Bright Lights, Big Messe

My friend Yvette Scheltema is a product designer. She used to be an architect, until a little over a year ago, when she found herself downsized out of her position. When that happened, she spent some time trying to figure out what to do next, and she decided to pursue product design, because she is just unable to look at an object and not wonder how she could tweak it so that it would perform better or differently. And then she started toying around with paper design. Not one to do things halfway, she then proceeded to invent an object that didn’t actually exist as such, and while she was at it, she successfully patented the thing as well. And now she’s building up her own company, centered around her patented invention: the Cardle.


Since we’re friends, and I like to help my friends every once in a while, I helped her out with some copywriting, translation and legal advice from time to time. But, not being one to do things halfway either, I found myself working with her as an external consultant for her new company.

Putting a new product on the market requires some going out and getting things done. One of the things that need doing is attending trade fairs. Yvette asked me to accompany her to the Paper and Convenience fair in Rosmalen, the Netherlands, last year September to launch the product on the Dutch market, and I did. We spent three days on our feet, accosting pretty much everyone that passed our booth with flyers, promoting the Cardle like crazy people. And it worked: the Cardle has been selling very nicely in the Netherlands, thanks in no small measure to Denis Bégin’s (Yvette’s husband, a talented graphic designer, among other things) beautiful graphic design for the Cardle’s first two series.

But Yvette is ambitious – and me too – so the Cardle was destined for a greater audience. Some enthusiastic marketing was done, and international interest in the Cardle was expressed from countries around the world. Now, the way to reach a larger market for a product like the Cardle is to show it off on an international trade fair.

And this is why I am writing this blog post from an apartment in Frankfurt, where I am staying with Yvette while we’re attending Paperworld at the Fankfurt Messe.

Before I say anything else, let me say this: the Frankfurt Messe is enormous. Good lord: the buildings – there are 11 – stretch for miles and each building has several levels. Paperworld only occupies a few buildings, the rest is currently being taken up by ChristmasWorld. This place is so professional and efficient, the staff is kind and competent, the atmosphere is very good and the contact between the exhibitors is fun and friendly.

But more about that later. Let’s start at the beginning.

The Frankfurter Mess(e)

Have you ever had that dream where you walk out of your house to go do something and you’re wondering why people are looking at you funny, then you look down and you see that you forgot to put your clothes on? Right, that feeling. That’s about the feeling we had when we arrived at the Messe on the 28th of January, around 10:30 AM, to set up. We imagined we would comfortably build up our booth, then spend some time in town and visit friends later in the afternoon. After all, the fair itself would only start on the 29th. We were wrong; a mistake in the dates. The fair had already started that morning – setting up should really have been done the day before…

More than a little embarrassed, we quickly remedied the situation, and with the help of some very friendly staff members at the Messe Yvette set up the booth while the first visitors were already strolling around through the exhibition halls. Meanwhile, I took care of some administrative things and parked the car.

And so, with some slight delay, we were in business.


We had a very productive day after our rough start, and today was a truly excellent day: we barely had a moment’s rest. The Cardle has been doing very well so far. Distributors, wholesale companies and retailers alike are truly enthusiastic. And, as we did last time, Yvette and I are on our feet almost all the time, promoting the Cardle like crazy people (but in a charming way, naturally).
And we’re really quite proud of how lovely our booth looks!




Carpe diem and little Bo Peep

While the Rosmalen fair was a fairly Netherlands-centered affair, this trade fair is a truly international event. Exhibitors from all around the world are here showing their products. The hotels are full up with both representatives from companies displaying at the Messe and visitors, who – like the exhibitors – come from all across the globe looking for new products to sell or distribute.

Some of the exhibitors use gimmicks, and Sheepworld has used the best by far during this trade fair. Their main theme features, not surprisingly, a cuddly sheep. During the fair, they had a life size one wandering around on fair grounds. When I saw it, I had no notice but to cuddle the poor lost thing – I felt just like Bo Peep (well, the opposite really, I guess, since I found the sheep instead of having lost it, but you get the idea).


But the sheep was not the only cartoon image to escape from Sheepworld. One of their other characters is a cute version of the Grim Reaper. He has been skulking around in the exhibition hall, occasionally rather startling some of the visitors and exhibitors – which is pretty amusing to watch (I think I have a mean streak). I caught our friend on camera in a very appropriate setting:



We decided that at the end of this second day at the Messe, a long day on our feet, we deserved some R&R, and so we made our way to a Chinese restaurant very near our hotel. I discovered it purely by coincidence on the night we first arrived; it’s tucked away behind the station on Westendstrasse 1 and doesn’t really advertise itself very clearly. But once you enter the restaurant premises and head down the steps, the most delicious scents float up to greet you. The service is genuinely friendly and the food terrific. If you should every find yourself in Frankfurt and hungry for good Chinese food, go check them out.


We’re halfway through the fair now; there are two more days to go. Then, a visit with friends in a nearby village and a long drive home.

A little light reading (or: confessions of a bag lady)

A while ago I went to meet a fellow copy writer to discuss the possibility of working together with her on a big project. (The project fell through, by the way, because the client in question had decided to focus on more urgent matters of internal restructuring – this is a euphemism for “We’d really like to hire you, but we need to downsize first.”) She asked me to bring with me my portfolio, samples of my writing. Now, I’ve been writing for a long time but the fact of the matter is that a lot of the pieces I have written have never seen the light of day. At first this was because I was too nervous about showing them, after that – and prior to this blog – it was because I was a bit stumped as to where to find a forum to display my scribblings. The point I’m, very slowly, getting at is that I was quite surprised to find that I had produced a decent size and varied body of work, ranging from blog posts for organizations to informative articles on various subjects to promotional documents for various clients to short articles on light, fun topics.
My writing style has changed and the content of the pieces I write has certainly altered and, I suppose, matured. Keeping that in mind, I decided to publish one of the articles I came across while putting together my portfolio. I wrote this article more than five years ago, and it is a pretty superficial piece about, ahem, finding the perfect bag (which I still haven’t managed to do; the considerations in my article still hold true!). But it does show a lighter side to my writing that I don’t really show much anymore, largely because these days I am focused much more on issues that require a more serious approach and style. Evolution, a natural process.
Still, for old times’ sake, I present to you “Bag Lady”, by my younger self. Enjoy!

Bag Lady (2006)

If there is one universal truth, it is that women will always have something to complain about in their men, and likewise the other way around. One of my husband’s pet peeves is my collection of handbags. “Why do you have so many? You can only use one at a time! Why do you need to carry so much around with you anyway? Surely you must find it really annoying to re-pack all that stuff into another tote all the time? Do you really need another brown purse?” And so on, and so forth…
Sadly, I would have to say, speaking objectively, that he is right. Why do I have – and need – so many handbags? Why, when I have a rich variety of colors, sizes and styles, can I always think of at least ten reasons to buy yet another one? I think it’s an addiction, to be honest.
Yet, I do like every single one of my baggies; they each have their own personality! And I do find a use for each and every one of the bags that I have, though I should say that, frankly, the tiny fashion ones in pink and navy can go. Or maybe not.
The thing is, whichever size bag I choose, I find a way to fill it. Does the content of my purse grow with the size of my purse? Do I buy bigger bags because I need to carry around more, or do I carry around more because my purse can handle the volume?
I think perhaps the best way to tackle the last question is to analyze the content of my current – near A4-size – purse:
►  a wallet containing car papers, my driver’s license and my passport
►  a wallet containing money, passes and credit cards
►  my keys
►  my PDA
►  my cell phone

Those were the essentials. Now for the optional items:
►  my i-Pod Mini (the presence of 
which in my purse is non- 
►  my sunglasses (arguably not 
optional at all, as they might be 
necessary for driving)
►  handy-wipes (you never know what 
you’ll have to handle)
►  breath mints and Brush Aways (no 
elucidation necessary)
►  paracetamol (I get headaches)
►  Duratears (my eye-doctor claims I 
don’t blink enough)
►  Band-aid spray (I’m a klutz)
►  lipstick and chapstick (my lips dry 
easily and I might unexpectedly need to at least try to look presentable)
►  hand lotion (dry skin, what can I say)
►  a small purse containing a portable USB-stick, a pocket knife and a Mag-lite
►  2 magazines and a pocket book (I never know which I’ll feel like reading, and I might get held up somewhere – this way I’ll get though my back reading faster)
Well, looking at the second list, you can see why I would require a sizeable purse. Could I imagine leaving one or more of the items in my non-essentials list out?
Not really. At most, I think I would force myself to take only one of the three magazines/books with me instead of all three. And maybe the lipstick can go as well. But the chapstick, the handy-wipes, the hand lotion, the band-aid spray, the paracetamol, the Duratears, the breath mints, the sunglasses, the pocket knife, the Mag-lite, the USB-stick and the i-Pod are staying!
The main reason for my lugging all these things around with me wherever I go is that I have a firm belief that one day, they will all come in useful. For instance: I will be trapped in an elevator somewhere because of a small short in the panel with all the buttons, and my Mag-lite and pocket knife combo will save the day. Or I will unexpectedly have to perform some magnificently important function somewhere, and after quick-brushing my teeth, followed by taking a breath mint, and putting on some hand lotion, before sitting down and calmly and elegantly reading my magazine/book, I will successfully steal the show. Or something similar, you get the idea.
I should conclude, then, that my bag- fetish has more to do with my own neurosis of over-preparedness than with the desire to follow fashion whims. I suppose to a certain extent, that is a good thing. Yet I still feel inexplicably compelled to keep an eye out for more bags: more spacious, more elegant, and in lots of different colors too! Would this cease, I wonder, if I found a bag that had everything I required: the space to carry all my things with me without having to cram everything in or calculate down to the millimeter where to put my sunglasses in relation to my wallet? I think – though my husband would no doubt disagree with me – that it would, actually. Although I would then like said Wonderbag in all possible colors, and in the sizes small, medium, large and extra- large; and that would still mean that I would have to spend time and effort packing and re-packing bags a lot of the time.
Sadly, there is no such Wonderbag for me. And, since the Wonderbag will likely not be designed yet for the next hundred years or so, I could maybe try to occasionally convince myself that I don’t need everything I usually take with me all the time.
And so it’s back to the beginning, although at least now I can happily say that there is a good reason for my having so many different bags: different bags rise to different occasions (and, what’s more, to different moods!). Besides, aside from packing and repacking my different bags, I like the feeling of a new beginning that I get when I take out another purse for another day. In the end, then, I am afraid that I will have to tell my lovely – and very patient – husband that it is unlikely that I will ever stop shopping for purses. I will try, however, not to buy every one that I like.