent things from going wrong…” Anyways…
I chose a 5×10 foot booth, which set me back $2,750. The booths they provide are hard wall structures, not pipe and drape, and I thought that was pretty nice. You also get three pieces of furniture and two lights for no charge. So after I confirmed my payment, booth number and booth size, it was time to design the booth. The exposition service was GES, and they send you a really THICK exhibitor packet, which I urge you future exhibitors to read cover to cover, even if you have to hold your eyes open with toothpicks. I wanted to avoid getting hit with any additional costs so I practically memorized that sucker. For those of you who regularly read this blog, you understand that working with union tradeshow labor can be sticky business. It is best to follow all the rules GES dictates, and don’t ask for any special treatment, unless you want to pay dearly for it. (I still got hit with a charge, but more on that later.) There are many options for furnishing and embellishing your booth so you could really jazz it up if you have the extra cash to do so. (Covering the hard walls with colored paper was an option many exhibitors chose, to great effect.)
It’s interesting to note that at the same time I was designing my booth, I read Rene Geneva’s report on her MAGIC booth. She mentioned that buyers responded to a booth with lots of product on the walls, and on display rather than a clean, Zen-like arrangement with clothes neatly hung on racks. My original plan was the clean, Zen plan, but I immediately modified it after reading her article. I decided to maximize what little space I had. I selected two chrome grids for each side wall of my booth. That would give me plenty of space to hang product, from top to bottom. I also selected a garment rack. Those constituted my three pieces of furniture that came at no charge with my booth. So what to sit on?? After running some numbers, I figured it would be cheaper to ship a table & chairs than to rent them. ($70 for one chair rental!) And if I changed my mind, I could just leave them behind. So off to Target to purchase a card table and two folding chairs ($8.95 each). I whipped up custom covers for said chairs and table because I think folding chairs look so sad, all cold and metal and lonely by themselves.
During the development of my business, I placed a great emphasis on creating a complete brand identity, right from the start. I had the logo, name, storyline and characters (more on that later) created before my first clothing sketch. That said, I planned on using the entire back wall of my booth to highlight my logo. I ordered a vinyl banner, a giant 5×10 banner in full color ($400) with my logo emblazoned on it (That was a hassle to ship, let me tell you. And I’m still waiting to get it back, I think they lost it somewhere in Arkansas). Oh, and thanks to all who responded in the forum to my panicked questions about how to ship all this to NYC. I ended up taking everything to Box Brothers, who packed it up really well ($25), and then Yellow Freight came and picked it up from my house with guaranteed delivery to Javits in 5 days. ($305, yes, it would have been cheaper if I were able to send it sooner, but oh well)
A few other items I also chose to take were a mannequin, 100 plastic hangers (ordered last minute from National Hanger Company), order forms (ordered last minute from Carbonlessforms.com), clamps to hang my banner, a “Booth 911” kit that included everything from duct tape to Altoids to safety pins and Kleenex. Oh, I also shipped 100 flying, screaming stuffed monkeys, which I planned as my booth giveaway.
Notice I haven’t mentioned my samples yet? Well, that’s because as of the day before the show I still didn’t have them! Yes, I know, I almost had a stroke every day up until they were finally delivered to me in NYC, the night before the show opened! Until I had that box in my hands, I kept imagining myself sitting in my empty booth with a bunch of stuffed monkeys and no samples. The clothes had gotten hung up at the screen printer in LA (very long story) but were finally delivered in the nick of time.
So, I arrived in NYC the day before the show opened. I took a red eye from Las Vegas to JFK. It was strange to walk through a deserted airport at 1am. If anyone has spent any amount of time in Vegas, you know McCarran Airport is rockin’ 24 hours a day. Heck, all of Vegas is ready for action 24/7, even in the suburbs. I realized I have lived in Vegas way too long when I was miffed at not finding a coffee place and a drugstore open at that time of night in the immediate vicinity, for my oh-so immediate needs.
Set up day at Javits
I got to the expo center about 9am the next day (well, the same day) and found my booth easily. Of course, none of my freight had arrived yet. I took the time to walk all around and check out other booths. Many of the big manufacturers had already set up their freestanding booths so I browsed the aisles. Around lunchtime, all my items had arrived so I go to work on my booth. It didn’t really take that long to set up, just as I planned. I was working this show alone, so I tried to keep everything really simple. My only hitch was the 10-foot long banner. I was struggling to hang this monster when one of the GES guys walked by. He asked if I needed a hand, of course I said yes! He helped me hang the banner up, basically held one side while I clamped the other. What a nice guy, right? Well, I got charged $218 for that helping hand! The sneaky GES people never mentioned it till the last day of the show, when they delivered an invoice to my booth. What a crock.
I finished my booth set up by about 3pm. I spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know my booth neighbors. Yes, I’m chatty. After a quick call to Bethany, who was also in town showing her line at Bubble (unfortunately we never got to hook up), I turned myself loose on the city, roaming around till I found an awesome restaurant where I had a most fabulous meal and wrote in my journal. This would be my evening routine for the rest of the trip, I’m quite a foodie, so I was thrilled to be in NYC, toddler-free, with a list of restaurants in my hot little hand. Yes, a meal that does not involve Easy Mac, sticky booster chairs, flying food and dogs begging under the table is truly a slice of heaven.
Show Day 1
My booth was located on the “Galleria Level”, which is one floor above the main level, right next to the café and right next to the bathroom and runway for the fashion show. I’m pretty stoked about the location, but the show was barely open a couple hours before all the Galleria exhibitors started grumbling about our location. Turns out, every single one of us upstairs (about 30) were late entries into the show. Most, but not all of us, were launching brand new lines. The general consensus was that we received the “leftover” space. The traffic was light, but looking out over the main expo floor from the balcony showed me that traffic was light downstairs too. My strategy was to capture people’s attention before and after the fashion show and meals, when traffic was busiest.
At first I was a little shy. I know! Loudmouth me, I felt like I wasn’t sure what to do or say when people walked by, and trust me, buyers were just flying by with trays full of food in their hands, like they had blinders on. I felt it was time to break out the monkeys. For my booth giveaway (yes it’s cheesy, but it worked SO well!) I bought a case of “slingshot monkeys” and tied my business card with booth number around their necks. These monkeys are just like a big rubber band; you grab them by the arms and pull back on their legs. When you let go, the thing goes sailing across the room, emitting an obnoxious shriek as it flies through the air. (It took me 20 minutes to figure out how to slingshot this thing; it takes a 5-year-old about 30 seconds to figure it out! Ha-ha!) Once I started shooting the monkeys through the air, people would laugh, pick it up and come over to the booth. It was a great icebreaker. They would usually ask what the monkey was for, a perfect segue into my product demo. One of the things that makes my line unique is that the clothes are intertwined with a story. My logo is made up of the characters in the story, a boy named Owen, a monkey named Mr. Chimley and the Moon. Owen and Chimley capture and harness the Moon, thus the name Moonfly. The Moon takes them on exciting adventures, age appropriate of course, for 4-7 year olds. Each season there is a new story to go along with the new collection. The story can be seen in it’s entirety on my website (don’t go there yet though, still under construction!), and the illustrated book is available for purchase along with the clothes. My clothing is screen-printed with the characters, but not in a Disney-type way, I’ve taken the logo and abstracted it, and the screen placements are in unexpected places. For example, the Moon face on a back pocket, or the Moon peeking out from under your left sleeve. It’s more arty-cool than Disney-esque.
Anyway, I found that I had about 15 seconds to give a condensed version of my product demo once I got someone’s attention. Sometimes people were really interested so I would start a back and forth conversation, asking them questions and feeling them out while they browsed through the rack of clothes. Sometimes people would politely listen, and then walk away (but they always asked to keep the monkey -for their kid, of course! geez, some folks even took multiple monkeys). Sometimes they took a business card or asked for a line sheet, but I’m not keen on giving out a line sheet blindly. My line sheets don’t do the clothes justice, and there’s nothing in them about the story. My background is in sales, so I’m kind of strict about giving away materials without a proper demo, or introduction or something. I sell the clothes; my line sheets don’t sell the clothes. My marketing materials should just serve as a reminder to the buyer. I seriously doubt I lost any sales by not giving out lines sheets. I noticed that the buyers who placed orders with me did not dilly-dally in the booth, they came in, saw the demo, wrote the order. Wishy-washy people who asked for a line sheet usually weren’t all that interested. How do I know? I don’t know for sure, but the wishy-washys usually don’t like to answer questions and don’t want to leave a business card. I don’t waste a lot of time on them. If they order after the show, great, if they want to see the demo, great, but I don’t let them eat up my time.
One thing that happened consistently was when I had one buyer in my booth browsing, one or two more would stop at the same time. Having someone in your booth attracts more people. The hard part was that I was alone, so sometimes I couldn’t talk to everyone. Darn!
By afternoon, after lunch and after the fashion show, there was NO traffic upstairs in the Galleria. Downstairs it was busy. You could see buyers roaming the aisles downstairs. Other Galleria exhibitors were grumbling and wandering into each other’s booths to commiserate. One exhibitor in particular (who had a fancy $40,000 booth) was very vocal about it, and he got all the others fired up. Long story short, tempers flared, the rep from ENK (the show organizer) was summoned and a mob of angry exhibitors awaited him. The ringleader of all this actually had a petition in his hand to present to the show rep asking for some kind of concession due to lack of traffic. All the Galleria exhibitors had signed it (yes I did too). During this meeting, I had my camera ready; I thought there was going to be a riot. My suggestion of opening a martini bar upstairs didn’t go over well. (I agreed that there needed to be more traffic, but I was still writing orders with the trickle of people that managed to make it upstairs, so I had the luxury of humor still on my side.) The rep handled the situation well, and tried to diffuse the boiling tempers. He promised they would re-route the traffic flow.
On the first day, I also was able to visit with a couple F-I friends. Thanks so much for coming to show your support! I met up with Lisa Carroccio, from Downtown Joey who saved me from boredom, and gave me a much needed bathroom break. Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I stepped away from my booth, Earnshaw’s wandered in and started asking questions. Lisa kept them there until I got back. Many thanks! I also met Darby, who designs Pleuf. Both really sweet ladies with really cute lines. Hope this report helps you decide where to show.
Show Day 2
When I arrived at Javits the next morning, I immediately noticed that additional signage had been put out in the lobby, directing buyers to the upstairs Galleria. Also included was a free snack at 2:30 (Hagen Daaz anyone?) and a drawing for Jet Blue Tickets in the afternoon. The entry points to each area, both upstairs and downstairs, were more clearly defined by the use of white posts and chains. (Like the velvet rope at nightclubs, but not as fancy). So if ENK made good on their word, hopefully the traffic would increase. I spent the day giving out the rest of my monkeys and talking to anyone who would listen. I wrote the same number of orders as the first day. I also talked to a lot of press people. In addition to buyers, you get other folks attending these show, like press, and school field trips, and other manufacturers and vendors soliciting your business. It didn’t take me long to figure out the press people were wearing red badges. Hee hee, they all got “monkey’d” as they walked by my booth. I got an interview with Earnshaw’s and I did a video interview for Shezoom, an online magazine. I also spoke with James Girone, an online trend guide, Parent magazine (very briefly), Fashion Snoops, and another trend reporter from a UK online publication. I don’t remember, I didn’t get her card. I’m still not sure how to feel about the trend reporters, they basically write up what you are doing, and then send it out to everybody else in the industry to copy. Since they are by subscription only, I don’t have access, so I made them promise to send me a link to whatever they write about my company. We’ll see if they keep the promise. As for copying my stuff, I can’t stop anybody from doing that, so I just let them take pictures and write up my info. I’m not even sure if my information will make it into print, but it’s exciting to think that it might.
Show Day 3
Yep, it’s slow. Strike that, it’s a ghost town. I can hear “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” playing through the empty aisles. I am clean out of monkeys by now. But I manage one more order on the last day. The girls in the booth across from me got over their monkey-envy by serving mimosas. Yum. There was not much traffic so I was able to snag a couple for myself. Many of the other exhibitors packed up early, still angry about the lack of traffic. My plane didn’t leave until the next day, so I kicked back to see how the day would play out. One young DE, clearly still upset about the lack of traffic, was trying to drum up some support to write another petition. A few of us spoke about it briefly, but I decided I was going to let it go. I could not entirely blame ENK for the slow traffic. (Can anyone say RECESSION?) I also didn’t want to be blackballed from any show by being unruly and unreasonable. They DID put up additional signage, and they made attempts to route traffic upstairs. I managed to write orders under the substandard conditions, but many exhibitors wrote nothing at all, and they were still mad. It goes to show, you really have to WORK IT. Buyers aren’t just going to float down from heaven and land in your booth, checkbook in hand. And it’s hard; some people are downright mean to you, dismissive and condescending. I don’t pay them any mind, but others are more sensitive than that, and they take it to heart. Many DEs I met were working their own booths, and they can be emotionally attached to their product. It’s only natural they will feel disheartened in this atmosphere. However, I had to let it go. I even went so far as to seek out the show rep in person and thank him profusely for the extra signage and giveaways they came up with at the last minute to generate traffic for us. I never said I was above a little brown nosing. A week after I returned home, I did get an email from ENK wherein they acknowledged the lack of traffic, and offered their apologies. They also offered a discounted rate on my next show with them. 30% off. Not too bad. I’m sure all the Galleria exhibitors got this deal. I wonder what their response was?
After the show, all my neighbors (the ones who remained till closing) packed up and bolted out the front door. Me, no, I had to sit there and wait for GES to bring me back my empty boxes so I could pack up. During my down time, I pestered the GES rep with about 20 calls on why I refused to pay that $218 charge. She finally broke down and cut the charge in half. I was still pissed, but decided I had no more energy to put into this argument. I finally got my boxes back 2 ½ hours after the show closed! Yes, I waited forever. And I was starving. That part sucked, I just wanted to leave and have dinner in some chi-chi restaurant and decompress over a glass of pinot noir. I finally made it out Javits, about 8pm with most of my wits still about me.
A few other details for those of you who may be showing in NYC, I booked my travel through ENK, the show organizer. I did it that way because I really wouldn’t know where to stay in NYC otherwise. And it was really easy to do online. The rates were discounted, but probably I could have found something cheaper if I knew where to look. I stayed at Hilton Gardens on 28th St for $189 a night. It was in north Chelsea, not a very happening neighborhood. I had to walk several blocks south or east to see anything interesting. A cab ride to Javits was about $6, and although the cabs take credit cards, all the cabbies begged me to pay them in cash, for what reason, I have no idea. Sometimes I did, sometimes I said no way. The cab ride to JFK was $45 plus tolls; I usually gave them $60 and called it a day. I walked almost everywhere, so bring comfortable shoes. I just wish I had more time to see the city.
I still have to assess whether doing this show was worth it for me. I really enjoyed the experience, and I liked getting feedback from buyers firsthand. They all really liked the idea of cross marketing a book with the clothes. That alone was great feedback. One of my buyers gave me her sales rep’s name in Dallas, so I will be calling that rep soon. The orders I wrote did not cover all the costs of my travel, lodging and show expenses, not at all. And then there’s the question of whether the orders will stick or not, but only time will tell. I expect some fallout, changing their mind, bad checks or credit cards, my dog chewed up the order form, etc. Hopefully a little press will come through for me.
On the plane back to Vegas, it finally hit me. Oh geez, I’m really in business now! I have orders. People expect something from me. I better not screw up. I’m sure the gremlins that chased me through pre-production will be following me through my production cycle too. They better watch out though, cuz I’m going to kick them in the pants.