The Cost to Exhibit at Surtex 2013

June 1, 2013

Let’s face it, exhibiting at Surtex is a significant investment of time, energy and money.

As a marketing communications consultant for the past 30 years, I not only believe in the power of marketing but I’ve seen it generate amazing results over and over again for my clients. You can’t get results however unless you put yourself out there.

My first time exhibiting at Surtex 2013, Booth #764.

Surtex is currently the number one avenue for putting our art out there and reaching manufacturers and retailers who want to buy or license art for their products. This made the decision to exhibit relatively easy – well that and the fact that my current consulting income was ample enough that I could afford to budget and spend the money to exhibit.

For those of you on a more restricted budget, there are other less costly but more time consuming ways to reach manufacturers such researching manufacturers online and cold-calling or obtaining art submission guidelines from their websites. Another well traveled path is to find an agent to represent you.

Natalie Timmons Designs Surtex 2013 Expenses

My Cost to Exhibit at Surtex 2013

If you are pondering exhibiting at Surtex for the first time, I thought it might be helpful to have a “real life” look at one artist’s cost to exhibit. If you are traveling to Surtex from the West Coast or somewhere else in the world, you’ll need to budget more for travel expenses. You can also streamlines expenses by writing your own press kit (I didn’t have time), advertising less, printing fewer materials, etc. However, I don’t recommend that you skimp too much.

So what was the return on my $9,620.14 investment?

I generated 64 leads at the show. Keep in mind that I didn’t sit back and wait for people to come to me, I used some marketing and people skills to attract people to my booth. You can read more about that inĀ Surtex-2013-Rocked!

It’s been 10 days since I returned from Surtex. I’ve entered all the contacts into my database and emailed each of them to thank them for stopping by booth. I am now working on following-up on the individual requests I received for specific types of art and/or mockups. And the truth is, I won’t be able to give you a hard “ROI” (return on investment) number because it’ll probably take months, or even a year or two, to turn enough leads into contracts.

My Dad always said, “Dress like the person who holds the position you want.” Licensors like Tara Reed and Paul Brent have been exhibiting 10 years and 25 years respectively, and they’re still going strong. I’m aiming to “dress” like them!


  • Sarah Hudock

    Natalie, I have to say I stand in utter awe at your ability to handle all of this so adeptly. I personally witnessed your total polish, collectedness, and NICE-ness, and you did it all without losing any cool too! You are a real pro, and any manufacturer will be lucky to work with you.

    • NatalieTimmons

      Okay, I’m really blushing now! I was quite often jittery inside – glad it didn’t show. Thank you for the wonderful comments, you made my day!

  • Sharon Marston

    Natalie, yout honesty and kindness with all of the information you share is truly a blessing to all of us who know you or happen by your site on the internet. You are making the pathways of so many fellow artists a little bit clearer. You truly have a gift for organization and education. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so willing to share what you know, and what you are learning along the way. You are on your way toward so many great things!

    • NatalieTimmons

      Sharon, Thank you for your wonderful words of appreciation and support. And for being the best booth buddy ever at my first Surtex exhibit. I know great things are in store for you as well!

  • Porter

    This is the first time in many, many years of exhibiting at shows from Art Expo to Licensing to Surtex that I’ve ever come upon an article this honest, detailed and forthright about the actual costs of exhibiting at a particular show. It’s so honest it hurts, because as an art licensing agent I need to bring in twice what I spent on Surtex in order to just break even.

    I spent about $1,000 more on my 10 foot corner booth, the same on materials (banners for the booth), much more on hotel ($1,900 total for the 5 nights) and probably about the same on advertising and promotion although I did mine in different ways. And my advertising budget this year was a third of what it was in previous years. Ouch!! And of course I had to fly in, took plenty of cabs, ate well, on and on. Mercy me!

    But it was a terrific show and hopefully, all fingers and toes crossed, we’ll break even and actually ring up a profit, not this year, maybe not even next year, but over time we will.

    Lance Klass at Porterfield’s Fine Art Licensing,

    • NatalieTimmons

      Thank you Lance. My hope is that this level of transparency will help artists better anticipate some of the costs involved in representing themselves. Thank you also for giving us some insight to your expenses as an agent.

      I am curious about the “twice what I spent to break even.” I’m guessing this is to cover a portion of your overhead expenses (salaries, rent, office supplies, etc.)? As artists we should be thinking the same way!

      From a business perspective, it also makes me realize that agents have a greater opportunity to realize a return on investment because they have a larger variety of art to offer licensees and therefore a better chance of locking in more deals. Now I have better understanding of why some artists branch out into becoming agents. This is probably not what you intended but I can’t help where my thinking goes sometimes!

      • Porter

        Hi Natalie. Like most agencies, we don’t require any financial investment from our artists up-front, and our own financial investment in getting them established online, press releases, labor, shows, ads and so forth I once estimated at between $5K and $10K/artist.

        The way we make money is that we split any income that comes in 50-50 with the artist. So that means that if we spent, let’s say, $10K on our investment in Surtex, we would need to make $20K in licenses from the contacts met with at the show in order to get that $10K investment back. And that’s just to break even. So much for making an actual profit!!

        Divide that necessary $20K by the number of show hours (27) and we come up with the need to bring in a gross of $740/hour for each hour of the show.

        Why am I doing this math? It’s getting too depressing! It was worse all those years when I did the Licensing show and met with half as many companies, at most. At least with Surtex we have a chance of breaking even, and doing so faster.

        Are we having fun yet?

        • NatalieTimmons

          Yes, it’s much more fun when we don’t do the math!

          In any case, I appreciate the valuable roll agents such as yourself play in the art licensing world. So thank you for all that you do on behalf the artists that prefer representation.

  • Cat Morris

    Thanks so much for sharing your info. and experience! As a newbie designer it’s invaluable info. and your generosity is inspiring.

    • NatalieTimmons

      Cat, It’s nice to be appreciated and thanks for writing. In my next life, I want my name to be “Cat” – I just love it!

  • malini parker

    This is such a generous and informative post, thank you so much for sharing it. As an Australian artist, to whom all this info is new and really illuminating, I really appreciate it!

    • NatalieTimmons

      Thanks for writing in from Australia – I’m happy to hear the information was helpful!

  • Jennifer Wu

    thank you so much for sharing!