How to survive NSS

How to survive the National Stationery Show - NSS -

Ok, so forgive my over-enthusiasm about the National Stationery Show, but keep in mind, I was a total newbie at NSS. As a first-time attendee, I found it to be wildly overwhelming and more than a little intimidating.

Why go to NSS? Well, for me, I wanted to walk the show (this is market-speak for wandering up and down the aisles gawking at all the wares without being an exhibitor yourself) to get a feel for what the show was really all about. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “Is this something that Pencil Shavings Studio needs to be a part of?”  Short answer:

No. At least, at this time I don’t think so. But more on that later. However! I think I could see a future for me at Surtex. But I’m getting ahead of myself.


When you walk in, you are besieged by all the paper goods your little paper-lovin’ heart can imagine. All your favorite designers are there. Your heart starts to pound because you’re recognizing The Greats — Russell & Hazel, Mara Mi, Sugar Paper — it’s like you’re a rabid fan and you’ve just seen your idol. It’s kinda muggy in the building, you start to sweat —  and there’s a bazillion people everywhere. Where are my smellin’ salts? (imagine I said that in my best Gone with the Wind accent). I found myself walking up and down the aisles in a stupor. It was SO MUCH TO PROCESS. And increasingly as I made my way, I found myself shrinking a little bit inside. Time for a break!


So here’s my guide to surviving – and getting the most out of the experience.

1. How long to stay?

Plan to spend at least 2 days at the show alone, not including travel days – but by all means, please don’t try to cram it all into one day. You’ll kill your brain. Poof. It’ll explode into a billion pieces of glitter, sequins, and gold foiled paper products.  I’m wishing I’d had another day to devote to hitting up some more favorite NYC spots; I crammed a lot into only 2 actual full days in town (not including travel days on either end). And it was exhausting.


2. Walk walk walk

Put your comfy shoes on because you’re going to be walking a lot.  Start at one end of the building and make your way up and down each aisle. But again, don’t try to do this all in one day – you won’t be able to process it all. Do the first half one day, and then take a break. For me, I walked the first half of NSS, took a lunch break, and then casually checked out Surtex and ICFF. In fact, I felt like walking ICFF (a TOTALLY different show but incredibly inspiring) was kind of a great breather for me. The next day when I came back, I had had enough time to process much of what I’d seen, and then I was able to go back to talk to the people I really wanted to talk to.


3. Speaking of breaks, take LOTS of them.

After awhile you’ll feel like a zombie marching up and down the aisles. Everything will start to look the same (although, erm, there is a LOT OF SAMENESS happening there, to be honest). At this point, it’s time to go get a drink and a snack or maybe go out on the town for a bit. Don’t feel bad for taking breaks. Yes, you just spent a lot of money to go all the way to NYC to go to the Stationery Show. But sometimes you’ve gotta recoup so you can really get the most out of it. My best day there was actually the 2nd day when I could really absorb what I was seeing.

Pei Design

4. Bring friends/make friends

I think meeting up with paper peeps is the best part of the whole experience. There were tons of designer meetups, and while I unfortunately didn’t make it to any outside of the Stationery Academy get-togethers, if I went again I’d make it a priority to get the most out of the networking opportunities.  I was so zonked at the end of the day!  Oh, and DON’T FORGET YOUR BUSINESS CARDS!

Additionally, meeting up with designer friends during the show is great because you can compare notes on all the good stuff you’d seen. Nicolle Spitulnik clued me in to a great booth over at Surtex that was a total highlight for me. And it thrilled me to PIECES to see Monica from Smart Creative Women as well as my contact over at Minted who I’ve been emailing with but never met in person. Saying hi to Instagram faves like Shana Frase (a fellow Brika maker) was a bonus. Score all the way around!


5. Be Inspired

Be inspired by what you see. Talk with the designers. Ask before you take photos and if they say no, thank them and move along. Make notes on business cards on anything you want to remember specifically because odds are, you won’t remember it if you don’t. You’ll come away with a stack of business cards, contacts, samples, etc. to comb through when you get home.


6. Take advantage of show perks

One of my favorite things was the free shuttle system to the show. I spent way too much money on taxi fare jetting around to other parts of town, so this was a great perk, in my opinion. Was it super fast? Ehh, no, but it was free. Additionally I was grateful for the opportunity to attend ICFF in addition to NSS and Surtex – I couldn’t get enough of seeing all the amazing furniture. The inspiration was fantastic.

But the best show perk is – of course – Manhattan. The greatest city in the world, right? Take full advantage of everything that fantastic city has to offer. My biggest regret is that I didn’t stick around one extra day to squeeze every last drop out of my time there, although I did manage to make a nice little dash around town on Monday morning. Ahh Upper East Side….


7. Still feeling overwhelmed?

It’s okay. No, really – it is. It is a LOT to take in. And it can feel discouraging when you’re looking at what is, frankly, your competition as a paper designer. Don’t fall prey to the trap of comparison; remember that you’re doing good – no, GREAT – things, too. Additionally, I believe that half the battle is showing up. Guess what, you showed up for the stationery show, even if it was just to walk it. I STILL believe that good things come to those who show up.

Here’s the thing – I’m usually so focused on what I do, day in and day out, that I don’t really notice what anybody else is doing, for better or worse. But this was like a full-frontal assault – you can see exactly what everybody else is doing, and it starts to overwhelm you. There is so much competition, I started thinking. What am I even doing?! How can Pencil Shavings stand out in the midst of all this amazingness?

No. Don’t even let yourself go there. Give yourself a pep talk — knowing who YOU are and what your brand goals are will help overcome any niggling feelings of self-doubt that may creep up.

So there you have it. My guide to surviving – and thriving – at NSS. Will I go again? I hope so!

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