Saturday, October 24, 2009

extras (tips and tricks for your next show)

In my previous post, I wrote about our new booth design for our upcoming retail show, but that is just one aspect of the mind numbing details that had to be figured out in the last few weeks.
Since I ended up having to research just about everything to get ready for this show, I thought, heck, hopefully I can save at least someone else the absolute horrendously boring task of going through all this minutia themselves, why not share it? (phew, this should make a tiny dent in my karmic debt, right?).

Being someone who needs to picture stuff in my head, once I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to present product I could start thinking of how customers would pay me for it (yes, others might have started with this part, something I might want to think about...anyhow). Obviously, this brings in a new set of problems. Cash is never a problem, so yes, check that off the list, but what about credit cards?
Being primarily a wholesaler (we sell to stores, who in turn sell to the end user), I made a decision long ago that I would not get too technical or fancy and incur large monthly fees for top of the line/newest fangled credit card processing options. For Visa and Mastercard, we actually have a set up where we can simply call in for authorizations (you can process dozens of transactions with just one phone call), but that won't work at a retail show, I am certainly not going to call in each time someone wants to pay with a credit or debit card.
For American Express, we have a card swipe machine that plugs into our phone line and although we do pay about $25/month for the machine, our telephone processor doesn't deal with Amex, so it had to be done. Now, here's the thing with the card swipe machine, the DC convention center charges approx. $400 for a phone line for the 2 day show- OUCH! Of course, we could go for a wireless machine, but I just can't substantiate the cost at this point.

I started to search around the internet to see what I could come up with, couldn't I simply process cards over the internet? I would only have to make sure that I could get online using my laptop.

Getting online: (call the show's internet/phone line provider)...the DC convention center charges $99/day to get onto their wireless network...ahem, sorry, what now? $99 PER DAY???????????? (are they smoking crack?)...The first person I speak to tells me that due to network interference, I will only be able to get onto their network, but if I really want to be 100% sure about my internet connection, I should get a phone line (yes, for $400) and get a special DSL line installed (sure, no problem...NOT).
I decided to call back again, and thankfully I did not get the same person! This time, the helpful lady on the line lowered her voice to an almost whisper and said- "just use an aircard and you will get online without a problem, no one is crazy enough to pay these prices!"- that was exactly what I was hoping to hear.
Aircards: Don't have one, (yeah I know, I know,  I tweet, I blog, I facebook, I even design and maintain my own website and NO I don't have an aircard, blackberry or even iphone! since I am coming clean on this, you may as well know that my cell phone does NOT even take photos!, which is starting to really suck, because having the perfect child that I do, people want to see photos and I am not going to trapse around town with a photo album, that would be so, well...heavy, anyhow, ok, sorry, back to Aircards.

Well, believe it or not I actually limit my internet use to home/office or hotel (when traveling), I do not have an aircard. I started to look around for a wifi service provider that I could use (as our ISP's pricing was crazy for aircards)...I also asked people on twitter for recommendations. It finally came down to contracts, I decided NO to more damn contracts for now (if possible), why would I pay a monthly fee for something I really only need when I am traveling?, especially, when my goal is to travel less now for business, as we have a baby.

Here's what if finally came down to:
They will send my aircard with limitless wifi access on Verizon to my hotel in Washington and it will be waiting for me when I arrive. I give them the day I want to start and I will only get billed starting that day and when I am done, I drop the aircard into the postage paid return envelope that they send with the aircard and drop it into the nearest mail box to go back to them- DONE! |I will be paying $8.79/day plus less than $10 for all the postage and handling, now that's a far cry from what the convention center was offering!

Great, now that I will have internet access, we can get back to online credit card processing.

This took ALOT of research!
Once again, being the contractual commitmentphobe that I am, I was looking for a somewhat temporary solution, since I am not sure if we will be doing retail shows all that often or not. So after seeing a gazillion sites that had lists and lists and lists of extras and charges, contracts and even the craziest system requirements I have ever seen, I came across one that looked pretty good, (they will remain nameless). As an aside, the great thing about twitter is that you can mention something in a tweet and suddenly BOOM, you get those types of people following you and selling you stuff/services...that's exactly what happened when I tweeted that I was looking for an internet credit card processing company. (do not mistake this for an online shopping cart solution, that's when you want to sell on your website, what I wanted was a company that could provide me with a solution to take cards live (not over the phone or online), swipe them if need be (or not if not necessary, based on rates and via a swiper that plugs into my laptop) and get instant verification and authorization.
So I started to communicate with this company A and the rates weren't horrible and I was told that I did not have to sign a longterm contract. I was told that I would be set up as a moto account, meaning, it was like I was doing business online, so I would not be swiping cards. I asked why I should be set up like this, since I would be swiping cards and I know that you will always get better rates when doing a face to face card transaction than via phone or internet- "not so", he told me (first big red flag!). Then the paper work started arriving into my email box and low and behold, all kinds of hidden costs. If there is no contract, then why do I have to pay a $50/month charge if I don't use it? why can't I just stop the service? I was told that he did not want to do all this if I was just going to cancel the service, HUH? I thought he got that this was the whole point, I wanted to use this type of service when and only when I need it!

I finally found and Chris helped me out with exactly what I wanted. "Yes, of course you can stop and start the service whenever you want and as often as you want, many of our clients do this", "Well yes, of course we will give you better rates if you are swiping cards, as a matter of fact, for just $3/month (which you can send back whenever you'd like) we will mail you a card swiper that you can plug into your laptop, this way when you swipe you will get these great retail store type rates and when you don't swipe, the rates will just automatically go to the moto rates". While he was at it, he sent me the very simple and quick forms to fill out online and actually walked me through it all over the phone- 5 minutes, DONE!
I decided to call back company A to thank Mr. A for all his emails and explanations for their completely cryptic terms and conditions (which he told me in the emails to MAKE SURE TO READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING, yes, in BOLD) and to let him know that I found another company that could better serve my needs. He immediately emailed back with all kinds of ways he could match them and to tell me , "Nadine, nothing in life is free :-)" (yes, there was a smiley at the end).
Can I just say this, it really pisses me off that we so often are forced to become experts at other people's jobs just to figure out if what they are selling us is actually what we need or not?
It seemed to pay off this time, but I think I would have opted for bamboo shoots being shoved under my fingernails one by one rather than do this legwork again, if given the choice.
(I omitted the story about trying to actually stay with the processor I currently have and simply change the means to online for now, OMG it's amazing how some companies will not even try to keep a client that has been with them for over 8 years!)
Let's summarize: online access, online credit card processing, card swiper.
Now don't for a minute think that the convention center is going to just give me an electrical outlet to plug in my laptop, hot glue gun or breast pump....NO way will PAY for that...stay tuned!

Friday, October 23, 2009

details details details

In getting ready for the Metropolitain Cooking and Entertaining Show that's coming up in less than 2 weeks in Washington, I have found myself, once again, stuck deep in the depths of trade show preparation and details. I pretty much have NYC down to a science, I know on my drive down, what I need and where I can get it, from my booth flooring from the Home Depot to the wood slats I use to put up my very simple and effective Ikea shelves. I even get together with a few other exhibitors who do the Gift Fair and we order foamboard together (gives your booth a hard wall look for a much less expensive price and you can walk out of the booth and leave them at the end because for the price, they are NOT worth saving) through Utrecht Art Supplies in NYC. We organize it so that someone is at the Javits Center at the right time and Utrecht delivers it right to the door for us on the first set up day, so convenient!
We actually have a skid that stays in the NY area now.
After each show, we pack up our samples and booth decor (tables, chairs, shelves, booth sign etc) and shrinkwrap it, then we walk right out of the Javits Center and that's that. We have
Service By Air pick it up (right out of our booth) and they store it for us and bring it in or ship it out to our next show.
Storage for the one skid runs us about $35/month, plus we pay for transporting it in and out, (they will ship it from coast to coast if that is what you need).
This costs us less than shipping everything back and forth all the time in between shows and saves us on logistical headaches and organizing. We keep almost all our needed supplies on that skid (a tool box with everything you would possibly need to set up a booth) even a step ladder, our electrical cords and clamp lights. New samples are usually sent from our warehouse to our hotel in NYC or a local Fedex office and we get fresh flowers and any little details we need at each show.

So now we are going to DC, and, it's not a trade show, but rather a retail show.
As mentioned
here, we need to think about presenting, stocking and selling, rather than simply displaying and order taking (as with wholesale trade show).
Once again, baby Tess will be accompanying us, but this time we will not be driving, but rather flying.
We have decided to not rent a car. We are staying close to the convention center and we will make it work without the added expense and hassle of driving around to pick up supplies and schlepping a 7 month old along.
Originally, I had thought about hiring a DC area rollergirl to do some running around for us, (another wonderful example of how great it is to be part of the rollerderby community/network), to pick up flooring, do an Ikea run for us, etc but after a steady run of unforeseen obstacles, even that wasn't necessary.
The final decision was that we would not get our skid sent to DC, (we only need about 1/3 of what is on it) and to incur shipping expenses for only 1/3 seemed silly. Great! one big decision made!
New problem, what kind of booth decor would we use and how could we get it done quickly and inexpensively without our usual booth stuff on hand?
We could do the Ikea run; pick up new Strippa shelves (at $4 each we can afford to leave the others in the NY area and just buy more). NEWS FLASH! Ikea no longer makes Strippa shelves! F#%K!
To make a very long story a little shorter, this type of situation just seemed to keep happening, we would get 3 steps in and then BOOM, it wouldn't work.
Here's what did work.
Utrecht Art Supplies worked! May I just say, "Utrecht, I love you!", the customer service is amazing and they always seem to come through when no one else does!
Conveniently, they have a store just blocks from the DC Convention Center (YES!), I called about foamboard and that was absolutely NO problem. When I asked if they could deliver, they told me not to worry, a couple of guys will help out or walk it over to the convention center, it won't be a problem!
Cool, walls taken care of.

Then came the flooring issue. We usually use this relatively inexpensive, (very heavy), white coated masonite that comes in 4'x8' sheets at Home Depot. We get it cut into squares to fit nicely over the floor of our booth (we tape it together with white tape) and it also fits into the car to transport to the convention center, (usually 3'x3' pieces or so).

As mentioned, we are not renting a car, so there goes that idea, but what to do to get the sleek, glossy white backdrop of a booth that BlueDogz Design products look so great on?...
Once again, our fabulous friends at Utrecht saved the day. I explained the issue and what we were looking for and they had a bunch of great, disposable, inexpensive ideas to get the look we are after, we have decided on shiny white mounting board. We are quite sure it will hold up for 2 days of traffic, it is sweepable, so we can keep it clean and it is the look we are after. YAY!
Now what about those shelves?
My usual shelving process with foamboard is, may I say, absolutely ingenius! (Yes, I said it. I wouldn't normally brag, but this process is pretty darn brilliant, see photo just above). I am constantly asked how I get the shelves to stay up on foamboard, I should write a book on it (hmmm) I will share, promise, stay tuned.

Well, this is where a sudden new design was born! Xnay on the shelves for this show, we are going bold, graphic and new....(and heck, it will eliminate the whole power tool, wood and shelving process...take note, I just let some secrets slip out). The entire back wall, 8 ft high, by 10 ft wide (which will look like a sleek white wall, thanks to the foamboard) will have fabulous BlueDogz Design clipboards hanging all over it, on little clear adhesive hooks. We will be able to get approx 10 across in approx 6-8 rows, trust me, it is going to look stunning! In the middle of the wall, we will have our new sign (I love it! you?)

In terms of booth furniture, to display all of our, displays and products, we have decided to simple rent 2 large ugly trade show tables from the venue (one 4 ft long and the other 6 ft long) and do something special to them (once again, stay tuned, I will show you step by step how to transform ugliness to utter fabulousness!) ...I will also share info on how you won't need a phone line (for $400) to process credit cards, how you won't need the convention center's $99/day wifi, to get on the internet (hopefully) and how you don't even need to buy an aircard to get unlimited WIFI service for less than $10 a day with no contracts.
Damn, I am starting to sound like an infomercial. 
Fine, but if you do shows, you are going to thank me for doing all your ground work for you!

Monday, October 19, 2009

things are coming together for DC

As some of you might already know, (ie: my twitter followers) BlueDogz Design is heading to Washington DC in a couple of weeks for the Metropolitain Cooking & Entertaining Show. Since it is a retail show and not one of our regular wholesale "trade only" shows (where we sell to retailers), it brings with it some major changes in how we will set up our booth, what we need on hand (as we will be selling directly out of the booth), general logistics complications and of course what some of you might already be asking yourselves...what the eff is BlueDogz going to a cooking & entertaining show for?
Well, here's the deal. The wholesale shows are just not what they used to be, at least not in the Gift Industry! Although we still get business and visibility at trade shows, in the last year and half or so traffic is WAY down (and don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise, they are liars!), buyers are much more rushed and more apt to just breeze through and ask for a catalog, order writing at the shows has simply changed, the shows have changed. So what's a small company to do? Especially a small company that did most of it's sales at trade shows?
My favorite answer, SURF!
I had this amazingly wise professor at University that told me that all we really needed to know how to do was surf. If we could surf through whatever life threw at us, we would always be ok. Just like surfing, sometimes you wipe out, sometimes your timing is right, sometimes it's tough out there and other times it's can never predict, you will never get the same wave twice, you will take your share of hits and spills and you will likely get caught inside...but if you can just stay afloat and keep surfing and depend on the water to BE unstable and moody, you will get through anything. I LOVE that advice!
So we are surfing over to DC for some selling and to show these foodies what great gifts BlueDogz Design has to offer. For Hosts or Hostess', as shower or bridal favours, for organizing in style or for jotting down lists or thoughts, we have all the supplies covered!
From our
Teeny Tags, to our clipboards, to our CC boxes, we are going to show these fabulous DC foodies how to glamourize and punctuate their gifts, tables and spaces with useful, affordable and total prettiness!
I can't wait to show you how the booth will turn out.
I have been mulling this one over for weeks now and I have finally come to some decisions. As a teaser, I will let you know that we will be showing all products like a candy store, here is a fantastic photo of a candy table designed by
Amy Atlas that I think is Absolutely Gorgeous! - so imagine this idea, but without the candy, essentially, our products become the candy! Sweet huh!?

We will stay true to our white booth, but this time (since we are stocking goods and not just displaying samples) we will have some fun new twists to the booth design. We are also using fresh new tag line for the show,
BlueDogz Design, Purveyors of Delicious Gifts!
what do you think?

Monday, October 12, 2009

sleep when she sleeps...

I remember when Tess was first born, numerous people told me,
"make sure to sleep when she sleeps!"...

Clearly these people with the wonderfully good advice must have had around the clock help, personal chefs, a cleaning staff and a wet nurse.
We, on the other hand don't. As entrepreneurs who need to work, people who like to shower once in a while, those who attempt to clean up on occasion and parents who like to eat without simultaneously breast feeding or juggling a little one ALL the time, funnily enough, unless it's actually during the night,
we do NOT sleep when she sleeps...
plus, let's face it...if we did, how would we ever catch moments like this?

Yesterday, which was a Sunday, as I was catching up on some email and extra work (while preciousness SLEPT-btw, it is the fabulous Marc Tetro who named her that, but we like it! )...I found myself doing that email conversation thing- (you know, when you email someone, they email right back and so on) with none other than TV personality and celebrity designer Courtney Cachet (she chose our Be Boxes to be on her "Coolest List"- more to come on this later- I am THRILLED!!!), at one point she emailed..."so you work on Sundays too? :-)..."at that point I thought- Damn, busted, I should have waited until Monday to respond to her email and I would have looked so much cooler, but then I thought, since I am someone's Mom now, I will likely never be considered cool again, unless it's like the "Hey, your Mom is cool, for an 80 yr old!" kind of way, so Yes, here it goes- I own it- I work on Sundays, I do not sleep when my baby sleeps (but I DO shower), I am really not very cool (unless playing roller derby ups my cool factor just a little) and frankly I have never cared less!
Oh, but guess what?...I'm in good company! because my exciting new email friend Courtney Cachet works on Sundays too! not because she was blackberrying me from her private jet en route to Bora Bora but because she has TWO little ones and does NOT sleep when they sleep either!

Friday, October 9, 2009

since you are here,

and not here, check out our great sale items here!

it's been a long week...

it's been a long week at Bluedogz Design Headquarters,
apparently we are all feeling it!

wishing everyone a happy weekend!
just in case you are looking for a great blog to read- check out
the adorable and talented Heather Smith blogged about,
yeah, you guessed it, yours truly and her products (that would be moi!)

can I tell you that I am thrilled, flattered and so touched!
after a week that basically kicked the crap out of me
(frankly, I feel like Tess looks)
it was a great ending to a tough week.
"Thanks Doll!" ;-)