The Perfect Pen Show

The Perfect Pen Show (PPS)

After ten years of attending lots of pen shows around the country, we’ve been thinking about the perfect show. You know, the one that runs so smoothly you actually feel refreshed after the weekend and all you have to pack for the trip home are your cloths and your display because you are sold out of product. Or you’ve come to find your perfect pen and you bought 3 of them. Or you brought new pen releases and took enuf orders from dealers to exceed the upcoming production run. A perfect pen show!


PPS serves all its customers well. All the major manufacturers are there as well as limited edition companies. They bring to the show lots of new products and a few of the artists and craftspersons that made them so they can present the work and the story first hand. Second, all major retailers are there both brick & mortar and web. They come to meet and greet the product, the reps and the artists. Finally, hords of buyers show up, again not only to see the new products and meet the artists but to BUY.


Think about the words you would like to represent the PPS – classy, upscale, selective, smart, fun, enlightening, …. Now this then translates into the facility your choose, advertising you do and level of service for all attendees.

Manufacturers to Retailers

First we make sure that most major manufacturers attend (about 50 give or take a few – reference Glenn’s pens). Now their job is then to invite their retailers (Glenn’s pens lists about 160 brick & mortar stores) plus the more web based ones which should net 200+ retailers. And as a cross reference, Stipula website lists 50+ retail stores in the US that sells their pens. The manufacturers job is to BRING with them stock, so when retailers see something they want to sell, they can buy it and order more. We also expect manufacturers to bring prototypes of futures so retailers can see and therefore plan for the future. You can online schedule one-on-one meetings during Thursday and Friday so retailers can get hands-on training and discuss their specific needs with manufacturers – present and future.

Retailers to Buyers

Retailers preshow assignment is to invite their buyers so expect 3 or 4 email blasts before the show from retailers to buyers. Retailers can offer entry discounts on their web site using a discount code that is honoured on the show site. One would expect that each retailer would have an email database of thousands of customers. And of course a major buyer could schedule a one-on-one meet with their retailer of choice to review product and future interests.

Show Marketing

Lots of effort goes into marketing the show locally: newspaper articles, local news video spots, local radio announcements, city tourist magazines, discount cards for show entry at local wineries, jewelry stores….. The goal, of course, is to crank up the attendance.


So how do you serve three different groups with three different needs? We suggest a 3 day show is more than enough but surprise – the days are Thu, Fri and Sat. Day one is a 9a-7p day: from 9-3p retailers meet with manufacturers and then the show opens from 3p-7p for buyers to meet with both manufacturers and retailers. We use the same approach on Friday. Saturday is clearly show day for retailers to sell to buyers so we open at 9a and close at 6p. Sunday then is a travel day so everyone can depart Sunday morning and spend the afternoon and eve with their families, resting and getting ready for work Monday morning. Some manufacturers might choose to leave Sat morning. That’s ok, retailers are there, armed with new product and knowledge.

The rationale is simple. Manufacturers and retailers can travel during the week. They are doing business afterall. Now maybe some of the small collectors won’t make it to Thu but that gives all the more time for the majors to play. AND, we motivate everyone to be there on Thu for there is some time for retail. Also, let’s get the bigger business done first instead of waiting till the end of the show. On the back end, Sunday is just a wasted day. By the time buyers finish church or catchup on their sleep it’s 1p. Why should everyone hang around for a 1p-3p attendance window?


A major hotel and convention center makes sense in whatever city you choose. Today, there are only two major shows, LA and DC where LA is in February and DC in August. The rest include Philadelphia-January, Baltimore-March, LongIsland-March, LittleRock-March, Atlanta-April, Chicago-May, Raleigh-June, Miami-July, Dallas-September, SanFrancisco-October, Michigan-October, Columbus-November.
My favourite location though is LasVegas. There are lots of direct flights from all over the US to LasVegas. Hotels are plentiful. Nice convention center. 24/7 security is builtin. Restaurants galore. And lots of other things todo between trips to the PPS.


Currently, all pen shows use a hotel? Why? An old travel rule – you don’t eat where you sleep (or you don’t put your pussycats food dish in the litter box). Sure, it’s nice to have a deal with hotel(s) but I’d rather have the show in a place which deals with shows like a convention centre. You are then not limited to hotel provided services. Also, parking should be (near) free for the event and there should be lots of it. Vegas though is the exception for every hotel has the facilities of a mini convention center.


Now of course, registration is online. You can pay using PayPal or credit card and you can select your tables (have you ever gotten a seat on a major airline – window or aisle, bulkhead or exitrow?). You can also see who has already registered and where their table(s) are located. You can schedule one-on-one meetings with manufacturers and retailers too and you can see the calendars online. Of course, on the front page you’ll see the counters of the number of manufacturers, retailers and buyers who have early registered.


The more each table holder knows about the show, the better things are. For example, juxtaposition of tables so that manufacturers are interspersed with retailers, allowing buyers to see a pen at a manufacturer and then quickly going over to their favourite retailer to buy it.
A little buyer strategy is also important. Tables located at the entrance and exit point should be more show support related: clubs, magazines, repair, tools…. For a retailer in that position faces lower sales as they are the first thing a buyer sees when they come in (so the buyer saves their $$$ because they need to shop more) and the last thing a buyer sees when they depart (so they’ve already spent their $$$).

Everyone needs to know what table(s) they get assigned early so they can setup ONCE and teardown ONCE.

There also needs to be security present 24/7 for the entire 3 days. I suggest that all pen tables reside in conference rooms so that doors can be locked at closing. And security trolling the show is a must. It is also recommended that one person cover no more than two tables.

Many folks will send their inventory and setup equipe to the facility so there needs to be arrangements to receive, store and deliver to YOUR table to start the show. At the end of the day, we all need packing and shipping support to get setup home (of course, we assume all inventory has been sold). If the facility can’t do it, perhaps a local UPS or FedEx store can provide the service.


We all love our pens, but wouldn’t it be nice to have some other related products so we can have a bigger show and new buyerblood. Our first thoughts are knives, watches, inkwells… Pens are functional art afterall. For example, the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors has their national meeting in June in Pasadena. The World Wide Traders sponsors watch, jewelry and collectables conventions around the country: Towson MD-October, Daytona Beach-December & February and Las Vegas-May.

Another approach is to have multiple shows at different hotels but on the same weekend as in Chicago in May: the Chicago Pen show (Westin-O’Hare in Rosemont) shares that weekend with the Chicago Pipe & Tobacciana show (Pheasant Run Resort in St Charles).

Another affiliation that actually gives back to the community is a charity auction. It can be for any related pen product. The folks from the charity can host a table and sell tickets for donated prizes. Kudos to Atlanta which did a terrific job joining forces with Amy’s Holiday Party.


At pen shows in the past we have had seminars, auctions…. What we would love to see is a food festival. Here in Hermosa Beach, we have Fiesta Hermosa, now 40 years young. It features over 270 artists and crafters but also a music stage and Food Court. How about a charity beer/wine garden (cocktail creation contest) and a charity raffle. (we can skip the bike valet service and the kiddy carnival).


Lots of folks talk about cost sensitivity for tables – We’re not so sure! Let’s say the cost of a table doubles from $200 to $400 but for that extra money you get a facility that can help create a PPS vs a second tier venue. Depending on your profit structure, you do need to sell a few more pens to pay the extra cost but after the plane ticket ($500), shipping ($200), rental car ($200), food ($200), lodging ($500) and misc – we want the facility that can deliver the right IMAGE and SERVICE. We’re there to discover, mingle, buy and sell.

Give us a PPS anytime.


  • Rik Knablein – RiKwill Design & Marketing
  • Mary Burke – Director of Marketing, Development & Sales for Conway Stewart
  • Marilyn McAlice – pen collector and published author of “RITCH” on your Kindle