Setting Up My Booth for an Art Show

May 27, 2012

This spring, the Pacific Northwest Artfire Guild was discussing what to not forget when setting up a booth at an art fair or craft show.  I said I would share my ‘do not forget list’ and thought I’d share it with you too.  Rather than simply paste my list here, I want to explain my process.

The ‘bones’ of my booth are my walls and tables so those are set up first.  I use Pro Panels which are a bit spendy if you’re just starting out.  I used peg boards at my first art festivals, that slid into a sturdy base my husband built for me.  Some artists use metal grids and others hang items from their pop-up tents.  My tables are inexpensive sturdy 2′ x 4′ that I found at Costco; and I use narrow plastic shelving units as extra ‘table space’, found at Home Depot.  In my 10 x 10 booth, 4 tables nestle against two of my walls, and the lower narrower plastic shelves fit across half of one wall, leaving it more open for customers to easily see my wall pieces.  This leaves a 2′ space for my director’s chair that I bought at Cost Plus.  It’s in a corner near the jewelry so I can encourage folks to try on a bracelet or hold my earrings up to the light to see their sparkle.

Steider Studios setting up booth ProPanels

Because I only participate in shows that are indoors, lighting is very important.  I bring 4 to 5 extension cords and two surge protector outlets.  My wall lights slide into posts at the top of my booth and table lights are halogen lamps that I bought at Home Depot, plus gooseneck spotlights that I bought at Ikea.

Once the  wall lights are in place, plugged in and checked for burnt out bulbs, I dress the tables with coverings that are as close to the wall color that I could find.  I like a neutral beige so that my work stands out and doesn’t fade into a background color.  It is flame retardant fabric that I bought at a Portland fabric store.  I think I originally bought 10 to 15 yards after measuring for 8′ tables plus 3′ on either side for draping then added a a bit more for ‘just in case’.

Displaying my work is always a challenge because I want to put everything I have out.  When I do that it looks like a jumbled mess, so I’ve finally learned to only put out what fits in the space.  And trust me, it’s still a close fit!  I place my newest or favorites out first in a rainbow of color or grouped in themes.  My back up work is under the tables, hidden by table coverings; as are my empty storage boxes.

When the show opens, I’m ready with bubble wrap and tissue paper, shopping bags, receipt books, pens, a calculator, my mailing list sign up sheet, business cards, postcards of my work, any other printed material about me and my work, enough change to get through the end of the show, and my square for credit card purchases.  By the way, if you’re an artist and still using the old card processors you’re spending more money than you have to with all their fees.  Do yourself a favor and get the square for your smart phone to process credit cards.

Oh, and the MOST important part?  Smile!  When you smile, you’re inviting the customer into your booth.  If you’re having a bad day, smile anyway.  Smile even if your sales are not strong.  Even on my worst sale days, I’ve met and talked with interesting people perusing the show; made friends with my booth neighbors; added names to my mailing list; and picked up a new gift shop here and there to wholesale my work.

When the show is busy and crowds are throwing money around it’s a blast.  You can’t help but laugh and have fun all day.  If it’s slow, no need to stand around and pout, I take inventory of what I’m running low on or what color is missing from my display.  I clean fingerprints off my glass and straighten or refresh my display.  If those tasks are done and it’s still slow, I start sketching and designing new ideas.  Whatever you do, DO NOT READ A BOOK!  Should that one customer walk by who is actually looking to purchase something, you’ve closed them off from your booth.  They perceive you as not caring about being there since you’d rather be reading.

Put your work into the hands of that prospective buyer.  When someone holds your art, or tries on your jewelry, you’re closer to wrapping it up for them.  Don’t be afraid to ask for the sale.  If the piece they like is beyond their budget, maybe you have a similar piece that’s smaller, or not as detailed that will fit their budget.  Or perhaps you can work out a layaway plan.  Talk with those interested in your work, they want to know all about you; and if you are willing to ask questions and get to know them, you may be building a lasting relationship and future sales.

When you make the sale and wrap up the purchase, include your business card, any promotional materials you have about your work and be sure to put your new customer on your mailing list.  With their permission, of course!

Lastly, when the show is over, and you’re packing up, be courteous to your booth neighbors.  Don’t stack your packed up booth components in the center of the aisle so that no one may pass.  Don’t knock into your neighbors walls.  It’s not a race.  Everyone is tired and wants to go home.

Wishing you all success…now here’s my ‘do not forget’ list that I check before every show as I’m packing up, then double check while loading my car:

Booth:  pro panels, support bars, connectors, curtain hooks, t-pins, director’s chair, fireproof info, flowers, hammer, nails, screwdrivers phillips & regular, jewelry display, step-ladder, shims, lights, extra bulbs, extension cords, power strip, signage, display stands & risers, table coverings and night covers, safety pins, measuring tape, tables, duct tape, carpet, travel vacuum cleaner, zip ties, cleaning cloth, my work and a hand truck to move it all into my booth space.

Literature:  business cards, brochures, postcards, teaching/show schedules, mailing list sign up sheet. 

Conducting Business:  change, receipt book, pens, calculator, square, phone, stylus, charger, glasses, bags, gift boxes, wrapping paper, bubble wrap, scissors, paper punch, laptop, name tag, price tags, tape, tax id in WA.    

For quick custom jewelry:  ear wires, jewelry pliers, leather cord & scissors, tweezers.

Extras:  camera, water, snacks, lunch, lozenges, chocolate for guests, sketchpad.

I’d love to know what you take that isn’t on my list, or what you do differently!  Please share in the comments section below!!

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5 Responses to “Setting Up My Booth for an Art Show”

  1. Michelle Says:

    I love this post… lots of things I had not thought about. Great note on reading a book…. I do feel like that when I walk past a booth and no one even looks up… it is almost the same as being attacked when I walk past. I think it is important to be friendly, smiling… and inviting…. not desperate or bored … no one wants to be part of that. I have seen your booth all set up at a show and loved it… I did like that there was a lot out… lots of colors to look at.. and yet things were not crowded… I did not feel like I had to be extra careful not to bump into things or if I reached to touch one thing that something else would get knocked over. Your booth was colorful and fun and very inviting.

    How often do things get broken while you are at a show? I know for myself that I am tactile… I will be more likely to buy something if I touch it and I know it is that way for a lot of people. Selling online is easy.. but for our stuff.. when people touch it they tend to take it home. I want to encourage people to touch stuff.. yet.. at the same time.. I do not want things broken or banged or lol my true problem is I don’t want germs on things… I am so going to need to deal with that. Do you find most people are careful and thoughtful?


  2. Michelle, you brought up some great points! I’ve only had 4 items (that I remember) broken by customers in almost 15 years and with the exception of one, each offered to pay for it. Like you, I want folks touching, & holding my work to the light to see it better. I’ve lost more through theft than breakage – another reason I place myself closest to the smaller/more valuable items.

    Yes, most people are thoughtful.

    There are slow times at shows when you can clean fingerprints (germs) off your items; or you can take the time to clean as you pack up at the end; or you can clean as you set up for the next show. Lots of options there, lol. Be sure to let me know how your shows go!!


  3. Michelle Says:

    Four items is not bad… I would have thought with your items being glass it would have been a lot higher. Ours being wood will not break as easily.. would pretty much need to be dropped. Theft I had not thought about… our pieces will be bigger and a bit harder to sneak away with… It always amazes me that people would steal things.

    I am excited to attempt a show… hoping to be ready for the holiday shows this year… life keeps postponing things but we just keep working towards it. =)


  4. Where do you do your packaging? I am always fumbling as I move everything from one place to another to make space to wrap and bag. Love your booth and thank you for the post.


  5. Thanks so much for your comment. I keep it all under the table next to my chair. Big roll of bubble wrap and a paper shopping bag full of bags. My chair becomes my ‘desk’ as I wrap & write receipts.


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