The Tradeshow Circuit Head Honcho Hello for February 2013

Black and white, upper left picture, left to right: Mel Gasmen, our genius digital and marketing coordinator; me; Sara Hartman, our savvy ecommmerce manager; Trish Abbot, the indispensable VP of brand development. Color picture: Jim Papscoe, our president, joins us, looking oddly like one of the Village People.

I write this month’s Head Honcho Hello from my Times Square hotel room on a break from one of the three tradeshows for which Knock Knock mounts its own booth, the Spring New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF). I must say that at this point in my career it is more fun to write about tradeshows in a hotel bed than it is to actually be at the tradeshows. I have become somewhat internally infamous for flying all the way to New York, showing up at the Javits Center, and, after walking the aisles to ogle the landscape of the marketplace, somewhat antsily announcing that I have work to do at the hotel. It’s a far cry from when I had to manage setup and staff the booth myself all day, every day, then break down the whole caboodle.

The true pleasure of the tradeshows is seeing the Knock Knock brand writ large, all in one sweep, much as an artist much appreciate seeing his/her work all up at once for an exhibition. It gives me a bird’s-eye view of what we’ve done, past and present, all at once, and an opportunity to suss out the larger patterns that will govern what we do in the future. Despite my (permanent) tradeshow fatigue, I almost always leave the shows feeling enthused and inspired. And it’s also a great opportunity to spend some fantastic social time with the team—last night we all tied one(s) on at the gift industry’s AIDS charity, Gift for Life, which has a gala event on the first Sunday of each January NYIGF. I seem to recall having performed some embarrassing dancing. And there were photos (see top right).

Each time I enter the Javits Center, however, my first thought is, “Oh my god, there is so much stuff in the world. Do we need this stuff? Why are we making more stuff? I make stuff. I am part of the world stuff machine.” From ceramic dogs to creepy dolls to cloyingly scented unctions to aprons with insightful proclamations like “Danger! Men Cooking!” one can instantly understand why the United States has a trade deficit with China and why the American storage industry is thriving. But then I spend some time in our booth and get the luxury of fielding compliments on, stories about, and laughter in response to our work, and I feel a little better about what we do. I mean, I actually feel great about what we do—proud and great—but amid a sea of stuff-stuff-stuff it’s hard not to feel like part of some problem or another.

Our Spring line on display. A busy booth is a happy booth.

On these New York trips, two to three times per year (May for the National Stationery Show and August for the Fall NYIGF), I always tack on a bunch of other meetings: desksides with editors for PR, in which I visit them at their office with a bag of new products and do a little dog-and-pony-show about them, pitching for future inclusion; various consultancies; and time with retailers, reps, and buyers. Even though I used to live in New York City and have lots of friends and some family here, Manhattan has become a work destination as I’ve made shorter and shorter trips to get in and out as fast as I possibly can, leaving less time for personal get-togethers. This is a mistake. I miss my New York people, and I miss slurping down the marrow of the city! But I suppose if I were to make a longer trip to accommodate personal recreation, it would probably be prudent to do it for the May show. Weather-wise, August and January pretty much suck.

The breakout bestseller. Because isn’t love about filling in the blanks anyway?

I am inordinately proud of the Spring 2013 list, especially its amazing array of books. Our What I Love About You journal is flying off the shelves, a breakout hit. It was inspired by a handmade book I made years ago for my aunt Sue on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday, recounting, one per page, fifty things I loved about her, as well as by a book that our editor Kate’s boyfriend made for her. You fill it in yourself for a loved one—just in time for (ugh) Valentine’s Day. I am sad to report that two copies have been stolen from our booth display at the show so far—who are these people with no morals, and why don’t they behave? We have a whole new party line, including balloons, samples of which are flying high in the booth thanks to a sweet little helium tank we’re keeping in the booth closet. Apparently they have to be repumped every morning. I particularly love these wine tags. Also making enthusiastic inroads are our guest books, for dinner parties and bathrooms. The bathroom one is, I think, so terribly clever, and I just love the way the graphic design came out. Finally, we have two little books that aren’t yet on the website, probably because they haven’t hit the warehouse: 100 Reasons to Panic About Getting Married and 100 Reasons to Panic About Having a Baby. These morsels are perfectly giftable, sweetly illustrated, and wryfully on-point. The team really outdid themselves this season.

The Bathroom Guestbook provides you the opportunity to leave desirable evidence of your trip to their commode. Not the undesirable kind.

Okay—now I’m off to meet a fellow entrepreneur, a generous fix-up from another entrepreneur who thinks we’d hit it off, at her wine and cupcake bar, Sweet Revenge, in the West Village. Then I get to have dinner with my cousin. Tomorrow is part consultancy, part tradeshow walking, then I have the honor of being interviewed by the inimitable Debbie Millman for her podcast, Design Matters. Wednesday is an all-day marketing consultancy, then back on Thursday. Of course, all of this will be over by the time you’ve read this, on Friday, February 1. But we can always reminisce together, no?