What we learned at Paper First Affiliates’ tradeshow & conference

The massive Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville was the site of the recent Paper First Affiliates’ 22nd annual conference and trade show, which took place Feb. 26-27. It was an intimate — at least in terms of retail trade shows — collection of some of the most prominent vendors in party supply industry and approximately 60 PFA member retailers. (Photo gallery)

The structured rotation-style format of the show kept retailers on a detailed schedule throughout the two days. It is designed to allow PFA members 12 minutes apiece with each vendor at the show.

Party Paper Retailer, represented by yours truly, was among the vendor booths during the show. The interaction allowed for invaluable face-to-face communication with party supply retailers, whom it is my job to provide news and information to regarding the industry.

Based on the feedback I received, my biggest takeaways were:

  • Despite Halloween 2015 falling on a Saturday, the majority of retailers were at least somewhat disappointed with their sales.
  • The demand for costume accessories continues to rise as customers look for innovative ways to make their ensemble unique. Even retailers who cited flat or sagging costume sales still said accessories did well, for the most part.
  • Pinterest was repeated over and over as a major driving force for costume ideas, balloon ensemble requests and party themes. “People come in and say, ‘I want this,’” said one retailer, as he held up his smartphone. “It can be hard to know which accessories to keep on hand.”
  • Most retailers said they liked the rotation-style format, as it forced them to take a closer look at products and vendors they previously thought weren’t a fit for their store.

In addition to the show, attendees were treated to a dinner and acoustic concert at the historic Grand Ole Opry, which adjacent to Opryland, on Thursday, Feb. 25, which was sponsored by Amscan.

The evening of Friday, Feb. 26, buses transported retailers and vendors to the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville for drinks, hors d'oeuvres and music, which was sponsored by Mayflower Distributing. (Photo gallery)

Also, Fun World, Rubie’s, Pioneer Balloon Co. and Disguise sponsored catered breakfasts and lunches at the Old Hickory Steakhouse inside Opryland during the show. California Costume sponsored the Saturday snack break, and Beistle sponsored the closing reception.

For more on PFA, visit or

Zeke Jennings, Party & Paper Retailer managing editor

Originally posted Monday, Feb. 29, 2016