When I first decided to give the greetings card publishing business a whirl, I put myself through a virtual crammer session of research via the web, and speed-learned some fundamentals about the business.
One of the key pieces of info that I gleaned, was that attending a trade fair within the industry was pretty vital. I had a goal to launch my business in March 2016. Progressive Greetings Live, the only trade fair dedicated to the greetings card industry was scheduled for early May. I deliberated whether to let the business run for a year and attend 2017 but something told me that this timing was crucial and to get the business out there earlier rather than later.
So I booked a stand. From conversations with the lovely Tracey of Max Publishing (the organistion which hosts PG Live along with other elements of the business), I gleaned that the Springboard section was the place to be. I chose stand 679.
Now, this all took place back in January. I had 12 designs almost finished. I needed at least 50. The designs I was working on were from the ‘Dramatic Paws‘ range – painstakingly laborious in the art content, involving sculpture, revisions, refinements, more sculpture, mini-film set building, backdrops to paint, costume making, props, photography, then editing and text. They are not a quick fix. But the next ranges lined up were to be more straightforward in their processes and much less time consuming. I knew it would be fine….
Fast forwarding to April – the provisional March date to start trading had been and gone – I wasn’t ready – I’d had rounds of proofs from the printers which I couldn’t finish with until perfect – but we had two ranges to launch the business with in early April; Dramatic Paws and Alf Skitten & Friends, and so off we went – the site went live on the 12th – I had less than a month to PG Live.
Within a week I had the cards in two local shops. Both ranges were well received and for this I could breathe a sigh of relief. I would have some feedback to give to potential customers. It was a start.
I focussed purely on prep for the trade fair and continued to build two further ranges which I’d been developing in the background. ‘Period Drama‘ and ‘Binspiration‘ were ready. A further travel-inspired range ‘Because We Have Wanderlust’ took the designs to 56 in total (a range which we’ve not yet put on the website as are developing it a bit further).
Fast forwarding to May. I’d booked accomodation at Kings Cross for John and I. John is going to be joining the business when he takes redundancy later on this year. As my OH, he’s been key in shaping the business and developing ideas for the cards, so his involvement at PG Live was crucial.
Our stand was 2m x 1m. I’d opted to display using art canvases covered in white calico and with the cards attached by velcro. I’d been to Spring Fair at the NEC to pick up some ideas and wanted a clean, minimalist look. I had a sign made up of our logo and some range signs. We had postcards, business cards, trade price lists, duplicate order pads and contact forms printed. We packed dozens of samples. The whole lot fitted neatly into a cabin bag size wheeled suitcase along with several stationery necessities, velcro etc. The boards were compact and light enough to bag up and carry.
We’d planned to drive to Islington where the trade fair was being held at the Business Design Centre. Parking for three days in Islington was going to cost about £160 plus the cost of fuel and the congestion charge.
We ended up booking to travel by coach for a third of the cost.
It was great, cheap, efficient, left from right outside where we live, meant we could rest, didn’t have the hassle of driving through London. Getting the tube to the Angel was pretty straightforward.
We arrived at the BDC at lunchtime on the Monday and started set up, briefly meeting our immediate neighbours, Choco Greetings and The Right Lines. We learned that velcro doesn’t like being attached to fabric and will eventually roll off the fibres when fixing the boards to the wall, so we had to trim the calico back to allow the velcro be fixed to the wooden struts.
We had set ourselves some key targets for the show – make a certain number of direct sales – and also try to secure some agents, which we’d learned is not easy, especially for new publishers. We went off and checked into our hotel then went for a drink. We talked through our strategy – allow browsers to browse without being ‘jumped on’ but not ignored, friendly and open guidance but not smothering. Offer samples, cards and leaflets. Be interested in feedback and take constructive criticism. Ask questions about the retailers, their shops, cards and demographic- they would be able to provide great insights into the market. Give feedback, share information about the cards we were selling, the designs which were really shifting well – one of our retailers had sold 40 of our cards in two weeks, which in their view was a very good start….
Day One. We made it to the BDC 40 minutes before it opened. We tweaked the look of the stand and got our promo materials ready. We drank endless cups of lovely coffee. We chatted a bit more to our neighbours. We waited. The doors opened.
The Springboard section is situated on the upper level in an area which attracts footlfall on the way through to the dining area. The lower level soon became buzzing with attendees, and eventually people starting appearing along through our section. It was exciting! And mindful of our strategy to engage, we allowed people space to look without being pushy. I wondered whether we were being a little too laid-back. But the stand being so small meant that you were always right next to the browser so communication was readily there.
We learned very quickly that our cards make people laugh; and they are eye-catching. We also learned that as some of them have text, it requires people to slow down and read, rather than hurry past as so many people were doing, literally marching along the corridor with no intention of studying the stands or spending time looking at the detail. This was frustrating for some of us, as my fellow exhibitors also had quite ‘wordy’ cards which needed scrutiny. We decided that buyers must have set ideas of what they are looking for and will quickly identify the style as they pass.
But our cards were attracting a lot of attention – and it was really wonderful to hear all the laughter and praise for the designs. One comment was that the Dramatic Paws range was the most original throughout the entire show, which was really lovely to hear.
Lunchtime, and the flurry of people passing meant that we could hand out cards and samples to a passing audience, the majority of whom, I hasten to add, were concentrating solely on getting to the dining room for a break rather than viewing. We found the most productive time was after lunch, which is when some of the magic happened.
In quick succession, we had orders – entire ranges and doubled quantities to take advantage of the paid carriage. Then we had a couple browsing who were exclaiming very positively about the quality and style of the cards. They turned out to be agents who were not looking for additional agencies but loved our work so much, they offered us representation there are then. One for London, one for East Anglia. We were absolutely thrilled, and also because they were both instantly likeable, communicative and we felt we had established a really positive rapport straight away. So targets had been achieved!
Some of our fellow exhibitors also seemed to have done well with orders. One of the highlights of PG Live was to make some new friends and contacts with other publishers. We loved chatting to Choco Greetings, The Right Lines and Jelly Armchair! All fabulous designers with great ranges and styles. Jelly Armchair have had monumental success in getting designs into Paperchase following an illustration of theirs going viral on Twitter last year. We loved hanging out with all these super fab ladies!
Choco Greetings – does what it says on the wrapper!
The Right Lines: wonderful words and feel-good cards
Liz and Catherine from Jelly Armchair – punny and fabulous illustrations
At the end of Day 1, it was the drinks reception, with a free bar (well, along with the lunches, I suppose all costs have been absorbed into the stand prices) but it was a great opportunity to wind down and have a few glasses of wine, and chat to others. We met a lovely couple who have a shop in south east London. We talked extensively to them and they explained that like many retailers there, they do not place any orders until after the show. They like to look, browse and take brochures, samples away and then deliberate upon which companies to buy from.
I’d heard this frequently throughout the show; that many buyers won’t actually place orders there and then. The event organisers had said the same, that some results follow beyond the show. I decided that I would give it until the end of July to gauge and evaluate exacty what return we’ve had from our investment in PG Live. But I felt that the outcomes from day 1, were something to be pleased with.
John and I ended up on London Bridge later that night, walking off the excess booze, talking through the day….it was heartening and we were feeling really positive.
Day 2 started slowly – apparently it’s always the quietest of the two days and we felt that a little with less of a buzz throughout and not so much immediate traffic through our area. But we were still attracting an audience and it also made us step up with handing out samples and cards, stopping people to talk to them. We certainly worked harder! By lunchtime, we had had no further orders and this was the theme for most of our neighbours. We started thinking ahead to the get-out and the journey home.
It’s very easy, as a new publisher and even as an established publisher apparently, to be constantly comparing to other designers and artists – but there is a such a diverse range of talent – some 260 exhibitors there – that it’s important to stay focussed on your own style and not start to feel as though you should be diversifying to do what others do! It’s a theme I heard frequently while there, people’s fragile confidence at risk of being dented and certainly looking at some of the bigger players, it’s overwhelming!
And then early afternoon, I vanished behind the stand for a break, leaving John manning the stand. He was chatting with two ladies for some considerable time, and asked me to to fetch a sample they’d asked for. He continued to chat. A little while later he appeared and handed me a card…..it was a buyer from a well-known card shop chain who had expressed an interest in the Alf Skitten range and wanted us to get in touch on our return. Which we did….but until we have an outcome, we’ll have to keep that one a bit low-key!
Another funny moment was when we had two Swiss gentlemen buyers visit the stand. They were absolutely roaring with laughter, and really, REALLY loved the Dramatic Paws range. They were lamenting how the puns / play on words of the film titles wouldn’t translate adequately for their customers, but it was a real pleasure for us to see our designs causing such enjoyment!
So at 4.30pm the doors closed and it was time to pack up and head home. We were on our way by 5.15, heading towards the tube and then to Victoria. It was a really excellent couple of days; we learned lots, we took orders, we have agents and we have other possibilities bubbling away. It’s made us more determined than ever to make this fledgling business of ours spread its wings and really take off – because it’s an industry that for us, is rewarding in so many ways and we want to plant ourselves firmly in it.
Thanks to all the organisers of PG Live for making it such an efficient and well-supported event to be part of, and also to Sharon Little of GCA for advice before, during and after! We look forward to seeing you again next year.
You can check out all of our designs at: www.golala.co.uk