A lot of artists ask me if they should exhibit at Licensing Expo or Surtex.
The answer varies, depending upon what an artists’ goals are, how much they are willing to invest and if they are ready to show complete collections.
In this post, I’m going to share with you the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of exhibiting at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas!
First, an overview: The Licensing Expo is considered “the world’s brand & property marketplace.”
It’s where many big brands (Disney, Warner Brothers, Proctor and Gamble, etc.) exhibit to meet with manufacturers to do licensing deals.
The Licensing Expo also has an Art & Design section, where artists unknown and known (Wyland, Kinkaide, Jim Benton) exhibit and meet manufacturers to do licensing deals.
For an artist who does not have the backing of a financial giant, it is quite an investment of money and time.
Drew and I used to exhibit Drew’s art at Licensing Expo regularly. That is, until the economy changed. Our last year was when Licensing Expo was still held in New York.
It was 2007 – we had invested a lot to be there. Unlike prior years, the Art & Design section of the show was DEAD. For three days, you could almost hear a pin drop on that freshly laid carpet.
Most years, we would get many new deals after exhibiting. We got a book publishing deal with Walter Foster, a skateboard line with Palisades and a sticker deal with A&A Graphics, to name just a few.
But in 2007, Manufacturers hardly walked down the Art and Design aisle where we were placed.
Then, the economy took a bad turn. We decided to take a break from exhibiting until things picked up.
Fast forward to 2012. It was time to try Licensing Expo again, and this time it was in Las Vegas. I was glad, because we could drive there in five hours and hotel rooms are much nicer than in N.Y.!
RECAP OF OUR LICENSING EXPO EXPERIENCE 2012:
The purpose of exhibiting is to GET NEW BUSINESS. To get new business, you have to meet new people. To meet new people, they have to “stumble” upon your booth. For that to happen, there has to be a reason for them to walk down your aisle.
This is where Licensing Expo #FAILED their artists this year.
As Drew put it, “Licensing Expo is geared for big companies. Artists get lost in there.”
The Art & Design section is sort of like the “red-headed step child” of the Expo. It is shoved in a back corner, with no reason for the manufacturers walking the show to walk back there, unless they have pre-booked appointments or they are specifically looking for art.
Despite that fact, we generated a lot of activity in our booth. Here’s the lowdown:
DAY 1: Was the busiest day for us. We had a few pre-booked appointments and we were hopping busy all day long! We learned a long time ago that getting the word out before a trade show gets you greater results. It also helped that we stood out, as our booth was the only one (to my knowledge) that had original, framed art and painted surfboards displayed.
While we were busy that day, we realized that not everyone was. I felt bad for some of the new artists exhibiting around us; their booths were dead and they were looking glum.
DAY 2: We had a few new potential clients find us. A car accessories company, an apparel company, jewelry maker. But it was remarkably slower than the first day, and I started to worry.
DAY 3: You could hear a pin drop in our aisle!
I agree with Jim Marcotte in his recent blog post, “One problem we have had at this show for the last oh, ten years or so, is that the Art and Design section is usually placed in the worst location possible.”
This last day we could have hung at the pool all day and we would have gotten the same results!
GREAT THINGS AT THE SHOW: The great news is that we got 17 solid leads.
Now out of those, if I get 5 or more new deals I’ll be happy. That’s how it goes with these shows; many prospects will love what you have and act very interested, but when it comes to signing the deal, some of them disappear. The deals that actually happen are the real test as to how successful the show was.
I loved spending time with the other artists. I was happy to have met Jim Marcotte and his lovely wife Ronnie in person, as I’ve been following their blog for a long time.
There were two artists exhibiting that are my consulting clients, and it was great to meet them in person and see their art up close and personal.
And, though this doesn’t grow my business, just my ego, I was overjoyed to have over a dozen artists come up to me and tell me how much they love my blog, and how much it has helped them!
Drew had many fans who found him there. He said to me on the first day, after being mobbed in the booth, “Today I felt like a real celebrity.” He seemed to really enjoy that.
BOOTH DESIGN: We went the difficult route – Drew wanted our booth to look like his studio, so we literally brought the studio with us. This was a lot more work than having banners printed and placed on the walls.
I was totally against it at first, because I don’t care for physical labor! But, I lost the battle and we brought furniture and original paintings with us. All that stuff is heavy and fragile to transport.
But, in retrospect, it was a good idea. The booth created an atmosphere that helped the viewer better understand the art. The reaction we got was very positive.
This is a hefty investment. We have to get at least five good new accounts out of this show to make it worthwhile. We will not know for months yet if we have met that goal.
Below is a chart of our expenses. You could do it cheaper, with a smaller booth and if you aren’t a picky eater like I am.
|Booth 10 x 20||$8,350|
|Booth materials/furniture/build out||$600|
|Have booth vacuumed||$90|
|Electricity for booth (to plug in a TV!)||$253|
|Hire union to transport heavy items to booth||$200|
|Printing of brochures/booklets/postcards||$1,400|
|Hotel (Sunday to Friday)||$900|
|Airfare for Johnnie (he helped us in booth)||$250|
|Gas for us to drive to Vegas from CA||$150|
|Cost to Exhibit:||$12,924|
We actually spent about $21,000, because we paid Art Director Johnnie to help with our presentation and concepts for the last four months. But most artists will do that on their own, so I did not include it in the numbers above.
AND, a few months after the show, we were hit with an additional surprise charge of almost $2,000 by the Licensing Expo for “leaving tape on the walls of the booth.” That was quite disturbing, and upsetting to me!
We could have spent less if: We had a smaller booth, we didn’t need extra electricity, we had brought our own vacuum cleaner ($90) and water bottles ($4 a bottle) and our own sandwiches (they are $12 each at the trade show). We spent too much on printing, too. All of these little things add up.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Should you exhibit at Licensing Expo next year?
YES if: You have the money to invest in the cost of doing the show right, your art is unique, you have a complete presentation ready and you have a mailing list of targeted prospects so that you can pre-book appointments and meetings.
NO if: You are not ready to show complete collections or if you aren’t able to set up appointments in advance, or if you can’t stomach making that sort of financial commitment with an unknown outcome.
Will we exhibit again next year? I’m on the fence on that one – if I had to answer right now, I’d say no. I want to see where the show leads will take us. I may just exhibit every other year, or try Surtex next year.
If you have exhibited at Licensing Expo or Surtex or CHA, please share in the comments what your experience was. Was it worth it? Did you get business from it? And would you do it again?!