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Entries in Surtex (8)


Surtex 2015 - Under New Management

I wanted to get my thoughts down this year before I got into my follow ups from this year's Surtex show.  There was a lot of unease from veteran exhibitors regarding the change in hands from GLM to Emrald Expositions and many chose to take this year off to see how that transition went.  I can say it was, in a word, bumpy, not the show, just the lead up.  Invoicing was random and communication could have been better but you could pay by cc this year which was nice change.  From reaching out about specific promotion ideas and never responding to a very small social media presence, things felt very delayed if not dropped completely.  I know I didn't mentally engage with the fact the show was coming up because payments and webinars were so late, no fault of theirs of course but the rhythm I had been used to was just off.  I think the point of the webinars may have been lost as well and I wasn't all that impressed this year.  Even though I have exhibited in the past I have listened to all of the speakers every year and have ALWAYS picked up on good tips.  Beside the ones given by Tara Reed (who has done them for many years) I could have done without and if it WAS my first time I don't think I would have taken much away at all.  Some were aimed at Atelier exhibitors when most of the people on the calls are individual artists rather than studios and others felt like a sales pitch for all the ad-ons they offered.  I hope they spend some time thinking those through next time.  

There are some exciting changes I see, which granted, need work but the potential is there.  The biggest is a new planner tool which allows you to upload 6 art images rather than the singular rotating image previously offered in the marketplace.  I had trouble using it well and I don't think the attendees (or many exhibitors) had any idea it was available or what they should do with it but its also the first time its been used so it may take a while.  The planner allows you to create a profile of the work you do and business you are looking for and will develop "matches".  Every time you log on, you can see who has registered that fits your profile and you have the ability to email them through the system to meet with you.  I had no luck in this area but I'd be interested to hear if any other exhibitors did. There is also the ability to add booths you want to visit and create your own custom map of the show.   

Having discovered this industry more recently I am not coming from the days of large release programs and lifelong royalty checks but even in this short time, I can see that the world of licensing is changing.  Surtex is not the only way to get in touch with manufacturers, people are reaching out online, traveling to Atlanta and Vegas for Gift Mart and this year even got a little competition from a designer developed and run show called Blueprint.  Many exhibitors have felt the cost of the show is not worth the deals that they are getting specifically from exhibiting and feel the show has not done enough to get new business in the door.  All of these factors had me second guessing my decision to exhibit this year but a very dear friend said if I planned to make art licensing my full time income then Surtex was a non negotiable.  I still feel, if you are new to the industry and do not already have a steady client list that you are reaching out to in other ways, it is a worthwhile show.  It is also the easiest way to show a large quantity of work, in a short time to a receptive, interested audience AND get a read on how someone is to work with.  After all, it is about finding companies who are as good as a fit for you as you are them!  After this, my fourth show, I'm starting to realize that the companies and people that seem like a match for me are not only interested in my work but are really enjoyable to talk to and were more focused on how we might work together vs picking an image and asking for it to be sent.  It may just be a personality thing but isn't that exactly what makes relationships easy or strained?  My experience this year was that new companies are coming in, and they seemed to be a much higher quality than I have encountered prior.  I had read that they were asking companies for financialsbut maybe that was the difference?  The show felt very slow at times, the aisles were defiantly not packed but the general consensus from those I talked to, was it was a very good show.  

I know there are mixed opinions on this but the fact that the price tag was so high for artist to walk may have contributed to the show feeling a bit empier than usual.  Surtex was turning into a social event of sorts, and not that that isn't one of the very fun parts of attending the show, it is not the REASON for the show.  For the past few years, there have been packs of students and artist and it made it a bit hard to decipher potential clients from interested artist.  I do think it is very important to be able to walk the show before jumping into such a large investment but in general people do tend to walk year after year to be a "part of the show" rather than as research.  It sounds like that concern is being addressed for next year so that artists are able to come affordably.

What everyone needs to understand here, is that transitions are messy, imperfect and difficult for everyone whether its personally, professionally or in an organization.  The show still opened in time, booths were ready for banners when we got there and I don't think a single attendee would have noticed anything different.  I think they are still coming out of a restructuring but plans are already happening for next year's show.  Surtex photographers and videographers were on the floor, John Erich was walking every day checking in on things, and panels were held which included artist, design studios and Emerald employees to improve across the board.  I'm glad I took the risk; the smaller overall floor plan, slower but more qualified attendees and placement of the show (more central to entrance escalators) contributed to my most successful show yet.  Normally I don't think I'd say that, since relationships started or business discussed can take months and sometimes years to move forward but the conversations were very intentional this year so I'm excited to start in on my follow ups.  I look forward to seeing how the show improves and develops to accommodate this ever changing market.   




Outright Sale ISN'T for Everyone

I had my first outright sale experience at this past year's Surtex and thought it might be of use for those preparing for this coming show.

I set up a meeting knowing the terms the company offered ahead of time and wasn't quite sure it was a fit but from the previous years experience I was trying to be open to the process.  I thought it would give me an in person opportunity to find out more about how it would work, the type of art they would be looking for and if it worked out, the money up front doesn't hurt either!  I wasn't quite prepared for the experience.

At the time of our meeting there were seven individuals in my booth with multiple books out pulling sheets from their sleeves.  It felt very chaotic to me.  I loved the art director, who after several emails back and forth, was in fact the only reason I had considered it in the first place.  The rest of the team was very hard for me to handle.  I'm used to talking with more than one person but this was different.  Somehow I had my head on enough to ask some of the questions that I had about outright sale and was not that happy with the answers.  

Forgive me if this is basic knowledge but I learned they are buying the rights to everything in the pattern.  Meaning, if you work like I do, with lots of details and icons, they could take any of the pieces and using them in other arrangements or colors.  Essentially, they could potentially create the same greeting card design or coordinate patterns that I would be able to, so you are competing, or worse, infringing on your own work without knowing it.  In most cases it felt more like selling an entire collection rather than a single pattern.  

The art director kept having to remind the others in her group that I was licensing and they couldn't pick from my collections.  When it was all said and done I did sell one pattern, to which I was offered $100 less than I had arranged before the meeting and what felt like a car salesman line of "you really are going to let me walk out of here without these other five?"  Somehow I calmly replied "yes, because I know their value".  I was given the max of their range as previously agreed and the knowledge I would need to think this through before doing it again.  Despite my less than ideal experience, here are some reasons you shouldn't just say "no".

Sometimes companies say "outright sale" but what they mean is "flat fee".  Kind of a you say tomato,  I say tomato scenario.  You always want to get more details.  Even in my situation it was technically a license agreement because it was only for the category of paper, meaning I could still use it for fabric, ceramic, etc, but considering the amount of work I do in stationery, greeting cards, and bags "paper" was a pretty large piece to be selling off.  The most important questions to get answers to are still going to be:

  • category/categories they are looking to use your art for 
  • length of time they want to use if for (term) be on the lookout for the word perpetuity which means you are selling your rights forever
  • Fee you are agreeing to

After asking a few questions you might be able to find out that the company is really not in need of all categories or has plans to use the art beyond a year or two.  Its these questions that help you to find out what is really important to the company or what they are trying to protect against.  Its a conversation and a negotiation. Sometimes, this is where you can change the agreement from Outright Sale to a License.  Its in the details that you arrange.  A few things I'd suggest if you are planning to be open to outright sales at Surtex.

  • Have a designated group of patterns and images that are kept separate from the work you license, things go very quickly and it can be a bit confusing if you are having to denote between what you license and what you sell.  
  • Print single sided sheets that are in sleeves or presented in a stack.  If an image or pattern is selected, the purchasing company expects that you take it immediately out of what you are presenting so that no other companies see it
  • Be prepared to take payment on the spot.  I was able to invoice and send digital files after the show but companies are ready to write a check right then. 

Outright sale can be all, part, or absent from your business model, I think it's just a matter of figuring out what works for you.  For now, I'm holding off on that area of my business but there are many artists who have incorporated it successfully.  






Surtex 2014 - Year 3

It's my first real studio day since returning from Surtex (shocking I know) and even though I have follow ups to do I wanted to be sure I got something down about the show, something I didn't do last year.  This was actually my third consecutive show.  I've had the fantastic floating on air first experience, the seeing almost no one, competing with a white sheet and loosing experience and now this.  One thing I have learned is the show that seemed fantastic and the show that seemed like it couldn't have been worse can sometimes be the exact same show on paper when all things are said and done.  So with year three in the books I can honestly say I'm not sure how the show went.  Traffic was definitely  up over all and I met with more people this year than my previous two combined and I had the sense all the exhibitors felt the increase as well.  There were also industries who I had never thought I'd be a fit for stopping.  This is something that I love about Surtex, just when you think you might know yourself, your work or what an industry is looking for, it gets flipped on its head.  As individuals we are very good at pigeon holing ourselves and Surtex seems to always open me up to new markets to look at.  I am always learning new things in licensing but Surtex is always an accelerated learning environment for me, here are a few take a ways when everything isn't as new.

Set Up Jitters

These seemingly do NOT go away, at least for me anyway!  Its sort of like showing up at a new school for the first time and arriving in a class of the most beautiful people on earth!  You literally want to make a u-turn with your rolling luggage and slink off home.  I've decided this is just going to be part of the process, you need to march yourself down to your booth anyway and starting getting set up, or if you're me go find a friend or five to nervously talk at until your stomach settles down.  Just as with pretty people, you seem to acclimate once you are around it for a while and it begins to appear normal.  I did change my booth location and although I didn't arrive to reconfigured booth panels or a short desk rather than a counter, I was surprised to see I was just a few booths from the back of the show, it wasn't the worst thing but you start to question if people will make it back to you or just head over to the next aisle.  Having been in the first row next to the atelier last year I wanted to see if separating myself from the outright sale section would also separate the type of art requests I received.  This actually was the case having only had one company ask if I did outright sale compared to half of my introductions the year before.  The previous year left me questioning if the market was simply changing and if I wanted to stay in it would I have to be open to working this way more than I had originally thought so I did set up a meeting with one company who did outright sale and after the experience am pretty sure that is not the route I will go, at least not until I have specific work created for such.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

This year was great because not only did I know tons of artists who were at the show either with their rep, walking or exhibiting, but I was also next to a dear friend of mine Megan Hain!  I always wonder a few booths in any given direction but being able to stand at our shared wall was great!  Instant company!  The show is such an emotional roller coaster so having someone you know without your "game face" on was so helpful!  Sometimes you just need that "this is how I really feel" pep talk even if its only for a moment.  Her and her husband Phillipe are one of my favorite couples and they were the best neighbors!  Even though  I do the show on my own I never really feel like I am, I've talked about the tremendous community at Surtex before and I only feel stronger about that now.  I had set up help from (best friend and college roommate)  Alisse Courter's crew, lunch, coffee, drink and bathroom break offers from Laura Lobdell and Stratton from Printed Hues (one of my other FAVORITE couples by the way!) and loads of support from my wonderful FAN group who were walking, taking classes and exhibiting at NSS and the supply side.  Its amazing how I've only been in this world for 2 years and already I feel like I have this gigantic family.  It is the one place where everyone understands the unique stresses that I go through on a daily basis.  

I had a terrific and talented group around me this year and even though its by the luck of layout I'm so happy that I had the privilege to hang out with Stacy Peterson, Lisa Blade, Paula Lukey, Brittany from Two if by Sea, Lilian Cohen, Elizabeth Munro, and someone who turned out was in my actual backyard Emily Redmond from The Paper Crown Co.  It was wonderful getting to reunite with Diane Kappa who always amazes me with her professionalism and business savvy, Ani Alonso of Magia Pura who brought me one of her beautiful ceramic pieces from Buenos Aires and my Licensing Mentor (well, Angel really) Sharyn Sowell.  

Getting the Lingo Down Finally!

Even though I am shy, the basic interactions were not something I really struggled with previously,  but I did feel much more comfortable asking questions about how people worked this year.  I was much more direct in finding out terms up front and it wasn't weird or awkward at all.  I'm not sure if it was confidence or lack of importance or knowledge that had prevented this from happening before but it was very helpful in organizing my leads.  You do have a choice both in how you work and who you work with, sometimes the initial gratitude you feel to someone for liking your work temporarily outweighs the practical reason of why you are having the exchange in the first place.  You are there to make money and you know what?  They are there to make money with your art.  Do not confuse this with talent or value or even taste, it is a business exchange.  That is not to say you won't have people you simply adore who genuinely love what you do, it just makes those questions a completely natural part of the conversation.  So, if you aren't already, start asking, how do you typically work, do you have a set fee or is there a range, how long is your term, where do you sell and even ask for a copy of their standard agreement.  It can feel pushy and awkward at first but I promise that manufacturers are very used to answering these types of questions. 

Life Will Start Again After Surtex

I'm not sure if you heard yourself saying, "Just wait till after Surtex"?  To clients, family, friends, yourself?  Its all consuming for the weeks (well months) leading up to the show and it doesn't end when you come home.  Surtex is really a starting point for new requests and work.  Its difficult because in the attempt to finish everything needed for one big deadline, I push other projects off and June becomes one massive deadline, either with previously promised work or Holiday deadlines or the addition of  new work.  I don't feel I have a great perspective on how to avoid this but would love to know how others handle it!  Personally this is also hard because you are asking loved ones if they can just hang on a bit longer when they have already given you up for so long on top of the fact you have been on a mini vacation, yes, I know this is not really true but you can see how they might feel that way!

Surtex Burnout

Unfortunately this is a very real one for me.  Even though I'm sure this is something everyone feels after the show,  I am coming off what has been a marathon attempt at changing my fate and launching into a brand new industry.  It is something I had done from a standstill with no previous industry knowledge or experience.  It is something I worked at full time in addition to being a wife and mom, and working a full time job.  It is something I have been putting 110% of my energy into and its been going on 40 months.  This means 40 months of very little sleep and absolutely zero down time.  Is this healthy?  Absolutely not but I had the sincerest hope that in making the sacrifice and putting in my  best effort it would transition me from earning income from my left brain skills to making a living from my right brain talents.  I've been struggling with keeping all the balls in the air for some time so I have some really tough decisions ahead.  Its hard because I do see things working and moving forward but my current pieces are not able to stay in play.  In truth I don't really know what this means but to say I'm in search of some balance is a gross understatement!  So that thing you hear about 50% of leads not being followed up on that makes you think "how is that possible???", well, that's me and its not for the lack of want.  A similar thing happened after last year's show as well, the intent is there to follow up on every lead but once you find yourself wrapped up in a new project or request from existing clients or the follow up that is actually a large pitch with new work you quickly realize its impossible to do it all even with the best intension.  


So in some ways I feel like this is the Surtex post you don't write, its not the I had the best show ever post although I thoroughly enjoy every minute I am there, its not the best clients ever post, although I do feel incredibly grateful for the amazing relationships I have built and excited for a few new ones I'm hoping are starting, its the here is where I am after three shows and 24 months in art licensing post, the only one I could write.  So here's to an amazing year of challenges, surprises and maybe even some luck which hopefully will find me writing the here's where I am after year 4 post.




Surtex Guest Blog Post - Know Thy Neighbor

I can't tell you how excited I am to be returning for my third consecutive Surtex this May!  This year was made extra special because I was asked to write a blog post for the site.  You can read my "Know Thy Neighbor" post here.  It was a special opportunity to acknowledge all those who have helped me learn and navigate this industry.  

I truly have made so many special connections and friends by attending this show and THIS year my dear dear friend and roommate from college will be exhibiting as well!  Its been lots of fun preparing together as we get ready, tossing around ideas and motivation!  You can see her art below listed under the marketplace section, Alisse Courter - Magnolia and more is on her website.



New, New, New

Everyone wants to see what's new!  I wasn't expecting that.  Just as I'm revving up my Surtex prep, I'm felling grossly unprepared.  Here I was thinking I was preparing for May but all of a sudden I'm getting requests for new art, NOW.  I thought I would be showing my new art at the show but maybe its just easier to see it a few weeks before for the people I'm already working with?  I have a particular way I like to show things.  I like everything to have a logo, be numbered, have all the corresponding pieces.  I like things to look complete, uniform.  Things take me a bit longer than others sometimes but I'm no stranger to that.  In the end I'm happy with how I've packaged myself.

I was talking to another artist, as I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, telling her all the bits and pieces that I needed to complete before I was "done".  She looked at me and asked, "yeah, but do you?"  What a great question.  It really made me think.  Am I constantly just over doing when I should just worry about the doing.  We all feel like there just aren't enough hours in the day, but am I just making that fact worse?  It's hard for me to know, all those little extras are what make things feel like "me" in the end.  

Licensing is a new industry for me so I am constantly learning, reevaluating and adjusting.  My process has drastically changed  this past year.  I've realised I am not able to work on a collection from start to finish the way I did when I was in my "bubble".  There are new project requests that pop up or submission deadlines to be aware of.  You need to be able to put a collection down and then have the discipline to pick it back up again.  Just a little brain retraining required, but I'm determined to do it.