Updated: Jul 16, 2021
If you're going to invest the money to be at a show, & invest your time (which is also money), be prepared and professional!
There's a lot of booths vying for attention at these events. If you're in a trade/home type show, please understand you have seconds to grab attendees attention as they stroll the aisles, so you should have something in your display area, that is eye catching, and large enough to see from a distance.
The following notes/tips/reminders/suggestions, I've gathered & saved from being in the trade show display business myself, plus information I've gathered from other artists who graciously shared their thoughts on events/shows. Some of this may not be suited to everyone, or what you specifically market. These are a variety of reminders of things to think about ahead of time. Perhaps prepare a checklist of the things that might be helpful for your specific business and set-up:
Remember above all, simple is better. Having a clean look to your display will always win over having a cluttered display with too much stuff all over the place.
Plan to have at least 1 (or more) big piece or item, to draw the eye over and people into your space, that they can see from afar.
Don't forget to market yourself with a decent size sign or banner for your space (have it match your branding style).
Make sure you know how you want your area/booth/stall to be presented. Practice set up at home first. Take pictures of your set up. Then analyze it from those photos. You will see it differently in print, and have someone you trust look at the photos with you. Have images ready of the set up you like, with you when time to set up, so you remember what looked best. (This event will attract buyers and and your display area should show professionalism).
Have a plain black or white tablecloth covering the table. Dollar store or they sell really nice big canvas drop cloths at Home Depot for about $12 if that effect is better for your art style. Try to use a well fitting table cloth. Using patterned table cloths will make it harder for people to focus on your items so try to avoid patterns on your display. Try to ensure the table cloth fits your table well (front and sides covered).
Consider displaying groups of like items or colours together. People are attracted to colour. One suggestion would be to put like collections together, or like styles, etc,
Make your display booth/table unforgetable/memorable. Come up with an emotion or story inspiration or recognizable theme that is instantly recognizable to repeat customers. Many people buy art emotionally not intellectually.
If you have a booth space, decide if you want people to be able to come in and walk around, then set the table at the back or the side.
If you have just a table display, try not to just have a flat display. Use different levels to build it up in different heights. Raise items on the back of your table to eye level, then place items in the front of the display at lower level. Perhaps some sturdy small shelving at the back if that helps. But don't block where you sit/stand.
Be creative, ,and try to imagine that your display is in an actual retail display area of a store. How would it look? Just because it's a vendor event, doesn't mean you have to just lay stuff out on a table with no props.
When building up your table, use props, but try not to clutter your display up with too many things, as this can confuse people as to what you sell.
If you sell jewellry or apparel items, have a mirror that your customers can use to place items in front of them & look in the mirror.
Make sure you have easy access to all of the supplies you need. Your payment system, wrapping materials, etc. But try to keep them tidy.
If you have the ability to use curtains around your tent or booth space, try to coordinate with your display.
It’s good to have your artist biography (no more then one page), somewhere in your display area. Just a brief description about you and what you are marketing there. You can slide it into a clear protector sleeve, and hang it or set it on your table for people peruse at their leisure, & if you're chatting with someone else. It’s also a great conversation starter.
Get there really early. There's lots to do & you don't want to start in a panic mode.
If you have paid for an electrical outlet, bring your own & extra extension cord(s). (in case).
Bring spare batteries!! If you have items that use any.
If possible, have your own lighting. You'd be surprised what adding a little extra direct lighting can do for some products and displays.
Make sure your finishes are perfect. (No drips or ugly backs and sides). Show professionalism on all parts of your art. Although there is another camp that likes to leave the backs messy & say you can tell an artist was here. It is ultimately your decision.
Always show & sell your wall art (if on canvases or wood panels) ready to hang, with D-rings & wired backs. If they want to switch orientation once they get home they can move the hardware. But most people don’t want, or like to have to attach hardware in order to use the art. It’s the professional way to present it, and more so to sell it. Some people do not have the knowledge of where best to place hardware, nor the tools. Be sure it is ready to hang!!!
Wear comfy shoes! You'll be on your feet all day.
Bring food that's easy to eat quickly, & hopefully nutritious! (You might not have time to go get food) .
Take lots of drinking water.
It pays to have a helper/assistant , (so they can help with setup and pack up).
Take notebooks for any bookings, and new contacts and requests for more information.
Make friends with the other artists, and vendors while you're there.
Have credit card/debit facilities, enough change and all your payment details ready and available. Consider best ways to keep it safely if you get busy chatting.
You can get a free credit card reader from Square that attaches to your smart phone.
You may need a receipt book for some customers (if not using card reader, or it quits working for any reason).
Bags for any purchases should include a business card or flyer.
Cards & flyers (if you have them) should also be on your table, or somewhere on display.
Bring tons of business cards &/or artist post cards! If you're an artist, ideally a flyer could include previous work, upcoming exhibition details, and your art history. If you don't have access to a good local printer, Vista print is a good online option for inexpensive business cards & postcards & banners etc.
Have a little special for the day/night... eg "any commission work booked (and deposit paid) will receive 10-20% off". Keep in mind discounts are discouraged & frowned upon in some art circles. But this is your business decision, nobody else's. Or you can give a gift with purchase.
You could have a random prize draw to entice people in to your display.
Don't be sad if you don't sell anything... it's a fantastic networking opportunity. I know one artist who never sells anything at her events, but she did end up booking a commission (or more) from every one of her events she attended.
Make sure you have bags plus a way of wrapping your work (for resin, glassine paper or a roll of brown paper) so pieces do not get damaged. You can order brown kraft bags and white tissue paper to wrap smaller pieces in. Amazon has really good prices, but Uline sells many things you may not find elsewhere. Bring tape & ribbon/twine for wrapping up.
Some artist order stickers made with logo on it to put on bags so people who bought artwork were basically walking advertisements. Or you can buy a custom stamp and stamp the bags. This can be part of your branding.
Some artist find more success in sales focusing on smaller work that is more reasonably priced (20-100$), and easy to carry, versus big show stopping pieces. Although I've heard others say the opposite. Depends on your market and type of event you are at.
Bring a chair for your space if they're not included already for the super long days! Just be sure to stand when people approach your booth.
Some artists offer a raffle or draw to win a limited edition print or canvas.
***Make sure you have an info card/slip with the PRICE on it, beside your painting or created pieces. Art purchase is often an impulse buy and if a buyer has to go and find someone to talk to, or if they are uncomfortable asking the price, they may just walk away. Some artists think that pricing may be a turn off, but seriously, people want to know if they can even afford it before talking to someone.
Make sure you have your contact info ATTACHED to the back of the artwork, or with items once sold, so that they can find you again!
When pricing your work, “Do not undervalue yourself, or others will too”.
If you stand just outside or on the edge of your both, and don't put a big table in front of your booth, people will feel more welcome & inclined to walk in. Some buyers are stand offish and feel/think they may be trapped if it looks closed up. Not all display set-ups allow that option though. If a table is your display, make it as inviting as possible.
One more idea I heard about that I'd love to try as well.... someone mentioned making a customized sleeve (using kraft paper) for each piece of their wall art for transporting to & from shows, (handy as well for general storing to keep dust off). They wrote the name of the piece of art & dimensions on it too (top right corner for storage purposes). That way if piece sells at a show, you can quickly grab the pre-cut to size sleeve (with label already attached), to send home with customer. Looks professional & saves important time at show.
Don't focus on the sales. Enjoy the browsers , enjoy people's reaction to your art.
Talk to every one, and try not to sit down all the time (unless really needed & long days). Get a tall stool and lean on it if needed. Because when you go to stand up people may walk away because they don't want to disturb/bother you.
When someone says they like something. ..thank them and tell them how much you enjoy making it and talk about the struggles you had learning it, but how delighted you are at how it turned out. Build conversations around your creations with people.
Enjoy the people......... :) "A diamond takes less space than a Large canvas yet shines with a captivating brilliance. Be a diamond, act like a diamond!"
Prints apparently sell very well, because it allows you to offer items at lower price points. Some sell prints at 8x10's for 15-20 dollars, bookmarkers for 4-7 dollars ( laminate, punch a hole and put a ribbon through it), Many will love your art but cannot afford an original. Personally, I steer away from this options, as I find it's just more "stuff", to lug back & forth, haha. But everyone has a different view on it, and those items may be what helps cover the cost of your event and time so well worth it for those who choose to.
Have a sign in book with contacts (e-mail) so you can invite people interested, for your next event.
Some people like to paint or create on site, to draw people in, help customers connect to the art/craft more. Some other people are of the opinion that creating on site is, takes away conversation opportunity from buyers, and that they may walk away if not being paid attention to. These are very opposing opinions, just go with what resonates most with you and what your are most comfortable with.
After the event, look around at some of the other booths, table displays. Take notes on things that other people are doing that might work well for you in future.
Enjoy Showing off your creativity and Good Luck :)