By Talia Bromstad

Notes on Noted: The Greeting Card Expo

Tradeshows! What are they good for? A lot! You can write orders, sure, but perhaps more importantly, you can make connections with real people who can see your products in real life. It's those relationships that will become most important over time.

After shifting to full-time with Bromstad Printing Company in 2023, I knew I wanted to go all in on wholesale and felt that exhibiting at a tradeshow would be an important step in that direction. That's how I found myself at NY Now last August, and last month I checked off my second show with Noted: The Greeting Card Expo in San Francisco. It was wildly different than NY Now but no less successful.

What is a tradeshow?

Tradeshows are, as you might expect based on the name, shows for the trade. They are an opportunity for a brand or maker to exhibit their wares to potential wholesale buyers, who will hopefully decide to place an order for goods that will ship at a later date.

Unlike a craft market, the general public (you, the final consumer) is not the intended audience, and typically, no products or money exchanges hands either (that would be what is called “cash and carry”).

When I sell direct-to-consumer (aka when you buy from me on my website), I assume the risk of keeping inventory and the cost of marketing the goods. When I sell to a store that will then in turn sell to a consumer, that's called retail, and they are buying at wholesale cost—getting my goods for a better price by buying in bulk and taking on the risk of selling.

So tradeshows are where I can meet my wholesale buyers in person, let them see the product in real life, and make connections with other doers and makers in the industry.

How is Noted different from other shows?

Unlike other big home and gift shows like NY Now or Shoppe Object, Noted is an interesting show because it is explicitly for greeting cards. While they also had a section called Gifted that included other non-greeting card makers, the vast majority of exhibitors were paper people like me. And paper people, it turns out, are the best people.

Noted is also notable for being presented by the non-profit Greeting Card Association, of which I am a member. So from the very beginning, it felt far less nickel-and-dimey and more supportive of the makers than when I exhibited at NY Now last August.

Of course, exhibiting at any show is not cheap (there’s the booth fee, the labor cost, plus hotels and flights and food), but as we set-up the day before the show, exhibitors were generous with their resources, sharing ladders and scissors and shelving. The overarching mantra was community over competition.

The setting was also really great, at the Fort Mason Center on a pier overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. The pavilion was flooded with natural light all day long, a nice counterpoint to the artifice of NY Now’s Javits Center.

Because of the San Francisco location, my sister Mackenzie was able to meet me at the show and help out all week long. She earned her keep!

The booth—the heart of the show

As someone who sells wholesale and online, I have no physical presence in the world like a brick and mortar shop. So I find it very exciting to design and execute a stellar tradeshow booth that really highlights the physicality of my work. It's an opportunity to play around in 3D that I don't get the rest of the year.

In New York, I painted my booth red and had a couple life-size cats die cut in vinyl to put on the walls around my cards and calendar. The best part was a ten foot wiggly archway that framed the entire booth. It was all an homage to the 2024 calendar cover cowboy cat.

NY Now booth

For Noted, the theme I decided on was my falling cat from the You’ll Land On Your Feet risograph card. I paid a disgusting amount of money to have the back wall of my booth painted blue (show set-up did not allow for painting on site) and arranged to have life-size die cut kitties made to rig up on fishing line to the side of my main card display so they looked like they were freeze frames of a falling cat.

Noted booth before setup

Don’t worry, she lands on her feet.

Noted booth during setup

In addition to the cards, I had notepads and stickers on the side walls, and my catalogs and card samples available on a little bar-height table the show provided. I did hire union labor (thanks Fabio!) to help get shelves screwed into the walls and mount the brackets for my falling kitties. It saved time and precious energy, which was good because there were only about six hours to get everything set-up before the Louie Awards later that night.

Here is the completed booth, cats and all:

Noted booth after setup

The worst part about setting up my booth was getting the vinyl letters up. I’m experienced in applying vinyl lettering, but the company that made these for me seemed to have die-cut just a little too deep, so a thin layer of paper backing was wanting to peel up behind every single letter. That was honestly a nightmare. Set-up time was tight to begin with, and getting these letters up had us down to the wire, but we managed to pull it all off with a little time to spare to get back to our hotel and doll up for the Louie Awards.

Noted booth cat

The 35th Louie Awards (The Oscars of the Greeting Card World)

The Louie Awards! As a new member of the Greeting Card Association, I went all in and entered about two dozen cards in the awards this year. Finalists were announced in February and to my surprise and delight I was chosen as a finalist in six categories. Four cards were individual nominees, and then I snagged noms in two overall categories, Rising Star and Artist of the Year.

The night before Noted opened was dedicated to announcing the winners. I’m well aware that awards are a little silly and subjective, but it does feel validating to win them. In the end, I went home with the Louie for “Superbly Stated,” won by my sympathy card that reads “A brilliant star may twinkle out but its memory shines bright.”

It was really nice having my sister by my side for this achievement. Also I can't not note the dress I am wearing — isn't it beautiful! That bow!! I think I spent more time agonizing over what I would wear to the Louies than I did over my booth design. Haha, priorities!

Louie Award winner Bromstad Printing Company

The Noted Pitch Program

The fun just doesn't stop with Noted. After a full day of set-up and the Louies, the following morning I was up bright and early to deliver my song and dance for the Noted Pitch Program. The program matches up a select group of retailers with a brand, who has exactly five minutes to give a pitch on who they are and what they do, before the retailers are ushered on to another brand for another pitch. Think Shark Tank but for greeting cards, and no one is going to give you a million dollars but they might come back and buy some cards later.

I took a public speaking seminar on a whim in high school and truly it was one of the most impactful courses I've ever taken. My main takeaway almost 20 year later remains: if you ever feel you have to pause, for the love of god don't say "um" or other filler words because the pause is never as long as it feels to you, so just collect the thought and continue on. And after working at a theater for over a decade, I definitely learned a little about performing for a crowd and the importance of projecting. Speak louder than you think you need to! All this to say, I felt pretty confident going in to my pitch session.

Noted pitch program

While I can't say I love public speaking, I do feel like I have a handle on the mechanics of it, and I certainly have a handle on my background, what I make, and why it's awesome, so the five minutes flew by as I described the quirks of risograph printing, my deep love of cats, and how the two go together so well. I can't be sure but I don't think I said "um" either!

After silently rehearsing all my pitch points in my head during any spare moment for the past week, plus all the fuss of show setup, then the Louie Awards the night prior, then actually delivering the pitch — the adrenaline of the past 24 hours finally subsided, and I felt like the rest of the show would be a cake walk. As much of a cake walk as two eight-hour days of talking to potential and current retailers can be. The energy spent being “on” and charming to all your would-be buyers — as an introvert, it’s truly an exercise in endurance. But worth it!

Meeting the buyers

It's the whole point of the show—meet buyers! Hope they buy from you!

I actually have a number of current retailers in the San Francisco area, so it was delightful to meet many of them in person for the first time. A couple made new orders while they browsed, which was a fantastic way to start the show.

Writing an order at Noted

And I ended up meeting a few retailers who I’ve been sending mailers and emails to for a year now with no response that ended up placing first time orders too. While you definitely don't HAVE to exhibit at a tradeshow in order to successfully sell wholesale, it certainly lends a certain legitimacy to your brand. In that regard, there’s really no replacement for an in-person tradeshow as far as getting in front of the right buyers and letting them see the product in real life.

Compared to NY Now, the crowd at Noted was much smaller — but then it is a much smaller show too — but the quality of the individuals who did attend was markedly higher. The people who were there were very interested in being there and shopping with the greeting card exhibitors. There were museum stores, pharmacies, boutiques, book stores — a lot of variety, from independent retailers to big box ones as well.

I would also be so bold as to say the quality of the exhibitors, on the whole, was consistently higher at Noted too. At NY Now, I felt the show runners seemed to accept any exhibitor with a pulse, and there were so many booths where brands had really phoned it in. At Noted, the folks who were exhibiting really knocked it out of the park. Like, every booth was its own little world of greeting cards. Rows of little gems.

Riso Row

Next Chapter Studio booth at Noted

When it was slow, I’d wander over to other booths and chat with the other makers. It turned out that all three risograph printers at the show — myself, Lauren from Next Chapter Studio, and Karen from Pier Six Press — were all located on the same row of booths. So it made a great example to be talking to a buyer and be able to explain risograph and point and say, “Look at these other two! We do the same kind of printing but have totally different styles and colors, how cool!”

Pier Six Press booth at Noted

And speaking of Karen and Lauren, I have no photographic evidence of this, but the three of us and my sister all went out for pizza and cannolis after the show closed and were able to nerd out about risograph printing while my sister nodded politely. That was truly special. What a delightful pair of riso ladies!

Orders aside, it really was the personal connections that were the biggest get of the show. There were other greeting card makers who very casually offered incredible advice and guidance that I’m still chewing over. People were so nice. So complimentary of my work! I left feeling like I am on the right track and have so much I can do, if only I find the time and energy to do it.

Unfortunately, as soon as I was back home from San Francisco, I quickly succumbed to a cold and had a hard time catching up on orders and studio business. I also received an 850lb pallet of paper and envelopes in the middle of it all. But I’m finally back in action and working at 100% again. All my show orders are out and the cycle continues...

1 comment

  • Cheering you on, Talia!

    Laura T on

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