Monday, May 27, 2013

The Surtex Show 2013, The Work Just Started!

What-a-show!!! We really had a good one. Lots of hard work done upfront but it has really paid off so far.


Surtex 2013, Javits Center in NYC

To try to recap everything that happened would mean a very long post so we will present the main events from our perspective. We'll first talk about the show in itself, followed by future articles about the National Stationary Show, the wonderful artists we met, and a recap of our licensing journey so far.

We want to whole-heartedly thank all of the new and veteran artists, agents, consultants, property attorneys, manufacturers and retailers who stopped by our booth. We will share more details in various forums and in upcoming articles but wanted to mention it here - meeting you was an unforgettable experience and was definitely one of the highlights of the show!


• • • THE SURTEX SHOW 2013 • • •

It is a little hard to capture the many facets of the art licensing business as well as the emotional aspects that go along with it when exhibiting in shows such as Surtex. A veteran artist said to me that art licensing isn't just a business but a way of life. Many artists have been doing it for years and years and have built up an amazing business through pioneering what it is now probably the premier art licensing show worldwide.

The show has changed over the years per what I have been reading. Some of us, myself included, have just started out so we don't know much else and therefore I cannot compare the traffic this year to that of last year. There was so much activity that I was pretty much restricted to my booth and had very little time to walk around the show to say hello to friends or to see what was happening. I heard the traffic overall this year was less then in previous years but that it was more focused and of higher quality. The addition and location of the Atelier section no doubt had an impact on the overall flow and dynamics of the show; it will be interesting to see how making a more specific separation between the largely "licensing-focused" and "sales-focused" exhibitors will evolve.


Booth sign with decorative trim

Many exhibitors we talked to had a very successful show overall. We ourselves were busy throughout most of the three days even though it rained hard on the first day and we weren't in the front section which had more traffic in general. In some slower times on Tuesday afternoon we engaged in conversations with people walking by and three of them turned out to be big manufacturers in our target markets, so we ended the show on a high note with some high potential clients!

I decided to exhibit at Surtex a couple of years ago after first walking the show. It was fascinating to walk it though it was so overwhelming at first. Last year I exhibited through an agent and it wasn't as direct an experience as doing it on my own, since this time I was able to engage with manufacturers directly; the amount you can learn is simply phenomenal. 


studio•Alex promotional postcards

I enjoy representing myself and this was for me an experience of a lifetime. It has been a fast paced progression of events culminating in a very productive three days meeting manufacturers and presenting my work to them for potential future partnerships. It has been crazy-busy from the beginning to the end ... except that there is no end. The real work has just started! After the show is over and all the glamor and glory (and aching feet!) settles down the follow-ups are what will hopefully bring home some contracts.

What We Did To Prepare For The Show

We started to gear up for the show in February and March. We secured a corner booth in January but probably should have done it earlier to get a better position. I then created a simple marketing plan for myself designed to hopefully set us up for a successful show. In the meantime, while working out a design for our booth we reworked some existing 30 + collections as our understanding of what manufacturers look for has been growing.


Rough layout of booth design

Colors, themes and presentation are all important factors but we found it is good to have a cohesive look and product mock-ups. Some exhibitors don't think they are useful but we had CEO's and VP's asking for them. Art Directors not so much. I also created 10 brand new collections and submitted art to several companies I was interested in before the show to introduce myself to their Art Directors. We also did an extensive update of the website that went live before the show.

Around April, I started my online marketing campaign that resulted in many good companies coming to see us at the show. I set appointments and also sent postcards out before the show. The results exceeded our expectations so I know we did the right thing for our studio and business.

The Launch Of studio•Alex

As mentioned several times now, the show in itself was busy for us. I launched our new brand - Alex Colombo-studio•Alex - with a new logo and a brief story of the studio. I designed the booth to represent our brand, to show my art, and to attract possible clients by using colors, shapes and materials. The large orange diagonal banner was printed on fabric and was meant to be big and predominant to attract people - colors help convey and create emotions; orange is a high visibility color and in my case it was meant to convey joy, enthusiasm, happiness, creativity, determination and success.


studio•Alex booth, Surtex 2013

I wanted to showcase my style with a center image and complement it with large tear-sheets, which I designed to resemble design studio inspirational boards. Then I created a series of handmade accents and decorations to add to the mix, subtle enough but coordinated with the overal look of the booth. I used burlap and other natural fibers like wool felt and cotton. My low-cost panels were not printed, they were made out of cork and embellished with my tear-sheets so they looked very colorful. I wanted to express my passion for whimsical craftsmanship through a natural look.

The message was: "we are a competent team of artists and designers and we are here to stay for the long term. We create a partnership with manufacturers to make the world a better place through art."


studio•Alex marketing brochure (inside)

Why did we go through such detailed marketing, promo and booth design? Because we wanted to attract the type of clients we want to work with and feel that potential clients do pay attention to that and the overall message. It's also a lot of fun! The booth is our most expensive piece of promotion, it's part of our marketing plan and it should reflect our own unique look. It doesn't need to be unusual but it should tell our story, both literally and figuratively. We actually had manufacturers notice and comment to us that we looked different, that we didn't copy other artists and that we were our own brand. They liked that very, very much - and the result was that several stopped by and met with us for that reason, even though they were on a tight time table and didn't have a previous appointment.


studio•Alex marketing brochure (cover page)

Some Amusing Notes From The Show

A lady who was an importer stopped by and asked us how licensing worked. She liked us because we looked like kind people, she said; she also liked our designs and wanted to do business with us. She then added that she wanted to make totes like "the ones you have there (our samples), but better ones!" pointing at them. So we all laughed and that was that.

Many asked for Christmas themes and images; in conversation it came up that hearts and the color pink are not a feasible feature for some for that holiday but are totally fine for others. This is to say that manufacturers are the best judges of their markets - they know what works for their clientele and what works for one may not work for another without alterations. The opportunity to better understand the niches and nuances of the commercial world is what can really help being successful as a licensing artist.



What We Learned


Some artists have asked me what I learned and want to know what was good and what I would change. I will do my best to answer, although my views might shift as I exhibit again and again, because experience will tell me more.

What we would improve is ... everything! Now we have a good basic concept to work from. We have a direct experience to relate to and we met many who are interested in potential deals with us. We need to tweak our work for specific situations that came up and then carry on - and hopefully get better at anticipating the perspectives of those manufacturers that we really want to work with. There is no time to stop and feel sorry for the missed opportunities or a better presentation, because that will always happen, no matter how prepared one is. But it is a learning curve and it's great to hear specific feedback on your art from Art Directors or even their middlemen. They were all very nice to us. Why not grow together?

I would also improve our pre-show marketing. Although what we did was good, it can be better. No matter what the ups and downs are there is always room for improvement.


Ming Platt, Alex Colombo, and Paul Stout of studio•Alex

Summary Of The Show

There were so many beautiful booths and so much amazing art throughout the show. We met so many inspiring and creative people and are thrilled to be part of such a great community and industry. The mixing of ideas, the ability to establish personal connections, and the exposure to the entire pipeline of commercial product development through final retail sales is possibly the most tremendous asset of the show. We will definitely exhibit again next year and will continue to share more insights as we learn through our own journey. Look for upcoming posts where I will share perspectives from manufacturers and other licensing artists.

The after-show follow-ups are as important as exhibiting and it will be our next endeavor - licensing isn't a race against time nor is it a competition against other artists. It's a complex business of building friendly partnerships and relationships and we can only learn to get better at them as we go. We love it more and more as time goes on.

Here's to our next Surtex show!

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