The Insider’s Guide to Covering #NSS2017

If National Stationery Show were to have an unofficial tagline, it might be “So many booths, so little time!” I know there have been years where I did not make it to every aisle, nor to every booth on my walking list. So, in the interest of helping all attendees — myself included — maximize their time on the Show floor, I turned to a pro for answers.

Many of you already know Erin Austen Abbott, who not only has her hands full with her adorable Tom Otis, she is also owner and buyer for Amelia.Proof positive that stationery retail is alive and well, the Amelia brand encompasses not only an online venture, but her flagship in Oxford, Mississippi, as well as another shop she just opened blocks from her Water Valley home.“This new space gives me the ability to offer classes to my community, host art shows in the gallery space, called The Living Room Gallery, and bring Amelia to a new audience,” she told me. “(It) will allow me to grow my online store, to include items that I haven’t had room for, in the past. It will serve as the main hub for the brand.”

Heading North to the boardwalk of Asbury Park, New Jersey, Erin also has a space inside Storehouse, which houses like minded shops from around the country. Looking at these Amelia shots, it’s very clear that Erin has an impeccable eye for both product and merchandising — and to spot NSS exhibitors from Rifle Paper Co. to Maptote and Mr. Boddington’s Studio within her engaging mix. And, if that’s not enough to keep her busy, Erin has just published her first book with Chronicle Books (another NSS exhibitor — you can find them, and Erin’s book, in Booth 2304), How to Make It: 25 Makers Share Their Secrets to Building a Creative Business.

The book arose from Erin’s Instagram series, Studio Stories. “It’s a peek behind the scenes of the lines I carry in the shop,” she recalled. “That generated a large following and just as I was about to approach Chronicle with a different book idea, they approached me about possibly turning the idea of Studio Stories into a book. It was all meant to be.”

With that kind of repertoire, I think we can all learn a trick or two from Erin! So, I got her thoughts on how to best to traverse NSS for four days in May. All the photographs that follow were taken by Erin at past NSSs — and I have also found that there’s nothing like a great shot to keep a compelling range in mind.

Q. How long have you been coming to NSS?

A. Since 2011, two years after I opened my store.

Q. Can you describe your basic game plan for covering the show?

A. I have a spiral top notebook, and I write all the aisle numbers at the top, one page for each aisle. I go ahead and write down which booths I need to visit, based on the mailers I receive. Then on the first day, I first walk the aisles, to see which booths I need to return to or add to my list. I don’t place any orders on day one, usually, but I do list what opening minimums are, show specials, etc. Once I have my list of booths I want to revisit, I can start tackling those on the second and third day. I also need to focus on my budget, so I try to not rush into ordering. I want each line to have a successful show, so I make sure they know that I will order as soon as I’m home or on the last day.

Q. How has that changed over the years?

A. My first year I was overwhelmed and unorganized. By my second year, I came up with this plan and have stuck with it. I also now bring a calendar with me to schedule orders, so that I’m not hit with all my invoices and packages, all at once. Q. What role do mailers play in your planning?

A. They play a huge part. They have gotten a bit excessive over the years, but I still plan a lot of what I’m doing AT the show around the mailers. I don’t think they need to be so over the top, (since) I’m always thinking about saving money and I can tell a lot of money goes into so many of these mailers.

Q. Did you find any of the makers featured in your book  at NSS?

A. I found Moglea, Ferme À Papier, and Gold Teeth Brooklyn at NSS in years past. I carry them all at Amelia, and have since 2011. I knew I wanted to have some stationery makers in the book, and they fit all that I was looking for. My first year of walking the show, I met the owner [also named Erin] of Knot & Bow. She had just started her line and I was one of her first four stores to stock her work. We walked the show together that first year, and now she’s a double booth at NSS each year. She too is in the book.
Q.How do you manage your time in terms of having enough time to connect, but not spending too much time in any one place?

A. This is the hardest part. I want to see all of my friends and lines that I carry. I want to connect with them first. I tend to spend too much time in one spot, but I’m trying hard to curb this a bit. I also like to ask for an order sheet so that I can fill that out back at the hotel, then just hand it to them the next day, so I can be off to the next booth. This helps me stay on budget and frees up time to get through everything.
Q.  Do you set aside time for finding new resources or discover them as you walk?

A. I discover (these) as I walk that first day, then write down their booth number.

Q. What items do you find essential to have on you as you walk?

A. My phone, a portable phone charger, my spiral notebook, a mechanical pencil, a pink pearl eraser, a tote bag, with a second tucked inside, business cards and a water bottle.Thank you Erin for sharing your insights. If you spot her in the aisles in May, be sure to say hi!