Sunday, March 19, 2017

Craft Shows Behind the Scenes

Good evening!  I hope your part of the world is experiencing some spring weather.  Did you realize tomorrow is the first day of spring?  Yes, March 20 is always the first day of spring.  😃  However, our spring has been here since last fall since experienced less than a week of real winter weather!

With spring on the calendar, it also means the spring craft show season is right around the corner.  This winter I have been prepping for some craft shows this spring.  I started thinking y’all might want some behind the scenes tidbits about what it takes to get into a show and actually come up with a booth set up.

Our Original Booth

Basically the process is the following but I want to share what it takes to actually get in a show ….

~ Application Process

~ Booth Set Up

~ Creating Work

~ Set Up

~ The Show!

~Tear Down

~ Application Process

An artist or craftsperson who desires to get into a show has to start at least 6 months, 9 months or up to a year before the show.  Applications for spring shows usually go out in the fall.  Fall show applications usually go out in the spring.  See how this works?  So, that means if I want to do a certain fall show, I should start looking for an application now.

So where do artists and crafts persons go to find out about shows and get an application?  It is not an easy thing to do unless the show is already going on in an area you are familiar with.  Today we can Google© anything.  So artists or crafts persons can google the area they want to go, such as New Orleans.  In this case I would Google© New Orleans craft shows.  If I do high end art I may Google© New Orleans fine art shows.  If I wanted to go to California and do craft shows I would Google© California craft shows.  Once I begin finding shows I am interested in I take note of those I want to apply to and those I want to eliminate.

Most of the better shows have an application and the applicant must be juried in.  When there is a jury, this usually means you must submit photos of some of your work and your booth set up and rarely, samples.  It is a good idea to have several booth shots especially if you do different configurations, depending on whether you have an end booth are in a run of booths.

So, applications go in the mail 6 or more months in advance.  Then it is a waiting game for approval or rejection letters to come in the mail, or by email.  As they start to come in, it is time to start filling in the calendar with the dates for shows you’re accepted to.

~ Creating Work
When a craft show is approaching, we have what I call “craft show mode.”  This is when we are concentrating on finishing up coasters, painted pretties, and so on and then packing the up in boxes.  Really, creating work must be an ongoing thing.  I must have work that I’ve already created so I could include photos with my application.  However, once I have made a few things to photograph, the work does not end there.  As pieces sell, other pieces are needed to replace them.  So the process of making coasters and chalk painting new pieces is an ongoing , seemingly never-ending process.

We usually use our living room as a staging area.  Sometimes it can look pretty chaotic in there.  We will have extra tables set up, a wagon underfoot, photography equipment for photographing new pieces, a duffle bag with "office" supplies, another bag with drapes and table covers, and so much more!  Fortunately, we can get away from it in the den.  So all this planning, preparing, work, money spent and we have not yet left for a craft show.

~ Booth Set Up

Booths, the thing we display our work in, are offered in many different sizes, price ranges, and with just as many accessories.  The most common-sized booth at a show is 10’x10’.  That is it.  One hundred square feet.  It is smaller than most bedrooms in houses being built today.  The next most common size booth size is 12’x12’.  Usually in shows with a 12’x12’ space, the artists still use a 10x10 booth and use the extra space as a buffer between themselves and the next booth.  Behind the tent is a great space for storage if the show offers a space bigger than 10x10.

It is a good idea to get practice setting up your tent before the show.  Depending on the model, it can get complex with different pieces to connect.  Many people like to use a brand called EZ-Up.  It provides an easier set up and is on the lower end of the price range.  They are easily obtainable for $200 or less.  This will include the legs, the canopy and sometimes the side panels.

After we practice setting up our tent, next comes filling it with our beautiful creations.  No matter what a person sells displays are necessary.  What a person sells will determine the type of displays needed.  Artists who do canvas art will want to hang their work along the walls and possibly have a couple of easels set up.  Bins are good for prints whether matted or not. 

In my case I started out selling Turkish tumbled travertine coasters, trivets and plaques.  Over time I have added new items and taken away some.  Now I still sell coasters---at least an edited down selection---but I also sell chalk painted home décor so I need tables and shelves and pretty things to display it on.

Since our first booth style we have evolved and changed to bring a better experience to our customers.  Our first booth style was what you might call whimsical, and on the cheap.  LOL Our drapes were some cute shower curtains we had found at Walmart.  Our table covers were flat sheets from Walmart.

Now we use a pvc pipe and drape system to bring a higher end “showroom” to our booth.  Dh put together the pipe system using pvc from a big box store.  It’s easy to put up and take down.  The drapes are honey colored and the table covers are black.  When I chose those colors, I did so because our coasters were light in color and needed a dark table cover to make the product pop.  Our friends who saw our original booth and now see this style say it is big improvement.

We have ended up with 2 six-foot tables and 5 four-foot tables.  We can use these 2 sizes to format different set ups.  We bought a pretty, distressed metal shelving unit at Hobby Lobby a while back to use in our enclosed patio studio.  It holds supplies but we are now thinking of bringing it on the road to display our wares.  We will try this before buying another one to take on the road.  If it does not work out at least we save around $100 bucks.

An updated photo of our booth.  Will be slightly different with the chalk painted merchandise.
Setting up our booth has caused us to develop a plan.  We have certain things we do first, second and so on.  Tent first, then AstroTurf (if we are using it), tables and table skirts, displays, and finally merchandise.  The set up process usually takes about 2 hours.  Everything we take for our booth must fit in our Suburban.  Everything .... all merchandise, tent, tables, table covers, pipe and drape, props for display, and clothes for the weekend if we are staying over.

Back of the Suburban with a little bit of what we take!
If we are doing a show that is close enough to leave the morning of the show, we get up early and head out to for an early set up.  We have started set up for craft shows before dawn.  Yes, we have started while it was still dark, using flashlights to light our way.  Sometimes we are fortunate to be able to set up the day before.  This lets us sleep a little longer the day of the show.  It takes about 2 hours to set up our booth, including the tent, tables, props and stock with 3 people working.  Dh does the heavy lifting, setting up the tent, driving stakes, and setting the weights at the corners.  Our daughter and I help hubby as much as we can and then do most of the product set up.  We usually finish set up about the time the show starts if we set up on the day of the show.

Shows usually start at 9:00 or 10:00 AM and run till 5:00 PM on Saturday and usually end at 4:00 PM on Sunday.  We work from before the show, all day meeting customers and selling.  On the last day of the show we much dismantle our both and drive home.  The day is long and we are exhausted when we get home.  Sometimes we drive in, shower and fall in the bed.  Unloading can wait until the next day.  It is all worth it if we make someone’s day with them finding just what they were looking for.

If you pull back the table covers, you’ll see our back stock.  If you look under certain tables, you will find bags for customer’s purchases, price tags, a mishmash of office supplies, and a garbage bag or two for picking up our trash when the show is over.  It has been a work in progress to figure out where to store things, what office supplies we need to bring for our booth, and, oh yeah, it’s hot so we bring fans too!

~The Show

When the show starts, we are ready and all hands are on deck.  My husband and our daughter are perfectly suited for helping.  Our daughter, Ashley, loves talking to customers and packing purchases for customers.  My husband, John, is great about sales and getting credit or debit cards swiped, or taking care of a cash sale.  He also can talk it up with almost anyone.  I don’t have any worries when they are working the booth with me.  Hubby works for food.  Ashley works on commission.  I pay them each in a way that hits home.  {smile}

Working the booth can be, no, IS hard work.  We can several customers at once making purchases.  We must restock or move work around after a sale, depending on if there is back stock to replace the items sold.  I have more one of a kind pieces this spring due to all the upcycled and repurposed chalk painted merchandise I have been working on.  Those will not have back stock.  The only thing that will have back stock are the Turkish tumbled travertine coasters I do.

~Tear Down

At the end of every show there is something that every seller must do --- tear down his or her booth.  The tear down process is roughly the opposite track of setting up …. Pack up unsold merchandise, props, tables and table skirts, AstroTurf, and tent.

The tear down process usually takes 1 ½ hours.  The longest it’s ever taken is over 2 ½ hours.  We were in a very unusual circumstance when the grounds were very wet and we could not get our vehicle as close as we normally do.  Dh had to wheel stuff out about 250 yards from our booth to where his truck was parked.  Finally, he got to move it a little closer it was still about 200 yards from our booth.  This is much further than we usually have to travel to unload or load.

After one show you could see the worn, beaten path
left in our booth from all the customers coming and going.
Now that the process is out there … all the hard work, the question is this … Why go all through all this work for a one-day or even a three-day show?  The answer is simple.  I love the art I do and I love meeting all the people who come by our booth.  I love it when people stop in a buy, of course.  But I also love it when they are having a great time at the event and they want to chat about crafts and learn about what we are doing.  It is worth getting out there and mixing with everyone.

Is it hard work running a booth during the show?  Yes.  Can some customers be difficult?  Yes, but you know what?  I don’t remember them now.  The fun of the show and meeting some wonderful customers, fellow artists and crafters and being in a new town erases a lot of the negative stuff that happens.  Some distance down the road heals a lot of not only the physical aches and pains of all the work but also the rare bad egg we may meet along the way.

I look forward to this spring art and craft show season with eager expectation, a few butterflies in my stomach and an eye toward a brighter future.

If you have questions or comments about craft shows, craft booths, or anything related to those topics I’d love to chat with you.  Just leave your questions, comments, and observations in the comments below.

Happy Spring,


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