Tales from Downeast

Posted by Shawn Braley on

The New England Made Giftware and Specialty Food show has a long history of success for the wholesale trade. It's a juried show, held each year in March in Portland, Maine, and features more than 300 companies. Around 1,500 buyers from around the country spend 3 days sourcing new products to share with their customers back home. 

The prospect of doing a wholesale trade show felt daunting. How do you catch the eyes of buyers? How do you set up a booth and make it welcoming? Lots of “what ifs.” When we decided to invest in a booth and all the travel expenses and associated costs, there was a lot of work ahead to make it worthwhile. Once we were accepted, the creative wheels started turning. 

Knowing that everything had to fit into a Honda CRV made things a bit harder to plan. There could be no big, paneled wall pieces, nothing more than 5 feet long, and boxes of supplies and products had to be kept to a minimum. 

The idea was to make the back portion of the booth a focal point to help draw people in. The illustrations in the line are fun, whimsical, colorful and it was easy to pick a bestselling design to be showcased. We found a printing company in California that makes very light cloth banners, and they do them in big sizes. It was an exciting day when that arrived, knowing how good it would look when hung up. A visit to an antique store produced a cool looking thin trestle table for counter-height display space, and storage space underneath. A spinner rack with cards and a fold up corner shelf evened out the space, while a finished stump manned the front entrance, complete with a cutout of an illustrated bear to welcome buyers and display our booth number.

Shawn's illustrated bear greeting buyers

Flooring was something that we went back and forth on. Should it be a carpet? The flooring of the sports arena had a kind of unflattering astroturf, which wouldn't look good with our display. Being new to trade shows, a bit of research was needed to look at options. Interlocking faux wood foam tiles seemed to be the solution. They were light, transportable and would fit in the vehicle. They were also a great economical alternative to a large carpet. 

The biggest problem we faced was, how do we display the cards? The pipe and drape walls had weight limits. We couldn't bring wall panels. This was the issue that kept us up at night and caused the most stress. There were ideas of using folding room dividers, or thin wood panels. We purchased a few test panels of different materials, and even picked out a paint color. But the panels were just too heavy to hang from the piping. With time to the show getting closer, it was getting desperate. Finally, we got some large sheets of double-walled cardboard and glued two sheets together for each panel. Lightweight! After putting in screws at the top and hanging them with garden wires from s-hooks, it was the perfect solution. We got lots of compliments on that crafty idea.

Once everything was loaded in and set up, we breathed a sigh of relief. A spin out to a few light houses in the area, and a tasty meal at a well-known lobster shack made any residual stress melt away and prepared us for the next day of the show starting. 


Each day of the show was so fun and rewarding. The booth neighbors on the side and across the way were incredibly nice. There was a sense of camaraderie, among fellow newcomers and from veteran exhibitors alike. It was really satisfying to see people walk near, do a double take, and then come right over to look. Some stores didn't even carry greeting cards, but they came by to enjoy the art and to point out their favorite designs. We heard lots of laughs and stories about pets and other animals. Many exhibitors came by to talk shop and trade pointers on various things, and we made some great connections and new friends!

Being our first show, it was unknown what to expect in terms of sales and orders, but it was a huge success. The icing on the cake was when we were awarded the best new booth of the show! It was a huge surprise. There were so many great booths. After all the sleepless nights, wondering how it was all going to come together, it was a sweet ending to a wonderful experience. 

If you have any questions or suggestions about different elements of our booth design, or about the trip and trade show experience in general, give us a holler!