13 Great Ways to Make Your Time at MSA FORWARD in Cleveland Rock!

March 2, 2020

By Kristen Daniels and Geoff Carroll

Greetings from your national MSA vendor advisors! Soon, MSA members will be rocking Cleveland at MSA FORWARD, and we want to be sure that all participating vendors get the most out of their time at conference.

The word “conference” is what we suggest you focus on, because the most important thing to understand is that this is not just another gift show, and if you treat it as one, you may go home disappointed.

Unlike most other gift shows, where you are usually unfamiliar with the vast majority of people walking past your booth, MSA is a tight-knit, welcoming community characterized by meaningful and respectful relationships. This is what defines the MSA conference experience. Moreover, the conference schedule is intentionally packed with events, most of which are open to all members.

Here are the activities we think you should know about in order to benefit from what happens before, during and after MSA FORWARD:

1. Join us on the preconference webinar for vendors.

In conjunction with Elizabeth Eppinger, the trade show manager at the MSA office, we will be hosting a live webinar to go over everything you need to know about the expo and the conference as a whole, including many of the points below. This webinar will likely take place during the week of March 9-16, so please be on the lookout for more information. We are confident you will not want to miss it.

2. Research the museum attendees who will be there, and send a direct -mail to those for whom you think your product will be perfect.

Sometime in April, you will be receiving a list of buyer attendees who will be in Cleveland. Instead of sending them all a mass email or newsletter, look carefully at the list and research their websites to determine which stores would be perfect for your products. Once you narrow it down, send direct emails to each of these buyers explaining what you have and inviting them to visit your booth. We can tell you from experience that this really does work.

3. Choose from a wide variety of sponsorships.

A great way to support MSA (while also getting your company’s name out there) is to be a sponsor. You can read about the various sponsorship opportunities starting on page 11 of the MSA FORWARD prospectus. There is everything from buying drink tickets to give to your favorite customers to having your company’s name on a strategically placed charging station on the expo floor.

4. Go on a learning excursion.

In addition to doing what you love to do anyway (i.e., going to museums and shopping in their stores), you get to do this with a bus full of fun people. Full-day excursions take place on Thursday, the day before the expo setup, and half-day excursions take place in the morning on Friday (before setup) and in the afternoon on Monday after the conference has officially ended. Sign up for an excursion.

5. Volunteer.

There are all kinds of ways to help make MSA FORWARD a success, and they all involve putting yourself out there so that people get a chance to meet you — and you them. See what volunteer opportunities are still available.

6. Go to your regional chapter’s meeting.

Every member of MSA is part of one of eight regional chapters, each of which has its own separate board of directors. Chapters have official business meetings twice a year, one at conference and one that is usually a weekend-long, mini-conference somewhere in the region. This is a great time to introduce yourself if you haven’t already met the folks whose businesses and institutions are in your part of the country. There are lots of great volunteer opportunities at the chapter level, too, including being your chapter’s CVA, which stands for chapter vendor advisor.

7. Don’t skip meals.

All meals listed on the schedule, including everything from the continental breakfasts starting on Saturday to Monday’s Closing Luncheon and Awards Ceremony, are not only part of your booth cost, they are a great opportunity to get to know members you haven’t yet met. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you don’t know if you can sit next to them. You never know what you two might find you have in common.

8. Attend the educational sessions.

You are encouraged to attend the educational sessions, all of which happen outside of Expo hours. One session you should definitely not miss is “A Guide for Vendors and Buyers Working ‘The Mingle’ and Driving Business,” which takes place Saturday from 10:30-11:30 a.m. This session is led by two of MSA’s senior chapter vendor advisors and has a panel of four speakers who are all buyer members. We are looking forward to attending and learning all kinds of useful tips from this session.

9. Spend some time in the Buyer-Vendor Hub at the Expo.

“The Hub” is a brand-new meeting place in the middle of the expo floor that is a place for members to socialize, have a snack, engage in business and get to know each other better without anyone having to leave the expo floor. Join your fellow members for networking breaks or for a nice glass of wine during one of the two happy hours. Buyers are encouraged to spend time in The Hub, and you are too. Check it out!

10. Don’t miss the Gala and Silent Auction.

We know where we’ll be on Saturday night, and it will be on or near the dance floor! The Gala and Silent Auction conveniently take place in the hotel’s ballroom, so there’s no reason not to come. You may be tired from working your booth, but we simply cannot stress enough that you should make an effort to join this and all other networking events. There will be a band, a cash bar and some more of that food that is included in your booth fee.

Don’t forget to donate to and also shop the silent auction; it’s a great way to show your support for MSA while also getting lots of eyes on your product. Sign up to join the other silent auction donors.

11. Do not leave after the Expo.

If possible, stick around for Monday’s activities, because there are more educational sessions as well as the closing luncheon and yearly awards ceremony, to which all are invited. Remember at the beginning when we told you to think of this as a conference and not just a gift show? This is what we are talking about! Use every single minute of your time in Cleveland to learn, meet and mingle with your fellow MSA members — you will be glad you did.

12. Follow up with the people you talked to.

When you get back to your office, don’t forget to follow up with the people whose business cards you’ve received. Even if a potential new customer can’t buy from you now, they might have a future exhibition that your products will be perfect for.

13. Give your opinion by filling out the surveys.

Please fill out an evaluation form after every educational session you attend. You will also receive an online survey about the different parts of the conference from the MSA office shortly after the conference ends. The best way to make future conferences and the educational sessions even better is to let the MSA board and the MSA office know what you thought of it all.


As vendor advisors, we have talked to many new vendor members over the last few years about how to get the most of your MSA membership, and the one thing we always stress is that you have to be there for the long haul. Whether in person or virtually, the key step is making yourself visible.

MSA vendors tend to be storytellers; we offer products that have meaning, symbolism and fascinating stories. MSA FORWARD is the single best tool we have to tell our stories. If you don’t have a booth this year, utilize other avenues for raising your company’s visibility. Go to your chapter’s regional meeting, sponsor and/or go to the networking events at NY NOW and AmericasMart, respond to a post on ShopTalk or start up a new discussion on the Buyer-Vendor Forum.

Just joining MSA does not mean that you will automatically get a slew of new customers, but it does mean that you are now in a community of professionals who respect vendors and embrace. Now, let’s go rock out on this great stage at MSA FORWARD in Cleveland and wow our wonderful buyer-member audience!


Kristen Daniels is the president of Kamibashi (the string doll people) and one of two vendor advisers to the MSA Board. When she and her husband Chris travel, they love to visit museums and their shops, so attending regional chapter meetings is going to be something they happily do for many years to come.


Geoffrey Carroll, president of Original Source, has been active in MSA for 20 years. Geoff’s involvement with museums began when he moved to Asia in 1994 and opened his own office. At a time when most products from Asia were controlled by trading companies, Geoff and his partners pioneered a direct grassroots approach with artisans in China, Thailand and Vietnam. His permanent presence in Asia has resulted in a business model that provides more benefits for the artisans and better products for museums. Geoff is passionate about teaching and often visits museums to provide education sessions on Asian culture.

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