Small Business Stories: creating a show-stopping trade show booth

Retail Ready with Made On Jupiter

If you’re a small business owner, exhibiting at a trade show is something that can really boost your business. Not only will you meet lots of prospective clients and buyers, but those places are always packed with members of the press. I’ve been to a handful of ICFFs, Stationery Shows, NeoCons, and lots of art fairs — and let me tell you, your booth design makes all the difference.

When it comes to trade shows, your booth matters more than your product. So what does it take to create a booth everyone wants to visit? Well it isn’t easy, but it’s certainly attainable.

Just ask Made on Jupiter, the digital fabrication specialist branch of New Zealand based design collective Jupiter Jazz.

Their latest project was the Puffer, a cumulus-cloud looking trade show booth developed for Siggraph Asia. The time lapse video above shows the assembly of over 1000 uniquely shaped cones to create the booth.

Tom Kluyskens published a detailed account of how his team went from design idea to booth build in less than 5 weeks.

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Kuler: the crowdsourced color theme maker

Take the guesswork out of choosing colors.

Choosing the right colors for your newest project is tricky, especially if you are trying to appeal to potential customers. Some people seem to have a natural ability to combine colors effectively, but most people (including myself) struggle with this. Kuler to the rescue.

Kuler lets people create and vote on color themes, so you know which combinations are popular and which you should avoid. You can even download the themes directly to pretty much any Adobe program.

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Small Business Stories: interview with jewelry designer Kimono Reincarnate

Retail Ready with Melanie Gray Augustin

To some people, creativity is as natural as breathing or the love of freshly baked bread. Being a creative mind or a pathologically hands-on designer is one [wonderful] thing.  However, creativity doesn’t always translate successfully to business savvy. Creativity often covets freedom and experimentation, but business demands discipline and focus.  Fortunately, there are still plenty of creative entrepreneurs to inspire those with a design vision to start their own business.

In the New Year we are starting a new feature that will focus on all things small business. Don’t worry; there will be none of that tedious business school textbook material.  As part of the small biz feature, we will bring you regular interviews with Ponoko Makers who rely on Personal Factory to create their line of products, be it household objects, jewelry, electronics enclosures or other made on demand goods.

As an extra dose of pre-holiday inspiration, we’re giving you a sneak peak at the interview series!

Meet Australian jewelry designer Melanie Gray Augustin.   Her label Kimono Reincarnate perfectly expresses her design style: modern handmade jewelry that features upcycled materials – inspired by traditional Japanese textiles and design.Read the full interview after the jump:

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ShopMarvels

Let’s get together and talk shop

If you’ve been hanging around at Ponoko for long, then there is a fairly good chance you’ve already come across Jon Cantin.

Not only is he the man behind the most prolific personal collection in the Ponoko showroom (280 products and counting), Jon also heads up WoodMarvels, 3dMarvels and has just launched his next venture: ShopMarvels.

The idea behind ShopMarvels is to form a hub where creative people from various related fields can get together to discuss ideas, businesses, services and more.

There are forums for traditional woodworkers, forums for gadget
makers etc… but not one bringing them all together under one roof.

Opening up the conversation in this way will hopefully bypass some of the hurdles and pitfalls of localised forums, and also gives rise to the potential for people to be exposed to ideas, resources, products and techniques that they may not have previously considered or even been aware of.

ShopMarvels is a directory.
ShopMarvels is a knowledge base.
ShopMarvels is access to designers, engineers, machinists and manufacturers.

The experts become accessible in this open environment – and who knows, maybe there is someone out there who could benefit from your expertise!
Add your business as a resource, if it fills a particular niche. Join the forum, introduce yourself and start engaging in the sharing of knowledge with others.

Read the story behind ShopMarvels.com

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Nervous System Walks You Through Making an Awesome Trade Show Booth

trade show structures

Science-fashion jewelry + houseware designers Nervous System recently exhibited their work at the New York International Gift Fair.

The NYIGF is a biannual trade show for housewares, home decor, and personal accessories, and is *the* trade show for picking up buyers ranging from boutiques to national chains.

Success at NYIGF isn’t just about having great product; it’s also about having an awesome booth.

In a recent blog post, Nervous System talks about how they created a booth space that both functioned as a showcase for all of their work and carried their distinct cellular aesthetic.

And guess what… They fabricated everything out of “hardboard, cable ties, velcro and paint.”

Jump over to the Nervous blog and pick up a tip or two on putting together your own awesome trade show booth.

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10 Simple Steps to Make & Sell Your Custom Product


The world is full of great ideas, and never before has it been easier to turn those ideas into real, physical products. The thrill of holding something in your hands which you created is something quite special.

Here at Ponoko we love helping everyday people make extraordinary things and we relish our part in the renewed ‘maker movement’ which has taken off over the past few years.

To help you become a part of it too, we have drawn up ten steps to creating a successful custom product. We hope they’ll help to inspire you to start making – and hope to hear about your experiences of doing so!

1. Create a clear design brief for your product

The best thing you can start with is a very clear design brief, or outline. The key questions here are “Why?”, “Who?” and “What?”.

Firstly, identify the problem your product will solve, and the constraints you want to work within. For instance, instead of deciding you want to make a set of shelves – start with the fact you need to organize your books, and the constraint is that it needs to fit between your desk and your bed. This will widen the scope of what you may create, and ensure that it’s meeting a clear need.

Clarifying who you’re making the product for will help you in a multitude of ways – from how you will make it in the beginning through to how you will promote it to others.
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Using Colors to Sell Your Products

How color and other influences affect purchasing decisions.

Many people think of color as merely personal preference, so color becomes an afterthought when designing a product. Unfortunately, this approach ignores a powerful tool and can hurt the success of an otherwise great product. Different colors have been shown to influence people in surprisingly specific ways.

Check out the infographic below from KISSmetrics for guidance on using color effectively to reach your intended audience. It also has some useful information about other factors that can hurt sales.

For more great business advice, read the series of posts on  10 Rules for Maker Businesses.

Click on the image for a larger version.

Via Huffington Post

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“Ten Rules for Maker Businesses” by Wired’s Chris Anderson — Rule #1

Make a profit.

You would think this would go without saying, but one of the first mistakes Makers, well, make when they start to sell their product is not charging enough. It’s easy to see why, for all sorts of reasons.

They want the product to be popular and the lower the price the more it will sell. They’re generous and they don’t feel right charging more than is absolutely necessary. Maybe they even feel that if the product was created with community volunteer help it would be immoral to charge more than it costs.

Understandable, but wrong. You’ve got to charge a reasonable profit, and the reason is simply because it’s the only way to build a sustainable business.

Consider what happens if you make 100 units of your delightful laser-cut handcrank toy drummer kit. You do the math, and between the wood, the laser cutting, the hardware, the box and the instructions, it costs you $20 to make each one. You pack the kits in your spare time, price them at $25 just to cover any costs you may have missed, and start selling.

Since it’s a fun kit and pretty cheap, it sells quickly. You suddenly realize that you’ve got to do it all again, this time in a batch of 1,000. Rather than putting up a couple thousand dollars to buy the materials, you’ve got to put up a couple tens of thousand dollars. Instead of packing the kits in your spare time, you’ve got to hire someone to do it. You need to rent space to store all the boxes, and you’ve got to make daily trips to FedEx.

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“Ten Rules for Maker Businesses” by Wired’s Chris Anderson — Rule #2

It takes lots of cash to stay in stock.

One of the surprising prices of success is how much it costs! Obviously you’ve got to buy your parts and pay for the manufacturing before you can sell your product and make the money back, and the time between those two can be measured in many months if not years.

Likewise, if your product has many components, you’ve got to have a healthy inventory of all of them, with a large buffer in case any one of them become hard to find or there is a delay in shipping them to you.

One of the first hard lessons Makers learn when they go into business is that their supply chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

If you’re out of one component, you can’t ship your product. For the want of one chip or bolt, your entire business can grind to halt.

“Out of stock” is the curse of the Maker industry. Because most of us are new to manufacturing, we don’t get our supply chains and component inventory right.

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“Ten Rules for Maker Businesses” by Wired’s Chris Anderson — Rule #3

Buy smart.

The real difference between a hobby and a business is that businesses don’t buy retail. Just as you’ll be selling wholesale to other stores, you’ll need to buy your components wholesale to keep your products affordable. That means buying in volume, and the discounts typically get a lot better in units of thousands than in hundreds.

In the case of electronics components, that means buying reels or at least long tape strips rather than bags. Fortunately, there’s a pretty good secondary market for unused electronics parts, so if you really get your forecasting wrong, you can recoup a fair bit of the money by reselling them.

Likewise for laser cut products, where you can sometimes buy material in bulk or negotiate a volume discount with the service bureau. But for those, you can’t resell what you don’t use, so don’t bankrupt yourself shaving a few cents off a part and ending up with boxes of parts you don’t need.

As for your other components, almost everything you can find retail, you can trace back to the manufacturer or wholesaler. It’s worth the search—the price savings can be be astounding (we pay less than twenty cents for motors that sell retail for $3).

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