Tag Archives: booth design

NEW TO SHOWS, WHERE DO I START??

I’m going to be very lazy today, and share a post I made recently on a crafts forum.

A craftsperson posted that they were thinking about doing some shows. She was at a loss on where to begin designing a booth. Was there such a thing as a “booth designer” she could hire?

Someone responded that there are companies who design major exhibits for corporations and such, and perhaps one would be willing to freelance.

But probably not. I wish there were such services available to folks in our budget range. There’s a magazine devoted to the trade show industry called Exhibitor Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s geared to companies whose trade show budgets begin at “up to $50,000″ up to “over $1,000,000″.

The exhibit industry is geared toward displays manned by a team of people, setting up in huge indoor convention halls, and reconfiguring the entire display every couple years.

Consequently, anyone involved in that industry will probably not understand that most of us start out budgeting perhaps a tenth of that figure, maybe even less. They may not understand why your set-up has to be windproof, or how it will fit into your station wagon. They may be aware of poster services and display that start at hundreds and thousands of dollars. But they won’t be able to tell you why velcro ties are more cost-effective than zip ties.

But the magazine is still kinda fun to look through, it’s free, and some of the articles are good reads. A few months ago, it featured one of the best articles on fire safety/fire retardant booth materials I’ve ever read.

And it’s nice to know that sometimes even folks with exhibit budgets of tens and hundreds of thousand dollars still get to a show and realize their booth is too tall for the venue….

Other forumites mentioned Bruce Baker’s CD on Booth Display and Merchandising and I also highly recommend his CD. If, after listening to his CD and rolling through my Good Booths Gone Bad design series, you still have questions, you could ask Bruce for consult. And no, it’s not free, but it will be great advice.

The problem is, we can all tell you what to do and what not to do. It will still feel like (as I always say) someone handed you a pamphlet on driving laws, four tires and a seat belt and told you to design your car.

Ultimately, only you know all your needs and all your trade-offs, what you are willing to scrimp on and what you are willing to throw money at, what you are willing to put up with, what you won’t.

I feel your pain if you carry multiple lines. I have to have solid wall space for wall hangings, some sort of shelves for small sculptures, and cases for jewelry. No simple solutions there!

My best advice is to echo what another poster said, and start looking at other booths with a critical eye. Look at what people use for lighting, what tent they use, etc.

If vendors are not busy, most will be happy to offer you a suggestion or give you a source for their displays. But please–try not to treat them as a walking resource center, though. One of my (many) pet peeves is the people who try to “pick my brain” about everything in my booth. Especially in front of customers. I’ve paid good money to be at that show, and my primary focus is making enough money so I can keep doing my artwork. Be considerate of the artists’ time, unless they actually say they don’t mind talking with you.

Once you have a general idea of what might work for you, you can either search other online forums, and ask people’s opinions about things like tent choices, etc. Or you can ask to be directed to specific sites and displays for your product. For example, jewelry artist Rena Klingenberg has created an amazing website with tons of good information and advice about photographing, displaying and selling jewelry.

When you’ve narrowed your choices down, you can even look for artists who are selling off parts of their booth and display. I’ve bought lots of stuff at very reasonable prices from folks who were updating their booth or getting out of the business. For example, ProPanels has a section on their forums for artists selling or renting their ProPanel walls.

And last, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Trying to get it “perfect” the first time will frustrate and exhaust you. (I know, because that’s what I do!) Try to just do “good enough”, then see what works and what doesn’t. You can always sell the ideas that don’t work to another new exhibitor. And new booth/tent/display stuff is coming out all the time, too.

I would come up with a snappy ending to this post, but Bunster is chewing through my jeans hem. Her latest way of letting me know she wants to be petted. I would teach her to use email, but then I’d have to give her access to my computer. And we all know where that would lead: Mystery boxes of jelly beans, purchased on Ebay, arriving at my doorstep daily.

P.S. In response to Rena Klingenberg’s wonderful suggestions in the comments section, here’s an article I wrote for the April issue of The Crafts Report on how I learned the hard way I was never going to win a Best Booth award.

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Filed under art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, display, Good booths gone bad, jewelry display, ProPanel, resources, selling, shows

VACATION MODE–OFF! Sunburn, Island Dogs and Fire Safety

We’re back from our very first Caribbean family vacation. We spent a week on the Turks and Caicos islands. And yes, it’s as beautiful as it looks in the pictures.

My sun-lovin’ husband is happy, happy, happy, but despite avoiding the sun between 10 and 3, applying not one but two layers of sunblock (we’re talking zinc oxide here, people) and staying in the shade, I managed to get so sunburned I needed medical intervention. I love the idea of a tropical island, but I’m afraid I could never really survive on one.

Most people come back from the islands with seashells, or maybe a t-shirt. We came back with a potcake puppy.

We actually adopted our little sweetie (a male–we’re still arguing over names) from the Turks & Caicos SPCA. The folks there arranged every single detail of our adoption and transportation of this pup, and another one who will be eagerly welcomed at our own local animal shelter.

Our Monadnock Human Society has had such incredible success with their spay and neuter program that we actually have a shortage of mixed-breed dogs available for adoption in the region. The TCSPCA, on the other hand, is desperate to find homes for these abandoned dogs. They already have connections with other shelters in the U.S. We’re hoping this newest connection with our local shelter will result in more wonderful new homes for these amazing island dogs.

Traveling with these two puppies through three airports, customs, immigration, one delayed flight and a long layover, was a piece of cake. Many airport personnel were familiar with the dogs; you haven’t lived til you’ve seen a stern and proper customs official melt at the sight of one of these pups. One former islander laughed heartily and said, “Yah, we say ‘potcake’, but you say ‘MUTT’!” That’s exactly what they are, of course, lovable, affable mutts.

People unfamiliar with them cannot believe how relaxed and happy the puppies were. They really are mellow, loving dogs, and we hope more can find their way to the states.

And to get right back to business, here is this excellent article on fire safety for your booth by Candy Adams in Exhibitor magazine. It’s one of the best I’ve seen on the subject, and though it’s written for “the big guys” at major trade shows, it offers good insight and clarity for us artists/craftspeople and our more humble booths.

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Filed under adoption, art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, display, life with pets, pets

HOT TIP 4 PROPANEL OWNERS

I’m all set up for the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair–our 75th!! (yay!!!) It’s going smoothly so far, which I hope means I’ve finally experienced enough booth emergencies in my life to be ready for anything.

I broke down and invested in MD Propanels a few years ago, and though I’ve managed to have some “emergencies” with them, too, they have still made my show life infinitely easier.

Now they’ve added a cool new add-on called Quick Shelves which I highly recommend.

Why, can’t you already order Propanels with shelves, you may ask? Yes! But you have to specially order which panels you want made with the slots inside for the shelves and shelf brackets. And if you are like me, plan and plan as you might, you can never actually tell exactly where you want the damn shelves to go. So you set up your booth and either a) lose track of which panels have the slotted things in them and get them in the wrong place, or b) keep track of them and get them in the right place, but change your mind.

With the Quick Shelf, you can either mount the shelf as you put up a panel (any panel); or you can set up your booth, decide where you want the shelves, and go back and put the shelf in. (My method, of course!) (Are you surprised??)

I’m not sure how much weight they’re rated for. But when they’re installed, any weight pushes the bracket more firmly into the wall. So I believe they’re pretty sturdy.

I think they’re great, and I think you will, too!

Not affiliated with MD Propanel, just another happy customer.

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Filed under art, booth design, booth walls, business, craft shows, selling

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #25: Booth Evolution

Folks, there will be typos…

But I can’t resist sharing this great article by Bruce Baker in the latest issue of THE CRAFTS REPORT.

In the February 2008 issue, Bruce shows the actual evolution of a typical craft show booth, from those typical craft table displays and blank walls to a sleek booth that really highlights the work.

I’ve sat through a lot of BB seminars, and I’ve seen a lot of his examples of “beautiful booths” and “creative display” in his presentation. I thought I was breaking form by being a “plain vanilla” girl when it comes to booth display.

So I’m delighted to see the points I made in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series echoed and put so succinctly…

“Beautiful” and creative” should NOT apply to your booth at the expense of your WORK. (sorry for all the drama bold & such, but this is a message I want to keep driving home.)

Now, there are still a few things I’d change in the booth. But it’s still a much stronger presentation than the earlier versions, and this article shows that clearly.

I think you can buy single issues from TCR if you don’t already subscribe.

p.s. Hey, if you look on that table of contents page again, you’ll see my latest artcile for TCR, too. (Not a blatant plug, but geez, a girl’s gotta earn a living…)

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Filed under art, booth design, booth floor, booth signs, business, Good booths gone bad, marketing

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #24: When “Perfect” Isn’t Good Enough

Sometimes perfecting the best booth you have isn’t good enough. Sometimes having the best booth, period, isn’t good enough.

What I mean by the first statement is, sometimes we get stuck trying to perfect something that isn’t the best solution in the first place.

Take my search for the “perfect track lighting.” I constantly worked, reworked and replaced my track lighting for my booth. I experimented with light bars, cross bars, looked for more reliable systems and flexible lamps.

I finally got to the point where I realized I hate track lighting. It’s just not the best solution for my booth. The last two shows, I didn’t use any track lighting at all–just gooseneck clamp-on halogen lamps. They are easier for me to ship/pack/set-up and have fewer things to go wrong (fewer electronic connections, for one thing!)

Or my search for the “perfect table display”. My very first booth set-ups included those dreaded folding tables I’ve been harping on throughout this series. I experimented with different drapes and decorations. I tried to make them taller. Then bought narrower tables–before realizing I was never going to get them into my little car. And I was never going to get the professional-looking display I needed with them. I invested in Dynamic Display cases, sometimes augmented with Abstracta, and never looked back.

Then there was my search for the “perfect pipe-and-drape walls”. I struggled with various fabric walls–purchased pipe-and-drape, making my own drapes, adding various shades and blinds to make them stiffer and more stable for displaying my wall hangings. The happiest day of my life was the first day I set up my new Propanel walls.

So sometimes you have to persevere to find the right working version of something for you. But sometimes you just have to start over with something totally different.

Then again, sometimes even that perfect booth isn’t enough.

In 2007, I did two wholesale shows with my “perfect booth.” Okay, I know it’s still not perfect in many ways, but it was beautiful and got rave reviews. The display fell away, the work stood out, and was well received.

But I had the right work at the wrong show. Or the wrong work at the right show, if you want to look at it that way. I had de-emphasized my jewelry to promote my fiber work. It didn’t work.

You can have the best booth in the whole world. But if you have not targeted the right market for your work, you will not do well.

If you don’t do a preshow mailing to your audience, they won’t know you’re there.

If your work is high-end, and the show is low- to mid-end, they will not buy.

If your work is contemporary, and the show is country/folk, they will not buy.

If you specialize in Christmas decor and it’s a retail show in spring, you probably will not do well.

If your work is a little pricey and unusual and not a gift product, you may not do well at Christmas shows.

So what’s a craftsperson to do?

Stick with it. Observe. Learn. Get better.

And laugh.

No one said it would be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it!

You keep doing it because you believe in your work, and you believe there are people out there who will love it as much as you do.

You try this, you experiment with that, you tweak this and you replace that. You work hard to get into that dream show, that perfect show for your work. And a few years later, you struggle to find the courage to leave that “perfect show” that is no longer the best marketing strategy for your work.

There is no “finish line” you cross where you finally realize you’ve made it. There is no final formula for success.

There is only another exciting challenge ahead of you.

The downside? It can be exhausting.

The upside? It’s good for you! Aimee Lee Ball writes about “THE NEW & IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM” in the January 2008 issue of OPRAH magazine. Research shows that the brain grows more neurons when challenged. By struggling to figure this stuff out, we get smarter, and more competent.

So don’t despair if it all seems like too much sometimes. Remember–this is IQ training for your LIFE.

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Filed under art, booth design, business, craft, craft shows, Good booths gone bad, life, mental attitude

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #23: Be Different. Please.

I’m going to pick on jewelry booths today, partly because there are so many of them at shows. And because it’s just a good example of what’s wrong with so many of these shows.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are perfectly happy with your work and your shows, don’t read any further. It will just annoy you. If you are having the degree of success you want, don’t change anything! It’s working for you, and you don’t need my opinions on what you’re doing.

But if you feel like you’re struggling and can’t figure out how to get ahead, it may be time for you to hear this:

How much dichroic glass does the world need?

I’ve visited a lot of smaller shows in my area this season. And at every single one, there are at least two, three, sometimes four craftspeople working with dichroic glass jewelry.

Is there anyone who isn’t working in dichroic glass?

More importantly, is there anyone doing something different with it?

Of the last two to three dozen dichroic glass jewelry booths I’ve visited, I saw one person–ONE–who was doing something a little different. That person had made round beads. And that was only featured in a handful of designs. (Actually, I’m not even sure you can form dichroic glass into round beads. She may have been using purchased beads that just resembled dichroic glass….?)

Dichroic glass is popular because it’s colorful and bright. It’s also chunky and clunky. I have a feeling you can now also buy it at craft stores like Michael’s.

That means you’ve either got to be absolutely brilliant at working with it….

…or it’s time to move on to something else.

Another overused jewelry category is necklaces made with beads anyone can get. The pattern is something like “Bali spacer, semi-precious stone bead, Bali spacer, semi-precious stone bead, etc.” Sometimes someone goes out on a limb and uses two Bali bead spacers. Or two different colors of stone beads.

Dichroic glass, semi-precious stone beads, Swarovski crystals, Czech glass beads (or worse, cheap Indian glass beads)… Whatever. These ready-made materials are easily available, and they have saturated the jewelry market. In the end, it’s hard to come up with anything really different, innovative or unusual.

This kind of jewelry-making is called “bead stringing.” And the word “bead stringer” has become an insult among jewelry designers. I couldn’t see why until I started visiting websites and perusing craft fairs again, and browsing on-line handcrafted jewelry sites.

It’s because that’s ALL that’s out there.

I know it’s how we all get started. I know, I know, I know. I did the same thing when I first started out.

But it seems like in the last ten or twelve years since I started, everyone and their sister is now making jewelry. Access to supplies and resources is easier than ever. Anyone can make it–and does, it seems. If a ten-year-old can do it as well as you (and yes, at an Arts Business Institute seminar, I once mentored a ten-year-old who made jewelry almost as well as anything I’ve seen so far) then that says something.

And a ten-year-old may outsell you with the same work, as you’ll see below.

When everybody is doing the same thing, then it becomes all about

a) pricing
b) salesmanship
c) presentation
and d) story.

You can compete with your pricing. But you must understand that when it comes to price, there is no bottom. There are stores importing huge amounts of sterling silver and semi-precious stone jewelry from India, China, Indonesia and you cannot underprice them. I’ve seen sterling silver rings with semi-precious stone cabochons for under $4.00 at gift stores. I’m sure they are not very fine rings. But they looked okay, and if your work’s only competitive edge is price, then your customer will choose that $4 ring over your $12 ring.

You may be happy with your sales at your smaller craft shows offering low prices. But you will not be able to grow your business much past a small local market. You will only attract bargain-hunters. And you will not be able to wholesale to stores and galleries.

Presentation helps! The only booth with semi-precious stone beads and silver jewelry I even paused at had decent presentation and display–coordinated colors in table cloths and drapes, nice banners, beautiful display. And she had slightly more original designs.

But in the end, it was all still so much like everything else out there. And I passed.

Salesmanship helps. Knowing how to act when customers stop to browse will go a long way to closing a sale, and we’ve seen how very simple questions and statements can give your customers the emotional space to do just that.

The last thing that can help set your work apart is story. Being able to share with your audience why you do this is a huge edge. (Please, not because you love it. Frankly, why should I care?? When an artist says, “I just love color!”, I have to bite my tongue to respond with, “So who doesn’t love color??!”)

And here’s where than ten-year-old is going to beat you out. Is there anything cuter than a 10-year-old with the entrepeneurial spirit? If her work is just as good as yours, or even almost as good as yours, I’m going to buy her work to encourage her to follow her dreams. Or make enough money for her to go to summer camp.

Once again: If you are in this to make a little money at Christmas and to have a little fun, then ignore everything I’ve said in this post. As I said, we all have to start somewhere. I’d hate for you to see the kind of work I started with!

But if you have bigger dreams in your heart, then start thinking ahead. Use the money you make from these shows to take classes, to gain more skills, to expand your techniques, to buy better materials and tools.

That’s what I did.

When your season slows, take time to look into your heart and explore what you really want to come of all this hard work and perseverance.

That’s what I did.

Make sure you have a good product that’s different, high quality, that you absolutely love to make.

That’s what I did.

Because when you find your audience, you’re going to be with this product a long, long time.

Make sure it’s something you can live with, something you can be proud of making for years to come.

Make sure it’s the very best you can do. And take every opportunity to make it even better.

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Filed under art, booth behavior, business, craft shows, display, Good booths gone bad, jewelry, selling

GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #22: Say Something!

Here’s something else that drove me nuts at the show:

Vendors just don’t know what to do or say when someone is in their booth or looking at their work.

You see something that catches your eye and approach the booth. The person usually says hello. Then….silence.

You are aware of their gaze upon you as you browse. You can almost feel it. You can almost hear it: “Please, please, please, please by something!!!”

It is simply excruciating to shop when someone is staring at you, waiting, waiting, waiting for you to buy something. I feel like a mouse being watched by a very hungry cat.

At one small show I attended, the traffic was so slow, I could feel an entire roomful of craftspeople staring at me as I made the rounds of their tables. I almost fled.

The opposite is also irritating. The person starts asking silly questions: “How are you?” “Isn’t this a beautiful day?” “Are you enjoying the show?”

I’m such a crab. I hate questions like this when I’m trying to look at stuff. It’s like we’re both evading what’s really going on–“I’m shopping here!”–and pretending we’re actually making small talk at a party.

Or the vendor starts answering questions you haven’t even asked yet. You may be mildly interested in the product and you are instantly subjected to a full-fledged sales pitch.

People with this approach are caught in the same kind of thinking as “too much stuff”–trying to make something for everyone. In this case, they’re providing too much verbiage, hoping something they say will convince you to buy.

But the connection has to come first, not the reasons to buy.

You need to find a happy medium between babbling and stony silence.

I think this is also why I hate the standard craft fair “booth” set-up–the craftsperson sets up a standard table (that’s the perfect height for eating but a dismal height for shopping) and plunks themselves into a chair behind it. Both seller and buyer feel trapped into unnatural roles. And the model feels too much like a flea market. (Though, I bet with a little finesse, you would even buy more at a flea market if sellers were more savvy.)

Please, please, go buy Bruce Baker’s CD series on how to sell your work. He has such excellent insights into the sales process, the dynamic, the give-and-take you can learn with a little practice.

I’m not perfect at it. I still stumble and find myself caught short. I can’t close every sale easily.

But at least I’m not staring at people as they browse my booth as if they were my last meal.

Until your CD arrives, here are some tips:

1) Greet your customers after they settle into your booth–not as they’re walking in. Let them get their bearings first. You don’t greet guests to your home as they’re getting out of their car. You let them finish that argument with their spouse, gather their stuff, straighten their clothing, check their mirror for spinach in their teeth, and get to the front door. Then you greet them and bid them welcome. They need that little moment to change gears. Let customers have that tiny moment, too.
2) Say something neutral that doesn’t require a yes-or-no answer. What does every seller say? “Can I help you?” And what does every customer say? “No thanks, just looking.” Ow! You just gave your customer a chance to say no.

Try this instead: “IF I can help you, just let me know.” Or, “I’m just sorting some items, I’m right here if you have any questions.” And my favorite: “It’s okay to touch!”

3) Be busy. (But not too busy) Be occupied. (But not preoccupied.) Pretend you are a store manager of a little store. Arrange things, straighten things, restock, re-ticket, dust, wipe glass, any busy little task that seems appropriate to your role. Something you can drop immediately the second your customer indicates they need you.

Although Bruce cautions against out-and-out demonstrating, I’ve seen craftspeople working on little projects with good success. The key word here is “little”. As long as it’s not so involved that it looks like you’re actually demonstrating, it can be a good ice-breaker. And it lets customers browse in peace til they’re ready to have you talk to them.

My friend Carrie the hat lady knits hats while she walks around the booth. (Which is cool because women used to knit as they walked and herded sheep.) Or she works on embroidering a hat, with a pretty container of colorful yarns prominently displayed. What’s brilliant is that people can then choose the exact colors of yarn they’d like their hat embroidered with. (Actually, Carrie stumbled on this ploy by accident. She’d sold out of embroidered hats before she even got to this show, and was trying to catch up.)

Don’t be so engaged that people feel they are interrupting you if they have a question. Reading, talking on a cell phone, talking to fellow craftspeople, all make the customer feel intrusive. Your customers should never feel second-best! Be available the instant they need you.

4) So many craftspeople tell me everything they want me to know about their product–before I’ve even decided if I like it. I hate that. I’m standing there thinking, “Yuck!” and they’re talking a mile a minute. Now I really don’t like it. I just want to get out of your booth.

And don’t start talking as soon as they touch something or pick it up. A vendor did this recently. Every time I picked something up to look at it more closely, he started “selling” it. All that happened was I put my hands in my pockets and quit picking things up, so he would stop talking at me. (Please note the “talking at me” part.)

When I ask you about your work, go to town! Once I’ve indicated that I’m interested by talking to YOU, that’s your signal to start selling.

Let’s all vow to make shopping fun for our customers again!

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Filed under art, booth behavior, booth design, booth display, booth signs, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, Good booths gone bad, selling