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!
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.