Craft Show Facts, Tips and Reality Checks

So here you are. You’ve taken the plunge, you’ve joined our little gypsy squad, and we’re thrilled to have you, but you’re not too sure if you’re doing this right . . .

Well first off, congratulations for being a Handmade artist – the world needs more of us. I hope you took our advice and the shows you’re vending are only allowing Handmade goods.

Now to make the most of your new situation.

You’ve got your canopy. You’ve got your displays. You’ve got your lovely Handmade goods laid out in an easy to shop fashion. That’s going to depend on your product and how it needs to be shown. If you’re not sure how to display, the only thing we can suggest is to search the Internet, look at other vendor’s set-ups, and experiment. Someone selling paintings has a completely different staging requirement than someone selling jewelry, or that guy who carves wood bowls. There are loads of DIY methods for building interesting displays, and you might have to experiment and make changes as your vendor career evolves.

You can go down the rabbit hole of the ‘net until you’re dizzy, but whatever you decide, our advice to you is: Keep It Simple.

First, because you want your Product to show, not your Staging.

Second, you want this to be portable and not-too-difficult.

We’ve been doing shows for 20+ years and we have it pretty easy – relatively simple staging, easily torn-down for taking home, doesn’t require a trailer. However, we DO require an SUV with a roof rack.

Whatever you’re selling, and however you set it up, the key to a good experience for your shoppers is visibility. You don’t want to clutter your booth with SO much product, their eyes are confused as to what to look at, because their brains will be confused, too. And a confused shopper is an irritated shopper.

An irritated shopper is going to the next booth.

We get it. You have a LOT of product. Believe us we get it – our inventory feels massive some days. Still, it’s better to have a tidy, visually organized booth that clearly shows what you’re selling in an attractive way that invites your shoppers IN, over a cluttered booth that you have all to yourself. You don’t have to put everything out at every show. Have six different colors of the same thing? Put one out and mention to your shoppers that other colors are available – it’s an opportunity to chat with them if they’re open for it.

That being said – you probably read a lot of advice when you went down that rabbit hole telling you to display your products “creatively” using props and pretty things that are only there to enhance what you’re selling. You probably read that you should sell an ‘experience’. That’s fine, if the experience you want to sell is a pretty spot for shoppers to get some shade before they go see what the next booth is actually selling.

Pretty is nice, yes. Props do make a booth attractive. But when the seventh person asks you for a price on that Prop you’re using, or glances at your booth and decides there isn’t enough Product to make stopping in there worth their while, you’ll start to wonder just how useful pretty is. If your customer can’t tell immediately what it is you’re selling, something isn’t working. And don’t forget, the cost of all those props cuts right through the heart of your profits.

So seriously think it over. Look at other booths, visit other Craft shows, ask yourself what is the first thing you see when you look at someone’s booth? What is the first thought that comes to your mind? Do you see their product, or just their pretty? Do they have enough variety, or just props?

We’ve all seen lovely photos online of the seller who has that pretty, well-set-up-booth that has a mat on the ground simulating a shop floor – large displays that span the entire width and length of their booth with maybe 10 items on them to give an open, airy feel. The sun is out, the booth is nice and shaded, everything is color coordinated with little ribbons floofing in the breeze (yes, we said floofing) You look at a photo like that and think “damn, my products don’t fit like that, I have too many or they’re too bulky or can’t be displayed that way. But now you’ve seen what the magazines call “The Way You Should Display” and you feel inadequate and a little messy.

Snap out of it!

You’re not inadequate or messy (okay we can’t SEE you but we’re confident you’re not messy). Take another look at that Booth. Are the displays wall-to-wall-to-wall? The photo was taken with no one inside that booth – is there room for more than 1 shopper? Honestly? If your shopper bends over, is his or her butt knocking over the other display? Where does the vendor sit? Or stand? Is there room inside that pretty, organized booth for 1 or 2 vendors, 3-6 shoppers, at least 2 kids and possibly a dog looking for shade or a spot to pee? Can the vendor see his or her entire booth’s contents or are there blind spots?

Pretty has a place, but it’s not always at an outdoor Art Show.

Now, you’ll soon learn that people come in waves. Each show is different, but each show has the same Wave pattern: Light in the early morning, building until noon – everyone vanishes during the lunch hour for just enough time to make you think you could scarf down a quick snack (you’re wrong) – then they come back, but by some alien timeclock no vendor is privy to, they all disappear at 3:00. No one knows where they go, or why, but you can set your watch to it. 3:00, poof! They’ll come back, and keep shopping, but don’t even bother asking what goes on at 3:00, they won’t tell you.

At the end of your show, regardless of tear-down time, you’ll have stragglers. Even if you’re in the middle of packing up, don’t send them away! We make more sales during our tear-down than you can imagine!

Now for some Honest Truths – a.k.a – Things that WILL Happen:

Poeple WILL set their drinks on your displays.

Regardless of what you sell, or how it’s displayed, people WILL set their iced lattes or foo-foo frappachinos with whipped cream oozing down the outside of the cup ONTO your displays while they look at your product, try it on if appropriate to what you sell, or even just to adjust their own clothing or hunt for their phones. And the children – keep an eye on those children! If they have ice cream, gum, something gawd-awfully sticky – its going on your display if you’re not vigilant. There are parents who seem to assume that by entering your booth, you’ve accepted the responsibility of babysitting while they shop. It’s going to happen – not with every parent because a good majority of them are far more adult than that – but it WILL happen.

People WILL take up your entire booth to chat with their friends.

If they’re not wandering together in a gaggle, they’ll discover each other while inside your booth, then suddenly forget where they are and start catching up on all the latest. One or two of them might idly pick up some of your product as they chat, but they’ll also forget they’ve done so when the gossip gets juicy. And since a crowded booth attracts more people, your real customers are going to have a hard time getting inside to see what you have.

There’s really no good way to handle this, so its best to just let it ride. Eventually one of the Gaggle will realize they’re taking up space someone else wants to occupy, or they’ll begin to naturally wander to the next booth. You may be tempted to ask them to move along, but nothing good is going to come from it, unless it has become a serious hinderance. Use your own judgement, but if you do ask them to move along, make sure you do so politely, your customers can hear you.

People WILL try on everything you have and still not buy a thing.

If you sell a product like ours that can be tried on, be prepared to do a lot of work for occasionally no reward. If you’re doing your job marketing and schmoozing, you’re going to have a few people who need to try on EVERYTHING, and occasionally the same thing three different times. When they make a purchase, it’s worth it. But when they look at you, say “Thanks” and leave without buying a thing, it’s exhausting. But that’s part of doing business. They weren’t there to buy no matter what you were selling or how well you were selling it. They were there to be entertained, and they were.

People WILL take photographs.

For us, this is not an issue, and it’s occasionally amusing. You’ll make your own decision about photographs, but for The Velvet Zebra, we welcome photos. Our product is online, we regularly post pictures on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and right here on our Webpage. We WANT people to see what we make, so why would be refuse them taking photos? But some vendors do loudly forbid their customers from photographing their products. Which is why we see people trying to hide their phones, pretend they’re not taking a picture, or we’ll hear one whisper to another that they want to take a photo and to please distract us.

Again, our policy is; Go Ahead. So when we see someone trying hard not to be seen taking a picture, we tell them they don’t have to hide. We will even hold a piece out in the sunlight so they can take a better shot. Some of them ask first, which is polite, and we always say Yes.

Customer service may not always land you a sale, but it IS noticed, and it will often lure people into your booth who want to buy, not just photograph. Keep in mind, everything you do while in your booth is being seen by someone – unless all four of your walls are down and zipped. The Truth might not be Out There, but your Customers are.

Got any tips or tricks? We’d love to chat, feel free to leave a message.

Check back in July for our next article: Craft Show Etiquette and the Lack Thereof.

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