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One of the most enjoyable times of our year is when we have the opportunity do shows and fibre festivals, where we come face to face with the people for whom we dye our yarn and seeing the fantastic things they do with it. However, some of these events are very different because, instead of a consumer-oriented event where we sell our products to the general public, there are certain wholesale shows which are not open to the public, so very few people (relatively speaking) have the chance to attend such an event. This category of shows are where we sell to our wholesale clients, which includes the wonderful stores we work with, as well as customers such as production knitters and weavers. Therefore, we thought it would be fun to share what it is like to attend and exhibit at one of these shows today on the blog. We hope you enjoy the inside peek to the “back end” of the industry, as it were. One thing I have learned is that while it may look easy on the front end, I can assure you it isn’t so on the back end!
Currently the wholesale shows we attend as exhibitors are located in the United States and are put on by TNNA, The National NeedleArts Association, located in the USA. These trade shows draw exhibitors and attendees from all over the world, and we all come together with several goals in mind. These shows are the perfect place to stay current on what is new in the wonderful world of the needle crafts (including knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, cross-stitch, embroidery and more). This is a great place to discover new ideas, see what’s trending, and of course see what fun and exciting new products and ideas that other people are doing and offering (there are tons of great photos from the recent show here on the TNNA Facebook page). One can meet the people behind all sorts of exciting companies like Malabrigo, Skacel, Interweave, Vogue (including the amazing Trisha Malcolm), and many, many more. Just as excitingly, one can meet the creative people, the teachers and authors of the new books coming out, the yarn dyers, and all the creative minds who make our industry so much fun! Last but not least we get to meet the fabulous owners and buyers for the stores who help us feed our souls with wonderful yarn and more.
Exhibiting at one of these tradeshows involves a planning process that begins well in advance of the show itself – in fact we are already planning our display for the next tradeshow in June of this year! For us, the planning takes a good six months and involves a number of areas. First, we start with yarn. We review the yarn bases we offer, reordering our standard offerings, and we choose new bases to replace the limited edition bases. Yarn has to be ordered from our mills as much as six months in advance, depending on the yarn, so we have to plan with this in mind. Colour development is also a big part of planning! We review our colour line up and make sure it is up-to-date and that we retire any colours that are no longer in style. We keep our colour offerings fresh and make sure they harmonize with current and coming fashion trends, so that means getting the Pantone Fashion Forecasts and planning new colours that will be in line with what our customers will be looking for both in base yarns and in colours. The third part of this process is working on pattern support for new yarns, colours, and trends, which means recruiting designers, planning collections, and design development (keep your eyes on our website in January/February as we launch many new patterns for 2016).
A big part of the planning process includes deciding on what our display will look like. Each tradeshow is different, with different clientele looking for the products that will best fit their customers and locations. That means we plan and revise the display to cater to what will be needed by the customers at that particular show, updating as trends dictated. Needless to say, there is a LOT that goes into this: themes need to be chosen, colours developed, designs collected, photography on all of it done, banners made, price lists and supporting documents made up, the physical pieces of the display need to be purchased and built, and so on. Once all of the planning is done, we start building the display and then making sure that it can all be broken down and packed in a giant crate to be shipped to the show.
Shipping to the show is an enormous undertaking. Not only do we have to send a box that is the size of the average car, but we have to make sure that everything in there is itemized down to the last paperclip as it all has to be documented for customs. Once it is all securely packed, enormous amounts of paperwork are done, and approximately 3-4 weeks before the show, the crate and all that paperwork is shipped. It is a delicate balancing act: ship too soon and the storage fees are outrageous; ship too late and no display… and all that money, effort, and planning go for naught. Needless to say, there can be sleep lost until the crate is safely out the door and on a truck headed to distant climes. Then all we have left to do is to get all our staff on airplanes and fly off to be inspired and to inspire in our turn.
Or so one would think.
This year’s Winter TNNA show was held January 9-11 in San Diego, CA, a lovely city by the sea with endlessly fascinating things to do, FABULOUS beaches, and WARM temperatures – which to this Canadian is a huge bonus! We were well on top of things this time and our crate was all packed, ready to go, and duly picked up by the trucking company on schedule December 17 of last year. Off it went with us waving goodbye and looking forward to unpacking it at the convention center. It travelled the many miles just fine, with updates telling us it arrived in San Diego one week prior to the show as per expectations. This is excellent, as it meant we could arrive well rested and ready to go. But of course, the seas are ever treacherous and little did we know there was one giant problem with our crate: with one day (well, less than one day, as it was in the afternoon) before we all boarded airplanes to fly to San Diego, the message that no one doing a show EVER wants to read arrived:
“Guess what! There is no possible way you will have your crate for the show.
Sorry about that!”
But… but… it’s IN San Diego at this very moment! How can this BE?
Ah, you rascal fate. What we didn’t know (and what fell through the cracks for the trucking company) is that when the truck carrying our precious cargo reached the border, another shipment within that truck triggered a customs search. Since they don’t have time to search every truck at the border itself, what customs will do is to apply a customs lock to the shipment which cannot be removed by anyone other than an inspector. So our crate had been happily sitting in the storage facility with an intact customs lock still applied to it, as it was never sent for inspection. By the time the storage facility went to transfer it to the convention center it was decided it was too late for the inspection and we would have to do without. No display and a 10×30 foot booth that would be naked as a jaybird with just the staff to decorate it.
So there we were with just a few hours before we were to get on the plane and somehow we had to fix the unfixable. It was either do great works and wonders and get the crate released (in spite of dire warnings it was hopeless) or put together an entire display that we could stuff into the nooks and crannies of our suitcases.
So, we did both – what else can you do?! This is what separates the grownups from the children, and I have learned that I work with some truly amazing people. I always knew this, but they went above and beyond this time! Every one of them sprang into action, stuffing yarn, signage, and every knit item they own into suitcases, you name it – if it could be made into a display, we gathered it together in five hours flat. We reprinted our price lists, we crammed old banners in spots they should not have fit, we stuffed yarn in places no skein of yarn should be stuffed. Even my shoes were full of yarn (don’t worry – they were new)! Swatches were knit, balls were wound, needles were gathered. And in the middle of it all, our CFO Dan worked like a madman cajoling, demanding, and finessing to get that crate released.
We all got on our respective planes (our staff come from multiple cities for these events), and of course that meant the skies above decided to entertain themselves. Planes were delayed. Many were tossed about in the air like leaves (shudder). Some of us made it there just before a storm so large it flooded massive parts of the city and then had to detour all over to avoid them. Some sat for many, many painful hours in airports until said storm blew through. Some of us met the worst, most unorganized car rental agents EVER but managed to get our van, with skeins of yarn popping from all locations and making them certain we were either insane or dangerous (or both).
But we did it.
With the mad texting and calling and unflagging work of Dan, not to mention the help of a lovely woman from the show services company named Nicole and the support of the TNNA staff, the unimaginable happened and we got our crate in the nick of time! The lid was ripped off with crowbars, the bottom was stabbed with a forklift, but we got it and were able to set up our display.
And the show was amazing! All of our staff who worked so hard to make a new display just in case came together, and despite how tired everyone was, we put up our best booth yet. We had a great time at this show, meeting wonderful friends and clients, making many new friends and clients, and seeing all the gorgeous things that are happening in the needle arts world. For three days, hundreds and hundreds of stores and businesses networked and shared ideas and it was magic!
And what is the reward for this? Aside from a couple of lovely days by the sea (watching surfer lads and lasses perform the most amazing acrobatic moves in the waves as we knit), we are chock full of exciting ideas and concepts. Thankfully, there are six months before we have to do it all over again, as we came back with so many exciting ideas it will take that six months to share them all with you! Stay tuned for our new colours for 2016, and our new base yarn Reinvent will be available next week!