by Mary E. Petzak
Readers have been asking for a comprehensive list on how to best succeed (and most importantly PROFIT) at craft shows. As this is a primary revenue stream for most crafters, we’ve taken the time to put together 120 steps, tips, and tricks to help you achieve the most success possible at your next show. Start here, and success will be at your doorstep (or, uh, booth entrance)!
Building Your Booth
1. Before starting, brainstorm for two or three hours; visualize how the booth will look best.
• Determine the booth’s job.
• Run scenarios.
• Build a detailed model.
• In the model, include everything with the correct dimensions. It’ll end up saving time and hassle.
2. Take the time to figure out what your booth should do for you and your customers.
3. Have a professional carpenter build the skeleton from a model.
4. Have fun with your booth design; think of it as a theater set.
5. Do not let someone who has never done a show build your booth without your input.
6. You only need to create the illusion of walls; you don’t need to build the real thing.
7. A standard size booth is 10’x10’.
8. Make the opening into your selling space wide; it invites people in and keeps them from feeling claustrophobic.
Before You Go
9. Pre-assemble your booth at home to make sure that setup is easy and time-efficient.
10. Be able to set up the booth alone.
11. Make a map of setup steps and placement of parts and pieces.
12. Mark the pieces of your booth so you know what everything attaches to.
13. Consider rentals provided by the shows.
14. Be aware of how labor unions operate at various convention halls and fairgrounds.
15. Materials should be fireproof or sprayed with a fire retardant.
16. Pack the day before you leave.
17. Pack a cooler with snacks.
18. Find materials that ship well.
19. Avoid construction materials that break easily or are expensive or difficult to repair.
20. Transport your work and booth elements in boxes that break down easily and can be stored in the booth.
21. Never label your shipping boxes with the contents.
22. Invest in transit insurance.
23. Don’t bring all of your work to a show.
24. Use a dramatic piece of your work as a “showstopper” to attract buyers to your booth.
25. If your work is large, consider bringing only a few of your best pieces and a portfolio.
26. Using loosely woven fabrics for booth walls allows wrinkles to smooth out as the fabric hangs.
27. Use knits that stretch and are light-weight, washable, and easy to smooth out wrinkles.
28. In choosing a background color, remember:
• Opt for light neutral tones.
• Avoid dark colors (except black).
• Black works well with work that is brightly colored, metallic, or lighted.
• A black backdrop requires extra lighting.
29. Don’t use burlap; it’s unattractive, smells, bleeds, and it’s expensive.
30. If you use any mirrors, make sure that they do not distort people’s images and that there are enough for several people to look in at once.
31. Bring extra table covers in case tables or other surfaces provided by organizers are larger than expected.
32. Use different shelf heights to engage the eye.
33. Make your merchandise easy to access.
34. You are four times more likely to sell something that a customer has touched.
35. Be able to get your work from the case and into the customers’ hands quickly.
36. Your display should focus on your work, so make it easy to see the strongest aspects of your work.
37. The booth should reflect the taste of the customer buying your work.
38. A table is generally too low for display.
39. A 32-36” countertop is too low for most displays, except with interior designed bowls.
40. 36-42 inches is a good display height for objects intended to be picked up and handled.
41. 42-48 inches is a prime selling height and the height to display the best pieces.
42. 48-54 inches is okay for lamps and work with outside decoration that can be adequately viewed when looking up.
43. Over 54 inches is too high for objects that need to be handled.
44. Leave 25-30% of the floor free of display items so customers can move comfortably.
45. Customers who have to stand partially in the aisle to view your work may not feel part of it enough subconsciously to consider buying it.
46. Keep at least 4 feet between counters, pedestals, walls, etc.
47. Do not exhibit in an unfinished booth. That is what the buyer will notice.
48. Recycled materials, such as window shutters, make great backdrops and props.
49. Hang your product with wire from the frame of your booth.
50. Think about hanging enlarged photos of your work on the walls of your booth.
51. Don’t forget a writing surface; podiums and clipboards are best as tables are too big.
52. Don’t forget that you need a flat surface inside your booth for a credit card machine, flyers, and business cards.
53. Consider using track lighting.
54. Invest in good light bulbs.
55. Use directional lighting, such as overhead spots or flood lights.
56. For graphic, bold, or bright colors, use halogen lighting, which approximates sunlight.
57. For antique or folk art, try tungsten lighting, which has a softer, yellow glow.
58. Avoid mercury vapor lighting which alters the color of your work. The mercury vapor lighting in most convention halls is far away and won’t affect your work.
59. Consider shadow boxes, which encase the light source.
Things to Do at the Show
61. Notice which booth colors are popular.
62. Buyers are more interested in meeting the artist than they are in display and sales techniques.
63. Do not sit and stare.
64. Customers will be more comfortable if they do not feel like they are being watched.
65. Put up a sign if you contribute a percentage of your revenues to a good cause.
66. Acquire a merchant account so that you can accept credit cards.
67. Have a story about your work.
68. Have packing material for wrapping fragile work. Consider using shopping bags with handles for larger pieces.
69. Design a simple logo for your business to put on plain paper bags and boxes.
70. Never use black plastic bags for customer purchases. They’re ugly and hide your work.
71. Demonstrate your craft.
72. Briefly mention something about your product when you greet a customer.
73. Mind your manners.
74. Send people away with something in hand.
75. Be creative with your handouts so they won’t get thrown out.
Tips for Outdoor Shows
76. Take the same care in designing your outdoor booth as your indoor booth.
77. If your booth looks like a garage sale, customers will expect garage sale prices.
78. Create the illusion of an interior environment if your work is intended for home or office.
79. Your booth must be level. Booths that are tilted signal poor craftsmanship.
80. Many canopies or pole framework systems are designed to help level and plumb your booth.
81. Floors are very common at outdoor shows lasting more than one or two days.
82. Grass or bamboo matting, cardboard, canvas, and foam core can be very effective floor coverings.
83. Rubber mats are best and expensive, but with proper care can last a lifetime.
84. Have a roll of plastic handy to cover up your merchandise in wet weather or if the tent leaks.
85. Put down a layer of plastic film (vapor barrier) under your floor covering.
86. Have a large bag of wood chips ready to use on muddy areas or to create a bridge to your booth if water is acting as a moat.
87. Remember, lots of companies sell products designed to withstand the elements.
88. Shows that extend into the evening hours require additional lighting.
89. Get a silent generator.
90. A few good sales will help the equipment pay for itself.
91. When shopping for a commercial canopy, ask about weather resistance.
92. Manufactured canopies can be set up quickly and are compact when folded, but they can be costly and heavy to carry. Talk to fellow exhibitors and research canopies before buying one.
93. Commercial canopies won’t stand out unless signs, flags, or banners are added.
94. Don’t put your purse or wallet under a draped table in your booth.
95. Use a travel pouch or fanny pack instead of a cash box.
96. Get a waist pouch with several zippered pockets to sort dollar bills.
97. Never carry cash in a bank bag or bank pouch. Use a shopping bag instead.
98. Never discuss money, or count your money in public.
99. Take cash and charge slips with you when you leave the booth.
100. Find out in advance if the show provides an escort service. If not use the buddy system.
101. Never leave samples or anything of value in the boxes removed to storage
102. Keep high-end items in your booth nearest to where you’ll stand/sit or under glass.
103. Know where the show office and security office are located.
104. Periodically, transfer cash and receipts to a more secure location.
105. Use the hotel/motel safe or periodically go to a nearby bank and purchase travelers checks with your cash receipts.
106. At an indoor show at the end of the day, stretch bird or deer netting across the front of your booth and clam out at the sides.
107. Move things from the front outer edges of your space to the center and then cover the whole group of items with a sheet.
108. Cover all displays at night to deter theft.
109. At outdoor shows, wrap your booth up tight. Use your chair and mesh radiator screening attached to the display frame to block access points. Hang bells on the screening to make invasion as noisy as possible.
110. Report suspicious activity to the promoter or security personnel right away.
111. Be aware of your vehicle and where it is parked to minimize theft and vandalism.
112. Get a battery-operated motion detector to deter theft; put a warning label on your booth; inform the show security about it.
113. Be supplied with three-prong plugs, heavy-duty extension cords and extra electrical tape.
114. Ask for and study the promoter’s safety requirements.
115. Make sure wiring is heavy enough and meets codes.
116. Try to choose display materials that are fireproof or flame retardant.
117. Never hang plastic tarps near lights. Hot lights will melt the tarp and could cause a fire.
118. Save labels and product information to show an inspector at the door.
119. Make sure your booth holds up to wind (and wind tunnels created by drafts in large buildings or outdoor tents). Never attach anything to a promoter’s show tent or poles.
120. Tie or Velcro elements to a building and to each other when possible.