Just before the doors opened to the public on day 1.
15-17 Jan 2023 was an exciting time for Andhand. This was our very first appearance at a trade show, meeting buyers from all over the country and further afield. We thought we’d create this blog post as a reflection on the experience and also with the thought that it may be a useful resource for other new brands just starting out.
It had been a long journey getting to this point - since we first conceived Andhand we'd spent well over a year working on the design and development of our first range of products (fitting in a small Kickstarter campaign prior to this). We then had a bit of a quiet launch and over the course of (another) year were supplying some great small independent stockists in and around London such as Really Well Made and I You All.
If you've ever attended Top Drawer you will know that it is very much for the home and gifting market. In terms of brands of stationery there is a whole area devoted to makers of paper stationery such as gift cards and journals. But there weren't many other stationery brands there within our field such as making pens for writers, mechanical pencils, tape dispensers and desk accessories. As a new brand we were in the Launchpad area which was a real eclectic mix of great little brands making all things from specialist soaps, wooden toys, glassware , sustainable jewelry and blankets.
The majestic ceiling of Olympia above our stand
The setup on the Saturday was fairly exhausting, but we had come well prepared. Being product designers we had spent a fair time designing the stand / we'd made everything flat-pack and even counted the number of screws we were using. The units went up pretty quickly, they were relatively simple plinths with a repeating pattern of A4 raised elements on the top (reminiscent of reams of paper). The concept behind these A4 parts was to enable us to display all of our products as a physically representation of our catalogue. Once assembled we were able to lay out the range very easily, we’d pre-printed all the product info to sit flush on top of the A4 reams with all the names of pens and desk accessories. With all the products laid out there was just a little dressing with ink pot, pen stand and some extra rolls of tape. With the products all arranged the final touch was to set up our pen testing zone – a pad with pen stand for people to get sketching with a mechanical pencil, scribbling with a ballpoint pen or writing with a fountain pen.
Detail view of our stand
When the show opened on the Sunday we couldn’t have prepared for a better reception for our new brand of stationery and we were quite literally run off our feet. There were a few factors for this – firstly we were lucky enough to have a stand just yards from the Olympia Grand Hall entrance, this faced the overground station and as every train came in so did another wave of visitors. There was a direct sight-line from the entrance to our stand and the light catching off our gold rulers and brass pens drew people straight to the stand (although some caffeine deprived visitors firstly made a B-line to the nearest coffee stand). In hindsight next time we may provide a place to rest a coffee as many of the morning visitors were trying to multitask holding a coffee whilst writing with a fountain pen!
Andhand's location right by the Grand Hall entrance.
The second factor was that we were fortunate enough to be selected by the Better Trends Company for their future trend: ‘Rhythmic Form’. In their words: ‘The simplicity of the shapes in this trend belie the multiple complex ways in which they are used. Repetition and texture work together to create a meditative space. The feeling conveyed through this style is authenticand artistic in muted earth tones and desaturated brights. This meant that we were featured in the Top Drawer publications both printed and online which put Andhand on peoples radar before visiting.
The third factor (which we gathered from visitor feedback) was the ‘newness’ factor – New brand, new products / it’s that point of discovery that we found visitors enjoy.
Print feature for the Rhythmic Form trend
Just prior to the show we had expanded our range a little and we were able to show our brand new fountain pen and mechanical pencil. We had strived hard for months beforehand to design and develop the best fountain pen and the best mechanical pencil that we could and it was great to get them over the line and for people to enjoy testing them out. In hindsight we should have provided an additional testing area for the pens as it got very crowded around our little A5 pad, a lot of ink got used over the 3 days of the show! Many people really enjoyed writing with a fountain pen, if you don’t use one everyday you forget that it can turn your words into artistry.
Method Fountain Pen which previewed at the show
The range of buyers at the show was really interesting to see, it wasn’t just buyers from shops, but also gifting companies and museum gift shops – one museum sought us out in particular as they were planning an exhibition on writers and were seeking pens for writers. But it wasn’t just our metal pens being tested, we got through several rolls of scotch tape and washi tape from sellotape dispenser testing, we were telling everyone about the super clean cut you get through the tape and lots of people happily gave it a go.
Detail of our exhibition stand
For us the best thing about the show was meeting all the great people and making connections. Firstly amongst the exhibitors we had a great neighbour stand Arcana who make really fantastic blankets inspired by nature, Ria and Elizabeth were great. There was also Karolina (an ex student of mine from Central Saint Martins) a few stands away who had founded Lagom glassware with a range of striking modernist carafes and drinking glasses. We also had some great chats with the one other fine pen company there – Toms Studio, who are more in the field of pen calligraphy, making really great dip pens and calligraphy pens and accessories, they’ve been going for a fair bit longer than us so were able to share some expert tips.
Meeting all the folks from specialist uk pen and stationery shops as well as lifestyle stores was just great – there are too many of them to mention but we shared some great stories and it’s been great since to have kept a dialogue going and also to be stocked in their stores across the country. Having such great stores and like minded people believe in what you are doing is the validation you need when launching a new brand.
Our top tips for anyone thinking of taking on their first trade show:
- Supply the trade show with great photos early if you want to be featured in their press.
- Be (overly) prepared. This includes spare paint for touch ups of your stand, masses of postcards and business cards, a notebook to record all the conversations with potential stockists (write your phone number and stand number on the inside cover in case you lose it!)
- Make the most of feedback people are willing to share – it may give good insight into the next products worth developing in your range.
- Design hidden storage into your stand – you’re going to have coats and bags and spare stock that you’re going to want to keep out of sight.
- Make friends with your neighboring stands, you’ll be spending a lot of time together over the few days.
- Be prepared for extremely long days, make sure to get lots of sleep beforehand.