GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #7 What Lies Beneath

Flooring for your booth is another big bugaboo artists struggle with. Should you even cover the floor? If so, with what? And of course, like everything else, it should be washable/portable/sturdy/attractive/affordable. A tall order indeed!

The first question is easy. Yes. A floor for your booth is a wonderful finishing touch. It takes away the “I’m camping out here” tone and elevates your booth to a professional selling zone. I’ve never been in a booth without a floor, where I didn’t notice there wasn’t a floor. That’s a double and triple negative in one sentence, but short story is–people notice.

They will notice it looks nicer. More importantly, if you have a comfortable floor, they will notice it feels nicer. A floor helps bound off “your space”, creating a real environment for your customers to enter. It can also help deaden the ambient noise that comes with a busy craft show, creating a peaceful environment–so your customers can shop without distraction.

I’ve actually had success with several floors. Others were cool but had their drawbacks.

PLAIN AND SIMPLE

The simplest, cheapest floor I’ve ever had that also looked great was simply a 10’x10′ piece of indoor/outdoor carpeting from a local carpet biz. Places like Home Depot and Lowe’s will have these, too. The carpet place had a much better color selection, and the prices were actually comparable.

This carpeting is wonderful because a) it’s CHEAP–usually less than $100, often much, much less; b) it comes in great basic colors–grey, tan, black, forest green, navy, burgundy; c) it folds up easily for transport (though I recommend unfolding for storage, so it doesn’t get permanent creases); and d) it washs off with a garden hose, and hangs up to drip-dry. Oh, and it wears well. Just throw down a plastic tarp or plastic/paper paintcloth underneath to protect it from ground moisture, rotting grass and dead worms and it should last for years. (These things don’t damage it, just make it stinky.)

If you are doing an outdoor show, the carpet conforms to the shape of the ground, so though you won’t get a level surface, you also don’t have to fuss with leveling, shimming, buckling, etc. If the front edge buckles up, you can just hammer it down with long nails–I think the kind they call “ten penny”, cute name!, and you can even add wide, flat washers to give the nails more surface area of carpet to hold down. These pull up pretty easily after a show. If you are doing a show on sidewalks or asphalt, obviously you cannot hammer nails into that. I’m guessing some heavy duty double-sticky carpet tape might work.

BEAUTY IS AS BEAUTY DOES

My next floor was a set of beautiful mats from Home Depot patterned to look like inlaid stone. I got this tip from a high-end artisan out west, who used them to create the look of a Roman temple in his booth. They were gorgeous! They were just single mats, so I could lay them out in different patterns. They also fit into one box (albeit a rather bulky box).

I was sure this floor would give my booth a certain classy elegance, and really stand out at the show. And it did.

Unfortunately, there were three major drawbacks.

One, they were extremely heavy. I shipped them to a show, and the weight of them tore the box apart. And it cost a ton to ship them, too. I ditched them after that one show. I remember wandering the show floor for an hour, looking for a discarded box to replace the tattered one they’d arrived in. I finally had to settle for wrapping an entire roll of duct tape around the broken box. It looked like a techno-mummy when I was done, but the box made it home with only a few more rips and tears.

The other drawback is the floor was too attractive. Everyone commented on how nice it looked. Everyone wanted to know where I’d gotten the mats. The floor got almost as many comments as my artwork, which is NOT a good thing.

The third drawback is something I’m going to come back to again and again.

The floor didn’t really fit my “brand”.

Stone floor and art inspired by cave art may seem like a good fit. But it wasn’t. The look did not “go with” my artwork. Just like the Japanese-looking paper screens, it was nice…..but caused a “disconnect” in the overall atmosphere.

I gave the mats away as Christmas presents over the next few years. Every so often, I clean the barn attic and find a couple more stashed away.

THE PERFECT FLOOR

I really like my current floor, which you can see here in my booth photo from last year’s LNHC fair. (This is the bigger photo, below is the little one.)

It’s a set of so-called “puzzle mats” from a company called Alessco which come in a variety of colors. I see they now even have faux wood patterns. Scroll through the pages numbered at the top of their web page and you will find design options, pricing, even well-priced shipping boxes that fit the floor mats perfectly. (I actually have several extra boxes for shipping the rest of my booth in, too.)

Many people find similar products at places like Sam’s Club, etc. When you figure out the actual square footage cost (as opposed to “per panel” cost), I’ve never found anyone to beat the cost of Alesso. But I know that can change in a heartbeat on the internet. I will say that these mats have a built-in outer edge, so there are fewer pieces to fiddle with. (Some brands have mats with all interlocking edges, and you buy side strips to get a straight edge.) They have a good density, as opposed to some others I’ve seen. But if you find something cheaper or closer to home that works for you, go for it.

These floors have become very popular at shows, and for good reason(s). They break down into 2’x2′ sections. They are unbelievably lightweight. They come in a variety of patterns. You can buy them as carpet sections, and now, faux wood. They wash up easily. (I throw mine in the bathtub and scrub them with some shampoo and a brush, because I’m too lazy to walk back downstairs to get the bottle of dish detergent.) And then drip dry.

Like the carpeting, they mold to the shape of the ground. So no shimming, leveling, etc. And like the carpet, it’s less messy if you throw a protective ground cloth down first.

Because of their density, they are excellent at deadening that “background buzz” at busy shows.

As if that weren’t enough, their last two qualities will nail it.

They are so comfortable to stand on, you won’t believe it. Your customers will comment on it, especially at big shows, or shows set up on hard surfaces (convention halls, sidewalks, etc.) Even at our outdoor show under tents, people remarked how nice it was to stand in my booth. And the longer people stay in your booth, they more they tend to buy.

The final clincher? Except for the comfort factor, people don’t notice my floor.

Like the walls, the floor “disappears”–and you see the work.

Which leads us to, what color should you pick for your floor? I’ll pick up this topic of color, theme and “branding” in future essays. But for now, I’d say keep it simple.

When I went to order my Alessco puzzle mats, I wanted a checkerboard pattern for my booth. I had seen it in another booth and loved the look. But a friend held me back. She said, “Is your work about fun and whimsy?” Okay, how about black and brown checkerboard? She shook her head. “What do you want people to look at? Your floor? Or your work?”

Well, that was a no-brainer.

For my purposes, a black floor works well. It matches my display and my pedestals, and most of my “infrastructure”. The black blends in–and disappears.

LOVELY TO LOOK AT, BUT…

What about other floor options? I’ve seen people actually “build” floors that create a totally level surface in their booths. They construct some sort of frame on the ground, level and shim it, then lay a hardwood floor on top. Some people even have handicapped-accessible ramps leading up to their floor.

Since this is beyond my capabilities–I get a headache just thinking about it–I can’t give you much information about this kind of floor approach. It does look beautiful, it does create a “room environment”, and it is flat and easy to navigate–once you are inside.

And there’s the kicker. If the ground is not somewhat level to begin with, getting inside is the hard part.

The booth next to me this year had a drop across the frontage of the booth of almost a foot. The floor started out about 8″-10″ above the ground one one side. That meant by the time you walked ten feet to the other side of the booth, there was a drop-off of almost 18″. No problem–the artist built a ramp.

Unfortunately, most shows say any such ramp access must be inside your booth, not sticking out into the show aisles (which makes good sense.) So the ramp, in order to fit inside the booth, had a 45 degree angle. Which made it as much of a barrier as the drop-off was.

People had to “launch” themselves up the ramp. They tended to grab my wall to steady themselves. I saw no one in a wheelchair in the booth (which was the point of the ramp, was it not?) And the ramp provided endless amusement to small children, who saw it as a climbing challenge. I saw many determined tots getting ready to launch themselves in a running start up the ramp, only to be checked just in time by their alert parents. Whew!

Worse, once people did get inside the booth, they had to be careful not to step down onto that ramp, or over the lip of the floor. Remember, there was still an 8″ drop-off along the front edge.

Such a floor is tempting. Once that floor is up and level, setting up the rest of your booth must be a breeze. No need to level and shim your walls, cases, display, etc.

But all week, I shuddered to think what would have happened if one person had fallen out of that booth and injured themselves.

I saw a better solution from a furniture maker a few years. He created mini-islands of raised floor sections, just big enough to fit under either individual pieces of furniture or small vignettes. They were just high enough to level and raise his furniture, sort of like extremely short (6″) pedestals. The look was a nice blend between “museum-quality display” and “this is what it looks like in your own home display.” He left the grass between the pedestals, but somehow, it wasn’t as off-putting as a pure grass floor.

BIG, BIG FLOOR

I borrowed this idea when I did a huge sales/demo booth two years ago. I had the use of a 600 square foot tent all to myself. That is a HUGE space to fill–more on that later, too. And covering that much ground with nice flooring would have cost big bucks.

After looking into options like woven environmental matting (intriguing, but I never got the samples to see how walkable it was), carpeting (even at $1 a square foot, a pricey proposition), sisal matting, etc. I settled on this solution.

I created different “areas” in the booth and treated them separately.

The actual demo area where I worked was 10’x10, and I set my indoor/outdoor carpet there. That was big enough for the work table and a bunch of chairs for my audience.

Some of the corner displays, where I had big beautiful wall hangings in “environmental” settings–with tables, flower arrangements, etc., just like in a home–I set down some small Oriental rugs.

For most of the store-like display areas, I went to a local professional laundry–the kind that provides towels and linens to hotels, floor mats, etc. I bought a bunch of used floor mats, the kind with low-nap carpet on top and rubber on the bottom. They were worn, but in decent shape and still serviceable–just not nice enough for fancy restaurants. They were GREAT for an outdoor booth. They were CHEAP, too–$7 to $15.

I used these mats under each display shelf, creating individual “islands” of shopping areas, just like the furniture maker had done. I made sure they all lay flat so as not to trip people. And I left the rest of the ground open, with the grass (mowed short to start.)

It worked beautifully. The open areas created subtle paths, yet the islands subtly set off the work on display.

I used these mats for two years in a row, then retired them our personal home use. Some are in use as “welcome mats” and several are in our mudroom. Where my rabbit found the last best thing about them–they are great fun to chew!

I was going to add about other interesting floors I’ve seen. But then realized they all had similar issues. They were either too interesting, and distracted attention from the work. Or they were not flexible and versatile enough to work in many different environments.

I would love if people shared other good solutions that have worked for them.

Remember, though, sometimes the absolute best floor is the one nobody remembers.

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6 Comments

Filed under art, booth design, booth floor, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, Good booths gone bad, marketing, selling, silent evidence

6 responses to “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #7 What Lies Beneath

  1. Pingback: Booths Gone Bad | The Crafted Webmaster

  2. I have a contrary opinion.

    When I walk a show, the booths that have their own flooring feel ever so slightly off-putting to me. It’s like the artist is claiming their space by putting down their own floor, and it feels a little like trespassing if you walk on it. I wouldn’t want to give anyone the slightest reason not to walk into my booth.

    I also strongly feel that the edge of a mat or carpet is too much of a trip hazard.

    If the show is outdoors on grass, letting the grass be everyone’s common carpet is, I think, most inviting. Anyway, the grass is free and already set up for you!

    Just my opinion.

    Barbara

  3. Viv

    I love your work and I love your advice! I’m just starting out as an artist – been wanting to do it for years and finally made the plunge to start my own business in fabrications.I truly appreciate you spending valuable time in offering to share ideas of what did/didn’t work. Since I’m more in the art side rather than the business side (which of us aren’t) your experience is glorious ! Thank you very much !
    Vivianne Voyles The Expressive Thread Cary NC

  4. Barbara, sounds like you like natural. However, many high-end indoor shows and many trade shows require flooring. In fact, usually my mats are LEVEL with the show’s aisle carpeting, eliminating the trip factor. As you pointed out, any floor that people actually trip over, should be adapted in some way to prevent that.
    As for grass, well, if you are a jewelry artist, the best way to lose a gold earring is to drop it in grass. :^D
    Vivianne, I’m delighted if sharing even one of my mistakes helps someone else avoid making the same one!

  5. I’m late discovering your blog. So much insight! Thank you!
    Suggestion for cleaning puzzle mats – find one of those old “wand” do-it-yourself car washes, wash the mats on their concrete floor, put the damp clean mats in your trunk (on a plastic tablecloth). BTW, great for venetian blinds.

    Edie

  6. Excellent suggestion, Edie–thank you for sharing that!

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