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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mama's Pre-Show To-Do List

I'm often asked about preparing for craft shows and trunk shows, so I thought it would be fun to publish a list of my own tips and reminders. YMMV and all that, but hopefully some of these will be helpful, whether you're getting ready for your first show or looking for an antidote for that "I know I've done it before, but I think I'm forgetting something" feeling that always seems to happen the night before a show. (Or is that just me?)

Anyway, here are my top 10 from my own to-do list:

1. Inventory!

I remember the weeks leading up to my first show (Renegade in SF) I had several nightmares that I drove off and left all my items at home the day of the show. Pack it carefully and be sure you can carry it into your show (a wheeled cart or dolly is ideal).

As much as possible, shoot for a wide range of colors, styles, and price ranges within your inventory. If you offer custom options, bring along a sample to display and have order forms ready so your customers can make their purchase then and there (don't forget to charge for shipping if needed). Have your inventory priced or have pricing signs prepared. I find that customers prefer to see the price than to have to ask what it is.

2. Display!

This is something I'm always improving upon. I find display ideas everywhere I look these days. I scour thrift stores for items I can re-purpose and tinker into unusual displays. I've used candle holders to hang jewelry, changed wall shelves into table top displays, and in a pinch I've also purchased traditional jewelry displays from places like Fire Mountain Gems. I'm always collecting baskets and bowls and unusual containers with an eye for using them on my craft table.

At my recent shows, I was pretty happy with the way that my jury-rigged thrift store finds worked together. Especially at the SF Etsy Sampler, where space was super tight. For my newest display, I'd nailed dowels to a wooden CD crate, spray painted everything white, and prettied it up with some beadwork. The CD crate, turned on its side, gave me a little shelf for items as well as a place behind which to hide the essentials: pens, receipt book, credit card knuckle buster, calculator, hand sanitizer...

It was nice to have a little window to peek through while showing off my items at eye-level.

Plus, once I'd clamped it to the table, the set up was much more stable than my earlier version (of which you can read about here). For one who talks with her hands, display stability is hugely important! It would also be essential for an outdoor venue with any wind.

Note the beadwork on the hanging display:
Also note that it's fun to display your items being used, if applicable. I stick my knitting needles inside balls of yarn and put my beaded bookmarks inside a book -- and the choice of book is always fun for a conversation starter. I get lots of comments on my Rumi collection.
Yes, I will put cup hooks on anything and everything. Spray paint cures a whole host of evils. (As seen here, applied to a yucky green hanging shelf.) Keep your colors unobtrusive whenever possible. White is nice and neutral.

Don't forget your table and table covering (unless the venue provides them) and a chair is nice -- a high stool is even better. You don't want to hide behind your table. Much of the charm of shopping at trunk shows and craft fairs is the chance to interact with the creators who make the items, and it's friendlier if you are at or near eye level with your customers.

3. Change!

Be sure that you have an ample supply of change. I like to keep $200 in $1, $5 and $10s in my change stash. Especially if you’re only accepting cash. And I also recommend figuring sales tax into your cash price and rounding up so you don’t have to worry about making change with coins. MUCH simpler.

Some folks like to use a cash box. Personally, I like to wear it. I was using a fanny pack up until recently -- I am now totally in love with my brandy-new, custom designed vendor apron from yoopers:
4. To Charge or Not To Charge?

While some shows have a cash-only norm, accepting credit cards can really help increase your sales. Especially if your items are $20 and higher, I think accepting credit cards is a good move. Smart phones now have neat apps to help streamline this process (you'll have to ask somebody else about what, exactly, they are... for all my tech-savvy, Etsy shop, bloggy goodness, I am pretty clueless about a lot of this stuff. Says the gal who has yet to ever send a text message!) Personally, I have been very happy with ProPay. They have a special $29.95 annual premium price for Etsy sellers. You can get more info here.

5. To Market, To Market...

Don't forget that every show is not only a selling opportunity but also a marketing opportunity. Have ample business cards on hand. Put out a sign-up sheet for your mailing list -- even if you aren't really doing a newsletter yet, it's always a good idea to work on a list of interested customers. Promote your online presence, of course, but also include information about other local shows and venues where people can find your work. For example, at my recent Knit-One-One show, I had out postcards advertising the SF Etsy sampler, and many folks grabbed one at the same time that they took a business card.

While sales totals are an important way to know how well a show has gone, keep in mind that shows pay off in advertising and later sales as well. It can be useful to offer a specific coupon code to your customers -- this will allow you to track later sales that might be a direct result of the show, which can be helpful information as you assess the success of the show as a whole.

6. A Hungry Vendor is Not A Happy Vendor.

I always bring bottled water and something quick (and not messy) to snack on. Depending on the length of the show, this might be an entire meal. You don't want to be stuck at your table with your stomach growling! Better to have that with you than have to leave your table and get it. Plus I think it’s always nice to have a little discreet nosh there at the table to keep my blood sugar up. And don't forget a breath mint. (But leave the gum at home!)

7. Pretty & Practical

It's important to dress appropriately for a show. Wear one or more of your items if that applies. Wear comfortable clothes but keep in mind that you are presenting a persona -- the face of your work. And I wouldn't be a Mama if I didn't remind you to wear sensible shoes. You'll likely be on your feet a lot!

8. On the Up & Up

Be sure you have some method for record keeping -- a receipt book with carbon copies is a great basic tool for keeping track of your sales. And be sure you're prepared for the show with any necessary licenses and/or tax forms.

9. Bring a Buddy

If you can, it's great to have somebody else to help you at the show. I've primarily done selling situations where I shared a booth, so my "somebody" is usually my booth partner. Another pair of hands makes set up and break down worlds easier, the company is nice during the inevitable down times, and it's essential for those times that you simply have to "skip to the loo." (In a pinch, you can make friends with your neighbors at the craft show and offer to watch their booths in exchange for them doing the same.)

10. Wrapping It Up.

I try to be eco-friendly in my own shopping (says the gal who owns about 20 canvas shopping bags) and these days it seems fewer people need their purchases bagged, but it’s a nice touch to be able to offer gift boxes/bags – at the very least, something for your customers to use to carry away their purchases. For a last minute solution, I’ve swallowed my greenie pride and gone to the dollar store and bought multi packs of those goodie/gift bags that are often used for parties. Or even paper lunch bags can work, depending on the size of your items. Gift wrapping is another nice option to offer, though in some venue setups it can be tricky to find the space to do it. Don't forget the marketing potential of wrapping and labeling. You want your customers to remember who made that wonderful item that they just purchased from you!

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