Behind the Scenes of a Successful Book and Ephemera Fair

Wow!  What a whirlwind few weeks it has been for the vintage book and ephemera community! Since mid-March, there have been three major events in the Northeast dedicated to all things related to fine works on paper:  The Ephemera Society’s ESA36 show in Greenwich CT; the New York City Book and Ephemera Fair in Manhattan; and the Boston Book, Print, and Ephemera Fair in Lexington, MA. We all attend and love these shows.  But few people know what it actually takes - and how long it takes - to plan, promote, and produce these fairs that feature dealers from around the state, nation, and sometimes even the world!  

To find out more about the “behind the scenes” goings on for these shows, the New Look At Old Books Blog (NLAOB) team talked to Impact Events Group President Marvin Getman.  The goal here?  To see if he would share a few of his hard-earned secrets that make these incredibly complex events appear - and feel - seamless to everyone involved.  Let’s see what he has to say!

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NLAOB: Marvin, can you tell us how far in advance you start planning for your shows?

Marvin:  I act quickly when I decide to launch a new show. The Brooklyn Book Fair, now entering its third year, was an example of extreme efficiency (or extreme lunacy,) depending in your point of view. From the decision date to run this show to the actual show opening day was a little over 4 months.  For most of my shows, it takes about six to eight months of advance preparation.  

NLAOB: How do you keep track of all the details that go into producing your shows? 

Marvin:  I could say that I have lists of everything I need to do to produce a show, but I'd be lying.  I store everything I need to do in my memory bank. After 36 years in the business and with more than 250 shows under my belt, the steps just come naturally. Having said that, now that I'm in my mid-sixties, approaching maturity, and probably getting wiser, I do create to-do lists more often.  I also have a part-time assistant who keeps track of certain important logistics, such as sending out show cards and complimentary passes to exhibiting dealers.

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NLAOB: Tell us about some of the things that you do to promote your events.  

Marvin:  When I first started in the business, print ads and postcards were the most important show promotion tools. These methods have changed with the advent of email and other electronic media.  People are spending less time reading print newspapers, with people under 40 even less so.  Today, I make extensive use of email advertising and social media opportunities to attract interest in the shows. I am finding more and more of my advertising budget is going towards social media channels to reach my target audiences. It takes much more than a simple post on a Facebook page to reach the right audience. You have to commit advertising dollars as well as discipline and strategy to do it effectively.

NLAOB: How do you come up with unexpected – yet successful – ideas like your “line jumper” pass for the NY show?

Marvin:  My best ideas come to me while exercising, cycling specifically. I think it has to do with the blood rushing through my brain. I take a weekly spin class and cycle 35 to 40 miles every weekend in good weather. I believe what the scientists say about exercise and keeping the brain working! But it’s true, I am always thinking of ways to improve my shows.  I survey my dealers after every event in order to understand how the day or days went for them, and to get ideas on how to make the next fair even better.  Good ideas come from everywhere, especially from your own customers!

NLAOB:  Show setup and breakdown for dealers can be exhausting and stressful; what are some things you have learned over time to make these periods as easy as possible?

Marvin:  Planning and communication are the keys to a stress-free load in.  My two most challenging shows are in Boston and Manhattan.  For Boston, we have to move 70 dealers into the old Hancock building using the facility’s very busy loading dock, and then downstairs in an elevator.  In Manhattan, 60 dealers have to load in from busy Park Avenue downstairs without an elevator.  For each situation, I have developed efficiency tactics, such as sending labels to dealers in advance of the shows, scheduling load-in times, and hiring enough porters to bring the dealers’ boxes into the show. In Manhattan, I purchased a gravity conveyor system to move approximate 2,000 boxes into the show. Dealers often tell me that my load-ins and outs are relatively easy and stress-free.  That’s music to my ears.  

NLAOB:  What is going through your head before and during a show?

Marvin:  There is so much going on in my head show-wise… and all this busy-ness usually starts in the middle of the night before I leave for a show! I’m dependent on part time, temporary personnel.  As such, there are always people to-dos including the training or re-training of staff, ticket sellers, and security.  There are also countless other logistical tasks, including putting up signage, setting up the ticket booth, tending to dealer needs, providing morning refreshments, fixing electrical issues, and managing the public when they start to line up for the show’s opening.  For the most part, I can’t relax until two or three hours after a show has opened.   

NLAOB:  For you, what are the metrics that make any given show “a success?”

Marvin:  There is only one metric that matters to me:  dealer satisfaction. If my dealers are happy, they will return. If they are not, they won’t. Getting the public to attend my shows is not, and has never been, a problem. And of course, that’s important to the dealers.  But ultimately, a dealer is only successful if the right customers attend a show. I think the biggest reason why I have been successful in this really challenging business is that I have always put my dealers - and their success and interests - first.  I’ve been doing that consistently for 36 years now. 

NLAOB:  Finally, your shows have caught the eye of online book seller, ABEBOOKS.COM, which has subsequently started to sponsor some of them.  What does this mean for dealers, attendees, and your operations?

It was very exciting when ABEBOOKS contacted me about this.  It made me realize that all of the investments that I had recently made - including using a professional graphic designer to update my websites, starting a blog, and hiring a writer/publicist for the shows - were worthwhile. ABEBOOKS told me that they were drawn to my shows because of how professionally they were produced.  This collaboration will bring more visibility to my shows through promotion on the ABEBOOKS website and blog. Both ABEBOOKS and I see the synergy in the online and book fair worlds. People still want to see and touch an antique book or piece of ephemera, talk to a dealer, and feel totally comfortable before committing a considerable amount of money to a purchase of these types. 

NLAOB:  Many thanks for your time and all of your efforts.  We look forward to your next event, the Granite State Book and Ephemera Fair scheduled for Sunday, June 5, 2016 in Concord, NH.  

Impact Events Group is the producer of the top book and ephemera fairs in the Northeast US.  Our professionally managed events have a long history of bringing together the finest buyers and sellers in the industry, and are held in major locations including Boston, New York City, Brooklyn, Concord, NH, and Lexington, MA. For more information and a complete calendar of our shows, please see www.bookandpaperfairs.com.