Sunday, May 30, 2010

Setting Up A Booth

Where to start?? I've been doing booth shows for about six years, which makes me a relative newbie at it, believe it or not, so I'm not an expert by any means. I really eased into it, first doing a few local shows, just getting my feet wet, literally and figuratively! We had a minivan then, to transport both the art  and the booth/display set-up. Now we have a full size Sprinter!!

Doing a booth show is pretty complex and has many facets to touch on, including equipment, the product, salesmanship, promotion, traveling logistics, entry strategies etc, etc. For this post, I'm going to focus primarily on equipment, 'cause you can't even start without it.

Here are the primary considerations we take into account when we are planning out our booth set-ups:

  1. Booth need to be water-tight

  2. Needs to be wind-proof

  3. Be secure at night

  4. Be inviting for your clients

  5. Be functional for sales

  6. Be modular - fit in a variety of situations

  7. Be well illuminated - electricity if you can get it and/or need it

  8. Take care of yourself

1) My very first booth show was Art in the Pearl many years ago. I borrowed an E-Zup tent from a friend and bought some white grid panels to display the work. All was just fine until it rained and I realized I'd attached the grids to the very edge of the EZ-up and the rain ran straight down the backs of my pastels. YIKES!! Rookie mistake. It was very clear that having a water-tight tent is imperative if your work is in any way susceptible to water damage,(most art and water don't mix too well).

I have a Light Dome Canopy made by Creative Energies. It is easy to set-up and take down. I can do it by myself, although I don't usually have to. It is more expensive than an EZ-up but has proven to be worth the investment and then some. They make a couple different canopies. Mike has the Finale which is taller and a little more difficult to set-up. You need a step ladder to do it. It looks good, but I would have a hard time managing it by myself. He can do it alone, but he's taller! If you purchase a canopy, be sure to order it with the zippers for awnings if you want them!

We bring 2x4's to the show to set all the equipment on, so it's not sitting directly on grass or cement. Grass tends to cause condensation  at night and can dampen cardboard boxes and rain makes cement and grass a mess. 

2) It's wise to find out what kind of surface the booth will be set-up on. If you are on grass, can you stake in? Many shows don't allow this even if you are on grass due to irrigation systems. If you are on concrete, or grass where you can't stake in, you'll need to have weights. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!! Many artists make weights by filling PVC piping with cement and inserting a large "o" bolt into the top. We made these, PLUS we purchased iron weights from and outfit in Dripping Springs, Colorado that makes weights that are 70 lbs. each and are slim and square. There is another outfit that makes weights called Happifeet, which some artists have said are great. Secure the weights to the booth with straps on each corner and then either duct tape the weights to each of the four corner poles or better yet use small bungy cords. YOU NEED TO HAVE WEIGHTS. Don't take chances with your booth and everyones around you. After doing La Quinta(very windy) and Des Moines(micro burst storms) we put two sets of weights on each corner.

3) Make sure you can close up your tent completely at night. If your booth is not secure, you'll will be asking to be the one to get vandalized or robbed. Think carefully about what you leave in it at night. Take all your credit card info and receipts, checks, cash with you. Be careful about walking to your car and or hotel after the show. If you're doing the show alone, try to coordinate with another artist, so you're not leaving the site alone.

4) After you have your tent very secure and ready for any weather, you still need to make it inviting for your clients. We try to take into consideration each site, so we set up differently at different shows, depending on what categories we've been accepted in and what the site is like. Is it level, do we have room out the back?Sometimes we'll know ahead of time, sometimes, not.While we want to maximize the display space, we try not to overcrowd it with work and make it inviting. We try to group the work, so it make sense if we are showing a couple different collections of work. We also want to be able to see who is in the booth and make sure we can say hello. We try to make room for a place to sit that is out of the way of the entrance, but where we can still see our clients, not to spy on them, but to make sure they are welcomed and their questions are answered. This can be tricky if weather is an issue, since you don't have as much room. We try to keep the set-up as open as possible while still displaying enough work.

5) Doing a booth show is like camping on steroids. You have to bring a lot of stuff. It's my least favorite part of doing the shows, but if you get organized, it's not so bad. You need to have a place to make the sale, and the equipment to do so. The place can be simple like your chair and a clipboard or more fancy like a desk. I highly recommend taking credit cards. Most people want to pay with them. Setting up a merchant account and using an old school method like a knuckle buster isn't doesn't cost much. If you use a satellite machine, it does cost some bucks, but we've found it to be a worthwhile investment. We have peace of mind that each credit card we run is approved and our customers don't have to worry that their credit card info is floating around at an art festival. You have to have a place to wrap up the work. That can be pretty simple too, like small folding table at the back of your booth. You need to have easy access to all the things you need for a sale, tape, bags, wrapping material, receipts etc.

6) We use small plastic bins to organize everything. They're great since they stack, they're not too heavy when full, you can see inside them, and they can get wet. We have wooden cases to store the art in the truck and in the booth at night if bad weather is threatening. Yes, they're heavy, but that's part of what is good about them. The have wheels so they are slightly off the ground. You just have to find out what works for you. I haven't found the exact balance of having everything I want and need at the show and feeling uncluttered by the "stuff", but I think I'm getting there.

7) If the show hours run into the evening and the show offers electricity, we always get it even if it costs extra. I don't want to be the only booth in my row with no one in it, because my booth is dark. Some sites are under the canopy of trees and can be dark, even during the day, so lights are a plus. Most shows have a limit on wattage per artist allowed. Make sure your lights and extension cords are safe.

8) Doing a booth show is a lot of physical work and mental energy. Make sure you bring sunscreen, lots of drinking water, a hat, a rain shell, a warm jacket etc. Plan for your own comfort. Bring healthy snacks since artist hospitality sometimes is lacking in the healthy department. Don't forget to eat and take a couple short breaks. The hours can be long and you can find yourself hungry and worn out if you don't pay attention to yourself a bit. Most importantly, bring your sense of humor and lots of patience!


Cindy B said...

Really nice commentary on doing booth shows. I am much newer at it than you. Just for the past 3 years I have ventured into doing booth shows that are inside. Here in Montana the weather is much less predictable, as it can snow in July. Some shows have spaces available inside or outside. As you can imagine the inside spaces are at a premium. You gave valuable information and I will incorporate some of your suggestions in my next show. Thanks, Cindy Betka

AK said...

Very informative.

Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner) said...

Awesome information generously shared. Thanks.