The internet is abuzz with photos galore from CHA. Most of the companies have photos of their new products and their blogs are filled with photos from their booths. Designers too are featuring photos of their projects that were on display at CHA. And folks, like me, have posted their photos and ramblings throughout the four day convention. So, I thought I'd do something a little bit different today. Let's talk about the CHA experience....
1. The Basic Logistics.
The Anaheim Convention Center, where CHA is held, is right next to Disneyland. As a consequence, there are a bajillion hotels in the area. Free shuttle buses run on a loop from the various hotels to the Convention Center all day long.
When you walk into the Convention Center, you have to pick up your badge. As you might imagine, the lines are exceedingly long the first day. However, I showed up on day 2 and hardly had to wait. You must wear your badge at all times. There are security guards at all the entrances and patrolling the inner perimeter (and outside the hall there are signs saying that photography is not allowed - I only ran into one booth - KI Memories - where that was enforced, though I heard tell that Ellison wasn't allowing photography either). You also need to wear your badge because the manufacturers like to know who they're dealing with. And they do treat you differently based on what your badge says.
The entire hall is carpeted, which eases up the aching feet a bit I suppose. And different "areas" have different colored carpet. Scrapbooking is red, quilting is green, etc.
Each company has a booth number and there are large flags with the row numbers, so you can try to find the booth you're looking for if you know the number.
I don't really have any photos of the flags, but I circled the one you can see in the background of this photo. Basically, you just look up and try to wander in the right direction. I'll admit that it took me at least two days to figure out how to navigate the show floor.
The show floor is open 9am-5:30pm every day but Wednesday, when it closes at 2pm for tear down. Those with manufacturer's badges can walk the floor from 7am-7pm. And many of them have marketing and strategy meetings during the times that they're the only ones allowed on the floor. Some booths even have special secret meeting rooms built-in.
There are plenty of bathrooms, water fountains, and snack pavilions. There was even one place where you could get a chair massage for your back or your feet or both. I wish I had taken a photo, but it seemed like a weird invasion of privacy to photograph people while they were being massaged.
A number of folks mentioned that the show is significantly smaller than previous years. The number I heard mentioned was about one-third fewer vendors. That's pretty significant. Of course, I couldn't tell because it was my first time.
2. The Booths
As you might expect, booths ranged from small to ginormous. Some had a lot of walking around space, lots of furniture, comfy places to sit, huge displays, and serious walls.
Other booths had a more cramped, overstuffed, "Mom & Pop" feeling. Unfortunately, I didn't take many photos of those booths, because as you may expect, those booths don't tend to attract one. In fact, I was a bit disappointed in myself. I totally went for the big and shiny booths and tended to gloss past the little cramped ones. Silly, right?
Due to rampant theft, most booths only have one of any given product. I talked to several people who mentioned that people will steal a lot of stuff, but not your last one.
And most of the product is seriously attached to the wall. You'd really have to pull to get it to come off. I'm sure people do still make it out with pilfered goods, but it deters a lot of folks as well.
As a side note, the "give me free stuff" mantra is rampant at CHA. People are just constantly looking for stuff and it gets tiring, you know? Which leads me to...
3. Make & Takes
Make & Takes are a genius idea. You quickly show people how to make something with your product so that they'll want to buy it. They *make* it and then *take* it. On the one side, I heard that there were many more Make & Takes this year. On the other hand, I managed to do a total of two. You have to wait in line and it feels weird and grabby to me. I wish that the salespeople would offer them to you after you buy a bunch of stuff. I don't know. There's no perfect solution. I suppose I should have just gotten over my aversion to seeming like a "free stuff" predator, but I couldn't. They looked fun, though.
I really liked the demos better. You could wander up in the middle of it and see what was often a complicated technique (as opposed to Make & Takes, which are usually incredibly simplistic) and get jazzed about the product. Well, if I ever rule the world, I'll do demos and not Make & Takes.
4. You Can't Have It All
I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this. You can't have it all. As I've mentioned, I was there to help Kim shop for PortraitBug (which it turns out is meant to be one word, but I think the logo makes that confusing). I was also offered a press pass from Craft Critique. And finally, I had some meetings with Sakura of America as a designer.
There is not enough time.
Buying takes such a long time that you really can't see the whole show. And that makes doing any real reporting impossible. I definitely missed entire sections of the show and a huge number of booths. This makes trend watching less accurate. And I felt guilty the entire time I was networking and doing my designer thing because I was leaving Kim in the lurch. It's just too hard to wear more than one hat. I now totally understand it when people say that working at a booth is like not going to the show at all. I'm sure that they saw even less than I did!
Lesson Learned: The next time I go, I need to be realistic about what I'm going to accomplish at the show.
5. The Buying Process
Yep, that face pretty much sums it up. Buying is a long, slow process that seems like it should be much more fun than it actually is.
Let's break it down, step-by-step:
- You go into a booth that looks good or that you know you need to buy from.
- You find an available person to help you buy. This is often a very difficult step. Sometimes the booth is super busy and sometimes the salesperson is busy chatting you up instead of getting the business done.
- Once you find the salesperson, you ask about the show specials. Most booths offer some sort of special during the show. Sometimes it's a special price for a particular product. Sometimes it's a discount over a certain dollar amount (i.e., buy $500 and get 5% off). You also have to ask what the minimum is (most companies won't sell to you unless you purchase a minimum dollar amount of product) and then each product has a minimum (i.e. you have to buy six tubes of red paint at a time).
- You do math in your head and try to figure out if the show special works for you, whether you can meet the minimum, and if the product minimums are too high. This is all complicated by the fact that there are no prices listed anywhere. You have to ask about everything.
- You walk around with the salesperson while they either fill out a sales form for you, or scan UPC codes with a little machine. The little machines were cool, but they're slower than you'd think. The benefit, of course, is that you get a total really quickly and a very neat print out of your order. For the most part, I found that most of the salespeople were really fantastic and once they figured out your vibe, they were great about pointing out things you'd like and not hard selling the stuff you didn't like.
- The salesperson totals your bill and you pay.
- You get a receipt and walk on to the next booth.
At most booths, this process takes 30-60 minutes. There's always a fair amount of discussion and debate too. I tried to help Kim by being opinionated, but not pushy.
CHA is an amazing opportunity for networking. But, it's just that. An opportunity. There were a couple of lovely and amazing things that came out of CHA for me, but most of them were accidental opportunities that arose and with which I happened to be prepared to deal. One of which is that I was introduced to the editor of Scrapbooking & Beyond Magazine and I happened to have my portfolio with me. I showed it to her, and she took *twelve* of my layouts for publication! Luck meets planning, right?
On the other hand, I didn't have any business cards with me the first day. I forgot them in the hotel room. Totally dumb because I lost a big opportunity when someone asked me for one, I didn't have it, we made a later meeting, and then the meeting didn't happen. Such a small mistake, but I don't know what's going to happen with that opportunity now...
There are a lot of private parties over the four days. Beyond the private dinners, many manufacturers hold parties, which are certainly networking opportunities. I wasn't invited to any of these, so I can't report on them, but I heard that they're an enormous part of becoming part of the "inner circle."
The other thing about networking is to remember to be nice to *everyone* you meet. The craft industry is fairly incestuous. Everyone knows everyone and gossip travels incredibly quickly. So do promotions and movements from one company to another. And because mega corporations keep buying the smaller companies, all these companies that you think are independent are actually all headed by the same person or people. Which reminds me...
7. The Industry is Run by Men
The major consumers may be women. The public faces of the companies may be women. But, there's no doubt that men rule the industry. Most booths have an owner who is a man. The marketing people tend to be men. The deals and handshakes are all man-to-man. On the other hand, most of the buyers (i.e., owners of retail shops and kit clubs) are women. I'm not sure if I can draw out some huge anthropological conclusion here, but I found it very interesting.
8. What I Would Do Differently
I'm big on lessons. The journaling on my pages probably reflects that. Too many years in school, I suppose. I always feel you have to make experiences useful and learn from them. So, I've been thinking about what I would do differently.
- As I mentioned before, I'd focus on one job: buying, reporting, networking. It's too much to do all of them.
- I'd bring two pairs of sneakers. There's a lot of walking, and changing shoes would have helped.
- Go to the booths you know you want to buy from immediately. Don't wait and wander. Get all the business out of the way as soon as humanly possible. Kim and I were much more laissez-faire on the first few days, but soon realized we had to buckle down. The buckled down approach was great and we got a lot more accomplished. I'd like to do that earlier on, perhaps leaving more time for wandering around later
- I'd make a bigger effort to see the new manufacturers and look at the smaller booths. I missed them entirely. What a waste of an opportunity.
- I'd do more Make & Takes and watch more demos. They're worth the time, and are part of what makes being at CHA special, rather than reading about it online.
9. Another Approach to CHA
I happened to be in the shuttle to the airport with a couple of people from New Zealand. They were discussing their show experiences, and the woman, who was a retailer, mentioned that she spent the majority of her time taking classes. Most of the manufacturers offer classes for $25 or so. She decided to use her time at CHA to see the new products, learn new techniques, and have ideas to bring back to New Zealand with her. She wasn't really there to buy.
Obviously, she has to deal with enormous shipping costs to New Zealand, and she mentioned as much. But, she also said that people have too much stuff and aren't looking to buy a lot right now. This is a huge trend. I noticed that a number of companies released much less new stuff than in previous years (i.e., a single paper line). Another option is "limited releases," which I understand are becoming more and more common. A company only makes a certain number of something and when it's gone, it's gone. This reminds me of scrapbooking kit clubs that make a small number of kits even though the demand is high. They'd rather sell out and miss a few sales than have excess inventory.
10. Manufacturer Layouts vs. Personal Layouts
I know that I said I'd get back to this when I mentioned it in an earlier post. What's the difference between layouts that manufacturers use to sell their product and layouts that the rest of us do for our personal albums? Well, obviously the former have to have strong design and great photography and all that jazz, but there are a couple of other important factors.
They're meant to sell the product, so they're heavy on product and light on personality. Lots of patterns. Lots of embellishments. Very little journaling. Usually no more than one photo.
And almost always featuring attractive children.
All of this is, of course, so that you can see yourself using these products. Most manufacturers don't want layouts that are too complicated, too odd, too personal, too far away from their audience. They want you to feel like on your best day, you might make that page, featuring your child.
For anyone out there who is interested in designing for a manufacturer, including myself, this is of interest. Think clean, graphic, bright, with limited journaling and beautiful photography of children.
11.The CHA Awards
CHA does give out actual awards. However, I'm creating my own list of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Best Part of the Experience
I met a very wonderful fifteen-year veteran of the craft industry who took an interest in me. She very graciously took me around the show floor and showed me some hidden gems. I really enjoyed getting that veteran perspective on the show.
Worst Part of the Experience
I'm not a store owner. I'm not a reporter. I'm a fan.
In my heart, I'm just a fan girl. All I want to do is sit down and use all these cool tools and awesome new products! It stunk to have to "work" instead of getting to just play.
Not a big surprise. Tim Holtz really knows how to show off Ranger's products.
Most Innovative New Product(s)
Admittedly, I didn't see the entire show. But the ones that stand out in my memory are
(1) Prima's Stitched Paper
Stitching on your layout isn't new, but selling paper that is already stitched, is new. And even though this is something I do all the time, I will definitely be buying a bunch of these.
(2) Canvas Albums from Prima
Again, despite the fact that I've made fabric albums before, these pre-made canvas albums from Prima, with all the quilted embellishments, has my heart going pitter-patter!
(3) Alcohol Ink Fillable Pen from Ranger
I like them because it's a new way to use a supply that I already own. That's always a good idea, right?
I know from personal experience that you can take a very flattering photograph of yourself if you just get the camera higher than you are. Looking up does tend to smooth everything out. Well, I'm not the only one who has figured out that trick! Most people (including myself) look in person like a fatter version of their online personalities. LOL!
12. The End
Finally, here's my entry for this week's Project Fifty-Two.
Thanks for stopping by!