If you’ve ever attended a craft show, festival, or art fair, you’ve paraded along endless streets of merchants selling their wares, calling out to passersby as they show off an array of paintings, stained glass ornaments, and homemade soap. But have you ever paid attention to their shelters? Big tents, little tents, large booths, small booths. How did they ever decide? Since craft shows were never quite my thing, I didn’t figure I’d ever need to know what all went into choosing the right kind of tent, or how you properly set up your wares for display at a fair. But earlier this summer, the opportunity presented itself, and I experienced firsthand everything that went into setting up a booth for a fair. It wasn’t a pleasant experience by any means, but one that is vital to any outdoor showing or indoor convention. So if you’re planning to put up a booth to display your wares, don’t do it without reading this first!
The key to making money at any festival is to not spend too much purchasing setup products. But one thing’s for sure: you’ll need a shelter of some kind, especially if the festival is featured in the blistering heat of August. I suggest checking your local Wal-Mart or Target stores for a sun shelter. I purchased a Target brand sun shelter measuring ten feet square for $30.00, and it suited my purposes just fine. If you can use a card table or long desk from home to use in setting up your wares, this is preferable to buying a brand new one and carting it home. If it’s in bad shape, invest in a disposable tablecloth, like the kind at the party stores. They’re inexpensive, and you’re not obligated to store them.
Another important thing to remember is this: Your finished setup can look spectacular, but if no one knows who you are when they’re walking past, they’re likely not going to stop in! So make sure you have a bold-lettered sign with your company’s name lettered on it. It doesn’t need to be fancy. I used Microsoft Publisher to print out three pages’ worth of a banner for my sign, taped it onto some sturdy, white, posterboard, and hung it from a pole on my sun shelter. This kept the costs way down and allowed me to focus on helping put up the actual products for display instead of messing around making a fancy sign. Do try to make it neat, though.
Business cards are a necessity in most cases. But you don’t have to hand them out like candy. If you have a printer at home, make them yourself with business card sheets you can buy at Staples. This way, the costs are kept at bay. But if you have to order out or go to Kinko’s, you’re not as likely to want just anybody taking your business card and jamming it in his or her back pocket only to be sent through the wash on Monday. If a customer seems serious, or has made a purchase, encourage them to take your card. But I don’t recommend setting them out on the table for just anyone to take on their way by.
Safety is always an issue at outdoor showings. Many of the tents are unwieldy, especially in windy or rainy weather, so it’s best to bring along weights of some sort with which to hold up the shelter. These can include five-gallon buckets filled with water, sandbags, or any other manageable yet heavy household item. Place the weights BEHIND each of the four posts on the shelter, so as to prevent any passersby from stubbing their toes on the buckets or ramming their strollers through the sandbags. Using the tethering strings from the tent, wrap the string around the weight and tighten until taut. When the wind blows, your tent will remain strong.
Place your items within easy view within your shelter. If you want sales, you can’t expect people to rummage through dumpy piles of mere stuff. Pick out a few representative items to feature and place them on the table. This way people will associate your sign with your products and have a greater incentive to stop in and see what you’re all about. You’ll also need a box or some such container to keep the money in – you’ll want to look organized when customers hand you money for your items.
Remember to stay customer oriented. Even if the people going by your tent have grumpy looks on their faces or are arguing with their children, try to keep on a happy face. Get off your chair and walk around your tent a little bit, or, better yet, get out in front of your tent and greet folks. Some will stop by, some will say “hi,” and some will just give you a confused stare, but it makes others aware of your presence, and you avoid looking like a bump on a log. And be friendly. If people ask you questions, give them a polite, informed answer. All these things add up to being a great company representative or business owner, and taking care both in your presentation and actions will have a positive effect on your potential customers.