PrintSource report New York Jan 2015

I have had to start my blog again from scratch as I have lost all my previous posts. I don’t mind loosing them as I did them as part of my degree course, now I have finished and have set up my own business I thought this was a good opportunity to start a new one. The article below was one article I thought I would add to the new blog from the old because I think it is useful for Print Designers starting out and could be useful insight to this show.

I really wanted to share my experiences of a visit to Printsource Print Show in New York January 2015. If I tell you a bit about me, and why I wanted to go there you will be able to put this show report into context. I am in my last year of a degree in Creative Practice at Newcastle College, effectively I am spending this last year setting up my business and doing a sort of academic business plan. This involves a great deal of research and written work along with a final design collection. I really want to find out more about the markets in the print industry and see where I might fit in. I have researched information on trade shows and decided the only way to find out more was to visit one myself. I was not going there for inspiration of designs; I think we all have our own style. I wanted to know which markets were represented and to ask other exhibitors their experiences because I was thinking of exhibiting at this show next year. I wanted to see who was there and how they set their stand up etc. I am a total newbie to this industry and I have very little experience in selling designs but I do have a great deal of past business experience and have exhibited at major national and international trade shows in the past for another business I set up and ran.

It was a cold and bright morning when I found myself walking up to 18th West Street in New York on 13th January 2015. I turned off 6th Avenue and soon spotted the familiar logo of a banner outside on the street, I had arrived at the Metropolitan Pavilion. I had read so much about this show or tried to find out as much as possible, I searched and found the odd report and a very few photos on Intragram. I wanted to see for myself what I would be up against if I exhibited here after the finish of my degree. My aim was to talk to as many people as possible and find out how their show was going. Luckily I like to talk and if I am interested in finding something out I am not shy to ask. I arrived early and waited with the early birds before the show was opened. I had also signed up for the Future Cafe seminar program, which was starting at 9.30. Eventually we entered and I was surprised to see how small the venue was, I had been given a program of the show exhibitors before I entered and thought again how small the list was of those exhibiting. The stands looked exactly as how I imagined with most of the artwork displayed on the walls of the booth with tables to the front of the booth. Chairs were arranged in front of the tables obviously for the clients to sit and look at the artwork. I think if you were coming from overseas it would be relatively easy to set up a booth, most to the examples could be transported in a portfolio or rolled up into tubes. I heard one man saying he had his wall examples printed onto matt paper by ‘Spoonflower’. I looked at how the artwork was attached to the top of the booth, some used big thick silver clamps others used white tape hanging down and silver paper clips/clamps attached on all four corners of the designs. Most samples were at least A2 or A1 size. Some had many designs displayed on long strips of paper about 600mm wide. The three sides of the booth walls were covered in designs and some booths only had a select few, giving a more simple approach. I also saw some designs printed off and then attached to an header which were hooked onto a length of chain hanging from the top of the booth walls. One stand had a very big image obviously printed off using a wide format printer, which was about 8ft long, and 6ft tall, this looked very effectively. Organizing a stand here, simple to organize and mock up before you leave the UK, would not daunt me. I would be limited on how much I could take on the plane with me. The Printsource organizers gave all booths a fascia with their name and stand number. All in all the show looked uniform and there was not much deviation to make a stand look too complicated. It was the artwork that was for sale and important to emphasis as this was the main element. If it was I, I would decorate my stand with less images but make them as big as possible. The stands, which had many images, looked a bit tiring to look at and there was just too much to take in.

I must say I did feel slightly self-conscious when I started walking around the show. There weren’t many people there to start off with so there were people sitting around and waiting for the trade to come in. I bit the bullet and started to introduce myself to some to the exhibitors. I explained why I was at the show, wanting to find out more about the markets and what it was like to exhibit at the show. To my surprise a great deal of people were very happy to talk to me. I did explain that I would disappear if a customer arrived. I found myself talking to a selection of booths which was their first time exhibiting, they were all very excited and all seemed to have lovely work to display. What stuck me too were the different nationalities who were there, in one row I spoke to some Mexican, French and British designers.

At 9.30 I disappeared to hear my first talk, which was by The Pantone Colour Institute, and the speaker was Laurie Pressman. This talk was geared mainly towards the SS16 colours, very interesting and useful information. I am hoping to try and use some of these colours for my final collection so it was invaluable knowledge. I also went to other talks by The Trend House and Trendstop and Lilla Rogers. Most of the talks were based around High fashion trends except for Lilla Rogers who talked more about the trends in the illustration and licensed markets. One thought I had was there were fewer proper fashion exhibitors at the show, there were some showing fabrics and dress fronts but the majority of people seemed to be displaying their work on paper.

Between my talks I continued on my rounds to speak to people I talked to some people for a few minutes and then came back later when they were free to carry on the conversations. After lunch I went back to the newbie row of exhibitors who did not look busy at all. I carried on my conversations and was told numerous times by different people that you need to exhibit at this show at least three times before customers will take you seriously and know that they can rely on your services. I definitely saw a difference from the well-established brands to those who were not so well known. The Newbie crowd were situated in rather a ‘dog leg’ part of the show, you had to go there to see them rather than walk past them. I also found exhibitors who had been taking part in the show for at least 15 years, one was from the UK the other the US. Their conversations were fascinating and here is what they said. The British exhibitor had been at Printsource for 15 years he had built up a big client list, his stand was quite ordinary and the artwork he was displaying was on sheets of paper and he had images of whimsical, cartoon like characters. I tried to look closer and they looked good quality but they weren’t fashion prints. He said that the market will find you but you also need to keep an eye on trends and design for the customer, it is no good selling designs that only you like. He again said that you needed to be at the show at least three times before you were regarded as ‘in’ and trustworthy enough to buy from. He carried on to say that when you exhibit here the first time you might think you know everything but this is not the case and you learn from every time you exhibit what the customers are after. The US exhibitor said that she only sold one print at her last show. She had done a bit better this time but she said if she relied on this as her main income she would be out on the street. Her design business had a sideline of making spec designs for products and she was paid very well from this side. She did not understand the markets and could not decide what the customer had come to buy so she changed her stand accordingly. She thought they were looking for children’s wear so put up her children’s wear images but had no luck. The standard of her work was high and she had a good variety available. She also mentioned that she did not think that the customers were very sophisticated and were not looking for good quality or did not know quality when they saw it. She had had to slam her prices down to make a sale. The bigger the company to more they asked more to be knocked off the price.

Another important aspect of the show for me was finding out what sorts of market the exhibitors were covering. I found out that this is so difficult and many people were trying to cover as many markets as possible. Even established sellers found defining the markets very difficult. If they were confused so was I. I still find it difficult to get to the bottom of this question and find the right answer. I could see that there were people from all over the world, there were quite a few from the UK which made me think there is nothing similar to this show in the UK so you need to travel to get the custom. Most people I asked were selling to the US market and these included the UK sellers, they weren’t interested in the UK market. There was a stand selling beautiful hand painted large designs and these turned out the be UK company, they were not very friendly but looking on their website after the show I saw they sold to some prestigious wallpaper and fabric companies like Jane Churchill and Schumacher. They were established and one woman told me they had a range of bed linen they had seen in a shop and they were selling under their name. Trying to find out more information about this company was hard because everybody has a closed website and everything is password protected. The other ends of the scale were small companies selling cartoon character designs, they were really just one man band businesses. There was everything there from all levels, selling designs for interiors, wallpaper, fashion, paper goods, cards, illustration etc. it was a jumbled mix from top to bottom, so difficult to know who their customers were and what they were their to buy!

I think the outlay for a booth is very expensive and it is not just the cost of the booth it is all the extras of staying in NYC, printing and travel costs. One girl I had my eye on did not look busy at all and I asked her in the afternoon how she was doing. She had not sold a thing and had showed all her work to people and they just walked away. It was her first time at the show and she told me how much she had spent on the booth $3000 plus extra for an electric point. Her printing of samples had cost her about $6 a sheet and she must have had 150 designs to show, you could feel the disappointment in her voice. I heard the same again further down the row and other exhibitors, but I was at one stand, which looked quite busy, and they were writing an invoice out for 3K to one customer. I spoke to another company and they said they had already covered the cost of their booth but they had been exhibiting at Surtex for 7 years so were pros at what they were doing and again they were experienced. I also found out a bit about the pricing which was also an important factor for my research and me. I heard some designs going to $600 -$750 and $1500 for top-notch interior designs. Some designs were being sold as a collection for $750 so quite good value really, a main design with two filler/secondary designs. I was amazed to see booths selling vintage fabric; I looked closely and found out that they sell the fabric and design for $450 per design. I asked about the copyright and they said they had been in the public domain for 40 years so had no copyright! Interesting but not sure if that would work in the UK. Check your Granny’s attic there could be a fortune up there! Customers bought this fabric to copy and re-work the designs. The exhibitors I saw who sold had little books with miniature print out of the designs as reference, they also invoiced the customer, no money was changing hands. I heard they had 30 days and the paper copy of the print is taken on the day and digital copy is sent a few days later.

Another topic I gleaned information on was Surtex another print show held in New York in May. A great many of the exhibitors at Printsource also exhibited there too. I found out that it is about 10 times larger than Printsource and a bit more intense. It is difficult to stand out from the crowd and there is so much more competition. The show runs in conjunction with the stationary show and the textile designers are stuck in one corner. I was told if you are a first time seller at Surtex it is very unlikely you will sell anything I was told. There are many more people visiting Surtex to get design ideas, at Printsource I met about 4 people walking the show at the same time as me.  Surtex is apparently too daunting to do as a first show and Printsource is a friendlier and smaller show to do first time. At Surtex it is more geared towards paper products and licensing, one company I spoke to who had exhibited at Surtex for 7 years said they stopped selling their designs for license and just wanted to sell them outright. They said it was much easier and straightforward, they could license a design if they were request to.

Here are my conclusions of the show in regard to my own business and circumstances.

I think there is too much investment needed to establish yourself as a designer at these shows. I worked it out that it would cost my 12K sterling to exhibit at three shows and even if I did sell some designs and establish myself I would find it very difficult to recoup the initial investment.

To be successful at these show you need to know the market or at least know where your art sits the best within a market. You could tell which stands were trying to cover everything, they were confused and their booth looked confused. But I did go to a talk by Lilla Rogers and she said you have to try for everything and have lots of fingers in lots of pies. I think this will relate to her license market but not to interiors or fashion.

It is a good idea to be part of a design studio and there were quite a few there but you need to rely on them selling your work and you need to know they are representing you as best they can. Some have so many artists on their books it must make it a hard job to give every artist the same attention. Maybe a few of use could get together and sell our designs together, this would save the cost for the booth but the travel, hotel and printing costs would still be the same. The Mexican girls I met did this and they didn’t sell a thing, throughout the time I was at the show. They were very organized but their stand was quite full and it was difficult to see what they were selling, they needed a bigger booth in a better place.

One thing that really stuck home was how all this lovely design work was being sold for next to nothing! All that effort and expense going into designing the designs, organizing and attending the show. The customers were trying to do a deal and pay as little as possible for it and the profit they would make from the products they sold would outweigh the cost of the design ten fold. I know as a designer you can’t get too attached to your work, I have a problem with that and I don’t think I would be able to do it! I would want it to go to a good home and I value it more than the prices at the show. I would rather invest in products and sell them myself. I think the buyers are getting a bargain.

I am glad I visited the show because it has made me think in a different way. I really wanted to take this route and design and then sell my designs at these trade shows but the reality is so different. If I had not been to the show and spoken to who I spoke to then I would never have found out what I did. I feel sad that I have decided not to sell this way and I will have to find another route. There is just too much risk involved and it is so far and so expensive to take that risk. I don’t want to be a slave and sell my work for nothing. You really need to have more experience than I have at the moment. I might feel differently in the future but at present I think I would get my fingers burnt! I know what it is like to have a disaster at the show and stand there getting more and more despondent, it is a horrible feeling and I knew when I visited that show that feeling was there and I could see people having that feeling too. I know I should not say it but the only winners in this game are the organizers, it doesn’t matter to them if you sell or not the price is the same and they make the same amount of profit.

Originally I wanted to go to New York to see for myself to see if it was possible to exhibit at Printsource next year. I found out I am not ready but I also wanted other people to hear my experiences because when I was looking to find out information about these shows there was very little information out there. I have not mentioned any names in my report and I hope I have been accurate and fare. I would be very grateful for any feedback or questions you may have.