Five Years


Last month, These Are Things officially turned five years old. As usual, we’ve been too busy to slow down and celebrate our birthday! Passing the five year mark is a huge milestone for us. I feel like “they” always talk about those statistics that say most small businesses shut down by this point, so for us to make it this far by selling art feels truly surreal.

Five years ago, we took our desire to chart our travels, mixed it with our love of making art, and created our first print: the Modern World Map. From there, we shared it with the world (wide web) and set off on a journey that neither of us could have expected.

Since then, we’ve designed hundreds of prints, selling them to thousands of customers in over 50 countries. We’ve illustrated pieces for magazines like AFAR and HOW and brands like McDonald’s and Airbnb. We’ve spoken at conferences like Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, Pioneer Nation, and Adobe MAX. We even got to see our work on the shelves of Nordstrom stores from coast to coast.

Not exactly what we had in mind when we made that first print back in 2010! Surreal, indeed.

This project certainly hasn’t been easy. We’ve had our fair share of struggles and mistakes. They’ve cost us money, time, and sanity. But, looking back, we’ve learned from every single one. We’ve come a long way and I know we will take all of this experience with us into the future with These Are Things.

Speaking of the future, where do we go from here? Over the past few months, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that very question. We have a few ideas. ;) For now, we just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has supported us over the last five years. We can’t wait to show you what we’re making next.

To five more!

J + O


Oh, hi there!

Hi! We’re not dead, but our blog was for a while. Sorry about that! It’s a long story, but there were lots of annoying back-end server problems that took a while to fix.

The good news is that everything is back online! The bad news is that this blog is woefully out of date. We’re planning to start writing here again, but in the meantime, you can follow along with our day-to-day adventures on Instagram.

Big things in the works for 2015. Stay tuned!

J + O


National Stationery Show 2014:
Budget and Expenses

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

As we prepared for our second year at the National Stationery Show, one topic was at the front of our minds: the cost.

Trade shows are expensive. As we mentioned during last year’s recap, the biggest surprise during our first year exhibiting at the National Stationery Show was the massive amount of time, money, and effort involved. Once we committed to exhibit again in 2014, we knew we needed to get this project done quicker, better, and cheaper than we did the first time around.

For our second year at the show, our goal was to make a bigger impression while spending less money. We knew that this goal would challenge us both creatively and logistically, so we started by putting together a simple plan: eliminate unnecessary expenses, use materials we already have in our studio, and build the entire booth with our own four hands.

The result? Despite being twice as large – and way more awesome, in our humble opinion – this year’s booth came in at a little more than half the cost of last year. Success!

Want to know how we did it? Just like last year, we’re going to tell you exactly what we spent and where we saved, down to the last dollar. Why share this information? Over the past year, we’ve talked with a number of artists and designers who are thinking about signing up for a trade show. When we exhibited for the first time, we had no clue how much it would cost to exhibit. Our hope is that sharing the financial details will help future exhibitors be more informed as they consider making this big step for their creative business.

Let’s get to the numbers! Here’s the full breakdown of what it cost to put together our booth at the 2014 National Stationery Show:

Setup + Teardown

Truck Rental + Gas $950
In 2013, we were living in Brooklyn. This year, we’re living in Columbus. While the extra space and lower cost of living in Ohio certainly helped in many ways, it also introduced a new expense: getting our booth (and ourselves) to New York. Instead of freighting our setup and flying to the show, we decided to rent a U-Haul van for two weeks and drive to and from NYC. While this option definitely meant more hard labor (and trucking) on our parts, we saved on the cost of a crate, freight, and airfare.

Booth Structure

Booth Fee $5,500
This year, we upgraded our booth to a larger 20×10 inline space. With wall art making up the majority of our product line, we knew we’d need more space than our previous 10×12 corner afforded. This year’s booth was twice as large and the fee was twice as expensive, but we knew we wanted to make a big impression for our second year at the show.

Walls $800
After signing up for our new and improved big booth, we started pricing out different options to have hard walls built in our space, both from Manny Stone Decorators (the company we hired last year) and the show itself. The quotes came back, unsurprisingly, at around $6,000. This was more than we wanted to spend, so we decided to build our own walls. The total cost, including our custom floorplan and decorative card wall, was a fraction of last year’s wall cost. If you have the time, space, and expertise, building your own walls is a great place to save money at a trade show.

Lighting $200
Instead of renting lights, we bought eight clip lamps and LED bulbs that we’ll be able to use at future events.

Electrical $150
To power the lights and run an extension cord to our counter unit, we paid for one standard extension cord to be run to our booth. We brought our own surge protectors and extension cords.

Decor + Accessories

Seating $250
After standing up for the entire show last year, we knew that good seating was important, both for ourselves and for our buyers. We purchased a set of stools for our counter and a gallery-style bench for our customers. Bonus: both will look great in our apartment after the show!

Counter $300
A beautiful, bar-height table was integral to our booth design. We couldn’t find exactly what we envisioned online, plus all of the freestanding bars that we could find were very expensive. So, we put our carpentry skills to the test and built our own.

POS System $150
Last year, we used clipboards, paper order forms, and calculators to take orders at the show. Why? Because that’s what we saw everyone else doing when we walked the show in prior years. It worked, but it was so archaic! This year, we decided it was time to move into the modern era. We set up an iPad-powered point of sale system that interfaces with our online wholesale catalog (see below) and can accept credit cards onsite. We used our personal iPads and purchased two credit card readers and a stand that can be used at future events.

Promotion + Giveaways

Business Cards + Postcards $150
Last year, we spent a lot of money getting various stickers, postcards, and other paper goods printed. We went a little overboard. This year, we moved in the opposite direction. So much, in fact, that we completely forgot to get anything printed until the day before we left for New York. 24-hour turnaround to the rescue! We had a set of 250 5” x 7” postcards and 500 business cards printed, both showcasing basic information about our brand.

Catalogs $50
Yes, $50! After last year’s expensive catalog miscalculation – we ordered 1,000 catalogs and used about 10% of them, throwing the rest into the recycling bin – we decided to go green and forego a catalog entirely. Instead, we put together an online catalog and printed 250 business cards with the URL and password. It was a risky move, but buyers ended up loving it. After walking around the Javits carrying an armful of heavy paper catalogs, buyers were thrilled to walk away with a small card.

Giveaway $450
After spending over $1,000 on giveaway items in 2013 and watching most of them be snatched up by random non-buyers, we knew we wanted to do something simpler and cheaper. Earlier this year, I had picked up a vintage vending machine at an antique show. We thought it would be fun to fill it with individually packaged pinback buttons, so we ordered a carton of empty capsules and a 1″ button maker. We’ve wanted a button maker for years, so now we have one! The machine was a big hit and I’m sure it’ll be making more appearances at future events.

What’s missing?

Want to know the quickest way to slash zeros off of your budget? Eliminate things completely. Here’s what we crossed off our list this year:

Lodging $0
To save on hotel costs, we called in a favor and crashed with friends in Brooklyn for the duration of the show. While it’s convenient to be stationed within walking distance of the Javits, it’ll also cost you a few hundred dollars a night. That adds up over the course of seven days. We factored in an hour-long commute via subway from Greenpoint each morning. The result saved us thousands in hotel fees.

Flooring $0
We specifically designed our booth to utilize the dark gray concrete floors of the convention center, completely eliminating the cost of flooring.

Signage $0
We used our These Are Things logo sign from last year. We also printed our own price tags and other assorted signage using materials we already had in our studio.

Frames $0
Over the past year, we’ve been stockpiling a variety of scratched and dented frames that we already had in our inventory. After a few touch ups with a Sharpie, they were good as new.

Press Kits $0
We didn’t see any benefit from putting together press kits last year, so we skipped them this year.

The Grand Total

When we totaled everything up, we were thrilled to see that we spent a total of $8,000 on our booth at the 2014 National Stationery Show. That’s almost half as much as last year.

Running a creative business involves a lot of trial and error. Trade shows are no exception. As we learn more about what works best for us, I expect that we’ll continue to make changes to our trade show strategy in future years, just as we do with other areas of our business.

Thanks for sticking with us through this epic recap of our Stationery Show adventure! As you’ve probably guessed by the (extremely delayed) timing of this post, we’ve been busy working on a ton of exciting new projects since the show closed. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve been up to this summer!


National Stationery Show 2014:
Booth Setup + Installation

At the end of our last post, we had just finished a marathon six week construction process, packing all of the pieces and parts into a U-Haul van for the trip to New York. Today, we’ll show you how we went from this…


…to this…


…in under 48 hours. Let’s hop in the van!

The trip to New York was a relatively easy drive. We’ve been driving a lot of trucks and vans over the last year, so that helped. It was rainy and van’s door was dented, whistling loudly the entire time. We have not-so-great luck with vans.


Ten (or was it twelve?) hours later, we make it to New York. We hadn’t been back since our hasty exit last August, so it felt weird to be driving back through the Holland Tunnel with yet another van full of stuff. We arrived at our friend’s place in Greenpoint (thanks Dan!) and crashed for the night. We woke up early on Friday morning to be first in line at the Javits for hand-carry load in.


After dragging ourselves out of bed at 6:30am and driving across Manhattan to the Javits, we’re the first van at load-in, just as we had planned. This time, we brought a cart. With four wheels. Because it turns out that some rules in the show manual are made to be broken. (See last year’s story for more details on the cart situation.) That’s Dan helping us load in.

We arrive in our space and everything looks great!


Except for one small problem.


Surprise! A bunch of thick cables are routed through a 18″ square metal plate in the floor, conveniently located right where our hard walls need to stand. We have a van to unload, so we’ll have to deal with this little problem later.


Between the three of us – two people making cart runs to the booth space, and one watching the van – we have the van unloaded in less than an hour. Dan takes the van back to Greenpoint, leaving us at the Javits to figure out this cable situation. After consulting with the electrician on site, we learn that the cables can’t be moved, so we proceed with the only viable plan and start building our walls around them.


The first few panels go up without a hitch, but the cables were seriously ugly. The trap door was perfectly positioned to land directly under one of our wall seams, making every single panel crooked in its own unique way. We also found that our booth space was a few inches shorter than advertised, so once we moved our walls into place, they jutted out into the aisle. It just wasn’t working.


We make an executive decision to redesign the booth on the fly, removing a 2′ panel and rearranging others in order to move the back wall forward, in front of the ugly cables. At this point, we were pretty happy that we had designed a modular system that could be easily rearranged.


After solving those problems, the rest of the booth went up quicker than we had planned. As the day wore on, people started filtering out of the convention center. Working late at night was like having the place to ourselves and we made a lot of progress in just a few hours. By 8:00 pm, it was starting to look like a real booth! The counter was assembled, lighting was wired, and art was starting to go up on the walls.


By 10:00 pm, we were just about finished. Our empty containers were packed and we were about ready to go home. From the time that we pulled up to the Javits at 8:00 am, we had unloaded, set up, redesigned, and completed our booth in 14 hours. We looked at each other and laughed as we remembered how long it took us to set up last year’s booth. And we didn’t even have to build the walls!


Once we were finished, we put up a sign…


…took a few final pictures…


… and said goodbye to the Javits Center until the show opened on Sunday.


Want to see the finished product? Check out our 2014 National Stationery Show booth tour. Next, we’ll wrap up this series (finally!) with a look at our budget and parting thoughts after exhibiting at our second trade show.


National Stationery Show 2014:
Booth Design + Construction


Last week, we shared a tour of our completed National Stationery Show booth. Today, we’ll go back in time and show you how we designed and fabricated the entire booth ourselves, from the walls all the way down to the fixtures and furniture.

The beginning of 2014 was super busy for us, between client work and a speaking gig in Portland, so we weren’t able to focus on this project until the middle of April. By the time we got started, we had six weeks to design and build our 10′ x 20′ booth, finish our new product, and produce our samples for display.

Our preparation process for this year’s show was drastically different than last year. Not only did we have an entire garage to work with (thanks mom and dad!), but we also took all of the construction into our own hands, building our own walls and transporting the entire booth via U-Haul truck from Ohio to New York. Here’s how we did it.

Our Booth Design + Construction Process:
National Stationery Show 2014

As I mentioned in our last post, our goal was to create a gallery-inspired layout that gave us ample room to showcase our expanded range of wall art and greeting cards.

We knew we’d need hard walls for our booth, so I called around and got a few quotes from companies that build the walls on-site, like we did last year. When the estimates came back at over $6,000, we decided we’d need to build them ourselves.

So, we headed out for the first of many trips to Home Depot.

These Are Things at the National Stationery Show 2014

Our first priority was to build walls that would actually stand up. Above all else, we knew we needed strong, sturdy walls to support 30+ pieces of framed artwork and a (very heavy) feature wall of wood paneling and shelving.


We designed a wall system that would be easy to assemble on-site, using a mix of 2′ x 8′ and 4′ x 8′ reinforced panels of 1/4″ plywood. This project took the better part of a week. Here’s a little video montage of all the action, courtesy of Omar and iMovie.

After the panels were assembled, it was time for a test run.


The corner stands! We crossed our fingers that the rest of the panels would stand up, too.


Next, Omar started on painting duty, coating each panel in two coats of flat white paint. Meanwhile, I assembled our card wall, using wood slats to create alternating rows of wood paneling and shelving. We tested it out with a prototype card.


Once we made sure the feature wall could stand, it was time to disassemble the wall and start staining.


Two quarts of stain and a day later, the slats were looking good! After working late into the night, it was always nice to see what everything looked like in the morning.


With the wall panels completed, we moved onto our next project: the counter. After some quick sketches, it came to life.


Fully functional! But it’s missing something. Wouldn’t it look great with wood slats to mirror our feature wall?


Of course it would! Back to the Depot for more slats and more stain. At this point, we had gone all out on everything else, so one more trip and five more slats seemed like no big deal. Might as well!


Two adorable Bengal kittens supervised this entire process, by the way.


Another late night.


At this point, time was running out. It was the end of April and we hadn’t put the entire thing together yet. Would it stand? We’d need to be on the road in a couple of weeks, so it was time to put it to the test…


With some minor reconfiguring, it stands! Even with our way-too-heavy slat wall.


We were going on 4 weeks of nonstop work and exhaustion was setting in. Now that the walls were up, we had only a couple of weeks left to fill them with artwork.


That meant it was the perfect time for all of our printers to go on strike, naturally. I spent many afternoons on the phone with Epson. Eventually, they cooperated.


Success! A week later, art was on walls…


Buttons were punched…


Banners were printed…


And the details started to come together.


Once the walls were standing and the art was up, it looked like a real booth! At this point, it had been standing solidly for over a week, so we felt confident that it wouldn’t fall over during the show.


We finished just in time to tear it all down, pack it up…


And cram it in the back of a U-haul van for the drive to New York.


Tomorrow, I’ll recap the drive to New York and the installation process onsite at the Javits Center. See you then!