CHA - the view from another trade show first timer...

Alex Sanso is one of the artists who launched herself with gusto into the SHOWSTOPPER tool, and also into her first trade show!  A few weeks ago she made her debut in a special section of CHA called the designer showcase.  She has been kind enough to stop by and share her experience with us!  BRAVO to Alex for jumping in with both feet!LA Convention Center CHA

Alex Sanso

After several years of dreaming of licensing my own art, I now have my first trade show exhibit experience in the history books. Now that the angst of “am I ready?” and “am I good enough?” is over, I ask myself, “what was I waiting for?”

I realized a few months ago that while reading blogs, forums, tweets and e-books about art licensing is extremely valuable (I do it constantly), there would never come a time when I’d say to myself, “I’m ready.” Despite my insecurities, I did manage to license three pieces of art to my first-ever licensee a few months ago. That was the boost I needed, so I decided this year was the year I’d exhibit in a show. The question was, which one? Surtex? Licensing Expo? Where did I fit?

Artopia booth

This past January, I exhibited in the Craft & Hobby Association (CHA) Winter Trade Show and Conference in Los Angeles...a show I’d never heard of, in an industry I had no experience in. Despite that, I realized that my art style could be a great fit for scrapbooking papers, ribbons, fabrics, stickers...all products represented at this show. But this show would take place a full four months before any show I had been considering up to that point, and I had just barely started creating my collections! Was I nuts? Could I be ready?

I found out that exhibitors at the CHA Trade Show are a mix of manufacturers and distributors of craft and hobby products and tools. Attendees are retailers, store buyers—the (mostly) women who use these products for scrapbooking, jewelry-making, quilting and other crafts for personal and professional use. There is also a “License & Design” section of booths in the show for artists who license their art to manufacturers. The price for a booth is reasonable compared to what you’ll pay for other major shows. However, deeper research revealed that there was an even more affordable option: the Designer Showcase.

This one-day event takes place in a separate room, a blistering walking distance from the main show floor. Designers get a small conference table (not a booth) on which to display their wares, then are banished from the room all day as the by-invitation-only attendees (press, art directors, exhibitors from the show floor) hopefully come, look at your art and leave a business card...or better yet, come back for the 2 hours in the evening when designers are present to meet and greet the attendees.  That’s right, prepare like mad, travel to LA and set up a table in a room for two hours of face time out of a 4-day show. I signed right up, of course!

The upshot...I made the most of my small, one-day, unmanned exhibit by making the presentation the best that I could—with a full catalog to flip through, a freestanding display and a slideshow running on my laptop. I also displayed some product that had been created from my art for a client—not from my collections, but a good showing of my style. I created postcards that I left on the table (which I had also been handing out for two days prior at the show as I met people), and left a place for people to fill in their information and drop their cards. By the time the whole event was over, I had a long list of contacts that I have spent the last couple of weeks following up with!

New contacts, great! But did I leave the show with any contracts in hand? No. I know that, besides having great art, success in this business is based on exposure, making connections and building relationships that are forged over time. In that sense, this show was a smashing success for me. I walked away with the confidence that this is the right move for my business and that I do have a place in the art licensing industry. I have a first-show experience behind me and can get on with it. I’ll be walking Surtex this May and plotting my next entrance onto the licensing stage. I guess I’d better get to work on more collections.

Artist and graphic designer Alex Sanso found her passion in creating art for product during her nine years as an artist at Walt Disney World, creating art and design for theme park merchandise such as stationery, home decor, games, textiles, apparel and more. As chief artopian at artopia creative, she brings that experience to her own art licensing collections...and still loves a great thrill ride!


Jodi Broglio said...

Hi Alex, conrgatulations on your 1st trade show. I loved reading all about your experience and hearing your point of view. You must feel so thrilled and relieved that you did it and it wasn't as scary as you thought. Great job! Love hearing it was a success. I'm exhibiting for the 1st time at surtex and its nice to hear other designers have the same jitters and doubts but take the leap anyway. A big thanks to Khristian for sharing such great knowledge and awesome inspiration! Stop by and say hi at surtex I'm in booth 257 and would love to meet you! Congrats again on your 1st show and your inspiration :) Jodi

Sparky Firepants said...

Alex, you rocked that showcase. I could take a few lessons from you.

So good to meet you in person!

Cherish Flieder said...

Alex, yes you did uncover a true hidden treasure. I have even exhibited at the Designer Showcase at the CHA summer show and did just as well, if not better than the winter ones. Maybe I will see you there? Best!

Alex Sanso said...

Thanks for your comments, all! (and to Khristian for allowing me this little forum on her fabulous blog!)

@Jodi: I'm so glad my story was inspiring to you for your own first steps exhibiting. That's so exciting that you'll be at Surtex this year! I'll be going as a "walker", so will definitely come by and say hi!

@Sparky: Aw, shucks...you rocked it yourself! You're the one who ran out of business cards! ;-)

@Cherish: Good to know the summer show is good too! Not this year, but next year...who knows?

miki berman said...

Whooo hooo! Good job and congrats Alex!! it makes me feel more confidant that I'll be able to do a tradeshow in the not to distant future!!!