Should "walkers" be on the Surtex floor?

I asked the question to attendees of
Surtex "Was it worth it?" Many responded they didn't like the higher entry fee to walk the floor, and others felt non-exhibiting artists should not be walking the surtex show floor anyway. Here are some key points on these two topics:

I found the price to walk the floor ($150) at Surtex to be way too high. I have gone to and exhibited at various trade shows and they were never that expensive and vendors would give out free passes.

You would be hard pressed to find any other trade show that allows people who are competitors to their exhibitors entrance into the show at all. Surtex is not an art fair for the public, it is a business to business event supported by the booth and entrance fees.

I can see how Surtex would want prospective exhibitors to see the show, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the exhibitors. Maybe the higher entrance fee is their solution to minimize people signing up to walk the show. Artists also now have discussion boards and forums to learn about a show without having to actually go see it in person.

As someone who didn't walk the show before exhibiting, I learned more from my booth neighbors who graciously shared their experience and advice. That can't be learned from just walking the show. I think the Surtex floor should be manufacturers and exhibitors only. Visiting artists can have access to seminars and the Stationery Show. By restricting the Surtex show floor, the Stationary exhibitors who want to meet with their artists, can still do it on their show floor. On their own time, and on their own booth fee. This would cause problem for the licensing agency that uses the show to review portfolios of guest artists if they have an appointment. But does that really happen? Shouldn't an agent's time be filled with manufacturer appointments, anyway?

I would have liked to have gone to Surtex just to see what it's all about as I am just learning about licensing in the last month or two. My reason for going would have been to see agents and get more info from them or at least see if my style would be something they are interested in, and get a feel for the business and how it works.

This year was my second time as an exhibitor at Surtex. I did not attend before actually doing the show, but there were enough pictures on line to give me an idea of what to expect. As a result, I never had the expense of "walking" it. Still, I feel that the $150 fee is very appropriate, especially compared to professional conference fees, like those of SCBWI. Learning also has a price. The problem is that certain non exhibiting artists do actually attend to try to make business contacts, and have admitted doing so. Some even do it repeatedly. That is just wrong. It is a professional show. I would even support restrictions on how many times an individual non-exhibiting artist can attend, fee or not. I recently listened to Paul Brent's session with Tara Reed about the Surtex follow up, and he said it best: when artists simply walk the show it is riding on the backs of those who pay the booth fees.

After exhibiting at Surtex for over 20 years, I have to say that I think the fee is way too high. I have encouraged new artists to attend the Surtex show for years and many of them exhibit there as a result of my encouragement. The young artists walking the show are the future of the show. Without them, there will certainly be no more Surtex. Surtex used to be a show with well over 450 studios from all over the US and Europe. It is now down to somewhere around 200. Keep in mind as well, a large majority of those booths are subsidized by the British Design Council who sponsers English artists to come over to the US to the show, paying part of their booth fee and travel expenses. The rest are artists who must scrape together the $5,000-$6,000 they need to buy a booth and stay in NY for a week out of their own pockets. Many of us who are show veterans have felt that we have gotten a lot out of Surtex over the years. We now know who the major manufacturers and key accounts are and do not need to exhibit at that particular show anymore. I do think it is time for a "face lift" for Surtex. It needs an injection of creativity and I liked when it had it's own space, and wasn't just an extention of the ever dwindling stationery show, which used to be on 3 floors and brought in thousands of customers. The proof of a good show is not just meeting the clients but it is when they actually sign a license agreement with you. I always felt that the proof of a good show was when you ended up with 3 or 4 nice contracts with major companies as a result of having a booth there.

I think it's wrong for artists who are walking the show to self promote. It's not fair to other artists who are paying high fees for a booth.

Surtex exists to foster business between artists and art buyers. Period. I am there to do business, and while I understand that some people want to see before they buy, I find it unacceptable that others keep seeing and seeing the show and never buying, but attending to connect with agents and manufacturers or get ideas for their own collections--and you know as well as I that it does go on. The higher fee is a good way to weed those attendees out and keep the atmosphere on a much more professional level. In the long run, I believe that raising the bar is actually a good thing and will keep Surtex a very desirable venue. My booth cost me $4700. Add my hotel, food and other expenses and you have quite a major investment. I am willing to make that investment because I understand that one must take chances to succeed. Artists need to think of themselves as business people and be willing to take financial risks. And if they do not want to jump in at Surtex for the full monty without walking it first, then they should consider a mere $150 chump change to find out--like buying front row seats for a Broadway show that might turn out to be a total hit --or a big dud.

I heartily disagree that $150 is too much of a fee for doing that. Here is a comparison: to attend the SCBWI annual conference in LA this summer, it is $495 for members and $550 for non members. Thousands of people attend every year just to learn how to be better writers and/or illustrators. Artists need to think of walking Surtex as a conference for learning how to license their art. I think that people will easily drop $150 on some things, but they get notions about what should be less expensive or free on others--like Surtex. For example: They might not even bat an eye to buy box seats at the Red Sox which are upwards of $80 a seat (I think it is actually more now). It's not that $150 is so much money--it is that people feel it should be much less. No one balks at the conference fees because that is what it costs to go and learn and people are used to it. It should be the same for Surtex.

As the manager of SURTEX for 12 years, I can provide factual history as well as "management's" perspective on the issues at hand. Our $150 admission fee for non-exhibiting artists was instituted in 2009 for both SURTEX and the National Stationery Show and was wholeheartedly applauded by exhibitors. It is a small business fee to pay to gain access to a market that offers opportunities like nowhere else, and certainly a better alternative to no access at all. An increasing number of licensees and art buyers are refusing to meet with non-exhibitors during show time. These solicitations are viewed as unethical and unprofessional. Once a qualified buyer or licensee comes to the show, they are kept in our registration files and need not register again. They will automatically receive a badge for the following year. SURTEX 2010 was comprised of 226 exhibiting companies from 12 countries -- representing more than 1000 artists and designers from around the world. It is the ONLY venue dedicated to the sale and license of original art for all product sectors.

I visited the National Stationery Show and Surtex this year to find a potential Licensing Agent to represent me in the US. I made appointments with several exhibitors there. Without this show, it would be impossible for me to meet these agents at the same place especially travelling all the way from Australia. As to artists that actively meet clients without exhibiting there, I think that this is always going to happen and is difficult to police. If your work is good, you believe in what you're doing then you shouldn't be threatened that opportunities are being taken away from you from these 'walkers'. It's like everything in life - focus on what you love doing, be the best you can be and everything that you want, will happen (though in licensing not always overnight!).

Habitual walkers are riding on the backs of those who pay large sums to have booths so that there is even a show worth having. Paying exhibitors are the reason that Surtex is able to exist in the first place, so that you had the possibility of coming to the US and meeting agents. It is pretty simple math. If more and more artists decide to cheap out and use the show without having booths, it is not hard to imagine what's next. No payers? No show. But walking a show to check it out before showing is not really the issue. Pay the fee and come to learn. It is those who walk the show year in and year out as a vehicle to make their own business appointments. They are being opportunistic in the worst way. It is poor sportsmanship and it is trying to get something for nothing.

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Deb Booth said...

I am one of the dratted/dreaded/maligned 'walkers' of the show. This was my first excursion to SURTEX, and I tried to abide by the rules of etiquette by not engaging anyone in conversation who was in any other way busy.

While I didn't exhibit this year - and probably won't, as I'm a photographer, and am seeing very little in the way of photography represented for licensing there - so my $150 entry fee was a great way to save thousands of dollars - I didn't get off scott free either.

Consider - I had to pay airfare, hotel, food, cabs, etc. for my walking rights. In comparison, it's much less, I realize - but I really dislike the sense that my mere presence (not mine, in particular, but as the generic, maligned "walker") was considered less-than desireable by those who'd paid their exhibit fees. I don't feel I took anything - ANYTHING - away from those individuals, and I contributed another warm, moving body, and enthusiastic responses to people's work that I loved.

So... deal with the walkers with as much respect as you can muster. We are adding $1,000s to our credit card balances too.

Deb Booth http://www.differentlightstudio.com

Anonymous said...

I agree with Deb. I understand the worries about the "walkers" but at the same time I do not see how you could learn just by a seminar how to approach this design field and to exhibiting successfully if you do not even have a chance to see what it is about and what the atmosphere is like.
Established artists might already know all this but please consider what a giant step this emotionally and financially is for a new-comer like me.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kate,
I really learned alot from your web site. Thank you.
I have a new process that will change images printed on a greeting card with the touch of a button--one image disappears to reveal another image. It has a high price point however--half the cost(my cost) of a traditional card. Is this too expensive for the greeting card industry? If not,any suggestions on how to approach a card company.

Kate Harper said...

Jim, my general formula is to aim to get your materials costs down to 20% of the retail price.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kate. 20 percent certainly makes sense. This process is visually striking and different from anything out there. I hate to see it miss out on the greeting card market. With the lower margins, perhaps it would work if I went direct to the consumer. Are there any card companies succeeding that have a web site and mail direct to the consumer, passing up the traditional store approach?
Thanks again.

Kate Harper said...

Retail marketing is pretty difficult since people don't want to pay postage to order one card. Usually they are POD or on etsy.