Congratulations! You’ve been accepted into your first pipe and drape show! Or maybe you’ve taken the plunge and applied to participate! Either way – congratulations!
What do I mean when I say “pipe and drape” show? I’m talking about BIG craft fairs. The one’s with the black curtains between every booth.
Image from www.ultimaterentalservices.com
These shows usually cost a lot more than your neighbourhood craft sale – because your upfront cost is going to be exponentially higher, you’ll want to make sure you optimize your experience to get the best return on your investment as possible. These shows are often highly anticipated, competitive and can be extremely profitable! I know these shows can be intimidating – so I want to share what I’ve learned in my tenure as an exhibitor and help you make the most out of your first p & d experience.
1.) Up your booth game!
If you’re used to the usual 6 foot folding table set-up, be prepared for a much bigger set up. Depending on the show, the spaces are usually 10 x 6 feet or 10 x 10 feet and bigger. You want to use your space to effectively showcase your work, as well make it attractive and eye-catching. I 100% recommend creating some sort of backdrop to cover the black curtains. I had a 10 x 10 booth at the last Christmas Make It! show – I set my display up in a “U” shape -allowing space for the visitor to walk in, but had products on either side. Take advantage of the big size! You can spread your products out and keep them from looking cluttered. For a back drop, I used a piece of copper pipe and a set of teal Ikea curtains. It was simple, but effective. Teal is one of my brand colours so that helped any guests seeking me out find my booth quickly. It also sets you apart from the all black walls. And you don’t have to have it on all sides – just having it as an accent in the centre work as well! Bring some plants, decorations or anything else to spruce up your booth. (PS – S hooks are your best friends! You’ll need them to hang things from the pipes!)
A close-up of my last booth at Make it!
2.) Find a way to effectively store your items.
Sometimes storage is included with your booth. Sometimes it’s extra. I didn’t want to pay for additional storage. I can fit my jewelry into small organized boxes under my table. If you look at the above image, on the right hand side – you can see under my candle table, I bought some sleek, white boxes from Ikea and filled them with the extra candles. I placed them on top of a faux-fur rug, added an antler shed and voilà – a tasteful storage solution.
3.) Plan to need lighting!
Some venues have beautiful natural light, like the Enjoy Centre in St. Albert. Others are lit by florescent lights 40 feet above your booth. Pick up a couple of table or stand lamps – it doesn’t have to be fancy – just something to bring more light into your space. Make sure to check if power is included with your booth (often there will be a max wattage – so be sure to check that as well!), or if you have to pay for power. Battery operated lights are an option as well, but often difficult to find.
4.) Bring clear signage – and business cards!
Bring multiple signs with your company name on them. Get a big banner printed and have an additional sign on your table. If they’re a first time customer, you want them to remember you. If they’re a repeat customer, you want to make it easy for them to locate you amidst the other vendors. You can get a cheap, effective banner made on Vistaprint, or a beautiful custom glitter banner from Dixie and Twine. And DON’T FORGET YOUR BUSINESS CARDS! Customers WILL ask for them. If they don’t buy today – they might later. I also suggest including one with every purchase.
5.) If you can, bring help!
These aren’t your typical 10am to 6pm craft shows. Sometimes the days are up to or even over twelve hours long. These usually aren’t one day shows either – they typically range from 3 or 4 days to over 10 days long. You’re definitely going to want a buddy. If you don’t have a business partner, consider asking a friend or family member. You can offer financial compensation, free products or figure out another agreement. I usually force – I mean ask – my Mom or Dad to come help me. I’m lucky because my parents are retired, and are extremely supportive of my endeavours. I know it’s a lot to ask of someone to come sit in your booth with you for twelve hours a day – if you know people who are in the city the show is taking place, maybe see if you can have someone come even for a couple hours on the longer days. You’ll want to take bathroom breaks, grab some food, coffee or water. If all else fails, make friends with your booth neighbour so they can keep an eye on your space while you run to the washroom.
By the end of the show, my Dad was teaching women how to wear body chains, recommending products and was a pro with my credit and debit machines. He also helped me hang my fairy lights, load my stuff in and even dropped me off at the door every morning before he went to look for a parking spot. (Yes, he’s pretty awesome!)
6.) STAY HYDRATED – bring water, snacks, advil and anything else you might need.
Don’t let yourself get run down during these shows. Make sure you have healthy snacks, a lot of water, tea or coffee and any medication you might need. If you don’t have someone helping you, it can be tempting to disregard water so that you can avoid bathroom breaks. DON’T DO THAT. Does that sound healthy to you? No it doesn’t. Drink water. You might not get time to sneak away and buy some food – and some venue’s don’t even have concessions – make sure you bring snacks so you don’t end up hangry, or with low blood sugar. This is especially important if you have dietary restrictions. The Enjoy Centre has a beautiful cafe with vegetarian options – the BMO centre in Calgary has hot dogs and chicken fingers. Better safe than starving.
7.) Get lots of rest.
It’s really tempting to go out with your new friends during the show. This is not to say that you shouldn’t do that – these are important networking connections and you should absolutely embrace them. Just know your limits – go easy on the drinks and don’t stay out too late. You WILL be tired.
8.) At the absolute minimum you should accept cash AND credit.
Make sure you have a large float – fives, tens, toonies, loonies and any other change you might need. The venues will NOT supply a float for you. You’re always responsible for your own change. You’re better off bringing extra than not enough. You should also make sure you accept credit card payments! If you haven’t heard of Square, it’s a free credit card reader that attaches to your mobile device and allows you to take payments for a small percentage (I believe it’s only 2.65%). There’s also Moneris’s Payd – this service allows you to process mobile credit and debit purchases. I can speak from experience that most people pay cash or credit, but I personally like to have the debit option.
9.) Make sure you bring enough stock.
There’s nothing sadder than an empty booth! Make sure you bring a lot of inventory – even if you don’t sell it all, it will keep your booth looking full and appealing! Expect to sell A LOT more than you would at your neighbourhood craft sale.
10.) Keep a positive attitude!
Even if you start off slow, keep smiling! Show up on time each day, talk to your customers and your neighbours. When you’re grumpy, it’s more obvious than you think. If you look like you’re enjoying yourself, smiling and friendly, your customers will be more inclined to purchase something from you! There is absolutely a relationship between attitude and sales. Don’t compare yourself to your booth neighbour – some products do better at different times of the year or at different markets. Focus on your products – and don’t be afraid to make some changes to your booth if your sales aren’t as good as you’d hoped. You can even ask a friend or booth neighbour for some feedback. Keep a positive attitude, and whatever you do, don’t complain about the show at the show. It’s extremely unprofessional. If you don’t have the weekend you wanted, use the opportunity to grow your brand, ask for feedback and make changes. You can do this.
Are you sick of looking at my display yet?
Thanks for reading, boss babes! If you have any questions or suggestions you’d like to share comment below or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicole Bracey is the girlboss behind Salt Water Tea. She has a BFA in drawing from ACAD and is a born and raised Calgarian. She also co-owns Greater Goods Boutique and Tea Bar in Calgary and is one of the founding members of YYC Girl Gang. When she’s not making jewelry and candles, you can find her cuddling with her fluff of a pup Shyla, knitting or binge-watching netflix.