Industry Wholesale Shows

About Needlework Industry Trade Shows

Information about trade shows is pretty difficult to come by. I had help in gathering the information from Ken Davis of Davis Computer Services, Inc. and EasyGrapher charting and stitch-drawing software, Lula Chang (and her needlepoint design firm, Wooly Dream), and Claudia Dutcher (of Dutch Treat Designs and her fabulous shop, Dutch Treat Needlecrafts). Any inaccuracies here are the result of my poor work in pulling together their material, and I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know of errors so I can correct this page.

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There are two industry trade groups for manufacturers, distributors, shops and designers: INRG and TNNA. These are dues-required organizations. Each group puts on shows, and these shows are managed by commercial companies.

Who does which show and the cities where previous and current incarnations are held, plus the industry alphabet soup makes it difficult to get straight who's got the needle. Let me give it a shot!

Independent Needlework Retailers Guild (INRG) does the Needlework and Accessories Trade Show (NATS) show held annually in Charlotte, N.C. This show is referred to as "the Charlotte show" or just "Charlotte." It is held at the end of July/beginning of August and is the primary industry show.

Besides cross stitch, there are exhibitors showing related goods, such as buttons, frames, plastic bags, needlepoint (not a lot), plastic canvas, Hardanger, and other types of needlework.

A second, smaller show is held at another time of year in Nashville, in a hotel.

Needlework Markets, Inc. (NMI) is a tradeshow-mounting business which takes care of the INRG shows.

The other major trade organization, The National Needlework Association (TNNA), does two trade major shows a year. (These are mounted by Offinger Management Co.) These shows used to be held in Anaheim (CA) and Chicago, but in 1999, they moved to San Diego and Columbus (OH). On display are needlepoint and other canvaswork pieces, along with knitting. Very little cross stitch.

Both these shows are wholesale-only to shops (and their representatives) from designers, distributors, publishers, and manufacturers. In order to have a booth, a designer must apply and submit credentials such as published work, references, evidence of being a legitimate business, and so on.

Usually these shows are look-and-order, rather than cash-and-carry, but do check for the current year.

One reason why look-and-order shows are good is that sales tax in the host state is avoided; and of course, exhibitors need not freight so much product to the show.

TNNA offers classes (needlework and business) and accreditations (similar to Embroiderders' Guild of America, Inc.'s Master Craftsman program).

The rest of this file started off with just Ken Davis' contribution, but since then I've found other great stuff for which I have received permission to post. So, after you read what Ken has to say, keep reading for even more inside info from people who have done trade shows, needlework and otherwise.

I am very grateful to all who allowed me to use their work here.

You may print out this material for your own use, but it may not be distributed in any other way, as I cannot authorize use of others' work. Copyright remains with the authors, and they should be contacted for reprint permission. Hot links are available for each article.

Having an Exhibitor's Booth
at Industry Wholesale Shows
by Ken Davis

Booth Location

If you are a newbie, you will not have much say so over where your booth will be because those who have exhibited before get priority. Exhibitors accumulate show points which give them priority, but you can get lucky. (Points are given to your company each time it exhibits at that particular show.)

You can pay extra for a prime location, but you may not get it if someone gets in before you or someone with more points requests it. By definition, there are only a limited number of prime locations.

If you do not like your booth location, speak to staff about another location - - preferably before you unpack!

When you send in an exhibitor request form, you can request a particular location or to be near another exhibitor. Just remember that in some cases you may be "competing" for a space with a company that has exhibited for 20 years.

In one case, several companies got together and requested they all be in the same row together. They then requested and got permission to create their own "show within a show," where they used a common decorating motif and erected "entrance-ways" at either end of their group of booths.

Booth Design

Think a lot about your booth design and how it will work with people in it and also with those walking by it. For example, make it easy for someone from the aisle to see what you have. One exhibitor I saw last year made the mistake of "hiding" most of the designs from those looking from the aisle.

Don't make the booth too crowded-looking or fussy. You want to design it so the buyers' eyes are drawn to your products. This does not mean, though, that your booth needs to be plain-looking. You do want it to look attractive. You want it to look like you are proud to be there and proud of what you have to sell.

Make sure you double check your order forms for booth setups for items such as carpet, tables, and such. Ordering these items at the show because you forgot or filled out the form wrong is expensive.

Company Description

Make sure the description of you in the show guide clearly indicates what you have to sell. Many buyers look through the show guide the night before to see whom they want to visit first.

Booth Security

Regarding security, the show does not guarantee that nothing will get stolen from your booth after hours, but we have not heard of more than very minor incidents. There are guards that patrol the building after hours. Since we have computers in our booth to demonstrate software, this is a big concern of ours.

It depends on your booth design, but consider bringing something like old sheets to cover up sensitive parts of your display. (We cover our computers that way.) This includes both valuable items as well as items you do not want competitors to look at too closely.

It is against show rules (as well as being impolite) to enter another exhibitor's booth without permission, but some people do it anyway before the show opens for the day or after it closes. It is usually simple curiosity. I do not know of an instance where this was done to gain business intelligence. Besides, you can see a lot from the aisle.

Sales Strategies

Since it's a trade show, only orders are taken. No product can change hands on threat of not being able to exhibit again.

Remember that these buyers have a *lot* of stuff to look at. Many use the first day to survey offerings and collect information, the second to talk, and the third to buy.

Have something for them to take with them to study. Buyers often use what they pick up the first day to guide them to exhibitors deserving second looks.

Consider having a "show special." Many exhibitors give some kind of discount for ordering at the show. It could be as simple as free shipping, which a lot do. (Also prepare for those calling after the show saying they "saw you at Charlotte and wanted to know if the show special is still available.")

There is no 100% reliable pattern, but many, if not most exhibitors, write most of their orders on the last day. Make sure you are set up to take orders quickly so you do not have buyers waiting too long to place orders.

Networking and Finding Out How Things Are Done

People in the needlework industry are generally pretty generous with their knowledge of the business. I do not recommend calling up a company or designer to ask questions, but when you are at the show try to strike up conversations with other exhibitors. They will often pass on some of the information they have gathered over the years.

We learned a tremendous amount this way, but we had an advantage. There were few other companies exhibiting products with which we competed. In fact, many exhibitors were our customers and used our programs for designing!

Keep in mind that someone is much less likely to give information if the two of you are selling similar products to the same customers.

The Charlotte show has changed some over the years to include more than just cross stitch, so it should not be too hard to find someone willing to give you a few minutes. Just make sure it is a time convenient to them.

Depending on how conversations go, you may arrange to have dinner with new-found acquaintances. One reason is to discuss the show, but it is also a way of finding someplace to eat in a strange city and possibly making new friends. If you do this, figure out who will pay for whose dinner. If you gain a lot of information from talking with someone, you should be prepared to do the polite thing and pay for dinner.

Do not plan on talking to anyone for very long once the show is over on the last day. Everyone is tired, and most people just want to pack up and go home.

Creature Comforts at the Show

Eat breakfast. Unless you will have more than two people working the booth, it will be hard for each of you to get away long enough to have lunch. Besides, food at convention centers is rarely wonderful cuisine, and you should use your lunch break to look around at other booths. We usually bring some fruit and something to drink in a cooler.

Consider whether you want to rent a car. Not everyone does. It can be more than you want to spend, but it provides a flexibility that is hard to beat.


You can go overboard with this and I don't mean to be alarmist, but be prepared for problems. Know how you would cope if the airline loses your luggage, for example. Bring backups. If you will be handing out anything at the show, make sure, when possible, that you have a copy of it for an emergency run to Kinko's. In carry-on luggage, take anything you consider essential and irreplaceable.

This preparation includes after you get to the show. One year a pipe broke in the ceiling of the convention hall, and several booths had a sudden shower. Incidents like this are rare, but they do happen.

Will You Make a Profit on Your First Show?

Don't expect too much. Think of this first show as an investment and learning experience. Use it to learn how others exhibit and to see how you can do better next time. Consider yourself lucky if you make a profit.

Above all, keep your sense of humor. Something always goes wrong. Keep a positive attitude and don't take things too seriously.

Copyright 1999, Ken Davis, of Davis Computer Services, Inc., makers of EasyGrapher charting software and Stitch Wiz stitch-diagramming software (as for a teacher's handout or a leaflet).

Setting Up and Running an Exhibitor's Booth
at an Industry Wholesale Show
by SharonG

Much of what I am going to say applies to any selling. My entire business career has been in selling something.


After doing many trade shows and attending markets as a buyer since the year 1970, I have learned the best display feature in any booth is a welcome face, a smile, and an exhibitor who is not complaining about the show traffic, sales, or weather. Make your customer welcome, and remember you only have one chance to make a first impression.

And remember, attitude is yours worth catching? I have seen exhibitors drive their show into the dumps because of this. The customer wants to be serviced cheerfully, efficiently, and honestly. Nothing more. Not listen to the gripe du jour.

I also learned early on to under-promise and over-deliver on those promises. I am always fine tuning this because stuff does happen, and I never allow enough time for stuff to interfere. I have learned to say something may not be possible by such and such a date, but we will do our best to make it happen. In other words, nothing is just takes a little longer sometimes.

Be a positive person who smiles and greets the customers and is helpful but not pushy. Not someone who is sitting in a chair, face down engrossed in stitching, reading, eating, or talking to someone else who is not a customer.


Come to the show with realistic expectations. Be sure you can tell the customer why your product deserves their open to buy. Tell them why your product is different without cutting down the competition.

Meals During the Exhibition Period

I do not come to a trade show to eat. I come to sell, so I will not die if I miss a little food. (I do not recommend going without food if you have health problems. Eat if you must. Passing out will draw attention to your booth, but not the right kind.)

Resting Between Customers

The chairs are there for you customers to sit in...not you. Don't sit. Be up and around in your booth, looking busy all the time even if you are not.

Sure, your feet will hurt but, get real! You will not die from it! Occupational hazard. I have been known to work in heels all day (Enzo and Bally are most comfortable, I think). The only time my feet hurt is when someone comments about it or asks if my feet hurt. Most people wear sneakers or walking shoes, but I am not most people and I hate to have hot feet.

Keep a spare pair of pantyhose at the booth in case of a run, however. You won't have time to go back to your hotel room.

Features of Booths at the Charlotte Show

If you are going to Charlotte, carpeting is included. Read your manual and call the office if there are any questions.

If you are taking one 10' booth, the 6-ft. or possibly 8-ft. table will block the entrance in a 10-ft. booth. Buyers at Charlotte wheel these big luggage carriers around, so they will find it hard to access your booth. Get a smaller table or put the large one against the wall.

Covering Booth Walls

Some people put fabric up on booth walls and put Velcro on the backs of their models. If you go this route, best check to make sure the Velcro sticks to your fabric - - it doesn't stick to everything. Another fabric Velcro sticks to nicely is that stuff that diving suits are made of.

There is also a special cloth made to cover displays that is also used. It is like the female part of the Velcro and you can get it from industrial textile companies. It runs about $16 a yard, plus or minus, depending on the quality and quantity. When you get the bolt, you have to cut it into 8' lengths and put grommets into the top so it hangs. If you are interested in buying this, you can get it from Levitt Industrial Textiles in Hicksville, NY. They have a toll free number: 800 LIT 0097. You can get some real deluxe stuff from Quentex at 800-736-1912.

And, do not forget, it has to be fireproofed. I have seen fire marshals test fabric and close down booths at shows. One of the rules in business is you have to follow the rules. All display materials (not product) must be fireproofed.

If you have heavy framed pieces, there is a chance they will not stick with Velcro. Furthermore, the booth's side wall may not take the weight of several framed pieces and come tumbling down. This is a good way to tick off your neighbor because that display comes down, too.

You may need to hardwall the back wall for hanging pictures and do something fun to the side walls. As far as the hardwall goes, unless Charlotte show management upgrades their hardwall, it is drab burlap and not all panels match.

So, go out and buy some bedsheets in a great print and staple them to the walls and get an extra for the table. You can get even more creative and make chair covers on site. Do not get too can tie them on and glue on some trim. It will all dry in a short time. Get a few rolls of matching ribbon, a nice dish for chocolate candy, a great floral arrangement, and a few coordinating silk flowers for the walls. Smile and have a great time!

Other Props in Your Booth Display

I have seen exhibitors in Charlotte carry in complete bedroom sets and large pieces of furniture. I never did. Just great merchandise, a little bit of frou-frou, some color, a few ribbons or bows, and a smile.


Theft does happen, but one can not get paranoid about it. I used to carry all of my samples back to the room at night because I lost $18,000 in an uninsured theft around the time I started: stuff removed from a car in the hotel registration area.

Now I just leave it and have convinced myself that although I want my samples to look beautiful forever, they are tools for me to sell with and if they get touched, destroyed, or stolen, that is all a part of the cost of doing business.

Get insurance. Homeowners' insurance probably does not cover any business outside your home.

Business Tips for Inside the Booth During the Exhibition Period

Bring extra clip boards and order books. Some buyers like to be left alone with the price list and write their own orders. Let them do it uninterrupted.

Be organized. Have plastic boxes labeled office supplies, tools, and first aide.

Tools include a hammer, heavy-duty staple gun and extra staples, heavy tape, fishing line, shower curtain hooks, scissors etc.

The first aide box should have extra glasses if you wear them, meds, packets of wash-and-dry wipes, those Shout packets to clean the hot dog stuff that dripped on your clothes, band-aids, tissues, appropriate feminine products, lipstick, comb and mirror, and one thing I would never be without...deodorant. I once came to the show in a rush and remembered I forgot the deodorant. Never again. I ran out and bought some, and it has been in the box since.

In the office supplies box, glue stick, extra pens and pencils, regular staples, etc.

Dealing with Unions at Exhibit Halls

The manual will let you know just what is permitted by the unions and what is not. Read it.


You need to do about four times your expenses in sales to "break even."

Unfortunately, there is no cheap way to do a trade show. One reason why companies fail is not enough money in the bank. Shipping, drayage, airfare, lodging, the booth, food, and miscellaneous expenses add up.

My trade shows cost me at least $6000 each, and I have own my displays. I use 400 square feet at a show. Most new exhibitors use 100, so do not pass out at the amount of my expenses! I ship some heavy freight, but my first show was in a small suitcase and a few zipper bags. What a trooper I was, right next to Liz Turner Diehl in Charlotte. And, it was the first trade show I set foot in...except one time years before when I went to a TNNA show at the Penta in NYC.

I have two displays and alternate them from time to time. You have to change things around. If not, things do not look new.

Yes, you can do it on a shoestring. I did and it was not easy, but anything is possible. It just takes a little longer and some creativity.

Copyright 1999, SharonG, who is a well-known needlepoint designer, for reprint permission.

Tips for Running an Exhibitor's Booth
at an Industry Wholesale Show
by Teri Rasmussen George


Bring carpeting with a good thick padding; your feet will thank you later. And your customers will appreciate it, too, if you set your booth up so they can enter it, that is. Make sure that the carpeting is good looking if you let people in the booth, because as soon as their feet hit softness they're going to look down to see what's down there. Tape down the front of the carpet and cover any electrical wires. You don't want any tripping going on as people come and go.

Tables Coverings

Table coverings are a must. You look two-bit without them. Make sure that you stay color-coordinated.


Do whatever the organization will allow, but don't bother with a lot of clutter. Space should be used to show your name and show your products (in a pleasing, decorated array) -- and that's it.

Booth Opening

If you're letting people into your booth (which really is a good idea and increases your sales space) make sure that the opening into the booth is LARGE, at least 5-6 feet. Anything smaller than that will create a bottleneck and also tends to psychologically hold people back from entering your booth. Having the booth almost completely open so people can wander at will is an even better idea.


The only loss I've ever seen at a *trade* (not a consumer) show is a single laptop being stolen, at night (probably taken by a maintenance worker), from under a stage -- and it was stored with 15 other laptops. Besides, samplers and things should be hanging on walls, anyhow. Even at the Toronto Needlework *consumer* show, I never saw anything tied down.

Where to Get Help in Booth Design

If you really feel you can't handle this look in your yellow pages and find an advertising company that can help you. It'll cost you, but you have to spend money to make money.


You need to have insurance. We can debate how much theft does or doesn't happen, but you still need to be prepared. You may never get robbed, but something else - - maybe an accident - - could happen that would destroy your items. Not to mention if someone trips on that electrical cord that popped back up after you taped it. The show usually will not be responsible, and you're the one who'll need liability insurance.

Get some kind of *business* insurance. And check to see if the show you're going to requires you to have a certain amount of coverage - - some shows do have requirements.

Welcoming Customers

People 'don't want to bother you' if you've got your nose in a book or are in a conversation with one of the people who are helping you with the booth. But the point is that you *want* them to bother you, so don't shut them out by eating, reading, stitching, or chatting with your booth crew.

"Reading" Customers

You need to notice what people are doing and kind of "read" whether they're approachable or not. You can always check if someone needs help or would appreciate an explanation of something, but if they seem standoffish then leave them to themselves.

Tired Feet

As for chairs, in my opinion you can sit down (when you're absolutely on your last leg), BUT always be on your feet as soon as someone seems to be heading toward your booth. A bar stool is better than a small chair because even if you're sitting down you're still about on eye level with anyone who approaches and your transition to standing won't make them feel like they're 'bothering' you.

When a potential customer comes within, say, 20 feet of your booth, get up and move forward to greet the person.

If customers want to be left alone you'll know in moments, but at least they will know that you noticed them and felt they were important.


Bring snacks and a hearty lunch -- but do NOT eat in your booth. There's nothing worse than trying to talk business with someone who's shoveling in a mouthful of Doritos.

"Survival Kit"

Take a survival pack of face washer, soap, band-aids, comb, lipstick, etc. and keep it in your booth. Sometimes, you really need to go freshen up, especially when things are a bit slow. I recommend a toothbrush for an after-meal pick-me-up. And make sure that you have a place to store your heavy coat (if you're wearing one). Copyright 1999, Teri Rasmussen George, who has a marvelous conversion chart, which shows the usual numerical conversion, but also color swatches, grouped by families, for Anchor, DMC, and JP Coats. Please contact her for reprint permission.

More Tips about Having a Booth
at an Industry Wholesale Show
by Trish Brown


Always bring everything you think you might need. There's nothing more galling than arriving to find insufficient power boards or poor lighting, which would have been no problem, had you simply packed your own.


Protect your stuff from roaming hands! You'd be surprised exactly how much people are willing to remove when you're not looking! Little tethers of string or twine or hat elastic work well.


Cover your table with a long cloth: you can use the underneath for storage and keeping containers, and it looks heaps neater.


Have a single, simple sign above your head if you can. That way, people can see your booth from the other end of the hall and find it easily. Don't put up posters with wads of text: that's just a waste of space and no-one wants to read stuff at trade shows. Use brochures for that. A blackboard (chalkboard) can be useful - - you can post daily specials or allow kids to play while Mum talks to you. Just remember to supervise the chalk!

Booth Layout

I always found it helpful to have tables to corral myself in and keep the public a distance away from me. That way, I could keep a stool handy to rest my poor swollen feet from time to time. If you can, take an old carpet square to stand on. It will really make a difference to your feet by the end of the day! Sometimes, it helps to have your tables or trestles at an angle, to sort of 'funnel' the public into your booth. This is great when you're alone, but if you have a helper, then just orient them across your space with your models pinned on boards behind you.

Business Cards

Have *plenty* of business cards available, and give one to everyone who comes within coo-ee.


Try to have a freebie to hand out. As soon as word gets out that something's available for nothing, people will beat a path to your booth!

Tired Feet

Freeze plastic bottles of water the day before and keep them under your table to rest your feet on. You can also drink them if you need to!

"Survival Kit"

Take a survival pack of face washer, soap, band-aids, comb, lipstick etc and keep it in your booth. Sometimes, you really need to freshen up, especially when things are a bit slow.

Children at the Show

Fortunately, most trade shows have a minimum age limit (14-16, or so), so you're not going to get the young children or screaming babies.


Talk sweetly to everyone and remember to relax your smile when people aren't looking. You get a pain in the face at these things!

For more information about needlework industry organizations and shows, see and NMI's Web site.

If you run across other sites that would be of help to readers of this file, please e-mail me so I can list those, too.

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Last updated April 12, 1999.