Surtex is coming, Surtex is coming!

There has been a lot of chatter recently about the coming Surtex show, I guess for good reason because for many years it was the place to be seen for art licensors. The show (an acronym for Surface and Textile design) started 20-some years ago as a business to business event where designers could sell their wares to manufacturers, and early on most did sell outright, but through the years licensing has taken over. The show once featured almost 350 exhibitors and occupied several of the halls at Javits in its heyday. But things do change, and it has been shrinking for a lot of reasons – such as online technology, the growth of newer show venues, fluctuating attendee numbers, the decline of the concurrent National Stationery Show, the relentless price increases, the drop-out of experienced artists – just to name a few. It’s not the show it used to be, and our own measurable results from the last couple years there were not what they used to be either, so for the first time in more than a decade we will not be exhibiting at Surtex. (You will still find us exhibiting elsewhere – Atlanta, CHA, Licensing Expo, maybe others).
Not being there however does not change how I feel about agents and artists who don’t exhibit attending the show: they should not be there.

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh as there are a few valid reasons for an artist to attend – to evaluate exhibiting, attend a seminar, look for an agent, you’re an art student or you are represented on the floor. But that’s about it. For years exhibitors have been complaining to show mgmt about all the portfolios being shown in the lobby, the food courts, sometimes inside Surtex itself – and nothing was being done about it. Granted it is difficult to police, particularly with the NSS going on, but many if not most of the artists/agents doing the showing were there for one reason – a free ride on the backs of those paying dearly to exhibit in the show. I still bristle every time I read a comment from a non-exhibiting artist who says they are going to Surtex to meet licensees, and shake my head in wonder as exhibitors give them advice on how to do it. (More on that later…). It is gratifying to hear from some of the manufacturers that they will refuse to meet with non-exhibiting artists within the Javits center, but unfortunately they are few and far between.

So yes, Surtex is coming, but as I have said before: this is a business to business event and not a public art fair – if you are not paying for the opportunity to do business there, please don’t take advantage of those that are.

4 replies
  1. Barbara Johansen Newman
    Barbara Johansen Newman says:

    Jim, I came over to your thoughtful blog post from the Art of Licensing linked-in group discussion about Surtex which has become a back and forth about whether or not $150 is a just fee or not.

    I’m fairly new to licensing and Surtex (first did both in 2009), but I am an old hat at illustration, so I fully understand that sometimes artists need to bite the bullet or get out of the shooting match.

    Thanks for your post.

  2. Tara Reed
    Tara Reed says:

    Jim – I appreciate your ‘publicly declaring’ this and remember being very impressed when you and Ronnie told me your opinions on this in Atlanta. Paul Brent said the same thing in his call with me on May 26th and I agree. I won’t be attending the Licensing Expo to make appointments with manufacturers because I won’t have a booth there. I walked it last year to take a look – but again, didn’t try to meet with manufacturers.

    Having exhibited at different shows over the past 7 years I know what an investment it is. We need people showing up to exhibit so the manufacturers keep attending the shows or we will all have a harder time doing business. The value of face-to-face interaction with many manufacturers over a few days is wonderful.

    Thanks for adding your opinions on this issue.

    Wishing you much success in Las Vegas!

    Tara Reed

  3. BJ Lantz
    BJ Lantz says:

    As you know, I was a “show walker” for some time. And, for a number of years, I didn’t even see anything wrong with that. Ignorant, naive, whatever. In the beginning, I truly didn’t have the money and I was scared. Later, I found that I liked being foot-loose and not tied to a booth. I knew better than to do any kind of business on the Surtex show floor, but often had meetings on the NSS floor, (only with exhibiting NSS companies – which I still see nothing wrong with).

    However, I now really do understand the exhibiting artists’ point of view regarding this practice of attending the show and meeting outside it in the halls, etc. ~ not just because I have now exhibited myself, but because it IS a business and it truly isn’t fair for somebody to be able to pay $150 and have access to the show. And while the $150 may seem high to some, I agree, it is not. I always thought $50 was a steal! (and it was!) It is business.

    I haven’t changed about wishing to be foot-loose as opposed to tied to a booth, and I can’t say I will never walk Surtex/NSS again, but it did sway my decision about attending this year. Even when not exhibiting, the show is rather expensive to attend, and that was also a factor, but I really did feel like it might not be the right thing to do if not exhibiting. Gosh, did I grow up into a business person??? LOL

  4. Kimberly Montgomery
    Kimberly Montgomery says:

    Hi Jim,

    I read your post earlier this morning and have had it on my mind since.

    After 20+ years in the licensing business, my agent and I decided that doing a Surtex booth in 2010 just wasn’t a good business decision. With a growing number of artists and agents chasing a diminishing number of deals and dollars, shelling out thousands for Surtex just didn’t make sense. Many long time exhibitors made the same decision.

    Meeting with manufacturers in the common areas has simply become a way to ‘stay in the game’. It is not optimal but business is business.

    I believe that the lion’s share of the responsibility for this change in business practice lies with the organizers of Surtex. They have failed to meet the needs of their customers–you, me and all the other artists and agencies that bailed out in 2010. They have not responded to the changing economic environment by providing programs and alternative exhibiting opportunities that address the changing market. They have priced themselves out of a full show.

    I checked the 2011 fees today and the lowest priced booth is still over $3400, that’s a big number in today’s world.

    Until Surtex can provide a workable investment for their show, I see the number of ‘mobile’ meetings continuing on the upper level of Javitts.

    Kimberly Montgomery
    kimberly’s garden
    The art of illustration


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