Baby’s First Market
By Mandi Masden, Apostrophe Puzzles
I love a good bargain. As a new solo-preneur of a self-funded startup, I’m always looking for accessible ways to grow and expand my business. ‘Sale’, ‘promotion’, and ‘discount’ are all buzzwords that call out to me, asking how they can be of service. So I was instantly intrigued when I saw in an MSA email that there would be a promotional discount for America’s Mart in July. There was only one problem - I had never done a tradeshow before and I knew absolutely nothing about them. Prior to Atlanta Market I had grown my business in relative Covid-isolation, venturing into the world to do only three pop-ups at the Brooklyn Museum in June. I was completely clueless about pretty much everything involved in participating, so let’s start there when talking about how incredibly helpful, insightful, and encouraging MSA was for this baby vendor attempting to dip her toe into the tradeshow world.
Curious about the opportunity, I sent out a ‘Tradeshow Help’ email on Shop Talk and was immediately inundated with responses offering support and advice. Across various products and industries, numerous fellow vendors were eager to share their insights and tips, including Gia Kapp from Monarque who spoke with me for over an hour in a ridiculously generous conversation that was instrumental in my deciding to give Atlanta a try. She pointed out that between the promotional discount and my family being based in the area, doing a tradeshow would never be that affordable again. Since we’ve already established that I love a good bargain, you know what happened next.
Suddenly, I was off to Market. My sister, Stephanie, flew up from Atlanta to NYC to help me drive back down, where she, my mother Margarida, and niece Malaysia were ready to help tackle my first show. Having never been to America’s Mart, you can imagine my face upon entering - walking off the escalator on floor 2 to the grand view of 17 floors of wholesale majesty. It was like a tradeshow coliseum - three of them, actually - and I was a little puzzle-toting junior gladiator ready to make my debut. The first people I met were Adalberto Pena and Anamaria Davila of Untitled Union. We had barely exchanged glances when I screamed ‘I know you! You're in MSA!’, and right there, in the middle of our empty row of complimentary furnishings and white curtains, I made my first vendor friends.
As the other exhibitors trickled in over the next few set-up days, our little community grew. There was sharing of scissors, tape, and tools, help with heavy lifting, style tips on booth set-up, and outlet sharing (don’t tell anyone - it was project based!). Adalberto advised me to keep a notebook for business cards and the copious notes that would help me with follow up. Tammi Cooper of Destination PSP helped me solidify my business pitch to keep things clear, cute, and concise. Everyone helped make me and my family feel welcome and -- 12 hours prior to opening when I realized I needed a catalog -- everyone gave me one of theirs as a template so I could design and print my own quick-fast and in a hurry (thanks, Fedex!). By the time Market began, we had established a little corner of vendor magic, with dance parties, fashion shows, singalongs, and a snack bar in my booth (Karthryn Stanko of MetaLace provided the chocolates). If we made a sale, we encouraged the buyer to visit the other vendors in our area. On day two when I was late due to traffic, I turned down my row to see that my display had already been set up in my absence. When a very fancy buyer showed interest in my booth, the entire row erupted in genuine joy and celebration.
Looking back, Market itself is a bit of a blur. It was hectic and busy and overwhelming in the way only a tradeshow could be. I had a lot of great conversations with wonderful people, built relationships with buyers, and figured out how to most efficiently talk about my business and products after being behind a computer screen for a year. I made sales, which was anticipated, but I also made friends, which was a complete surprise. In all the research I had done on the interwebs, not one website or blog post prepared me for the incredible community I built over that week. And even if they had, it would not have measured up to the love and support I experienced.
So, I know attendance is not what it used to be. I know the pandemic has made tradeshows a risky endeavor for everyone involved. I know everything feels a bit up in the air as we all learn to maneuver through and to whatever our world looks like after this. But if this experience has shown me anything, it’s that we will make it, and we’ll do that by helping, cheering, leaning on, and learning from each other. I could not have asked for a better first tradeshow experience. I could not have asked for a more wonderful introduction to MSA in real life. You are consciously cultivating community, and not only around products and stores, but around people and their passions. And it shows. With every long thread on Shoptalk, with every MSA-sponsored outing or networking event (which were AWESOME, btw)—it’s what sets you all apart. It’s what makes this community so special. And it’s what makes me such a proud new member.
Mandi Masden is the founder of Apostrophe Puzzles, a modern jigsaw company aimed at diversifying the puzzle industry and making art consumerism more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable. She is an actor and entrepreneur based in Brooklyn, New York, where she lives with her pup, Zoe. When not at a tradeshow or asking for help on Shop Talk, you can find her in national commercials for Snickers and US Bank.