Craft Show Chaos!

Craft Show Chaos!

Do you ever wonder what goes on in the life of an artist before and during a craft show? Trust me, I had no clue either until I became a vendor myself. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Oh no, my friends. Behind the scenes, there is a whole lot of preparation, planning, and a touch of mayhem. Setting up a craft show is not for the faint of heart, so buckle up.

Today I am pulling back the curtain and giving you a glimpse into the crazy world of craft show prep. Get ready to witness the magical chaos of meticulous organization, improvising on the fly, and bursts of creative inspiration that unfolds. 

It’s a ballet of creativity, tech-savviness, muscle power, and loads of fun that come together to create a great event! 

So join me as you I fill you in on the special recipe that works for me! (Stay with me…this is long!) 

  1. Apply to be in a show. This is no simple task. They want photos. Sometimes they want printed photos, sometimes they want online photos. Sometimes you even have to present your work in person. Then you wait. And wait. And wait to hear if you got accepted. Sometimes you don’t get accepted and you can be pretty disappointed. Other times you are placed on the waitlist, and a month before the show you get a surprise email saying you’re now in.  It can be an emotional roller coaster. 🎢

  2. Plan my booth layout. Doing a sketch is sometimes helpful. Luckily, I tend to do repeat shows so this isn’t that hard.

  3. Spread the word!  📣 I post about the show on Facebook, Instagram, and email. I share all of the info - including location, date, and the booth number where the fun will happen.

  4. Make products. It’s time to whip out my creative superpowers. I look at gaps I have in my inventory. For example, do I have enough earrings for all of my beautiful customers who might be looking for that new special pair? Do I need to make more bracelets in fabulous shades of purple?

  5. Label, label, label. 🏷 Prices, prices, prices. Ensure all items are labeled with their price and item number for inventory tracking. For earrings, for example, this means putting my labels on the earring cards, putting the earring card hanger on the earring card, putting the earrings on the card with the stoppers, then adding the price label.

  6. Label, label, label (again). 🛍🎁 It’s not just the product that needs to be priced. I also put labels in my gift boxes and on my gift bags. I also put business cards in the gift boxes and organza bags that I put the jewelry in. It’s always better to have too many than too few. 

  7. Website. 💻 Make sure I capture the beauty of all new items. I measure and photograph all new items for the website. I also write their descriptions. They need to be online before the show for my inventory system to work. That way they are also online for when the show is over.

  8. Organize products. This is when I bring order to the creative chaos. I have different containers for my products, and they all go into their proper places…after the steps above. (And yes, these are organized, even if they don't look like to you!)

  9. Cash baby! 💵 I need to be able to make change, so I make sure I have enough bills and coins. This may mean a trip to the bank.

  10. Power up! 📱 Charge all electronic devices. I charge my phone, tablet, and credit card reader. I bring a charging cable and a portable charger just in case.

  11. Know the show. 📜 I review any rules specific to the show, including set up time and where to unload the car and park the car after unloading. And know the weather forecast and plan accordingly. One year, it hailed during my outdoor show. Thank goodness I had a solid roof over my head even though we were outside.

  12. Pack the goodies! 🥕🥪🍎🍪🥤  Snacks, water, and lunch are my fuel for the craft show adventure. Do you know I can put on 10,000 steps a day in my little 10x10 booth? I need some healthy food, yummy treats and refreshing drinks to sustain me through that.

  13. Gather the goods. 📜 I have a spreadsheet that includes the following and then some. It even has extra items for outdoor shows, like a fan.
    • Tables, chairs, and other furniture I use for my set up
    • Tablecloths, display stands, and signage
    • Cash box, credit card reader, and iPad
    • Gift bags, gift boxes, and packaging materials.
    • An assortment of chains and cords that I add to my necklaces.
    • Extension cords, power strips, and lighting
    • Price tags, labels, and markers – a tag inevitably falls off and needs replaced
    • Business cards
    • Signage for the booth – from the big sign for the business, to the little ones with QR codes that can be used at check out (for Venmo, CashApp, and PayPal)
    • Essential items such as scissors, tape, pins and spare parts
    • Personal items such as tissues, ibuprofen, etc.
    • Chainmail supplies for adjustments on the spot
    • Hand sanitizer for both me and customers to use
    • Paper towels to clean any messes. They double as napkins for my snacks.

  14. Pick out my outfit. 👚 I like to wear a plain top to shows so that the jewelry I pick to wear is truly the star of the show.  

  15. Pack the cars. 🚗🚗 Yes, cars. It would take twice as long to squeeze into one car…perfectly fitting every item in is like a game of Tetris. But since Steve helps me set up and needs a car to get himself back home while I’m at the show, we load into two cars.

  16. Road trip! 🗺 The closest show I do is about 15 minutes away, but most are an hour away or more. There is even one far enough away, and that goes late enough each night, that I book a hotel and stay there. That means even more preparation as I have to pack a suitcase!

  17. Transformation time. Setting up my beautiful booth takes a couple of hours, even with my trusty helper, Steve. We kick things off by getting the tables and display shelves up. Then Steve disappears to crawl under the tables and works his magic to hook up all of the electricity that powers the lighting and my technology for processing purchases. 🔌 I truly couldn’t do this without him!

    Meanwhile, I unleash my inner design guru and arrange all of my product and organize my check out booth. This is all so much easier for shows that allow you to set up the day before the show. But two of my regular shows set up the morning of the first day. That means getting up at the crack of dawn to get there early enough to have adequate time to set up before opening. It takes me a jaw dropping 2 ½ to 3 hours to get my booth ready to prime time.

  18. Lights, camera, action! 💡 We turn on the lights to make sure they all work. I turn on the iPad and credit card reader to be sure I’m connected to wi-fi and everything is working correctly.

  19. LIVE! 🎬 Just before the show starts, if I have time, I grab my phone and go live on social media to share the excitement and behind the scenes fun. It’s like a virtual front-row seat to the show.

  20. Turn on! From start to finish, I have to be “on”. I try to smile and chat with customers if they are open to it. No grumpy faces allowed. No staring at the cell phone. I want to be inviting, but not overbearing! And it’s exhausting…. Outdoor shows are even more exhausting, I think due to heat.

  21. Remodel? Sometimes, mid-show, you realize that the way you set up your booth isn’t working. This past weekend, I made a small adjustment to my booth about 2 hours in and it made a HUGE difference. You can see it, can't you?!?) Don’t be afraid to fix what might not be working.

  22. Say cheese! 📸 I grab my phone again during the show to snap pictures of the booth and happy customers! Their excited faces are like pure gold to me! (Check out Lisa's pretty new earrings!)

  23. Cover up. At the end of each day (if there is a second day), I take my decorative plates and giftware items that could fall and break if bumped off of the shelves and lay them flat. I cover all of the display to discourage stealing. Most shows have good security, but better safe than sorry.

  24. Stay late. ⌛ Sometimes customers are still shopping when the show ends. I’ve been making sales ½ hour past closing time. Fine with me…keep shopping. It makes the days long but worth it!

  25. Pack up. At the end of each show, we pack it up all up, load the cars, and drive home. That sounds simple, but it’s not. Everything needs to be packed in an organized way so it’s ready for the next show. Luckily, after the hard days of being on feet, Steve does the heavy lifting of carrying the items to the car. It takes about 2 hours to take everything down and load up the cars. And sometimes it’s a decent walk from the booth to the car.

  26. Unload. 🏠 It’s not over when we pull into the garage. Oh, no. Far from it. Then we have to unload everything back into the house. Again, my workhorse, Steve, is the one doing the heavy lifting because I’m too tired. Depending on how late it is, we organize all the things, and put them in their proper place. Other times, like this past weekend, we just leave some (typically the boxes and bags and jewelry) in a pile to be moved over the next few days when I’ve recovered.

Phew! Are you tired yet? Are you excited? It’s exhausting and invigorating at the same time for me. I love meeting customers and hearing from them what they want. And of course I love seeing a queue of folks waiting to make a purchase. This is what makes all of the planning and set up worth it for me to keep doing in person shows!

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Of course the customers you get to meet make it all worth it!
Whew, I wasn’t even there & now I need a rest!

Michelle King

Fantastic description of the very organized chaos of a vendor. As an avid craft show shopper, I appreciate all of the hard work & creativity of special artists, like you.

Michele Zaiderman

Yes! What a great detailed description of the “craft show chaos”. My shows are on a smaller scale but include most of the same moving parts, scaled back some. Each time I think—why am I doing this lol?

Jeanette Nichols

What a great job on you blog Carolyn! It truly gives a good insight on all that goes into an in person show! It’s so much work! Again awesome job on everything. Your set up at the show is well done. I’m so glad you did well.

Judy Hartman

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