I’m back from the Westport Creative Arts Festival. It was a beautifully run show, well-managed and supported by the Westport Young Women’s League. They did everything right! Unfortunately, attendance was down, down, down and although I didn’t crash and burn, I did not do well enough to return.
It did give me a chance to see all kinds of booth set-ups, though. I’m here to report that sometimes it’s good to break the rules of good booth design.
One of my favorite booths was Riverstone Jewelry.
It was one that broke several “rules”, to great effect.
The tables were low and deep. There was barely enough room for more than three or four people to browse at a time. There was a lot of work on display.
But it worked.
I’ve been thinking why, and here is my theory:
She created an atmosphere of a true “trunk show”. It felt like she had just returned from a buying trip, set up her well-worn traveling cases in an exotic but peaceful tent in a bazaar, and invited you in to see her new wares.
The backdrops were simple, neutral-colored (sort of beige) but layered–some sort of matchstick blinds over similar-colored material (linen??), very “Thai” or “Bali” looking.
The cases seemed to be old wood cases or boxes, with the jewelry lined up attractively. The items that were laid out in great numbers still worked, too. Bracelets were aligned in rows, but each one was different. Your eye could quickly take in the one or two that jumped out at you, according to your taste. I don’t think they were displayed on black, either, although I now can’t recall the color. More neutral, I think.
And the reason I say “looked” and “seemed” is, all I could really focus on was the jewelry. Everything else was warm and attractive and blended into the theme, then fell away so you only saw the jewelry.
I overheard a little of her sales approach. She told a woman how, in the villages where she buys the components, a shaman consults with you when you are ailing.
Once the source of your ills is determined, special healing amulets are prescribed. You go to a amulet “pharmacy” and purchase the right amulets. The amulets are then made into jewelry for you to wear.
The entire effect was that you were participating in such a healing process. And, as we all feel the need for such care from time to time, it was a compelling notion. People were scouring for just the right piece for healing.
People felt justified in buying more jewelry–“It’s therapeutic!”
And because the experience also felt “exotic” and “traveling to faraway places” and “marketplace”, people seemed to tolerate the crowding better. It was part of the total adventure.
So why doesn’t this table set-up work for every booth?
Because here it recreated a specific atmosphere–exotic locale/shaman healing/ancient wisdom/community.
When misused, the recreated atmosphere is “yard sale.”
I also recant (a little) on the booth lighting thing. Sometimes the worst way to light a booth is what works best under the circumstances.
It is really hard to light a booth on 400 watts of electricity! I don’t know how you do it if the fair doesn’t provide any electricity. (There are batteries available for outdoor shows, but most indoor shows don’t allow them.)
My booth was way too dark. Of course, part of my problem is trying to display three different lines that demand three different display modes–2-D (walls), sculptures (shelves/table top) and jewelry (cases).
Under these circumstances, the best-lit booths were indeed the ones that had a rack of track lighting across the top front bar of the booth. Yes, when I turned around, I was blinded by the lights. But if I didn’t have jewelry, too, I would seriously consider doing that just to get enough light into my booth quickly and easily.
The one exception was a guy across from me who had the more-successful light set-up–track lighting on all three sides of his booth, with the track set up about a foot or two away from each wall (my recommended solution.)
But when I counted the lights, I saw he also had at least 9 lamps, and another bar of 4 lamps. Either he was using lower watt lamps or he simply ignored the 400 watt limit. I did find some on-line sources for low watt MR16 halogen bulbs so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And I will consider these bulbs the next time I have limited electricity.
So remember, there are many good rules to making a great booth. But some rules are made to be broken.
The trick is to know when and how to break them and why.
p.s. Low voltage does not equal low wattage. Low voltage lamps are not the same as low wattage bulbs.
Some craftspeople (and I used to be one of them) think if we are using low-voltage lighting, we can use twice the number of lamps/bulbs in our booth. “I can buy 400 watts, and have 800 watts’ worth of low-voltage lamps in my booth!” we exclaim happily.
A common mistake we make is thinking low-voltage lamps use less energy. They do–but not in how much power you’re drawing. The BULBS use less energy, and last longer–and is safer to work with. That’s why low-voltage light systems are increasingly being used in outdoor residential lighting.
Think of electricity as a stream of water, like a hose, coming in your booth. If the nozzle has a wide-spread setting, the stream/current is wide, the power is diffused. If the setting is narrow, the water comes out harder and more powerfully.
But the amount of water coming through is the same.
To figure out how much wattage you’re using at a show, you still have to add the total wattage of your light bulbs. If you have bought 400 watts of power,the total wattage of your bulbs should not exceed 400.
My electrician tried to explain about dividing the total number of watts into the total number of volts in the system for figuring out the actual “draw” on the system, but he lost me several times along the way. When I repeated the above to him, he said, “Yeah, just stick with that.”