Craft Show Realities – the Stuff no one tells you about.

The Velvet Zebra has been attending Craft and Art shows for over 20 years, and as you would expect, we’ve seen a lot. In reading these Articles, you might begin to get the impression we dislike or regret getting in to this kind of business.

Please be assured this is NOT the case.

We truly enjoy doing this, take great pleasure in attending Art Shows, and love to meet customers in person and chat about our craft to anyone interested.

But we want everyone new to this to understand what they can honestly expect, and by doing so assure you that when these things happen to you – you are NOT alone. They happen to everyone, but no one really talks about them. They’d rather post lovely staged photos of their booth, all pretty, with sunshine and butterflies, and tell you how emotionally fulfilling it is to travel from place to place and display works of art in a crafty way. Magazines will show you gorgeous booth set-ups, vendors in pretty outfits, smiling as they adjust a beautifully displayed piece, excitedly awaiting their first customer of the day. You’ll read story after story about the breakout sucess stories, the pretty bits and all the rainbows and unicorns of attending an Art Show.

You’re forgiven if you just threw up a little in your mouth. Life isn’t like the glossy pages of an online magazine.

We wish someone had been honest with us, just so we’d have been informed and mentally prepared. It was years into this business before we realized we weren’t the only vendors experiencing a lot of what we’ve been talking about. We thought there was something unique about our situation, or perhaps we were doing things wrong.

There isn’t.

And we weren’t.

But vendors only talk about the grit to other vendors, and they put on a happy face when a newbie comes along, asking for advice. We want you to become a Handmade craft / art vendor. We want you to join this mad, crazy, fun, sweaty business. But we want you to come in armed with honest information.

Information like:

Your first Indoor Winter show? They’re unique, but fading into history in many regions because of the encroachment of Commercial vendors. Too many of the venues are selling spots to more and more Commercial products, pushing Handmade right out the side exit. We assume you’ve been reading these Articles in order, and read what we told you about doing a show that allows commercially produced things. But if you’re doing an Indoor Holiday Show, just know this:

You’re going to have lattes and / or hot chocolate set down, and occasionally left, on your tables. You’re going to endure a venue that plays holiday music, but only has one CD and it’s on repeat. At some point that CD will stop and no one will remember to put it back on, so that ear worm of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is stuck well and truly deep inside your brain. Someone somewhere is selling kettle corn and it’s gonna get everywhere.

We truly hate the smell of kettle corn.

Equally dangerous is the vendor two booths down who sells fudge. Thankfully we at the Velvet Zebra cannot eat fudge, but we can smell it. Sadly, your customer’s kids have been holding on to a piece of fudge for an hour and now they want to wipe their fingers on your table covers while Mom looks at your products.

If you’re in a gym, it will echo like a mo-fo, so make sure when you chat with your customers that they can hear you clearly. If you’re in a grammar school, no NOT pass up the chance to use the restrooms – it’s a hoot! If you’re in a church, space will be tight so you probably won’t get a full 10 x 10. And the majority of the people who shop there also attend religious service there, so they know over half the vendors personally. If you’re in a community center there will probably be a room selling fund-raising food. It’s never something you want to eat while sitting in your booth, so don’t count on that for lunch (think chili, soups). If you’re in a barn (been there, done that) you’re going to freeze your ass off. No venue is going to heat that barn for a winter holiday show, so bring a coat and a few blankets for your lap.

Sometimes an indoor show will have enough booth space for you to bring the frame of your canopy, allowing you to use the skeletal structure as framework for your displays. We’ve never needed to do that, but we’ve seen it done many times. You can usually rent tables and chairs for the event, but we recommend bringing your own. Typically there is limited electricity available but it will cost a little extra to have it.

If you’re shopping around for a Winter Holiday show to attend, pay attention to whether or not they charge at the door, and how much. Once your customers have parked, paid to get in the door, and started to look around, they’re already out a small chunk of change and making the decision not to purchase much of anything over $10.00. They’re more interested in seeing what you make so they can go home and try to make it themselves.

Your first Outdoor Summer Show? You’re in our favorite territory! You’re probably in a park, hopefully on grass. The upside on a hot day is that you can wear sandals or go bare footed. The downside is that your ground won’t be a solid, flat surface. You may have to fuss with your setup when you get started, to make sure things are as level as you need them to be. Children, and some adults, are going to lean on your tables. If you use leg risers to lift your tables up a bit, moving them and adjusting them is going to be irritating first thing in the morning – so have your breakfast and a first cup of coffee ahead of time. Once you get things just right, you’ll be happy.

You may battle a bug or two. If you’re allergic to bees, we assume you’re used to protecting yourself. When they get inside your canopy they often can’t figure out how to get out. And make sure to check for dog poop before you set anything up!

First thing in the morning, when you’re setting up, the grass is gonna be wet. If it’s a nice day, no worries. If it turns nasty and rains, well you’re already damp, so don’t stress. And depending on where you are, the weather is not a guarantee. We’ve done our August show in torrential rains that thankfully didn’t last the whole time, but while they lasted – – oy!

Your canopy is rain resistant – not rain PROOF.

If you’re not on grass, but pavement instead, you won’t be able to stake that canopy so make sure you have all those weights we’ve been preaching about. If your inventory is breakable, set up your display with care. We’ve heard our share of glass and pottery shattering during set up and tear down. On hot days, that pavement is going to radiate heat up into your white-topped canopy and you are going to glow, big time.

That’s Woman for sweat.

You’re going to sweat. Outdoor shows are held in the Summer months, when it’s hot. We have done Summer shows that had monsoon style rains and we’ve also done the same shows during 100+ heat waves.

Interesting fact: Shoppers only SHOP between 50F and 80F. When that mercury inchest into the 85-90 degree mark, Shoppers become Zombies. Zombies will wander in and out looking for shade, but they’re in a heat-daze and will not Shop. If your weekend show ends up a weekend heatwave, well, better luck next year.

Know that your canopy WILL get peed on, just pray it’s by dogs and keep a jug of Clorox wipes in your Show Supplies kit. Remember those canopy walls are water resistant, and they don’t show stains. Your top is going to save you from some bird strikes too, and that cleans off easily so don’t fret. If you’re packing up to leave and notice your canopy is pretty dirty, or wet, but you just wanna go home – remember to open it back up at home in a day or two and wipe it down really well, then let it dry thoroughly. Whatever you do, don’t pack that baby up for the season without making sure it’s clean and dry. That canopy is going to be your best buddy for years to come, but only if you treat it as such.

Are you vending in this show alone, or do you have a business partner / spouse? A little bit of advice from us to you – – Keep Calm. Whether setting up, vending, or tearing down, you’re going to hear some choice words. The vendors to your right, left, or three booths over are going to come close to blows during that a hot summer show. And we get it. Everyone gets hot, a little stressed struggling with a set up or canopy or custom bit that needs to be screwed together or nailed into place. As you can expect with any multi-day adventure, not everything is going to go exactly as planned. We have heard some pretty incredible argumenets arise from just setting up a booth, and truth be told, we too have fallen victim to the occasional heated argument.

But we’ve learned from them. We both realize now something you should keep in mind: We’re both in the same situation, at the same time, and as much as we think we can, neither of us can truly read the other’s mind. And “a cup of coffee” does not a breakfast make. Not on a hot morning when tension is high and physical labor is in order.

We now make a point of remaining calm, understanding we’re both equally hot, we’re both equally tired, and nothing that does or does not work out the way we thought it would will alter the course of the universe. Now we can set up, vend, and tear down all while remaining Zen and helpful.

Sweaty and exhausted, but Zen and helpful,

There will be down-time. Even at a great show, there will come some times when nothing much is happening. The best way to change that is to take out your lunch and try to eat something. People will appear out of nowhere and want to shop and chat with you.

There will also be busy times, when you desperately need to pee but there are too many customers browsing and appearing out of nowhere and you cant catch a break – just a bladder infection.

Unload the car, put up that canopy, then pause. If you haven’t yet, eat something. Then realize you forgot to attach the side walls and bring the canopy down a few notches so you can do that. Then raise it again and go to the bathroom.

Now attach your sign — lower the canopy again if it goes up there and you forgot. Get your tables, chairs, displays set up and take another breath. This is why we arrive at or even a little before allowed set-up times. Try to do as much prep work the day before that you possibly can. We pre-determine what pieces are going up and bag them seperately, eliminating that first-day time-suck of trying to decide which pieces go on display and which ones stay in their cases until space opens up.

Need more tips, tricks, facts and advice? Check our next Article: People are Scary!

We’d love to chat about your experiences, advice or questons – please feel free to leave a comment.

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