In case you've never heard of it, Paperworld is one of, if not the biggest stationery trade show in the world. It happens every year at Messe Frankfurt, in Germany, which is a ridiculously large convention center. Set up over 5 exhibition halls are vendors from all over the world, showing everything from notebooks and pens to industrial printer toner and book-binding machinery. It's incredible, the sheer volume of exhibitors and the wide range of things to see. My first trip to Paperworld was two years ago when I was still new-ish to the pencil biz, which was incredibly exciting but also very very overwhelming. This time around was definitely easier, more fun and more productive.
If you've ever been to a big trade show you know that you have to be VERY organized in order to see everything efficiently and not burn out early. Fortunately, we live in the 21st century and there are apps for that. The Paperworld app is good--there's a well filtered exhibitor search where you can save favorites--a feature that I used often. In the end I didn't even need an actual map, I just searched booth numbers in my favorites and followed the signage. On the first day I went for a walk from my hotel to the Messe center just to time how long it would take and spent a lot of time taking notes about what exactly I was looking to find and where I was going to find it. I'd made appointments with a few brands, so my days were planned primarily around that. The plan was to do 2-3 halls a day, with repeat visits in the ones that I thought were necessary.
On Saturday my first stop was Viarco, where I had my first appointment. I preach this pretty often, but I LOVE Viarco because they always have something new in the works, actually new things, not reinterpretations. It's always a joy to visit them because I'm sure that they'll always have something new and exciting to show me. This time I found a lavender version of their ever-popular floral scented pencils, some regular pencils in colorful, contemporary prints and a pencil case that kind of looks like a pencil jacket. It's made from recycled leather off-cuts from a nearby leatherworker in Portugal. They're made to unzip and stand up for easy access at a desk. Speaking of desks--Viarco also officially introduced their new one! I posted a video of how it works on Instagram but I forgot to save it so I'll try my best to explain it: There's a long cavity in the back with multiple types of modular wooden boxes that slot in, for storing pencils, books, brushes--whatever tools you need. The rest of the table top is mostly filled by a blotter with a roll of paper fitted over it. On both sides are hidden compartments with cranks fitted into them, so you as you use the paper, you and roll it away. In the front are drawers with pencil slots and underneath is a hidden book shelf. It definitely made me wish I lived somewhere other than in a Manhattan apartment (WAY too small).
The rest of my Saturday was spent roaming around neighboring halls. Amongst my favorites finds were a few things at the Kutsuwa stand--a double-ended pencil extender/holder, a clear version of their T'Gaal sharpener and a set of Camel-made pencils with caps that stack together to form a pencil holder. Between pencil stops I marveled at paintbrush makers, sticker vendors (I found some new things for the CW Sticker Emporium) and hobby/craft product suppliers. Also in the same hall I visited Milan, a brand from Spain that makes awesome erasers and sharpeners. They showed me around and introduced me to some new things, including a slightly moon-shaped pencil which was designed to be more comfortable to hold (it was, indeed). With a bag full of samples, I carried on before meeting my friend Kelly, director of the National Stationery Show in New York for a coffee and a lap around Hall 6. By the afternoon I'd done 4 halls and was exhausted. I stopped to visit Kum for a bit and then headed straight to dinner with Courtney and Clark, friends from Hester & Cooke in Nashville.
Day two was a lot more work--I had an appointment in the morning with Hindustan, who make Nataraj, Apsara and SiVO pencils and an afternoon appointment with Caran d'Ache. My first stop at Hindustan was fun because there were lots of new products to see and it was the first time I'd met Vikrant, my new sales rep. My favorite new thing was a pencil called the Festa that's round (which is becoming an increasingly rare pencil shape), writes darkly and is gold with tiny stars on it. It sounds like a ridiculous pencil, but I was excited to see a round pencil that was functional and also fun-looking. From there I visited M+R (not much new there) and a few of the other bigger brands. The rest of my morning was spent in the hall with most of the boring office supplies because I knew Emilio Braga and Balma (Coccoina glue and Zenith staplers) were there. I was actually surprised by just the sheer volume of glue and staplers that I found--it really made me want to actually open CW Adhesives & Attachments, a shop Alyx and I have been joking about for a while. By lunchtime I was pretty much done with the 8-ish vendors I'd planned on visiting so I spent some time glueing business cards into my notebook, organizing my notes and catalogs and reviewing my list of things to find. I was especially grateful to find a juice bar--seemingly the only source of actual fruits and vegetables in the whole complex (I'd packed a TON of healthy snacks from home because I knew I wouldn't last these long days on schnitzel and pretzels). Next up was my meeting with Caran d'Ache.
First, let me tell you about the Caran d'Ache booth. Instead of having an open booth set up and meeting tables scattered around, they built walls around the whole thing, with an opening for the reception and a small opening for a room with a few products to see/test. Normally this would annoy me since it was all pretty inaccessible BUT the wall itself was covered in wallpaper printed with a giant color-able scene of Switzerland. There were tiny houses, mountains, hikers, gondolas, skiiers--everything! They set up stands with lots of pencils in them so everyone was free to color the wall. I wish I'd taken a proper photo towards the end when it was really colored in but I was just too distracted. To be honest, by the time I'd left Paperworld I'd probably spent a full hour coloring that wall. Inside, though, there were lots of new things to see. 840 pens made from recycled Nespresso pods, a very special anniversary edition of Supracolor pencils, a new "brut rosé" colored sharpening machine and my personal favorite: a double ended graphite/highlighter pencil, a perfect companion for the Editor (red/graphite) pencil, which I designed for Caran d'Ache last year. They're actually rolling out the Editor and the new highlighter pencils under the name Graphicolor for shops to sell worldwide. This was exciting for--really, a dream come true to see the pencils I came up with become an actual thing that everyone can buy and use.
Later that evening I had dinner with my friends from Caran d'Ache, including Carole, who's the president (she's SUCH a badass boss lady), which is always a lot of fun. Once I got back to the hotel and sat down to write in my travel journal I realized just how grateful I am to be part of a business where pretty much everyone knows each other and supports each other. This weird little world that is the pencil business has been extraordinarily kind to me and friendlier than I ever could have imagined.
Day three was my easiest one--I slept in and went back to Messe to do one last round through a few halls (and ran into the lovely Mr. Charles Berolzheimer of Palomino/Cal Cedar) before an afternoon meeting with Karin at Faber-Castell. I've only ever working with the US Faber-Castell office, so this was a real treat. I discovered SO many things that aren't available in the US currently (trust me, I'll try to get them!) and a lot of things coming out later this year, which I'm excited to share when the time comes.
By 3pm I was done with everything I'd set out to do (a lot of which I can't share right now because it's not out yet or because it involves future subscription boxes) and though I felt a little relieved to be done with walking 6+ miles a day and talking for hours on end I was little sad to leave. Paperworld feels a little bit like a stationery industry reunion, and was so much fun now that I actually have relationships with a lot of people. I didn't feel ready to go back to the hotel just yet so I went to the mall next to Messe to stock up on super tiny, travel-sized Weleda Seabuckthorn hand creams that I'd discovered on Friday when I went to the mall to keep myself awake. While at the mall I was alerted about a small shop crisis so I dashed back to the hotel to sort everything out.
For my last evening in Frankfurt, I met up with Jens, Martin and Michael from Viking for dinner at a really cool restaurant that does a tasting menu with modern interpretations of traditional German foods/flavors. It was so delicious, and though I'd never met Jens, Martin and Michael before, they were wonderful company, it was just like we'd known each other for years (which we have, on e-mail).
The next morning I worked for a few hours, packed my bags and left for Paris, where I'm spending a few days with a friend before going home, because honestly, shows like Paperworld are EXHAUSTING. I spent about 8 hours a day at the show and at least another 3/4 working at the hotel--I need some time to chill!
I probably won't go back to Paperworld again until 2020 because since I'm looking for such specific things there just isn't really enough there for me to justify going every year. One thing I love about it, though, is that it's essentially a live version of the product scavenger hunt that I first embarked on when I started setting up CWPE online almost 4 years ago. The best part is that it never becomes any less thrilling.
Photos (from top): Hall 6.1 at Paperworld, new Viarco pencil "jackets", a wacky new pencil from Hindustan, a scene from my hotel desk.