GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #18: Intervention

A reader just posted a plea for help on booth layout.

He set up a U-shaped booth at a recent show. Unfortunately, if a peek at the small sample of goods displayed at the top of the “U” didn’t capture people’s interest, they walked on.

He’s now thinking of a table across the front of the booth with “bits of this and that”, samples of everything he does. He’s dreading another booth redesign.

Okay, Tom, put down the pen and step away from the graph paper.

It’s time to look at how people act in your booth before we decide whether a different layout would work better.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with either layout, properly done. But the same things can go wrong with both.

In a nutshell, I would take a good look at three things in a booth redesign:

Can your customers get into the booth–mentally and/or physically?
Can your customers shop without pressure?
Can your customers easily see your best work, at its best?

Twenty (or so) Questions time!

Can your customers get into the booth–mentally and/or physically?

Could shoppers easily get into your booth?

Sometimes a U-shaped layout creates a bottle-neck at the front of the booth, especially if the display tables are too deep. Many craftspeople use those low, wide tables that are almost 3 feet deep. Place these around the perimeter of the booth, and you may end up with a central space only four feet wide. Not enough room for customers to move in! See this essay in the series for information on the butt brush phenomenon.

Did the front tables force people to stand out in the aisle? There are a lot of distractions out there! I would pull the tables at the legs of the “U” in a little, so people come into the booth a little.

Do you have enough signage to engage people as they look at your work? Are the prices clearly displayed so they have an idea if they can afford it?

Can your customers shop without pressure?

Where were you standing in the booth? And what were you doing?

Were you standing in the middle of the booth, staring out at the aisle? This always looks like the artist is guarding the booth. Not good vibes for shopping!

Were you standing someplace where you could watch your browsers constantly? I hate that! Every single guy did this to me at a recent craft fair I visited. I felt like a rabbit in a beagle’s doghouse. Not Snoopy’s doghouse, either.

Guys tend to stand with arms folded. Or with hands in pockets. Both tend to signal “I’m bored!” Women shoppers know this stance well. It is the “bored husband” stance. And we don’t like it. It takes away the fun of shopping. Ouch!

Where you leaping (figuratively) on people as soon as they came into the booth, forcing conversation on them before they could even start browsing?

Or (just as bad) totally ignoring them?

One of the most effective sales tips Bruce Baker has to offer is how to look busy in your booth doing business-appropriate activities.Try doing something a shopkeeper (because that’s what you are at a show) would be doing–dusting, pricing, arranging, restocking, etc. Simply let people know you are available for help IF they need you.

Then people can relax–and SHOP.

(See this collection of essays on booth behavior for more information.

Can your customers easily see your best work, at its best?

What did you display look like? Tell me you didn’t have EVERYTHING YOU MAKE laid out evenly on tables that were waist-high. (Actually, I hope you DID because you can easily fix that for next time!)

If the dichroic glass jewelry wasn’t pulling people in at that show, could you have switched something more enticing out there on those front aisle tables?

Can people easily see what you make? If it’s tiny, and only displayed on tables, try a large-format photo/poster of your work–a beautiful jury shot, an image of a model wearing the work, an environmental shot of the product in an appropriate setting.

This gets that information (“This is what I make”) to potential customers even across the aisle. (This also helps if you are thronged with buyers, and other browsers can’t even see into your booth.) (BTW, that is such a good problem to have, isn’t it?)

Now, about the idea of putting a table across the front of the booth….Here’s a fun exercise. Go to Flickr and search for “craft fair booth”. You will find hundreds of booths with that table-across-the-front-of-the-booth layout you’re thinking of trying.

Here’s what I noticed in almost every single image:

) The tables are invariably those standard folding tables everyone uses at craft shows. They are TOO LOW and TOO DEEP.

Even if a customer sees something they like at the back of the table, if they can’t reach it, they will not try to pick it up.

Go look at a fancy jewelry store in your home town. Note the height of the actual display surface of their cases. It’s higher than your dining room table, right?

) Every single seller is committing the #1 energy drainer in a show booth.

In almost every photo, the seller is SITTING DOWN.

It reminds me of seeing friends at a restaurant. One of you is sitting down, looking up (hungry!), and the other is standing there, looking down (suddenly aware of how hungry the diner must be.) The energy is weird.

Worse, the vendors are sitting down facing directly into the aisle. Every single customer has to endure the pressure of eyes upon them as they shop. (You can almost here their thoughts of “please please please buy something!!!”) It’s awful.

Raise your tables. If you must sit, get a higher chair, so you and the customer are on the same eye level.

And sit angled, and be busy, so people can approach your display and browse without feeling your watchful eyes on them.

) The tables are flush with the aisle.

There is no place where people can “get off the aisle”. They are standing in the aisle, open to every distraction of every booth around you. They are being jostled by the crowd behind them.

Get them IN your booth. Create an environment that engages them.

) There is always TOO MUCH STUFF.

And there is either NO display–just a jillion items laid out on the table.

Or there is TOO MUCH DISPLAY–so many cute baskets, fancy displays, patterned tablecloths, stacked boxes, etc., etc., etc., you can hardly tell what’s for sale and what isn’t.

All those subtle variations in your designs that are so obvious to you, the myriad color choices, are not obvious to your customer. It just looks like too much stuff.

Or even worse, it is all different. It looks like the artist has NO FOCUS.

The eye cannot settle. The customer cannot find that one special thing that might call to them.

They move on.

I started to link some of these issues to the appropriate essay in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series. But there were too many! I think if you have time to search the “category” box on my site for “booth design”, you will find almost all of these topics addressed more fully.

I want to say again, all of us make mistakes. My booth tends to be visually dense (a euphemism) and I struggle with this all the time. In fact, having only a three-hour set-up time at my next show is forcing me to streamline my offerings.

But I have managed to create a total environment, which helps. IF the work interests a customer, there is plenty to keep her engaged and entertained.

Until she finds that perfect piece she simply must have.

Don’t give up, Tom. You are doing the right thing–seeing what’s not working, and thinking about doing something different. Just focus on WHY it’s not working, and I believe you will come up with a way to do it better.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

9 thoughts on “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #18: Intervention”

  1. I’ve got to agree with virtually everything you have outlined here except the “sitting down” part. There is no way I can do a three to five day show while standing up (and where am I to do my standing??) for the majority of the time. I did finally get a “director’s chair” this year and it is a good compromise. You can engage with your customers at their eye level (while seated, and aren’t always needing to pop up and down as you would from a regular style chair, which does seem to alarm them. Potential clients “spook” easily, so anything that adds to their comfort level is a good thing, but we are at these shows for days on end and our comfort level has to be there as well.


  2. Wow thanks for the comments and I printed them to take with me to work and read post that later.

    About my tables they are regular height but everything is on risers with one level of trays on the table and a series of maybe 5 or 6 steps so there is a varyingeye levels. My pendants and earrings are on a slanted ramp where it goes 3 trays high plus one on the table. I have approx. 24 trays of pendant and earrings. A lot too much but I always got in the spot of not having this or that colors. A pro and con of that is I always here I never have seen so much selection (good) its too hard too choice(bad) I find a good buyer who will get maybe 3 pieces or more may spend 15 -3o minutes in the booth nice but it crowds up a booth.

    I seperate my wire works from my glass jewelry one may not have no interest in the other. I try not to sit down ( I do have bone spurs on the left heel and I have to from time to time. I usually stand behind a pro desk that stands 3 feet tall so it blocks my legs etc. My desk is either in a corner out of there way on up front on the side where I can get into the aisle easier.

    I have no signage at all etc my business name on a table cover done professionally. I did see someone this last weekend with 3 of his slides pictures blown up to a poster size in a nice frame. I liked that idea.

    I have listen to both of Bruce’s cd’s so I am fimilar with it but probably need to go back and listen to the booth again at this rethinking stage.

    I usually at the most say hi to a cuustomer when they come in and let them shop and if I see them looking at something for quite a while I may tell a story about the piecebut I try to allow the customer to shop on there own. I have thought about telling people as they walk in that every thing is handmade due to the the extermes of fused glass on one hand and wire works (a lot of chain maille)plus wire bracelets and rings.

    I am actually not behind any of my work but on the side which I think may be a disavantage watching someone who had a 5 ‘ front table with jewelry on a ramp and him behind it where he was there to talk about his lampwork pendants.

    If you would like to see how I set up my booth you can go to my photo gallery at
    and it is the last album titled show risers.
    The backdrops were not mine but it gives an idea of the riser and ramp. The only bad thing is I was able to push out a couple of feet on one side so instead of of a 10 x 10 it probably was a 12 x 10.

    None of these pictures hsows a table going across the front like I am thinking about for my next show in 2 weeks.

    Got to go to work will check back after I am off
    And thanks for such a nice long post I will read it at work



  3. Congratulations, Tom, that is THE LONGEST comment I’ve ever received! :^D

    Okay, your pictures show a pretty good booth, clean, simple, except 1) YES, some large format posters would help a LOT and 2) Tom, you have TOO MUCH STUFF!

    You do not have to have every single design out. If you have blue pendants and green pendants and red pendants, people will ASK if you have purple pendants, too (or whatever other color is not as popular as the rest.) Then you can show excellent customer service by saying, “Why, yes, I think I DO have one!” and whip out a little tray that has two or three purple pendants.

    People just cannot choose the best blue-and-purple pendant out of 15. But they LOVE to pick the “best” out of two or three.

    Limit the choices, and I bet you will see people spending a lot less time agonizing about choices.

    FWIW,there’s always one customer who insists on seeing everything. I usually give them a tray, sit them in a corner and let them go at it while I deal with more serious customers.

    Because the truth is, usually these people cannot make up their mind, even when given lots and lots of choices.

    If I have time tomorrow, I will write about the power of limiting choices, and how to help people focus on the piece that is truly for them.

    Thanks for writing back, hope this helps!!


  4. Luann, how much jewelry is too much? I am asking because I am doing my first show in three weeks and am scared sh*tless. I don’t want to invest in display materials because I don’t know if I’m going to like doing shows. In the meantime, I only have about 20 bracelets made and 10 necklaces, plus 10 earring pairs. Argh! Help! I think of dropping out 10 times a day, then change my mind back. Any advice for me? Please?


  5. Well, I don’t think 40 pieces is too much! :^)

    Please don’t be so fearful of shows. Yes, the thought of doing them can be overwhelming. And it’s hard to sell well your first time out.

    But the rewards are plentiful, and not just for $$ (though of course you need to make money to stay in business.)

    It is important to learn how to sell you work, because no matter HOW you sell it–on line, to galleries, mail order, at shows–you have to sell it to SOMEONE.

    Learning what retail customers like about it, the kinds of questions they’ll ask about it, how they interact with it, what styles they’re attracted to and why–this is all extremely important information for you, ESPECIALLY when you are first starting out!

    Even if you end up doing wholesale, it is so helpful to be able to say, “This is a very popular design at my retail shows. People love this new catch, and the little widgets I put on them!”

    Go to Bruce Baker’s website RIGHT NOW and buy his CD on selling. It will help, I promise!

    And remember: Start where you are, and get better.


  6. I have printed most of your booth blog read most on break at work. I guess this is still about evolving as an artist. First it is making the art and now it is about developing my technique showing and selling it.

    It has been a very long trip all uphill. The saying is if your coasting you have to be going downhill.

    Yes I realize I put out way too much and have been thinking about limiting what I put out to help free up some dead room maybe just to give space. I will try that at my next 3 day show Thanksgiving weekend.

    I think what I am going to look at how portable pedestals could work instead of using tables and have maybe 3 in a u shape where people could view from 3 sides instead of all in a straight line or so in 2 different areas if possible in a 10 x 10. I will have to play with graph paper again. Instead of having 3 foot length risers they can be shorter in length and just more of them. I did see one column that had slat boards slots in them so that couold be something else. I like to still be able to have several bust out.

    I will start also thinking about the signs one that be seen immediately from the aisle for those that are in a hurry with new pieces or slides pictures.

    This blog has given me help at focusing on trying to give a different atomosphere I was dreading this experience to go through again. I liked to do 2 or 3 shows and everything goes in the same place at all 3 shows. It has always been something different and not always good.

    Once again thanks for suggestions, maybe more just getting me in the frame of mind to challenge myself to put as much effort in the designing of the booth and selling as I do in the making of my art. I have been thinking ahead in what I want to make new for next year when I should be using the time into accenting what I already do.



  7. Judy, somehow I missed your comment about the chair. You are absolutely right, and I thought I mentioned that in one or the other of these essays. Sit at EYE LEVEL with your customers, and the dynamic will improve dramatically. I’ve done shows right after knee surgeries and tearing my hamstring, so I know what you mean about not always being able to stand!

    But just so you know, at our NINE DAY retail show in NH, we stand the entire time. (Of course, once I hit the big 6-0, maybe I’ll bring a chair!) :^)


  8. Tom, nobody could ask for a better attitude than yours!

    I know what you mean about the effort that goes into designing a good booth. My daughter is ready to kill me because I insist on making improvements at EVERY SINGLE SHOW. Which means we are constantly setting up a “new booth”….

    Hey–maybe that’s why it takes me so long! :^D

    Seriously, your last comment about simply getting yourself into the right frame of mind to challenge yourself, is exactly the right attitude to have. Keep that balance between the excitement for making your work, and the desire to showcase it at its best, and you will do fine.


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