NSS/SURTEX Tips for Exhibitors – Part 1, The Stuff You’ll Need

Booth Materials 1

In five days, the booths will be up, the Javits humming, and all sorts of movers and shakers in the stationery and illustration industry will be, well, moving and shaking.

In the meantime, I figured I’d share a few tips based on: my experience (a billion years ago) as an event planner; the time I’ve spent inside a booth; and my observations from walking last year’s shows.* I’ll start with what you’ll need for four days in a trade show booth. (This list is by no means definitive; it’s simply what I can remember using—or wishing I had around—when I worked shows.)


You need some stuff to survive these shows. In fact, you need quite a lot of stuff. Even if you don’t end up using every item on this list, chances are, the folks in the next booth, or one of your clients will desperately need that one thing they forgot, and then you get to be a trade show hero. (Cue crowd roaring in appreciation.)

Office Supplies

  • Every kind of tape you can imagine: duct, Scotch, masking, double stick, electrical, Washi, and packing (both clear and brown).
  • Clips: paper clips, binder clips, and, if your hair is long and unruly, hair clips.
  • Scissors (one pair for every person manning the booth, plus an extra pair that will inevitable get lost, and will serve as tribute to the trade show gods). Be sure to pack these in the shipment to the show or in your checked luggage; you risk losing them if you put them in your carry-on.
  • Box cutters. At least two, but remember that, like scissors, these are no-no in your carry-on luggage.
  • Paper.
  • Elastic bands.
  • Pens. Aaaalllll kinds of pens: rollerball, felt-tip, highlighter, and Gel. Absolutely, positively do not forget ballpoints! (They’re the only thing that will write on some coated-stock business cards.)
  • Sharpies. Yes, these do fall under the category of pens. But, they deserve their own bullet point, because you’ll need the super-thick, medium, and fine-point Sharpies to assist you in any number of writing crises.
  • Sticky notes and flags.
  • Clipboard.
  • Business cards. I really shouldn’t have to include this on the list. But, there is always, always, always someone who forgets their cards or who didn’t have them printed in time for the show. I don’t care if you have to whip out some cards on those pre-perfed sheets you get at your local office supply store. Do it. And, bring more than you think you could ever need. There is nothing less professional-looking than not having a card to hand to someone. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration: showing up at the show in fleece PJs and bunny slippers, and speaking only pig Latin would be less professional.) 

Tech Stuff

  • Spare batteries for cameras, laptops, phones, etc.
  • Backup computer/tablet/camera/etc. If you plan to show your clients anything on a screen, be sure to have a duplicate machine should your computer or tablet break or just go wonky on you.
  • Chargers for all of the above, too.
  • Files on a back-up drive. Make sure any files you need on-site are backed up on an external drive of some sort.


  • Spare light bulbs (if you’re incorporating your own lighting). It is virtually guaranteed that three out of four lightbulbs will break or burn out exactly five minutes before the show begins.
  • Tool kit, stocked with: corded drill (if you go cordless, you can be pretty sure it will run out of juice just when you most need it); drill bits (phillips head and flat); screw drivers (phillips head and flat); screws; hammer; nails; pliers (regular and needle nose); measuring tape; level; small clamps.
  • Cable ties.
  • Extension cords. I suggest bringing at least three cords of varying lengths, in a color that will blend best with your booth.

Cleaning & Paper Goods

  • Shout wipes. Because, you will dribble something down your shirt.
  • Boxes of tissues. It’s allergy season, people.
  • Paper towel for cleaning the booth, sopping up spills, and a million other little things you’ll run into.
  • Cleaning supplies, including a duster of some sort, glass cleaner, and an all-purpose cleaner.
  • Garbage bags, both small and big.
  • Zip-seal bags, including sandwich, quart, and gallon sizes.


  • Water. Many of you know the Javits consumables are cuh-ray-zee expensive. And, the building sucks the moisture out of every pore. So, be sure to bring enough water to hydrate everyone in the booth, every day they’re there. (Plus, a few extra, should your customers look a little parched.)
  • Snacks. Ask all booth-minders what their favorites are. Try to avoid anything that will get stuck in your teeth (raisins, jelly beans, poppy and sesame small seeds); make someone want to stand upwind of you (avoid the sour cream and chive-type goodies); and/or discolor your hands and the hands you’re shaking (save the cheese puffs for your post-show celebrations).
  • Caffeine. The first couple of days of the shows are a whirlwind of adrenaline, excitement, hope, and survival instinct. On the third day, though, somewhere probably in that deadly 2:00-3:00 time frame; you may start to feel the dreaded impact of no sleep prepping for the show; no sleep while at the show; and your body saying “I’ve got nothing left to give ya.” Those of you who find caffeine effective in this sort of situation should partake of it, and quickly (assuming you have no health reasons not to).

Meds & Hygiene

  • Throat lozenges. You will be talking. And talking and talking and talking. Your voice may start to give out, so keep some lozenges handy.
  • Pain medicine (Tylenol, Aleve, Excedrin–whatever works for you), and heartburn meds.
  • Shoe insoles. I adore and swear by the Powerstep Pinnacle insoles. I think I’ve tried pretty much everything, and these are the dreamiest.
  • Nail clippers and nail files. You’re going to break a nail during set-up.
  • Mints. Just buy a few value packs of your favorite kind, and pop them regularly throughout the show to keep your breath chipper.
  • Deodorant. Conditions in such a huge space can range from freezing to sweltering. If the latter, you may need to refresh your deodorant.
  • Makeup/hair spray/toiletries. This is more of a personal choice, but if you’re one of those wonderful people I admire, with every hair in place, and your lipstick always looking fresh, this line item is for you.

Now, let’s  be clear: you will forget something. It’s just going to happen. Don’t sweat it; you’ll figure out a solution, and…Everything. Will. Be. Okay.

* Please note that I have never personally exhibited at National Stationery Show or at SURTEX, and it’s been a looooong time since I coordinated and manned a booth at any show, so my apologies if any of my information is out-of-date, inaccurate, and/or doesn’t apply to these shows for some reason.


Next up: Booth Set-Up Tips