Maria Brophy


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art licensing / business of art

Licensing Expo Recap – How Much it Costs and Should you Exhibit

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Drew and Maria Licensing Expo 2012

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.!


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
Food/water/coffee $731
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?!

Ugly Doll!




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26 Comments Licensing Expo Recap – How Much it Costs and Should you Exhibit

  1. Sparky Firepants

    We exhibited at both CHA and the Licensing Expo last year. We got some business from CHA and none from the Expo. I experienced much of what you described in being off the beaten path.

    I just exhibited at SURTEX this year and we got some great leads, of which 3 are close to actual deals.

    Of course I hope that when we exhibit we get lots of deals that pay for the party. As a company new to licensing, I know that may not happen. I also know that it may take months before we find out if our investment paid off.

    The thing is, we’ve made solid contacts at CHA and SURTEX. We may not get instant contracts, but what we do get are open invitations to communicate with those contacts, many of whom we could never have met if we hadn’t exhibited.

    It can seem like a catch-22. If you don’t exhibit, you don’t make contacts. If you don’t have contacts, it’s risky to exhibit.

    1. Maria

      Sparky, you are so right – it is a catch 22! Most of the good deals we’ve gotten were from meeting people face to face, either at events, networking parties or trade shows.

      The thing to do is to try out many different shows and find the right fit (which is what you have been doing). Artists that do well at Surtex don’t always do well at Licensing Expo, and vice-versa.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. tom weinkle


    Thanks for being so candid and open. What you said validates some conclusions I was drawing from my own experience.

    Exhibiting is definitely a big investment, I hope your leads and others who showed will work out.

    We did Surtex in 2011, was disappointed, but came away with a few pieces of business. I had to accept the fact we did not have what buyers were looking for.

    At the same time, I am happy to hear that others have done well. We opted out of it in 2012 to focus on other more promising directions for us.

    There’s a lesson, nothing ventured, nothing gained. At the same time, we have to really assess our talents and passions before launching into new areas.

    The work Drew does is unique and beautiful.

    Many other people chase the trends, and I for one have seen enough flowers and reinvented arts and crafts era patterns. Bottom line is that that following your passion is one thing, respecting the demands of the marketplace is another. We each have to make choices. If you happen to love doing what is in demand, good for you.



    1. Maria

      Tom, thank you for YOUR candid assessment! You are wise, realizing that you may not have had what the market is looking for.

      I have found over the years of exhibiting at License Expo that most of the new artists there do NOT come back. They feel disappointed, as well.

      We have done okay in the past, before the change in the economy. But now I’m wondering if License Expo just isn’t a fit anymore. It may never go back to being as successful for us as it used to. We will see….

  3. Gail Niebrugge

    Thank you for your honest evaluation of doing a big show. We tried several large events in the lower 48 back when the market was really good, travel from Alaska made the effort very expensive. We did pick up some good accounts, but with today’s market I don’t think it would be worth the cost.

    I enjoy your blog. Best wishes,

    Gail Niebrugge

    1. Maria

      Thanks for your thoughts, Gail. Yes, coming from Alaska is a long way for a trade show! That would be quite the commitment.

  4. Ronnie Walter

    Thanks Maria, for your brave post! We can’t see NOT doing this show in the future, but we will certainly do it differently next year. Now we’re in follow-up mode, finishing the last of Surtex and jumping on the best from License Expo. Nice to meet you at the show…like reading the book, then seeing the movie!

    1. Maria

      Thanks, Ronnie. It was fun getting to know you and Jim. You are a true “power couple!”

      I love what you wrote “like reading the book, then seeing the movie.” Well said!

  5. Tom Laura

    Thanks Maria!
    Amazingly open, insightful article! i learn something every time i read your posts.
    i love the concept of your presentation. i would love to see more shots of the booth!
    i’m heading down to Australia in a month for a show, and plan to keep careful records to see how it really pans out!
    Aloha, tom

    1. Maria

      BIG TOE! So glad to hear from you. I miss seeing your smiling face. Jealous you’re going to Australia. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. I could easily live in Byron Bay for the rest of my life….

      I wish you great success there. Let me know how it goes!

      1. Guy Hastings

        Greetings from Byron Bay,

        Just came across your words today and I’m enthralled by the fact that you’re sharing your knowledge so freely and honestly. Aussies are like the English, holding their cards close to their chest, the opposite to you guys. I’m very interested in what you have to say as I’m chipping away at the surf map market and just about to get involved with marketing in Indonesia, a little daunting.

        Cheers, Guy Hastings

  6. christine adolph

    Wow Maria, you guys amaze me. What a great team. I realize that I just don’t have the same capacity as you both. My work was at both Surtex and Licensing show with my agents. I’m supposed to speak to them about Licensing show next week. I was thrilled that Surtex generated 33 submissions for my work but we’ll see how many actually become contracts. I could see you being very successful at Surtex. Hope you do it. Thanks so much for all your candid info. It is so helpful. Enjoy your summer…xo-C

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  8. Dennis Panzik

    Good article. I think we had got on the discussion of doing the expo. It is a lot to chance and I think I’d of been very disappointed to find out that the artist corner is out of the way.
    It seemed like that at the surf expo as well. Barely anyone came through the artist section. The only good thing about attending the surf expo for me was to walk the event and meet people at their booths etc. but alas that didn’t really help me either. All art events and shows just cost too much I think.
    I figure I’ll try to be someone’s guest next time and walk the surf expo. And as for the other expo’s I think I’ll have to wait till I have some serious cash to risk.

  9. Jacek

    Licensing expo. I am happy to read this blog since it confirms my opinion about Licensing expo Las Vegas, Surtex? In some people opinions Surtex and Stationery Show are dying shows. I exhibited in 2010 Stationery Show and their policy allowing Surtex attendees to freely roam the Stationery Show floors as result is exposing the exhibitor to competition (Sometimes quite unscrupulous) 50% business cards I collected where from competition. Some of them quite clear that they do not license outside ideas (So you get the picture) Chicago Merchandise Mart used to be one of the major centers for this type of shows but for very similar reasons it changed. They allowed everybody on the floor. Even now I can always manage to sneak up on the floor without a badge. There used to be Gift Show in Rosemont (Chicago) which quite quickly died after in order to improve traffic they opened doors to everybody. You could not get to any booths surrounded by collectors looking for autographs.
    Seems to me that you should go to Atlanta where for last few years they have licensing section. Me for same reason like you I decided to stop throwing money on Trade shows until economy will improve and if my business will be adjusted enough in this direction to look for the leads. You know last decade eliminated all small retailers. Base for my past endeavors and the ones still surviving usually keep second job.
    So we are living now in landscape dominated by Wallmart and desert around.

  10. Beverly Hayes

    Maria, thanks for another generous article. I spend a lot of time wondering exactly how much participation in a trade show will cost. Up to now, it has seemed like one of those things that nobody ever discusses (in specific financial terms) so your candor and willingness to quote hard figures is incredibly helpful to little potatoes like me!

    I do enjoy reading your blog and always take away excellent learning so thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, experiences and knowledge.

  11. Clare Jordan

    Maria, love all your honest info and it’s so helpful. I am showing at Brand Licensing in London in October and I really don’t know if it will be the show for me…Surtex may be a better fit…who knows but I am really looking forward to the experience.
    Living in Ireland makes all shows a huge and expensive commitment so they are a gamble but what I have found is that you need to be at them to have any chance of being noticed. I was showing at Top Drawer when my line was spotted and I got a great card licensing deal from it…otherwise it was a quite show so I guess you never know! I will let you know the verdict on Brand Licensing and keep you posted on this end of the pond! Love your blog and thanks for all the help!

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  13. glen tarnowski

    Hello Maria:

    I have seen your blog a number of times and appreciate your sharing of art information. I had a question regarding licensing shows. Have you been to SURTEX and if you had to choose any first time show which show would you choose to showcase your husband’s work-Licensing Expo or SURTEX? Or is there another not mentioned?

  14. Cyndi

    After looking at this, and never having exhibited much, I’m like, whoa…that looks like it would take a long time to try to work up to that, considering I’m still an emerging artist. So…if you’re an emerging artist, do you have recommendations of where to start as far as exhibitions? Local shows charge, too…it’s hard to know where to make the investment. Thanks for sharing your insights! 🙂

  15. jacek

    I think there is no need to spend $ to recognize the fact that Licensing Show is Big business oriented. I had Same conclusion reading about this show on line. Surtex? I saw the Surtex from the Stationery Show exhibitor (2010) point of view and at Least Stationery Show from now on is for me BIG NO NO. Since Surtex visitors were allowed free access to SS they are using the opportunity to “check” on exhibiting competition. The fact is that 50% of business cards collected were from Big and Mighty Competitors checking what mouses like me developed. Even asking for samples of product when they have CLEAR policy of not licensing anything. Like Crayola for example. The problem with management of both shows is that at least in my opinion have no clue who actually are their customers catering to Big when most of the floor is occupied and Paid for by the Small. I wonder what would be the outcome if I would invest the money spend in direct marketing Instead. I did not invested in any show since this time for same reason until the time the thing will pick up.


    I enjoy what you guys tend to be up too. This type of clever
    work and exposure! Keep up the excellent works guys I’ve included you guys to blogroll.

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  18. Em

    I have spoken with character artists and many don’t buy a booth. They walk around with small portfolio and speak with various agents/ brands and manufacturers. Is this smart?


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