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Who Sets Up Your Booth? A Primer on Craft Shows

Updated: Mar 2


Customers at an outdoor craft show.
Customers at an outdoor craft show.

Seems like a funny question, but I've been asked it a number of times. If I'm in a sarcastic mood, I say my road crew does it while I'm back at the hotel. If only that were true.


Here's a little background look at craft shows.

Applications

Some shows invite artists to participate, but generally you have to apply each year. There are shows that carry artists over year to year once they are accepted, but it's not the norm. Artists fill out jury applications often six months to a year in advance of the show. They can be for one show or a group of shows put on by a promoter. The application period (the time you can apply) is usually three months. Most applications require general information and three to five images of your work. Professional photos are best!


Your Accepted. Congratulations!

Once accepted it's time to pay the booth and electrical fees. Depending on the venue, and length of show, booth fees can range from less than $100 to more than $1000. Electrical fees can also range into the $100's depending on the wattage you need. There's a payment deadline, but in a few cases the quicker you pay up the better the chance you will get the booth size and location you want. It's nice to be in the same space year after year, so customers can find you easily, but it doesn't always happen.


Sorry, You've been rejected.

Actually, they say, “You haven't been invited.” Which seems a silly way to put it. Anyway, maybe your work didn't fit the “theme” of the show, your images weren't great, or the promoters wanted to go “in a different direction”. If your score is high enough, you can get wait-listed. That means if there is an opening you might get in. Sometimes, there's a show you really want to do, but they reject you year after year. I'll try for three years, after that I'm not interested in them either.

Back view of a loaded van.
Loaded up and ready to go.

Set up, which we call load-in.

I have been asked if we just pick our booth location the day we set up. Nope, but a great idea if your first in line.


Most of my shows are between a five and eight hour drive from home. Only a few are a an hour or two away. I stay in a lot of hotels.


Load-in can be the day before, night before, or my favorite, very early the morning of the show, meaning 3:30 to 5am. The show usually opens at 10 or 11am. After all that running around to set up, 12 noon feels like midnight, and the show doesn't close till 6pm. It's exhausting. I prefer to load-in the day before.


Booth pipes laid out on the floor.
Just beginning to set up my booth.

I have multiple set ups depending on the show. If I bring my booth it can take me up to five hours to get it all done. You can rent a booth, and in some venues it's included. One less thing to deal with. Some artists hire people to help them load-in, or they have partners, or family helps. I prefer to work alone.

I didn't mention loading the van. Some things never come out of my van, so I can't forget them. My upcoming show in Morristown NJ, is the first one in three months. Those three months somehow turn me into the village idiot and I forget the most elemental things. A few years back when I was still making clothes, I forgot clothing racks!!! Sometimes it's lights, or a best selling item. Now I make a list (weeks in advance) and check things off as they go in the van.

Craft show booth half way set up.
Still setting up the booth.

Show Time

The show opens. It can be busy all day, or as I call it “crickets”. Much depends on the weather. Nothing you can do. I love seeing my customers. Even if you don't plan on buying stop by and say hi...But a sale is always nice.


Set up indoor booth.
Indoor booth from a few years ago.

Load-out

On load-in day all the artists don't arrive together. But at the end, we are all trying to pack up and get out at the same time. Artists are mostly very nice, considerate people. But there is always “that person” that parks a box truck in the middle of the loading dock, and just leaves it in everyone's way.

I usually take two to three hours to load-out, depending on the show. By then it's easy to get a parking place close to the loading dock. Some shows let you drive in and load up right next to your booth. Nice!

Wrapping it up.

Does it seem daunting, or fun? It can be both. But there isn't anything I'd rather do. Maybe you want to give it a go.


Hope to see you at a show sometime soon,

Lisa

March 1, 2022

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