I've just returned from 10 days in Las Vegas where I had my very first trade show booth for 12 Small Things at the World Market Center. I actually had two booths thanks to my work with Keena Co. who has a large showroom there, and helped me test a micro showroom on their floor, in addition to the space in the temporary Pavilions. Many of the artisan groups I work with exhibit at NY Now twice a year, and some also show at the Atlanta Mart, but they don't really have a west coast presence. I had thought about trying a booth at the SF Market, but the attendance there has dropped off over the past few years and now the show is moving from the Moscone Center to the San Mateo Event Center this summer.
I spoke with a couple of my artisan groups who had considered leasing a showroom at the Market Center in Las Vegas, but found the financial commitment too daunting without testing. So I offered to try a large booth at the temporary Pavilion for a group of 12 artisan companies, to see what the interest by attendees would be for handmade artisan products. Wanting to do things right, I purchased beautiful, rustic display fixtures from Roost, one of the vendors we represent at Keena. I hadn't realized how heavy they were until I picked them up in my husband's CRV and just barely managed to fit them in, with help from a FedEx driver who tied the car door closed.
I had no view through the rear window driving the fixtures home and realized if I was going to drive them to Las Vegas, I'd need to uncrate them and do some creative car packing. I got the fixtures stripped down to the minimum packing materials, and managed to fit everything in, including some chairs and benches in the passenger seat, with windows clear for navigating. What I didn't plan for was the torrential storm I awoke to the next morning, which delayed my departure by a few hours until the rains subsided and traffic cleared. Eleven hours later, I checked into my hotel in downtown Las Vegas, lucky to have all made it there safely.
The next morning I met my handy helper Raymond, who fortunately spoke a little English, but more importantly, knew his way around the World Market and helped me paint and put up shelving in the Tower showroom, while I painted the booth in the Pavilion. The following day, Lydia Harter flew in and helped me arrange my fixtures and install more shelving. I met Lydia through Artisan Connect when we were both attending the New World Crafts Expo in Guatemala. Lydia had previously worked for Pottery Barn and also had her own artisan crafts business. She is very good at merchandising and visual display, and helped me turn boxes of products from our vendors into an amazingly beautiful display.
That night Annie Waterman flew in to help us with sales on opening day. Annie also had her own business wholesaling artisan product before working for By Hand Consulting for the past few years. Annie is now on her own as an artisan consultant at AOW Handmade, providing market reports on handcrafts from the various international gift shows. Finishing the setup of two booths took longer than I'd hoped, but thanks to a little help with props from my friends at Keena, we all finished in time to share a late dinner together at my new favorite Las Vegas restaurant Glutton.
The next morning I woke at 4:30, unable to sleep worrying about all the straggling details that weren't buttoned up. I sent a bunch of emails from my phone underneath the covers so as not to wake my roommates, until the alarm went off and it was showtime. Thanks to my great helpers and a business center at the World Market, we were ready for sales in time for customers, who were very receptive to our booths and who placed a nice amount of orders at the Pavilion that first day. It was challenging learning to use each companies different orderforms, but customers were patient and we left the Market that night very encourage by the response we received.
Over the next few days foot traffic calmed down at the Pavilion as attendees spent more time in the three large towers of permanent showrooms. Our test booth was located in the back corner of the floor, and while Keena and the other large showrooms there seem steadily busy over the next few days, our booth had very light traffic and few sales. That may change over the next few years as more exhibitors sign on for permanent space, which is definitely the trend.
I was happy to be able to try both venues however, and very grateful to Keena and the World Market team to help arrange the opportunity. Even though our sales tapered off the rest of the show, we made many great connections and on the last day won the best booth award in our handmade category!
In addition to Lydia and Annie, I was so thankful to have help from Kate Holcomb from Prosperity Candle
who flew in from Massachusetts, and Eszter Rabin of Sidai Designs
, who stopped over on her way out to NY Now, and Katie Gartner of Whistle
, who stayed an extra day after working at the Keena showroom. I literally couldn't have done in without their help.
I want to send a big shoutout to all my incredible vendors who took a chance on this Las Vegas journey with me; Anne from Craftspring
, Sue Edmonds from Melange
, Jenny from Jenny Krauss
, Ted Barber and team from Prosperity Candle
, Monica from Fibre Tibet
, William and Katie from Dharma Door
, Ellen Fish from Sprout Enterprise
, Leigh and Jenny from Creative Women
, Smita and Amber from Indigo Handloom
, LauraLe from Oxgut Hose Co
. and Julie and Ibrahima from Petel Designs
. Your products are wonderful, your work with artisans is inspiring and I'm so proud to be able to help you in whatever capacity I can.
As the show ended and I said a tearful goodbye to my helpers, I realized I'd forgot to hire someone to help me breakdown the booths, as I should have remembered after all the Keena shows I've done. I was so concerned about the setup and sales I forgot about the wrap up! I disassembled the tower booth pretty efficiently, leaving the touch up paintwork for Raymond on another day, but still needed to break down the Pavilion booth.
Most of the exhibitors had already cleared out of the Pavilion by the time I got there, but the security guard said he'd be there until 10:00 pm, so I did as much packing and shelf removal as possible right up until 9:45. As I drove out to the gate to leave, I found it locked, with no guard or anyone else in sight. I parked my car out of sight behind a semi-trailer, grabbed my bags and climbed through the fence out into the deserted parking lot and streets. I saw cabs go by in the distance and started to call Uber when a cab drove up and asked if I needed a ride. I almost cried. " I thought I saw a ghost, waving their arms around," the Indian cab driver said in his thick accent. "Yes, that was me I sighed."
The next morning I checked out of my Las Vegas home at the Downtown Grand Hotel
, and cabbed it back to the Pavilion where my new friend Price helped me lift all my heavy fixtures and furniture onto a pallet to store until the summer show. By then it was 1:00 and I was definitely going to turn into a pumpkin by midnight if I did not get on the road to San Francisco immediately.
I felt very calm and in good spirits for the long drive home. The desert landscape was spectacularly beautiful, with clear blue sides and purple mountains and brown dirt with quirky, green Joshua trees. The desert gave way to mountain passes and endless stretches of blacktop in the dark, lit only by the frequent trucks I kept passing. I pulled in front of our house at 10:30, never so happy to be safely home and see my family who have been so supportive through this whole journey. Next time I go to Las Vegas I am signing up for just one booth and I am definitely flying!