It’s not your imagination: Farmer’s markets and craft shows have come a long way. Today’s markets and fairs are enjoying a new wave of popularity as must-visit shopping destinations that feature organic foods of all varieties, on-trend artisanal products, and a unique community vibe.
To Market, To Market
For starters, participating in markets is the ultimate opportunity for indie makers and smaller brands to cultivate real connections with customers. It’s also a manageable and (relatively) affordable way to showcase your wares IRL in more of a “pop-up” context, rather than investing in a full-scale brick-and-mortar location.
The first component of nailing the in-person selling experience at craft fairs and markets means exhibiting at shows that make sense for your brand. These events offer the opportunity to make connections with fellow entrepreneurs and makers in your area, gain access to the festival’s audience, test your brand launch in a real-life venue, meet potential wholesale clients, and build a local following.
And you never know, this in-person selling experience can serve as the stepping stone to opening a physical location.
Find a Market Near You
For an evolving list of markets, check out Shopify’s Flea & Farmer's Market Directory.
An integral part of exhibiting at the show or market is creating a killer booth. We spoke with the organizers of some of the popular North American craft shows, as well as retail experts, to get the inside scoop on building the ultimate booth to bolster your sales and engage customers.
Your Booth = A Pop-up Shop
A booth is your way of having a presence at a venue, introducing yourself to your potential customers, and nurturing a connection with those customers along the way. In other words, it’s a pop-up shop.
Melissa Gonzalez, founder of pop-up architecture firm The Lion’esque Group and author of the book The Pop-Up Paradigm, offered her top tip for developing your booth:
Ensure it tells your story.
These days, brands can feel like a needle in a haystack at trade shows, and as a brand, you need to ensure your story grabs people from the aisles.
For starters, pick a core focal point to tell your story. Go back to basics here and consider your brand and your narrative: for example, if you sell sun hats, then consider using white ropes, starfish, and seashells as fixtures. Make waves and have fun with your booth elements! (More on this below.)
Remember: You only have a few seconds to capture the attention of passersby, so make sure your “story” and your products are crystal clear to your potential audience.
"When you are positioned among other vendors, whether direct competitors or not, it's vital to stand out in your presentation, engagement, and overall customer experience. Of course, how you do this makes all the difference,” she notes. “To help, consider what first impressions your booth space gives off. Does it stop customers in their tracks and make them want to learn more about your business? Or does it simply blend in, or worse, is it easily dismissed among your booth neighbors?”
7 Steps to Build Your Booth and Create Engagement
1. Start a Moodboard
Photo Credit: Melissa Gonzalez
When researching ideas for your booth’s design, head over to Pinterest and type in “Craft Show Booths,” “Craft Show Display Ideas,” and “Market Booth Inspiration.” Each search will spawn hundreds of results.
Tip: Follow these Pinterest boards before you’re even confirmed to exhibit at a show, so that the images gradually populate your Pinterest feed ahead of time. You can even follow some of the top shows in your industry on Instagram, as they usually post plenty of photos of impressive booths in their feeds. Get inspired and save the images you like.
The design website and app Houzz also offers a multitude of visual presentation and design inspiration, so check it out. Browse under “Storage” and “Decor” to refine your search.
Then gather all the saved images that inspire you and create a moodboard to keep you inspired as you hatch your plans.
2. Create Your Plan
We spoke to Andrea Tucker, one of the organizers of Vancouver’s Got Craft?, about planning a booth. Step one for her: Sit down and organize your thoughts — it can be incredibly overwhelming, after all.
Ask yourself what items you need displayed and what is the best way to present your products. Sketch out a few possible layouts and don’t forget to leave room for an area to process payments and for storage.
Once you’re approved to attend the market or craft show you’re aiming for, contact the show’s organizers to get the floor plan and any rules or regulations regarding setup. (In the case of Got Craft?, for example, they open applications between four to six months in advance.)
Booth regulations can be a creative challenge – how will you conceptualize the space within the constraints? You may only have a 10x10 space within which to tell your brand's story, after all.
3. Consider Who Will Build the Booth
Equipped with your vision and the show’s plan, consider how you’re going to build your booth. If you have a good handle of your moodboards and enough inspiration, you might be able to sketch out the blueprints yourself with the help of interior design apps for iOS or Android.
If it’s overwhelming and you plan to attend more than one show, consider researching companies that specialize in booth design and development, or hiring an interior designer to help you with the booth’s blueprints.
There are two more things to keep in mind:
- Make your booth easy to put up and take down.
- When it comes to a show’s booth specs, try to ensure your booth plan accommodates most shows. If you plan on attending multiple shows, you don’t want your booth to be too “out there” in terms of design and display elements. In other words, try to ensure that your booth, while original, is still “one size fits most.”
Finally, while planning your design, consider the lighting of the show you’re attending: where are the power outlets, are there restrictions around lighting, and is power included in the vendor fee?
4. The Aesthetics: Choose Your Materials, Colors, and More
And now for the fun part: deciding what colors and materials to use in your booth. The world is your playground! The goal is to create a cohesive and on-brand look with the elements and colors you choose.
Andrea from Got Craft? recommends sticking to muted colors (white works especially well) to help make your products stand out. There’s a reason photographers and top brands use white backdrops to shoot items on Instagram — it really makes the products pop.
And if you’re going with another color palette, try matching it to your brand and use the same color for your packaging, signage, and maybe even how you dress at the show. Uniformity and consistency make for stronger branding.
Get inspired by your product and brand, and see how it can help inform the materials you use for decor. For example, Paperbacknote hand-makes unique upcycled stationery and paper goods from recycled books. They have created a tabletop display using kraft paper and cardboard tubes.
Photo: Jerk with a Camera and Twig Prints at Got Craft?, [stu-di-o] by jeanie
Jerk with a Camera, a photographer, uses photography backdrop holders to hang his work on — a truly fitting display tool!
Printer/illustrator/sewer Twig Prints uses a simple old room divider to both hang her products and to create a discreet back room and staff break area.
According to Melissa Gonzalez, you can even incorporate flooring into your booth for a high-quality experience (if you can afford it). Since every touchpoint of your booth adds to the overall story of the space, flooring can help immerse your visitors further into your brand’s world — it’s also the finishing touch that completes your story.
Photo Credit: Lago
Examples of flooring include whitewashed wood floors and even cork flooring (this can be found at Home Depot). Consider what style of flooring will help immerse visitors into the full story of the collection you’re showcasing.
Bonus: Visitors might want to take “flat-lay” pictures of your products and shoefies (shoe selfies) to post on Instagram, so having a white floor is a great way to feature a white backdrop for crisp flat-lays and shoefies.
5. Make the Most of a Tight Budget
Andrea from Got Craft? has some easy suggestions for vendors who are on a shoestring budget.
Spray paint + thrift stores = my two best friends. Think outside the box!
It’s all about being creative and repurposing items for different uses, especially when it comes to visual presentation. For example, consider using books as risers or china saucers as holders for small items like jewelry or pins.
Other fun display items include ladders, tool boxes, drawers, kid chairs, boxes or crates, racks, and three-tier stands.
Tip: Find inspiration in the vibe and general aesthetic at retail stores that have mastered the whimsical, lifestyle feel. Two examples include Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. Browse their locations or simply their social media feeds (especially Instagram and Pinterest). You might just find the ultimate decorative pieces for your booth in the process.
Sometimes, the items you need are right in front of you — they might be gathering dust in your home or the home of a family member. Check your rooms and/or studio for things you can use such as tables, containers, and props. Sometimes the more “rustic” and distressed, the better, depending on your brand.
Photo Credit: Artists & Fleas
Or, consider bartering for materials: Visit some other vendors before the show starts and see if they have any items you can trade, or even borrow, for the show. Also check with show organizers to see what materials they may have on hand to lend out or rent.
According to Georgia Varidakis, the LA & Chelsea Market Manager of Artists & Fleas, while it depends on the look you are aiming for, check out YouTube for DIY tutorials on how to create a great booth on a budget.
Get thrifty! Hit up your local thrift store. You are sure to find some cheap decor that can be brought back to life with a fresh coat of paint.
Georgia continues: “Although not indie or small businesses, stores such as IKEA and The Container Store may also offer some great options that you can reuse throughout the year. Leave no big box store unturned.”
6. More Visual Presentation Tips
Make it Appealing
According to Georgia of Artists & Fleas, your space should be shoppable.
“Your space should look like an extension of the product, but if the customer can't tell what is for sale in a clutter of props or can't get to it, you are setting yourself up for failure.”
Photo Credit: Artists & Fleas
Refresh and Tidy up Your Presentation Often
You also want to ensure you revamp your section often, so that it looks visually appealing at all times.
“For shows longer than one day, tweak the layout so it looks new to returning customers,” Georgia says.
Use Height to Your Advantage
“Height is a great way to be noticed from a distance. Flat displays tend to get overlooked as they are easy to pass by,” Georgia notes.
Melissa Gonzalez offers an important reminder: Don't overstock the shelves. When it comes to choosing which items to display, you want to ensure you pick your strongest elements that best position your brand.
7. Attract and Engage Customers
Nicole Leinbach Reyhle offers this advice:
“Visually creating a space that complements your brand and products while welcoming customer engagement is key. Think about the comfort of your guests as they shop your booth and how getting them to interact within your environment can keep them more engaged, as well. With the right displays, ambiance and customer support, consumers will be less likely to leave empty handed."
With this in mind, here are some ideas to increase your chances of attracting and engaging customers.
Welcome Your Guests
You can slay the look of your booth, but if you’re not welcoming your visitors, then your aesthetic efforts have gone to waste.
Both Andrea of Got Craft? and Georgia of Artists & Fleas emphasize the importance of saying “hello” to everyone. As tempting as it is to scroll through your phone or browse on your laptop, step away from these distractions, make contact, and welcome everyone who steps up to your booth. This ensures browsers and potential shoppers know that you're available in case they have any questions. Some items might be great “icebreakers” that automatically encourage interaction, but it’s still key to ask your visitors questions, talk about your process, and generally be open.
If customers think they’re interrupting you, they’re less likely to ask about an item or purchase something. And that’s another missed opportunity.
Tip: When possible, stand behind your display or near it. Standing in front of it not only blocks it, but can be intimidating for people trying to approach your booth.
Have Proper Signage
Photo Credit: Artists & Fleas
Make sure you have proper signage at your booth, and clearly indicate your tagline (if you have one), the URL for your online shop, and your social media handles and hashtags.
Speaking of social media...
Keep Social Media in Mind
Andrea from Got Craft? offers important reminders to attract potential customers’ attention: Create an eye-catching piece to make it social media friendly.
"A few years ago at the One of a Kind show in Vancouver, my husband and I created a DIY sign out of yarn, which was a perfect tie-in as a portion of my products were crocheted," she explains. "We also made a marquee one year using lightbulbs, cardboard, and spray paint. Unique pieces create conversations and people loved to stop and take images, which is great for spreading the news!"
Keep the Conversation Going on Social Media
If you want to encourage people to hang around and stay engaged on social media, try setting up a makeshift selfie station. You can keep it simple; no need to get too fancy or go overboard. Simply create a backdrop with Bristol board or cardboard, or reserve a “blank space” on one of your booth’s walls. You can also create a frame out of cardboard, to serve as a selfie prop.
Whether you use a wall or a frame, make sure your URL, hashtags, and social handles are clearly incorporated. This is a fun way to encourage user-generated content that you can then post on your company’s Instagram feed and in a Facebook photo album.
Create and Distribute Bag Stuffers
Drive people to your social media channels and encourage them to snap and share a picture of their new purchase by giving branded bag stuffers to all customers. This can help boost your social media following, keep your customers engaged, and lead to more user-generated content. The handouts can even feature a promo code to incentivize customers to head to your online store to do more shopping.
Create an Email List
Georgia of Artists & Fleas emphasizes the importance of gathering customer emails while at the show (this can even be done by displaying a guestbook on a visible surface, for visitors to sign and add their email address).
This way you can continue engaging your audience by sending emails that feature your story, exclusive deals and styling tips, and announcing your next destinations so that your fans are always in the loop.
Tip: Use emails as a way to engage your followers by recounting and explaining what goes into making your handmade items, or the adventures of scouting for the perfect vintage collection. Keep ‘em engaged! Content is king, both during and after the show.
Melissa Gonzalez recommends a fun way to ensure you gather customer emails and keep it interactive on-site.
“Google Forms is an easy way to create a survey that can be hosted on a vendor’s phone: Make the survey short and sweet, and offer an incentive for participation — perhaps offer participants an option of incentives so you can also take note of what they value most (a sale, free shipping, or a complimentary gift).
Hold a Contest
Promote an on-site contest or giveaway, where shoppers simply need to fill in their email address or sign up for your newsletter, for the chance to win a gift card for your store or a gift basket filled with your products. Winner(s) can be announced at the end of the day, every hour, or even via email (another way to keep the conversation going with your customer going).
Remember that your booth is a gateway to your brand and your online shop, so make every detail count. Whether you’re participating at a music festival, farmer’s market, or craft show, think outside the booth and have fun building it.