Make Room. Modern Design Meets Craft. WEST. Designer: Jennifer Walter. Photo: B. Martin

Continued from previous post “A Map Is Worth A Thousand Words.”

Our society is glued to TVs, computers, and handheld devices. We use them to stay informed, but an equally big part of their attraction is the constant entertainment that’s provided, which we’ve become accustomed, if not addicted to. (Not passing blame, I like Downton Abbey just like the rest of you.)

The reason I am bringing this up is that I think attending a retail craft show is a form of entertainment too - and a good one, if you have to ask. Yes, people go to these events knowing they will probably buy our work, but craft shows are also a fun, exciting, interesting, and colorful form of entertainment for many. You don't have to like it, but you know it's true.

The next logical question that follows: if you are an artist at a craft show, what do you do to entertain all these people strolling by? How do you get them to pay attention to your booth?

Granted, we all think that our work is worth a trek across the Gobi desert (Ain't no mountain high enough...,) but if we find our booth surrounded by equal greatness to the left and right, then what makes us so special? In other words, what factors are at play for craft show success, or failure, other than booth location and the often-cited competition? Price of our wares? Yes, it’s a factor, but not the most important one.

Always cheerful and welcoming: Jennifer Merchant.

Especially in large shows like the ACC Baltimore, anything an artist can do to stand out, get recognized, and found again during the second walk-through is going to be the ticket. Experts on booth design and behavioral psychology wrote whole shelve-loads of books about how to accomplish this and it’s an often talked-about topic in professional development forums. All the experts agree: you only have a few seconds to leave a good impression. If your booth fails to pique interest within that short time frame, customers will move on to seek more exciting scenarios no matter how awe-inspiring and technically skilled your work is!

Looking back at your own experience eagerly walking into certain craft booths while passing over others, what was it that drew you in? Can you name anything other than the work on display? (Not a rhetorical question. If you can describe an attractive booth I’d love to hear about it in the comment segment below this post. Thank you.)

Good to see an old friend from the 'burgh: Alison Hilton Jones. What was the first thing you saw in this image? Yup, me too.

Many artists use black or white drapery as their booth walls because it conveniently comes with the package provided by the show organizer. There’s nothing wrong with using that drapery. I absolutely understand efficiency and not wanting to schlep something with you that’s not sorely needed, but how about adding a little of your charming artistic individuality to that drapery to make it stand out from the other booths? Have it be more interesting to look at than plain white or black?

Some artists at the ACC show added a dot of color to their backdrop (see the above image, Alison Hilton Jones) and it made an immediate, positive difference. A panel of colorful fabric or paper is eye-catching, does not weigh much, and is easy to come by. Most artists had a big picture of their work or their name in huge letters at the back of their booth wall. Both are good things to do, but they’re not exactly exciting new ideas. The question is, what else can you do to enhance your customers’ experience, to set yourself apart from all the other hundreds of booths people plan to look at?

There surely are many different ways to decorate a 10x10, but, with few exceptions, I saw a lot of sameness at this Baltimore ACC show. Not in terms of the work that was offered, which was interesting and highly-skilled, but solely in terms of how it was presented by the artists. Where are the fresh ideas, people? To draw attention, you need light, color, and some kind of activity. The most people did was stand behind or in front of their display looking good. Sorry, that’s simply not cutting it if you want to stand out.

Chihiro Makio and a helper. Love that work! Notice how the color of the green sweater draws the eye?

If there is one big request I have of artists currently thinking about creating their personal show booth it would be this: Please be much more adventurous with your interior booth design. Our customers, especially the non-art crowd, are not looking for an education from you about the technical prowess of your work, they are looking for an entertainment experience, preferably a thrilling one.

Please realize that we are in the luxury business, all of us. We are selling very nice work, but they are non-essential (for our survival) items. We aren’t curing cancer here. We make fancy objects for people who have a little extra cash on the side, which they are willing to spend on themselves. They don’t have to buy our work, they certainly don’t owe any of us a purchase simply because we show up. It is their choice whether or not they buy. How about you make that choice easier by giving them something they want? What do they want? (Thank you, I thought you’d never ask.)

In the end, for a non-essential-for-survival item, a customer wants something they can personally connect with on an emotional level. Something that reminds them of and makes sense with their own history. That could be a memory of an experience, of a feeling, of a place, or of a person. This is all a bit esoteric, so allow me to explain what I mean:

You are in an environment where selling is the big idea, so this is not the time to be shy. If you provide someone with the expectation of a unique booth environment, chances are much higher that person will want to come into your booth, engage with you, and buy a piece of what you have to offer. The best advice I can give is this: Help your customers by giving them something to connect with. That connection can be visual or aural. (Smell also comes into play sometimes, but it is almost impossible to pull off at an in-door event as it would first infuriate your neighbors and then draw the fire marshal to your booth.)

If you doubt me, look at it from your own perspective: If you were at a craft show as a customer, you would only buy what makes sense to you, what excites you, what your spouse/partner/friends think is cool/nice/desirable, what you think you will look good in, what fits on your walls and inside your home. As you just noticed, your own buying decision has nothing to do with the artist you are buying from, maybe a little with his or her skills, but certainly never anything with the hardships and frustrations the creative had to overcome. Why would a customer looking at your booth feel any different about buying than you do yourself?

Face it, outside of a gallery or museum situation, when it comes to selling directly to the public it’s truly all about what your customer wants. It’s not about you, the artist. Sorry.

How about adding an image to your display other than your work that can evoke a memory in your customer? Say an image of a rock concert (i.e. hands waving,) a nature setting (i.e. the beach, the forest, a lake,) or anything else that you would like to bring up as a potential connection point between your work and the person looking at it. If you are unsure of what that could be, try polling some people and see what that data suggests the connection points are.

Colorful and well-edited: Katja Toporski' booth.

Always good to see her and her work, Nicolette Absil. She's already thinking of adding more color to her display soon. Probably gold or a contrasting color. You go, girl!

Another suggestion: Please do your customers a favor and edit your display down to fewer pieces. Way down. I saw booths that had such an abundance of work on display, it seemed as if the artist dragged absolutely everything out in hopes that something, anything, might spark interest. A well-edited display will help your customer to focus. Focus on the story you want to tell and focus on the emotional connection they need to make. You can always offer more variety once someone is seriously interested.

Oh, and please: Do not hide behind your display eating sandwiches or appear uninterested or bored. Having a helper in your booth will ensure that at least one of you can engage with the customer.

I found a great example of a good booth experience with Deb Karash (2 images above.) Her whole setup was highly functional and creative, interesting and different. Look at the lamp and mirror attached to the side of her wall and the handy tray below it. Clever. Also: All of the round display openings are lighted on the inside and fully accessible.

(By the way, Deb is currently thinking about selling these booth cases because she came up with something new to showcase her work in. She's keeping things fresh for her customers.  If anyone’s interested to purchase her display pictured here, she asks that you be in touch via her website.)

Ford/Forlano also had a very good display, it was open on two sides and resembled a gallery setting. There was no hiding possible for Steve or David, they set it up so that they simply had to interact with people - and they did. Nice job.

I really liked David D'Imperio's display of lighting units at the end of a row. Beautiful! Check out his website!

While I am at it: Let customers handle your work in person. Please take it out of the display case and hand it over every chance you get. We are not in a museum environment. Unless the work can break or get smudgy, let people touch it. In fact, if the work could break or get smudgy then how about handing out white gloves? Now that would be a new experience!

Displaying work at eye level truly draws visitors in. Have a large mirror close by so that people can admire themselves while wearing your work. Watching other people having a good time in your booth is great advertising. People are drawn to booths that look “different,” booths where customers are warmly greeted and genuinely welcomed, where someone speaks in a non-condescending way, where a customer’s opinion is listened to and, lastly, booths where something interesting and fun takes place!

How many of these things happen in your booth?

Anna Boothe (905, glass) and David Short (1906, ceramics) were awarded Best Booth Design in Baltimore this year. I'll see if I can get you images of their booths, will follow up on that. In absence of these newest images, I would like to cite Emiko Oye’s ACC San Francisco booth from a few years back as a shining example of how to create a great booth experience (2 images above.) Attention drawing, unique, memorable, and, best of all: perfectly suited for her work. I never saw that booth in person, the closest I ever got to it was seeing images online, but I still remember it to this day. Now that’s a memorable booth.

As another good example of giving people a memorable booth experience, I’d like to point to the ACC’s cluster of Let’s Make Pavillion in Baltimore. Centrally located on the show floor, each booth hosted a different craft activity people could try out. No reservation or prior knowledge required. No long lectures given either. The booths were well attended on Friday and positively packed on Saturday. Why? Because they offered something unique and fun on this show floor: an interactive environment and a chance to try out a variety of craft media - or, in the case of the Balvenie booth, sipping some whiskey. (I never got around to a whiskey tasting myself, one of my major regrets that weekend. I heard it was really good. Oh well.)

Granted, you won’t be able to light up a torch, hand out Martinis, or do an extended workshop in your own booth. But you are a creative person, I am sure you could think of a small experience to make your booth be the one people will remember and want to get back to! Think interactive, interesting, and helpful.

Shooting off the hip here: Jewelers, can you offer free ring-sizing? Fiber artists, how about putting up a mini-loom or embroidery stand, let people touch a needle? Ceramicists, is it possible to have a non-electric wheel somewhere people can just sit at to get a feel for what it’s like? Wood workers: How about having various tools on display for people to touch? I bet visitors would love that. As far as I am concerned, I’ve never seen a tool I didn’t like.

Just brainstorming some thoughts out-loud here to get you going. I understand booth real estate is precious and you want to primarily sell to make ends meet. I get that. This engagement idea I put in front of you is about giving visitors something unusual and interesting to wrap their heads around and connect with, let them be more than just walking wallets. If you think these ideas are too distracting/time-consuming/difficult then feel free to come up with a smaller-scale activity and brainstorm with me and others in the comments below. How about hanging an iPad or small flat screen TV on a wall showing a short video about you?

Ask yourself: What would draw your attention to a booth - other than the work? What would be an awesome experience to have?

Grant Whittaker and yours truly.

In that vein, another interesting activity the ACC started this year was the Style Slam which took place close to the Let’s Make booths. A group of fashion stylists went through show booths looking for pieces to highlight, then staged a make-over-slash-fashion-show event demonstrating how the work they picked could be worn. It was all lights, camera, action. In short: a lot of attention-drawing fun.

I happened to meet one of the show’s stylists, Grant Whittaker, on Friday evening and we hit it off right away. Grant is funny, irreverent, and very charming, a total ham. (His mom is from Germany, like I am, and he speaks German with the cutest Heidelberg accent. Hilarious.) Grant presented the Style Slam on Saturday and his showmanship qualities were perfectly suited for the event. He drew a crowd to the Style Slam booth for sure ... hmm, you see what I am getting at?

To round this up: From what I have seen and what others confirmed: the ACC Baltimore is one of the important US craft shows artists aspire to exhibit in. As a visitor you expect a bonanza of craft and you will get it. The best part? The sheer size of the show. The worst part? The sheer size of the show! Go ahead and try taking it all in during one walk-through, see if you can recall much of anything afterwards, let alone manage to get back to that awesome artist you swore you would always remember (I'll never forget good old what’s-his-name.)

This show is big and it brings in crowds who like it just like that. People’s tastes are different and that’s why the huge variety on this show floor is a very good thing. There’s truly something here for everyone to like.
Was I glad I came? Absolutely. Most of the work was very good, much of it was outstanding. Meeting some of the masters and geniuses of the various craft fields in person is definitely a privilege we don’t often have, and I was glad to see so many of them clustered here and ready to chat about their work. Would I visit this show again? Yes, and I highly recommend you give it a try too. Spend as much time as you possibly can. Two days is a decent amount of time, three days is not too much.

Insider tip: bring comfortable shoes...and your wallet.


(3) The show artist perspective. Laura Jaklitsch: Background and startup cost.

Myung Urso in her booth. Her work showed very well against the grey backdrop.

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Replies to This Discussion

Bridgett, thanks so much for the booth experience here. Last year I got two booth awards in Louisville shows I did, but sales were so miserable, I don't want to do again. People love the jewelry, but won't buy.

I went to a mock jury for the St Louis outdoor show, and the two on the jury said so many conflicting things we were all in a daze afterwards. If the artist had pro panels, they were the wrong shade of bland. If they had wall art, they dissed black grids, and mesh walls. They didn't like curtains. One jewelry artist whose booth they liked, was rejected last year! Her work was great, her photos professional. They wanted to see rugs on the ground for the shot, but not in the show for insurance reasons. Someone else said not to put too many photos on the wall, or the jury will eventually ban them for gaming the system, so then, the booth will look bare. Show three sides, but be sure the jury can tell that what you have in the booth is the same as what you juried with.  Have enough inventory so the jury knows you are up to the task, but not so much they get confused.The artist who had mesh walls allowed the tabs on the bottom to show, and the jury didn't seem to like that, but didn't want them photo-shopped out. They wanted the booth to be well lit, but didn't want to see the actual lights. They complained about shadows, ignoring the fact that at an outdoor show the artist has to take the picture when they can, not all have a perfect place to set up at home to take the pic at the perfect time of day.

It is as if a guy (the jury) was going into a singles bar, and all the girls there (the artists) were blonde, thin, dressed great, and he can pick anyone he wants, and out of 100, 5 get picked to speak to him. Why did he pick one blonde over the other? Who knows! 

Roxy, you've about summed it up!

Thank  you. Best article on booth design I have read in a long long time. 

Great commentary from Brigitte with a frankness that only Brigitte Martin can declare. She is right! Our customers are exposed to the best quality, innovative displayat every store they go to in their shopping center at the mall or walking down the street. Time to up our game with fresh, innovative display.

Thanks Brigitte, another good article with information one cane really think about and use. Being new to craft sale and after pondering what I've read about his subject and what you wrote here, it seems to me that there are two schools of thoughts. One school suggests that your display should not over power your art. That is, your art should be the major attraction and the display should be as "background" as possible. The Ford/Forlano and Myungo Urso displays are a perfect example of this. The other school of thought is to have a uniques and memorable display that differentiate and makes a booth standout to pull people in. Clearly Emiko Oye's and Deb Karash's booths pictured above are perfect examples of this school of thought. One sees the booth first. The Jewellery is next. Is that a bad thing? Which school to follow? It seems confusing just as Roxy Lentz described in her reply to this post. Here is the lesson I learned thinking about these seemingly contradictory school of thoughts. A booth should contain a "shout out". Sometimes the art is magnificently and "loud" and any more "shout out" will be plain annoying. Sometimes the art is magnificent and "soft", in which case a "shout out" would be just the thing. At the end of the day, just as Brigitte argued here, the artist needs to differentiate and standout in their booth design just as they do in their art.

Heba, that was a great way to put it. What do we want to beckon and shout to the customer as they pass by.


Thank you all very much for your thoughtful comments! Harriete - you hit the nail on the head!

Anyone remember the joys of window shopping? Some stores are famous for having absolutely spectacular window displays, such as Macy's at Christmastime. If we took just a little of that pizzazz and applied it to our booths it would be amazing. Here are some eye-popping windows with ideas that could be easily applied to our craft booths too. Maybe not in all their magnificence, but certainly in color schemes. Window dressing is an art form for sure. We are creatives, we can do this!

Enjoy. Feel free to post more pictures when you come across any displays you like.

Magnificent selection of display windows. Thank you. 

In the interests of sorting all this out a bit, its worth noting that "display design" really has two components, both of which meet specific criteria of facilitating a purchase decision.

1. Attract attention and draw the potential customer to the merchandise presentation.

2. Present merchandise in a manner that makes selection and purchase decision clear and easy.

The function of these components are often at odds with each other.  The display designer's task is to reconcile the function of both component to what ever degree possible.

Stores, particularly retail department stores have the luxury of space to create physical separation of these functions (ie window and merchandise area). Craft booths must do it all in a contiguous 10x10 space.

Finding the balance between "stop them dead in their tracks" visual impact, and fast/easy/simple  review of the merchandise is the challenge for craft displays. 

It sure is a challenge to make a dynamite display in a booth that is only "open" a few days a year, and a fraction of the budget of a retail store. It can be done, we just hope the jury remembers the challenge.

One of the things I keep an eye out for on Pinterest is how people display jewelry. 

I am thinking that grabbing the viewer's attention is a critical factor for effective booth display. If you haven't grabbed the viewer's attention, and pulled them into your booth there is no hope for selling them anything. That being said, the booth design also needs to convey some kind of signature identity or brand.

If you are selling work in a shabby chic style, then your display should follow a similar aesthetic. Trendy styling for trendy, contemporary work. Work about color blocking might have color blocking "ka-pow!"

Aside from all of the excellent commentary about the aesthetic considerations of a booth, I want to applaud you for mentioning customer interaction. When reading your question at the top about a memorable booth that drew you in, the first booths that popped into my head were those with artists, or even assistants, who were warm, welcoming and engaging.

I went to many ACC shows in my early 20's, and, armed with my puny savings combined with early birthday money from my grandma, I would always pick out a single piece to buy, usually in the $150-250 range. I know that's not a huge sale, but it's not a small one either. As time goes on my art budget goes up, and one day I could be a pretty decent return customer - I'm willing to spend a good percentage of my income on art. But, because I didn't look like a big spender, a lot of artists would flat out ignore me, smirk condescendingly, or even stare suspiciously as I looked at their work. To that I say, "Really??" I understand that you're tired and trying to make a sale, but when you're at a *retail* show that means you're in the business of customer service, like it or not. Perk up, conjure up a smile and a warm "hello, how are you," because even if I can't afford your work, your interaction with me might open the door for someone else to feel comfortable stepping into your booth or pique their interest. And maybe I *can* afford your work, in which case your crummy attitude just lost you a sale. Case in point: A few years back, a friend of mine in his mid-20's (with a great job) was ready to spend $2000+ on a ceramic sculpture at ACC. He returned to the booth several times, but the artist continued to ignore him, writing him off because of his age/appearance, despite numerous attempts to ask about the work. The artist lost a great sale.

So, in short, I just want to re-emphasize that point because I think it's an important one. Other important aspects for me are similar to those mentioned - clean, bright displays; touchable work; fewer items on display; and, for the love of all that is holy, VISIBLE PRICES. Thanks for another great article, Brigitte!

Thank you, Jessica! You are so right, when it comes to people in a store, you just never know. I've worked with artists (at a previous job) who looked like bums that just crept out of a tent from under a bridge, but they were carrying buckets of money around because they were very successful fine artists (painting/sculpture). Spending 10K on something was nothing for them, they just didn't care to dress the part. It was always amusing for me to see how these artists were treated in public - it all depended on whether the other side knew they were loaded. The difference in treatment was as remarkable as it was hilarious - but maybe that's just my twisted sense of humor speaking.

Glad you brought up the topic of price tagging, because I couldn't agree with you more on that too. Who wants to play guessing games and do the song-and-dance with the artist? Not me. I don't want to be forced to listen to why the work is "worth" it. What kind of an interaction is that supposed to be? If I don't see a price tag, I *assume* it's going to be way out of my price range and I will move on swiftly. If I see a price I can determine at that point if I want to afford it.

(Note to self: If and when Jessica Todd comes to my booth, I'm going to roll out the red carpet and have it rain rose petals. She's going to be a 'good one.') :)))))


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