Last week, my wife, three kids, and myself loaded up the mini-van, packed some snacks and DVDs, and made a three-hour trip to the St. Louis Pen Show (it should have only taken around an hour and forty-five minutes, but hey, I have a son who is potty training)! This was the second year of the pen show in St Louis and I was excited to see how things would progress from year one to year two. For disclosure purposes, I am involved in a bit of the planning and coordinating of the St. Louis pen show. Living in Mexico, MO the St. Louis show is my home show and I am a member of the St. Louis pen club (affectionately called SLAPME). I helped to coordinate the auction for this year's show, while also setting up as a vendor for the first time.
Since I didn't want to miss a minute of the show activities, my family and I left the house Thursday morning with the intent to arrive by 11:00 am, the scheduled time for the trader tables to open up. Honestly, if I am being objective there wasn't a whole lot that happened during the trader day. The tables were set up in a side room that wasn't extremely visible, and only a few of the vendors set up anything in the room. This was a little disappointing because at the Chicago show the trader day was the most productive day for me as a buyer. Also, despite the hotel advertising that early check-in was available, my room was not ready until almost 3:00 pm. Still, I had a good time visiting with the other vendors, show organizers, and friends. I even made my first "official" sale as a vendor: a yellow striped Arnold pen for $15! Hey, it was a start. Thursday evening I spent some time with the family exploring the sites of St. Louis (actually, just shopping at the mall).
Friday morning was officially the start of the show. Set-up for vendors took place between 7-11:00 am, with the show beginning promptly at 11:00. Before set-up, I went down to the hotel lobby for some breakfast. One of the things that I enjoy the most about pen shows (one of the things that everyone enjoys most about pen shows) is the people. Since my family was still sleeping in the hotel room, I was invited to join a table of other pen show attendees for breakfast. At my table were Ana from the Well-appointed desk, Jessi from the Vintage Pen Shop, a couple of other people that I didn't know, and Alan, one of the other organizers for the show. I enjoyed listening as everyone talked about the pen show circuit and the differences and similarities between all of the shows. As they talked and drank their coffee, it made me wish that I could attend more shows throughout the year (I limit myself to only three shows a year).
Following breakfast, I was able to set up my table and wait for the show to begin. Although the show was not scheduled to begin until 11:00am, anyone who has attended a pen show before can tell you that people begin to "graze" around the tables long before then. In the hotel where the show is located, there are two main hallways that lead to different ballrooms. The hallways and ballrooms are both lined with booths and vendors. As organizers of the show, we have found that the set-up of the two rooms, and the hallways with their dim lighting, is not ideal ,and next year the show will be held at a different hotel. My table was located in the left hallway seated between a lady who was selling homemade jewelry and two awesome kids who were selling pen wraps in order to earn enough money to purchase a Chromebook (the kids belonged to Ken, another organizer of the show, and I was happy to share my table with them). Sales were a little slow on Friday, but did pick up for me right before the close of the day.
After the close of the show, several of us went out to a sushi restaurant that was located in the plaza. I hate sushi, however, the fellowship is always great and the restaurant had teriyaki steak and rice as an alternative. Have I mentioned before that one of the main reasons to attend a pen show is the people? The service was a little slower than expected (not their fault, it was a busy place), so by the time that I got my food I had 7 minutes to inhale my steak and return to the Skylight lounge for the auction preview.
Friday evening was the auction. It was fun. I had never coordinated an auction before, which Roger, from the Chicago Pen Show, kindly observed. Still, I was happy with the way the auction ran. There are certainly some things that I will improve upon if I have the opportunity to coordinate it again.
My table on Saturday was similar to Friday. I had heard that the crowds would pick up more on Saturday, however, I didn't find this to be the case. Still, I made a few decent sales which made me happy as I closed out the day. Up until Saturday evening, I still hadn't gotten around to see much of the show floor. I never realized how isolated vendors were and how little opportunity they had to look at the other tables. After the close of the show, I went out to dinner with my wife, and then hung around in the hotel lobby to socialize until around midnight (again, the people). This was an awesome time, as we all showed off our show purchases and pen collections, and had a really good time. Let me stress again, pen people are some of the nicest people in the world! When I attended my first show, I can remember how intimidating it was to plug-in and talk with a group of people that already seemed to know one another and be friends. However, if you are planning to attend your first show, take the time to hang out, pull up a chair, and plug in. 99% of the time you will amazed at how welcoming our community can be (plus, you will get to see and most likely use some awesome pens).
Sunday was more of a wrap up day for me. I sold a few of my cheaper pens, but mostly I socialized with others and made my way around the show floor. I stocked up on some paper products, purchasing an awesome A5 travelers notebook from Curnow Bookbinding and Leatherwork. Some of my other purchased for the weekend included a Sheaffer Snorkel collection with a case (I still need a few colors), and a Conklin Green and Bronze student pen. This was the first show that I actually sold more than I bought. Still, I was happy with my purchases and certainly didn't come home empty-handed.
When we arrived home on Sunday evening, the entire family was exhausted and ready for bed!
Overall, the show was a great time. Being only the second year of the show, I think that we are still getting our "sea legs" underneath us. We are figuring out what works and makes for an efficient show in St. Louis, and what will make our show unique as we move forward. If you have never been to a show, try to find one and attend. You will not be disappointed.