NSS/SURTEX Tips for Exhibitors – Part 2, Booth Set-Up

Admittedly, booth set-up is a topic best handled earlier in the year, when folks are planning their spaces, and I plan to re-run this post early in 2015. But, I figured I’d throw a few things out there for anyone making last-minute tweaks to their space.


Standard Booth Signage

Yes, your product is the most important element of your booth. Almost as important, though, is signage. Without signage, the Javits becomes a labyrinth of aisles and booths. As I understand it, every NSS and SURTEX booth package includes some sort of basic booth sign, indicating company name and booth number.* Many of you will incorporate that information into your booth design in an organic extension of the booth branding.  However, for those of you who need to use that signage to identify your company and booth, I highly recommend customizing your own sign.

Patricia Zapata took advantage of the opportunity to create her own booth sign, and draw attention to her booth at 2013 SURTEX

Patricia Zapata took advantage of an under-used marketing opportunity, and created her own booth sign, immediately setting herself apart from the crowd at 2013 SURTEX.

Signage Within Your Booth

Hopefully, all of you are incorporating your own signage into your booth design, as well. If not, please consider figuring out a way to get your logo/company name up on those walls. Better yet, apply these tips to your signage, and it will work all the better for you:

  • There’s power in numbers. Put your company name/logo/booth number in more than one place in your booth. Consider including at least your company name in some form or other on every wall of your booth. This way, people can immediately identify who you are, no matter which direction they’re coming from.
  • Be careful of your placement. Put your signage up high, where it won’t be obstructed by people standing or sitting in front of it. But, keep in mind your lighting; if your fixtures extend down from the top of the booth, you don’t want them to block your signage.
  • Big (enough) is better. You don’t have to go with four-foot-tall letters. But, your text should be big enough that someone standing twenty feet away (with people milling around between them and your booth) can easily read it.
  • Make it clear. Signage is the place to go high-contrast, vs. subtle. Does this mean it needs to be glaring neon, or some form of black/yellow or black/white? Of course not. But, it absolutely needs to be seen, identified, and understood in about a second. So, stay away from the dark-on-dark and light-on-light. And, if your logo/text is delicate, consider avoiding a light color against a dark background. That combination does not hold up well in terms of legibility (the fine hairlines get lost from any sort of distance).
  • Light it up. The Javits Center’s overhead lighting can play tricks on a booth, creating both shine and gloom. It’s your job to bring/create/purchase the illumination you need to put your booth in the best light. (Ba-dum-ching.) This applies to signage as well as product: you want your signs to be bright enough to be clear and visible, but you don’t want them so bright that the glare from your lighting makes them difficult to read.

Here are some examples of effective signage from the 2013 shows….

Compendium booth, NSS 2013

Compendium booth, NSS 2013 (Visit Compendium in Booth 3041 in 2014)

Fifty-Five Hi's signage, NSS 2013

Fifty-Five Hi’s signage, NSS 2013

Ladyfingers Letterpress booth signage, NSS 2013

Ladyfingers Letterpress booth signage, NSS 2013 (Visit Ladyfingers Letterpress in Booth 1864 in 2014)

Rifle Paper Co. signage, NSS 2013

Rifle Paper Co. signage, NSS 2013 (Visit Rifle Paper Co. in Booth 1728 in 2014)


The way you lay out your booth will have a direct impact on how many people wander in. Do not block the flow. Let me repeat that: do not block the flow. People are less inclined to enter a space they feel they may get trapped inside. Depending on the size of the booth, you have different layout options; but, whether or not you have a 10′ x 10′ or a 20′ x 40′, you need to provide space for people to move. In small booths, keep tables, counters, and other bulky objects away from the entrance, and either against the walls or tucked into a corner. In larger booths, provide aisles that are nice and wide—four feet or more is great, but don’t go narrower than three feet between displays.

Most booths have what I think of as the “home base”—a place to sit/stand and chat with a customer, generally with a flat surface to lay out some product or jot a note on a business card. In smaller booths, tuck this into a back corner of your booth, and put your larger-format products in this area. That way, even if people can’t saunter right up to that area, they can still see the product from a distance.

Here are just a few booth from 2013 that kept the flow going….

Bison Bookbinding had a standard 10′ x 10′ booth at last year’s show, and they used the space to great effect. Just look at how easy it is to walk into the space, and get right up near the product, without feeling as if you’ll be bottle-necked inside. Also note the larger-format pieces located near the booth’s home base. And, while their countertop area is small (which opens up the booth, nicely), they’ve designed it to look lush with great product—drawing you right in to the back corner of the booth. (Their use of wall-mounted file holders is a clever way to maximize a small work space.)

Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress booth, NSS 2013

Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress booth, NSS 2013 (Visit Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress in Booth 1768 in 2014)

Pei Design had a corner booth. Corner booths get considerably more visibility than interior booths, and offer exceptional flow if left open. Pei Pinney used her corner booth to fantastic effect, by showing restraint that was not only attractive from a flow point of view, but also completely in keeping with the style of her work. She also put her large-format product—in this case, wrapping paper and prints—in her home base area. And, note her signage: clear, clean, and completely visible.

The folks at 9th Letter Press had a more spacious booth, which allowed them to put their home base up front, in the form of a welcoming bar set-up. They still had plenty of room to the left and right of the bar to enter and exit the booth, and plenty of room between the bar and the back wall, for easy product perusal.

9th Letter Press Booth, NSS 2013

9th Letter Press Booth, NSS 2013 (Visit 9th Letter Press in Booth 1752 in 2014)

If you have a huge space, as the good folks at Up With Paper do, you can play with your space, creating a full marketplace of products. With numerous stand-alone fixtures and an impressive back wall of product, as well as both a counter and lounge area, Up With Paper created a space to meander through, poke around in, and have fun with. (If you can, check out their booth—2912—this year; they’ve overhauled the look and feel, and I’ve heard it’s fantastic, though I’m not a completely objective party.)

Yes, the UWP booth was so big, I couldn’t capture it all in one picture.

Up With Paper Booth, NSS 2013

Up With Paper Booth, NSS 2013

Up With Paper booth, NSS 2013

Up With Paper booth, NSS 2013

Up With Paper booth, back wall, NSS 2013

Up With Paper booth, back wall, NSS 2013

Important Booth Accessories

  • Waste basket: The item most often overlooked when placing your booth order is the waste basket. If you’re smacking yourself on the forehead right now, never fear; chances are, one was included in your booth package. And, if not, I believe you’ll be able to get one on-site.* Depending on the size of your booth, you may need more than one.
  • Lighting: As with the waste basket, lighting may be included as part of your booth package. That said, you may want to consider some simple clamp lights or even a small table-top lamp for creating additional ambience and brightness to your booth. It’s amazing how much more appealing a smartly-lit booth can be.
  • Flooring: You’ve probably already chosen your flooring as part of your booth order. So, this is more for future reference: The basic rule with flooring: the cushier, the better. Anybody walking into your booth and thinking “Oh, wow! That feels so good under my sore, aching, throbbing, screaming feet!” is likely to linger in your space. And, we all know that lingering is a very good thing.
  • Flowers/Greenery: You don’t want the accessories in your booth to interfere with your product. But, even a small vase with a few sprigs of something green brings a welcoming, fresh feel to your space. This simple little detail in a sea of concrete and noise can really draw people in.
  • Treats/Giveaways: This category can get expensive, so if you’re on a budget, you may want to skip it. That said, a cool-looking dish of wrapped candy is serious booth bait, especially when people need a mini-sugar rush in their fifth hour of wandering the aisles.

Okay, I’ll leave it at that, especially since I know most of you exhibiting don’t have a lot of free time at the moment. For those considering exhibiting next year, or waiting to catch your plane to NYC, here’s some more booth design inspiration eye candy, in the form of my booth round-up from last year’s show.

And for those of you who may read this, and think “Oh no! I didn’t think of that! And, it’s too late to do anything about it, now!”, don’t worry about it. You are going to learn so much every time you exhibit. And, all of the suggestions I’ve made, here, are just that—suggestions. So, don’t worry. (I know, easier said than done.) But, seriously…

…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. Also, if I do have my facts wrong, please let me know, so that I can promptly correct them.