National Stationery Show Survives by Staying in Step with Trends

April 1, 2016

In the 1940s, department stores were the primary retailers of most every item for daily life, including stationery and writing instruments. Tessie Goldwater, a buyer for May’s Department Stores, regularly attended gift shows in New York and Chicago, but felt there was a need for a more specialized paper goods show.

She approached Bill Little at George Little Management (now part of Emerald Expositions), urging that stationery, custom invitations, pens and related goods be given their own event. In 1945, the first New York Stationery Show was held in the New Yorker Hotel.

While those core product categories remain, numerous others have come and gone during the past 70 years. Gift wrap and tableware are now an important part of the show, and the card industry has blossomed with options for all kinds of occasions.

Halloween costumes and balloons were once part of the show, but no more. And the scrapbooking, rubber stamp, and sticker craze from a few years ago has scaled back, making way for the adult coloring book trend.

The show’s audience also has changed from those early days when it was mostly department store buyers. Now, in addition to those buyers, attendees come from all over the world representing both large and small retailers – museum stores, spas, pharmacies, boutiques, garden centers, and grocery stores – as well as online and mail order retailers, distributors, and event planners.

As a testimony to the relevance of the show, now known as the National Stationery Show (NSS), there are many longstanding exhibitors, including three who remain from that very first show: American Greetings, Freund-Mayer & Co. and Hallmark Cards.

While stationery also is present at gift shows, it doesn’t receive as much attention there. Patti Stracher, vice president and NSS show director, credits the endurance of the show to the fact that it offers very specific, focused content to buyers who are highly committed to the stationery category. They’re looking to discover new companies and trends and to meet and talk with the designer-makers.

“The NSS is a show where most of the product on display is new,” Stracher said. “It is a place to discover trending, quality products in a highly creative atmosphere.”

In fact, many companies launch their business at the show each year, she added.

The show has faced its share of challenges, including the “perfect storm” of 2008-2011 when economic issues combined with the digital revolution to drastically change the landscape of the stationery industry. Many of the designer-makers, as well as independent paper store retailers couldn’t survive.

But coming out the other side of that, the digital revolution has added more reasons to use paper products, Stracher points out.

“People are exhausted with the onslaught of digital communications and have a hunger for more personalized, authentic correspondence. Traditional paper products are keepsakes,” she said.

Dealing with the balance of traditional and digital communications is an ongoing challenge for the show as well. Stracher said that beautifully-designed traditional mailers that are reflective of the industry still are very important, but so is digital branding and marketing in order to reach a broader audience. And the NSS print directory isn’t going away any time soon.

Another challenging time was at the first show held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in 1986, when the air conditioning failed and temperatures on the floor soared into the 90s.

Jack Withiam, show manager at the time, turned off the air conditioning in his fourth-floor office as well, so when exhibitors came to complain they found an office that was hotter than the showfloor!

Several special features have been announced for the celebration of 70 years:

- NSS launched “Stationery Stories,” a series of profiles on the show’s website and social media channels that tell about the people who made the industry and show what it is today.
- Mohawk Fine Papers, official paper of the NSS 2016, will display a selection of rare historic items from The Strathmore Archives at the show in May.
- Visual presentation and design students from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) are collaborating with NSS to create a gallery-style display for finalists in the Best New Product Competition.

This year’s show is on track to have 800 exhibitors and 10,000 attendees filling 100,000 net square feet at the Javits.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.