4:30 AM Friday, August 4
I woke up on the first alarm. It was easy. My body was filled with the excitement of going to the DC Pen Show with the family. The kids woke with little fuss as well. Considering the hour, it was remarkable.
We arrive in Falls Church, VA at the Marriott Fairview Park. Apparently, we missed out on the chaos (#dcshitshow) that happened an hour earlier. According to the show schedule, everyone was supposed to receive their table assignment by 9 AM. Most vendors were not able to set up until well past, losing out on potential business from VIP entrants.
Since a table hadn't been assigned to us yet, we checked in and got our badges. How they misspelled Mrs. InkJournal's name as "Sumantha" I'll never know. Even my spell checker is glaring at me for leaving that typo on my screen. With an indeterminate wait ahead, we did the only reasonable thing one can do with some down time - get an oil change.
I was escorted to the side ball room up a couple of stairs and all the way in the back corner by some large windows. This was our table I dubbed "the realm of nowhere." The InkJournal table was surrounded by at least 3-4 empty tables during the entirety of the weekend, so it appeared as though we were "bad" and got put in the corner. The empty table buffer gave our part of the room a certain "leper colony feel" that one has a natural tendency to avoid.
Nevertheless, I saw it as a challenge to flex my marketing muscle and get our hands dirty with some hard-nosed promoting. Thankfully, I was armed with the ultimate weapons that cannot be denied: children and free temporary tattoos.
It was a slow, slow first day. If we made enough to cover gas and tolls, we were lucky. At least our table was all set up and ready to go on Saturday.
7:30 AM Saturday, August 5
THIS was the big day. The one big plus about the hotel change from last year is the inclusion of a free breakfast buffet with our stay this year. We filled up and got our "Great Minds Ink Alike" t-shirts on.
Grandma took both kids out to the line that was forming and had them hand out free tattoos that we had made up for specifically for the DC Pen Show. My 8-year-old daughter was particularly zealous about handing these tattoos out. It didn't matter how old or conservative you were, if you passed by, you were getting a tattoo and being told to check out the InkJournal table in the side ballroom. I give her a ton of credit and am proud of how outgoing she was. By the end of the weekend, she started to talk to people at the table and was telling them about our Ink Flights. How neat!
We had the pleasure of meeting several of our customers that came to pick up August's Ink Flight, as well as people that have never heard of us before. True, the DC Pen Show is about pens, but it keeps going because of the people, as corny as that sounds. Despite all the unpleasantness and grumbling over the venue and organization of the event, folks (including myself) had a blast interacting with pen enthusiasts from around the world.
I was so jazzed to be there that I would forget to eat lunch and go to the bathroom. I owe a lot to my Dad who was there to watch the table when I decided to adventure into the main ballroom. The kids would help sporadically and then go off to play in the pool, go have lunch and jump on the hotel beds. My wife, who helps me with the logistics of building Ink Flights each month, had a great time meeting everyone and seeing her work put a smile on an ink enthusiast's face.
What else could one do to cap off a wonderfully busy day at the DC Pen Show? Play with ink at the ink table on the second floor, of course! Thankfully, we weren't the only crazies. We shared some good company with Liz from nopenintended. I got to try several new inks that I've never written with before, including some Sailor Kobe inks, Anderson Pen's exclusive inks, Franklin Christoph and Organics Studio. I quickly realized that these bottles must be old since there were still OMAS and Swisher Pen ink bottles - both companies have been defunct for some time. It would have been nice to see them replaced with more relevant, up-and-coming ink like Robert Oster. A couple of bottles also had slime in them that a couple of us pulled out whilst dipping our nibs. Yuck.
10:00 AM Sunday, August 6
Sunday was a bit quieter. Thankfully, not as quiet as Friday was. We had a steady stream of new folks come by the table in the morning and early afternoon. I took a few breaks to walk around the show and meet up with people I've been meaning to talk to. Taking my daughter around, I quickly realized that kids have huge perks walking around at a pen show. They are constantly being tossed free stuff - pens, notebooks, even a fully loaded supply box from the "Pay It Forward" table.
Being that we already had several empty tables around us, as soon as we started to see others close up shop, we knew that our section in the second ballroom was about to become a ghost town. We packed it in and left our "comment card" for the show organizer on our table with a couple of ink samples with our website address on them. I'll share my comments regarding the DC Pen Show from an exhibitor's point of view.
- Update the official website with relevant information in a timely manner. Make sure people can easily find information relevant for the upcoming show, not last years or the year before.
- Solidify the date and venue for the show no later than 6 months before the date.
- Make sure table assignments are cleared with the venue the night before. Heck, even provide maps to the public that allow them to find their favorite vendor. If there was a map with a vendor list, I would have sought out Pierre from Desiderata Pens. I completely missed his table and would have loved to meet him.
- If there was such a dire problem with a table shortage for exhibitors, why was our table stuck in the back of the side room surrounded by a buffer of empty tables?
- Change out the inks at the ink sample table to some newer, fresher inks.
Despite the difficulties as an exhibitor, I had a great time and we did do well from a business point of view. Could we have done better in the main ballroom? Yes, absolutely. Am I going to complain about it? A little, but just to illustrate the point that many others, particularly exhibitors, had felt about this year's DC Pen Show.
Overall, it was a great experience for our family. My kids, particularly my older daughter, took away some valuable life skills and built confidence in working at our table. We made a lot of new pen friends and got acquainted with many others that we've conversed with through the online pen community.
We may consider doing more shows in the future that are within driving distance for us (I think we may have an issue getting a checked bag with some 1,000 or so filled ink sample vials on a plane). For those that attended the show and got to visit our table, we'd love to read your feedback on your experience at the show. Would there be anything else you would like to see at a future pen show? A seminar on color mixing? Flex nib demonstration? How to convert your pen to an eyedropper? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts.