How to describe Bas Bleu? In the simplest terms, we’re a catalog and internet retailer that sells books and gifts for avid readers. Last year, we told you a little bit about how we source our books. But what about the “and gifts” part? We pride ourselves on offering our readers fun, thoughtful, occasionally downright odd gifts, items you usually can’t buy at big-box stores or shopping malls. So…where do we find them?
Just like we have sales reps at publishing houses around the country, we have sales reps at companies devoted to stationery, jewelry, apparel, tableware, stuffed animals, puzzles, games, tote bags, calendars, and more. Those reps work with us year-round to find the items we think you’ll like best. They send us product catalogs and samples, and occasionally even ask our opinion on new items while they’re still in development. But sometimes, we just have to go shopping!
Throughout the year, our buyers (who double as editors, book reviewers, bloggers, numbers crunchers, and more) attend trade shows to find great non-book items to share with you, our readers. We’ve boarded long-haul flights to shows in China and Europe, and we’ve hopped our local subway to attend Atlanta’s biannual gift show. Last weekend, we headed to the Big Apple for not one, but two major events: NY Now and the National Stationery Show.
If you’ve ever attended a sample sale or a Black Friday early-bird event, you’re halfway to knowing what it’s like to “go to market.” There’s no wild pushing or shoving (everyone is really nice!), but there are long lines of excited buyers making friends with strangers and swapping tips on our perfect “get” as we wait for the doors to open. Attendees—who represent major retailers, mom-and-pop stores, boutiques, college bookshops, and (of course) catalog companies—must wear special name badges at all times, to be scanned by security personnel whenever we walk onto the showroom floor.
This year’s event was the first to combine NY Now, held every February and August, and the National Stationery Show, typically held in May. The result: several thousand vendors from more than sixty countries, with booths filling two floors of the 1.8 million-square-foot Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York’s Hells Kitchen neighborhood. Comfortable shoes are a must, because we spend hours walking up and down the aisles, peering into booths big and small, our eyes peeled for the perfect Bas Bleu picks. Some exhibitors are old friends, like Jim and Jane of Saturn Press, who have sold exquisite letterpress note cards to Bas Bleu for more than twenty years. Others are more recent acquaintances, who use the market as an opportunity to show us their newest items. Still others are strangers to us, and the primary reason for our attendance: We hope to find new makers whose creations will strike a chord with our customers.
Lest you envision us hauling loaded shopping bags through the streets of New York, there are no cash registers at NY Now and the National Stationery Show. Many buyers do place orders on the spot with vendors, who offer discounts and other “show deals” to attendees. Other buyers, like us, take copious notes and request samples, to be discussed and analyzed back at the Bas Bleu offices, where we narrow down the choices and select just the right additions to our catalogs. So what gems did we discover at market this time around? Keep reading the Bas Bleu catalog to find out!
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