Many things go into a profitable craft show experience and not all of them are at the whim of the show promoter or the customer. The atmosphere created by establishing a friendly working relationship with your fellow exhibitors go a long way toward creating an inviting and happy booth where your customer enjoys staying long enough to buy, buy, buy!
1. Arrive early
Plan your arrival at the show so that you have plenty of time to set up your booth and display. Remember Murphy’s Law; if something can go wrong it will; so be prepared for it to take longer than it should. Expect it to take longer than it should, for there to be electrical issues, or for the table you ordered not to be in your booth space. Have your exhibitor information and confirmations with you and accessible for checking in. Don’t get off to a bad start by creating check in delays for other crafters. Know how long it takes you to dolly in your display and items. Will you need to clean up boxes and packing material? Will you need time to freshen up in the restroom? If you plan on eating after you set up and before the customers arrive, is your meal going to be easy to clear away quickly and not have any potentially unpleasant aromas? Doing any set up after the customers are allowed in is bad for your business and bad for your reputation. Give yourself lots of time so that your set up does not create disturbances for your neighbors.
2. Stay in your allotted space
If your exhibit space is 10 feet by 10 feet and your display really is 10 feet 2 inches by 10 feet, don’t expect your neighbors to allow you to wiggle into their spaces. Talk with the show organizer well ahead of time to arrange to buy the amount of space you really need. There are usually double spaces and corners that are available to provide you with more room. You may find that the organizer has had another request similar to yours and you may be able to work out a space and a half sharing arrangement. Also, don’t expect to use any of the aisles for your display. There are usually strict fire regulations the prohibit obstructions in the walkways. If you don’t want to pay for the extra space, redesign your booth. One of the fastest ways to have a miserable show is to start by stealing floor space from your neighbors.
3. Bring your own supplies
Everyone has days when it seems like nothing goes right. The day of the craft show is no exception. Plan ahead and have a well-equipped tool kit filled with the items you are likely to need. Anything that is specific to your booth or display needs to be in your tool kit. You’ll also want to consider how you transact your sales and be sure to have whatever supplies you need. Don’t forget first aid items, too, such as band-aids and aspirin. Does your display take special screws? How about light bulbs, batteries, safety or straight pins, credit card slips, spare change, duct tape?
4. Arrange your booth so that your customers will not be in front of another exhibitor’s space
Not only did your neighbor pay for and expect to utilize all of their booth space, they have a right to expect that your customers will not block the entrance to their booth. If you demonstrate in your booth, set the demonstration far enough back into the booth that a crowd of customers will not be completely crowding the aisle. Yes, this means you have to give up a little of your interior floor space, but it will pay off in the end. You’ll have the edge by already having the potential customer in your booth and you’ll have a friendly neighbor. Consider your booth neighbors as you design your own displays as well. Remember that not only do you have side-by-side neighbors; you’ll most likely have a backside neighbor too. Your display should not intrude into any of their spaces in any fashion.
5. Visit your neighbors and be respectful
It’s fun to walk the show and see what your fellow crafters are doing. It inspires and educates you but keep your visiting to a minimum and be watchful for customers entering the booth. The friendliest of neighbors will immediately turn into an enemy if you are merrily chatting and keeping them from greeting their customers. Ask before you handle anyone else’s items. Be friendly but don’t assume that you can critique their work or booth display. Don’t take pictures of their work without permission. This is a highly competitive market and ideas have legs of their own. Don’t become known as an idea pirate.
6. Use down time to network
All shows have some downtime. This is the perfect time to do a little networking, trade war stories, and catch up with your friends from previous shows. Other crafters are great resources, especially for new exhibitors. Crafters are usually eager to tell newbies about good and not so good shows and organizers, tips on exhibiting, even where the best of the least expensive motels are. Ask any old timer about the BeBacks and you’ll be rolling on the floor in moments! If you can, use the downtime to offer to booth sit for your neighbor if they are working the show alone. They’ll appreciate a short break and probably offer to do the same in return for you.
7. Stay the entire show
Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a really bad show; no customers, bad exhibitor attitudes and even worse, a promoter who couldn’t care less. It’s tempting to pack up your booth and head home where you can at least get some work done. It’s especially tempting if you have a long drive ahead of you and you see a few other exhibitors packing out. Resist the urge to get on the road early. The impact caused by empty booths on incoming customers is incredibly negative. They loose all interest in walking around and looking at the remaining booths. Even if you are selling exactly what they came for, chances are good that they won’t even see your items because they will be in such a distracted funk. Keep your spirits up and stay the entire show. You can never tell when your big sale is going to happen. This very experience happened to me and in the last 20 minutes of a dismal show, I made enough money to salvage the show and turn a peanut butter sandwich night into a celebratory dinner at a steak house.
8. Don’t badmouth the show
No matter how friendly you become with your neighbor or how poorly one of you is doing at the show, don’t stand in front of your booths and talk negatively about anything. This includes other exhibitors, customers, the location, the show promoter, or the town that you are in. You are always in earshot of someone at a craft show and customers are sensitive to the attitudes among exhibitors. Make sure that yours is upbeat and positive.
9. Don’t be a tattletale
If you do observe bad behavior by exhibitors, politely speak directly to them about it. Don’t go running for the show director immediately. The offender may be unaware that they are infringing on your space in some way and be happy to make corrections. Of course, there are times when it is appropriate to get management involved and don’t hesitate to do so if you have no other recourse. Most craft show exhibitors are very friendly people who only want to have a good show, just like you.
10. Remember the Golden Rule
The bottom line to being a good craft show neighbor is to just remember the Golden Rule and treat your neighbors as you would like to be treated. It’s not a party. The hours can be long and tiring. Tempers can grow short as the temperature outside rises or the cash register doesn’t ring, so try not to take a minor slight too seriously. Keep in mind that it’s work, not a party and that you are all there for the same reason – to make money.