Creating Art Show Booths That Sell

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In the first installment, Creating Artwork for an Art Show, the discussion revolved around creating the work and determining a pricing structure.

The artist must determine the kind of artwork on which to focus, and create a body of work that will maximize sales.

Pricing structure is a hard nut to crack. There are many things to consider in setting prices for artwork, including venue, regional location and the artist’s experience.

In this second article, the focus will be planning a theme, creating a booth, scheduling and arrangements. These phases are diametrically opposed. The artist will be using his considerable talents to create a themed booth, which is both portable and attractive. Then he has all that boring paperwork and phoning to do. If only the budget included a personal assistant, life would be so much simpler. Since this is not the case, this installment will sort out some of the drudgery.

A Booth For All Seasons

Some of the events in which an artist will participate are held indoors. That is a real bonus with indoor plumbing, climate control and real floors. However, many venues are fairgrounds, parks and parking lots. Lots of wide-open space, but the artist and his precious work is vulnerable to the whims of Mother Nature.

Sun, wind, rain, snow and miserable cold are all contingencies for which a savvy vendor must plan. Remember, this is a little shop-away-from-home, so comfort for artist and customer, as well as safety of the merchandise is key in designing the space.

Make Your Presentation Memorable

We shall get to the mechanics of this later, but first the artist should come up with a theme for his shop. If the artist’s work revolves around a theme, this is an easy choice. Marine artists can opt for nautical accessories to decorate their booth, which may be trimmed in blues, gold and purple tones. An artist whose work is fantasy, such as gnomes, fairies and elves may concoct a greenery-laden glen, complete with recorded water and woodland sounds.

The booth’s theme should not compete with the artwork. It should accessorize and play up the pieces, not vie for attention with them. Understated and setting a tone, the theme should evoke the same sentiments that the artist’s work creates in the customer. If the artist finds he is getting as many questions about the accessories as his own work, he has gone too far with his decorations.

Down To The Nuts And Bolts

With a theme in mind, it is time to begin designing the space. Booths are typically ten by ten foot spaces, or multiples thereof. Plan to use every square inch of that space. That means from floor to ceiling, on both sides if the booths are not abutted together. At many outdoor venues, where space is not an issue, booths have areas between each one. This is great, as it significantly increases the space in which to display. Indoor events tend to line booths up right next to one another, eliminating the possibility of using the outside of the booth for display. A position at the end of a row is a prime location, as it not only allows the artist at least one outside end to display upon, but also sees increased traffic flow at the intersection.

Re-inventing the wheel is not necessary. Attend as many events as possible to scope out the competition and see how other artists construct a booth. Make a notebook of ideas, both good and bad. Compile that into a needs-and-wants list to help create a space that is neat, compact and adjustable for different venues.

The booth must assemble quickly and not require a team of engineering students to accomplish. The artist may be doing a show solo, and must therefore be able to set up the booth without help. Hanging work requires walls to which pieces are mounted easily and securely. There are many wall ideas, and the artist should consider several for versatility, ease of construction and cost. Pegboard, enamel coated wire panels, wooden lath and even chicken wire are a few possibilities.

Do not under-engineer this booth. If it collapses or a wall falls, there can be real problems. Art may be damaged or destroyed. However, a more financially ruinous dilemma is someone injured as a result of being within your selling space. The walls should be easy to set up, but must be sturdy. An errant child crashing into it should not set the whole space tumbling. Zip ties are strong and can easily be cut off after use. Corner braces at both top and bottom cut down on the wobble factor.

The first incarnation of the booth may not have everything just right, and there will be additions and refinements. It is an ongoing project, as the artist learns more about this type of selling and display.

Scheduling Is A Must!

This part of show business takes organization. There are deadlines to be met, fees to be paid and reservations to be made. A large, dry-erase calendar, prominently displayed in office or studio, is a big help to see at a glance when upcoming shows are scheduled, when fees are due, and possible scheduling conflicts.

Color-coding things whenever possible can be a help. A computer spreadsheet or Personal Information Manager can also be useful. Keep a master list of phone numbers, contacts and other pertinent information for each venue. Add information to this if the event is one that is likely to be a repeat location. The internet is a great resource to find food and lodging near the event, and many festivals have compiled these lists for vendors, as part of the vendor’s package of information.

Make sure to read the exhibitor’s terms carefully. Some venues have additional fees for electricity. All shows will have specified times for set up and tear down. Some shows mandate union workers do some tasks. There are ways to sidestep this, but not without work and resourcefulness. Some venues are easy to deal with, while other festivals are not user friendly. Make it a point to speak with show personnel if there are any questions. Better to have them cleared up beforehand than arriving with a problem right from the start.

Some larger, well-established events make discounted rooms available at motels near the show location. These may be good deals, but searching a little further afield can oftentimes result in much less costly rooms. Small, independent motels are often cheaper and only a few miles further away. Diners and restaurants, catering to local trade, may have much better prices than chain restaurants.

Plan to take a cooler for beverages, snacks and lunches. Ice is often free at the motel, or is available at a nearby gas station. Food and drink at the event is fun and convenient, but adds to the expense. Some large shows require vendors to be on site 12 hours for several days. At these shows, a small microwave can guarantee convenient, hot meals to break up the chips and sandwich routine.

Head’em Up, Move’em Out

The kind of transportation that an artist requires for this style selling depends on how much space he needs to move his entire setup. A miniaturist or jewelry maker requires far less physical space than an artist who works in huge scale. Potters and glass workers need secure well-padded containers in which to transport their wares.

Once the display has been designed and built, assemble everything that will possibly be needed for the trip, including luggage and other personal needs. Now the artist can see approximately how much space the gear requires. If the equipment, artwork and personal items fit in a van or SUV, there may be no additional expense, assuming the artist owns this kind of vehicle.

If there is not enough space, a trailer might be the answer. If the artist’s vehicle has a hitch and is capable of pulling the weight, he can rent or purchase a trailer. The occasional show may not warrant buying a trailer, with the associated insurance, license and storage requirements. However, if the artist decides that this is a great opportunity and enjoys the gypsy life, a trailer can be a worthwhile investment.

Business As Usual

The artist is now not only a painter, but also an entrepreneur. He is a business. Owning a business requires a number of things to please the county, state and federal governments.

The artist should acquire a county vendor’s license. This requires him to collect sales tax from his sales, but also allows him to purchase his materials tax-exempt. If he sells at events in other counties and states, he needs to have tax forms for each location. He is required to pay tax to all counties in which he sells. Reporting sales and paying sales tax varies by amount of sales and from state to state. County websites can give further information on the specific requirements of each locale. Some festival promoters provide the necessary forms for an itinerate vendor.

Our world is quickly approaching a cashless society. It is not uncommon to use a debit card for a can of soda or a package of gum. A savvy seller needs the ability to take credit and debit cards. This is a necessary evil of our modern society, and the fees are just the cost of doing business. There are so many ways that a small, independent dealer can accept credit cards, and the artist should investigate which is the most expedient for his needs, at the best possible price.

If a vendor is selling one-of-a-kind items, inventory control is not an issue. He can write an invoice from a pre-printed invoice booklet. If the craftsman is selling similar items, he may wish to keep a running account of his inventory. An artist who has 10 or 20 items probably does not need this. However, to a craftsman selling hundreds of items, this may be very helpful in keeping an accurate count of items sold, not sold, and any shrinkage that may occur.

There are no inexpensive invoice programs. However, there are programs that may cost several hundred dollars, which are well worth the investment. This takes investigation and comparison. Talk to other artists about the programs they use. Do not be too hasty in making a purchase. The most expensive program is not necessarily the best.

Living the gypsy-style life of an on-the-road artist can be a great experience. This life also requires tenacity, flexibility and an outgoing manner. It is physically demanding, and psychologically difficult if the family is separated for long periods. Maintaining a regular home life and work schedule to replenish merchandise is important.

However, if this becomes a family based endeavor, it can be a great experience for everyone. Many artists start selling locally, during peak tourist season. Then, becoming enamored of the life, take it on full-time.

Whether an artist participates a few times a season, or follows the show circuit the entire year, it is a great way to spend time with fellow artists and get immediate feedback about his work.

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