Launch report: Children’s Club 3/08

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on Mar 20, 2008 at 2:00 pm / Merchandising, Sales and Marketing, Trade Shows / Trackback

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!
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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.

22 Responses to “Launch report: Children’s Club 3/08”

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Anir
March 20th, 2008
3:01 PM

Thanks for talking about all the not-so-fun aspects and how you handled them–always helpful. Cute clothes and your booth does look interesting with the banner.

Amy
March 20th, 2008
3:05 PM

Great post Kim! Very descriptive, which I love…I felt like I was there catching a monkey. Really good information – I feel like the more show posts I read the better prepared I will be when the time comes!

Alan
March 20th, 2008
3:15 PM

Hi Kimberly:
Alan from Corky & Company. Great post and run down of the NYC show. We’ve exhibited at this show since its inception and before that when it was run by Advanstar and then before that when it was run by the Larkin Group. We’ve done all the tradeshows you mentioned and the NYC show is by far the best and most expensive. It’s too bad they split the show up like they did, this was the first time it was ever done that way. You were wise to stay in the good graces of show management because they hold the key to your future placement. I’d politely ask if you could trade the 30% discount for a front corner booth at the next show. If you get it bring a lot more monkeys! If you get a NY rep they will also help you improve your location. Again, nice post

Anne
March 20th, 2008
4:08 PM

Just came across your wonderful blog. We design and manufacture furniture – not clothing- but I still found your postings to be very informative and entertaining.

Lisa DOWNTOWN JOEY
March 20th, 2008
4:25 PM

Kim…you are even sweeter in person! Great post!

As a fellow DE, it was so fun to watch you charm the buyers–you were great!

oh and there was no way Earnshaw’s was walking out of your booth–I would have sat on her if it meant getting you some press for your awesome line.

As a boys’ designer, I was quite impressed with the quality of your line. There’s just no way you won’t succeed!

P.S. – Next time you do the Javitz (I’ll be there in August), I’ll hook you up with a table and chairs (and anything else you need) so you don’t have to ship them. Bonus…dinner at the Palm, my treat! Promise!

With friendship,
Lisa

bethany
March 20th, 2008
4:46 PM

Hey girl, great post! I tried three times to come and see you and something always got in the way! But your picture of your booth looks great. Good to hear you got press. I am going to ENK in August, so hearing about set up was really important to me. I am sure i will be emaling you with questions as the time arrives.

J C Sprowls
March 20th, 2008
4:59 PM

OMG… Bethany does have a master plan! How many shows, now, Bethany?

Kim, thanks for the show news. And, I *heart* the logo. That style of artwork is in my shortlist. I’ve seriously considered hiring a children’s illustrator of that genre.

Bethany
March 20th, 2008
6:10 PM

LOL! Yes, I DO have a master plan. I now have four sales reps and just finished my second trade show. If I make it to NY for both August and October, that will make 4 for the year!

esther
March 20th, 2008
7:00 PM

Thanks for sharing your experience. I love the concept and the artwork! It is motivating to see a children’s wear DE take the leap and do well!

Suna
March 20th, 2008
9:28 PM

Thank you for your post Kim. I really enjoyed reading it. You made my heart so warm!

Noah Landis
March 20th, 2008
10:41 PM

Was this your first show? that sucks about that GES guy offering help and then getting a bill! Thanks for the great post, and hope to begin showing at some trade shows soon.

noah

Marguerite Swope
March 21st, 2008
6:36 AM

Hi, Kim,

I love your story, and stories sell clothes, so good job! I think you should consider the show a success–you wrote orders and seemed to attract a lot of attention from press. You never know what the fallout is from exposure, and it seems to take several times of buyers seeing you for them to feel confident about buying.

When I’m in NYC I stay at the Royal Park Hostel on 97th for $60/night for a private room with bath down the hall. No phone or TV, but with a cell phone and NYC at your doorstep, these aren’t necessary. Easy access to subway. There are hostels closer to Javits but I’ve never used them.

I’m glad you got your bill cut in half for the union help on hanging–as soon as you wrote that you’d gotten a bill I was thinking you should have protested. That’s a good lesson for all of us–ask a neighbor for help, not the union labor.

It’s very typical to wait hours for your empty boxes to be returned to you. I’m shipping my booth things to Vegas in April, and my goal is to take as much as I can in my suitcases and ship the rest in small enough boxes that I can collapse them and stash them under the table in my booth so I don’t have to wait for my boxes.

It’s impressive that ENK offered a 30% discount on your next booth fee, and I think the suggestion of trading for a prime location is an excellent one.

Since you’re in Vegas, you might want to visit the show I’ll be in because it’s an American craft show and there are just lots of amazing artists bringing work. It’s very inspirational to see what people can do–and of course you’ll see lots of creative booths. ACRELasVegas.com is the website.

Marguerite

Darby
March 21st, 2008
6:57 AM

wonderful report! I’m glad I got the chance to meet you… and see your great line, and what a fabulous job you did with your booth. I hope I’ve got the guts (and money) to do the Fall show!

Rocio
March 21st, 2008
6:34 PM

Kim,

Congratulations on your first orders!
We met last year in L.A. and I am convinced that your down-to-earth charm and original product will go far

Keep up the good work!

P.S. Staying on the good side of the organisers is ALWAYS the cheapest way to secure better location with each season

Michele
March 21st, 2008
6:51 PM

What a TERRIFIC report, especially since I am considering launching next fall and wondered what in the heck it was REALLY like! :-) I would LOVE it, too, if Bethany would PLEASE report on her experiences at Bubble, since that show is my first choice as a more intimate way to break into the trade show world.

So Bethany, let’s hear it! :-)

Laura
March 22nd, 2008
3:25 AM

Ditto that on the Bubble report.
Can’t wait!

Marketa
March 22nd, 2008
9:05 AM

Hey Kim,
What a great post. I am about to do a show at the Javits in May. I’d be happy to pass your regards to the GCs :)
Cheers and congratulation.
M

Sandy
March 23rd, 2008
1:39 AM

Wonderful post!
Love your “story” element you have in your line!

-Sandy

Yahzi Rose
March 24th, 2008
11:38 AM

Thanks so much for such an informative and honest post! I love your boys designs, much success to you Kim.

Molly
March 27th, 2008
10:22 AM

Hi Kim! What a great article. I’m soaking it all up. I design girl’s clothing and live in Vegas as well! Would love to chat with you.

Linda R
March 27th, 2008
11:23 AM

Hi Kim,
What a great post. You were very good at describing the atmosphere and climate of the show. It helped those of us who could not make it. I sure look forward to seeing you at the next one. Good luck with your line. It is inovative and fun. Lots of room to grow. Your booth was done very well. clothing and designs are top-notch!

Sharon
January 24th, 2010
8:12 AM

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writting this!! We are preparing to go to the March ENK show and you just gave me so much insight as what to expect and what NOT to do ie. ask for help ;-)
I feel we will be a lot more prepared now and can plan accordingly. Plus going to make sure to request that we are put downstairs!!
-Sharon

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