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home | Feature Articles | Notes from a Trade Show Novice

Notes from a Trade Show Novice
by Jessica Fields, designer

The first thing I did in preparing myself for my first trade show was attend other shows to generate ideas for my own booth. There are shows going on all the time, whether they huge trade-only accessories shows or smaller craft fairs. You can get plenty of ideas at both.

start quoteIt's the little things that often make the difference in booth design, although there are some biggies that shouldn't be overlookedend quote

~ Try to find booths that are both full of people shopping and booths that are empty, so you can see whats drawing buyers in and what isn't working.

~The design should be based on your specific style of jewelry. Is your jewelry fun and flamboyant? Is it more conservative? Or, is it really modern looking? The booth design should reflect this.

The Buyer's Market of American Craft had a contest for the best booth design at their Summer 2005 show, and the winner wasn't the booth that had an outrageous display or looked like a fortune had been spent putting it together. Instead, it was a simple, but cohesive, style built around the color green.

Everyone will tell you that lighting is the most important thing, and it is. For my first show, I rented lights, since I had no idea what I was going to want and how it was going to look. Lighting is one of the things that you can't really do a trial run for at home before the show.

After my first show, I bought lights after asking around and finding out what my neighbors had recommended. The lights that I ended up with are inexpensive track lights from Home Depot, which are sold in a prepackaged set. I got additional lamps to add on, since I wasn't sure how bright I would want it.
start quoteAs it turns out, you almost can't have your booth too bright.end quote

The second most important thing is to have large, color images of your work hanging. I had a printer blow up a couple of high quality photos and mount them on foam core. They are really light weight, but somewhat bulky to travel with.

So, if you're not able to drive to your trade show, you might want to think about a more flexible material banner. I also had a sign made on the same mounting with my name and business logo to hang inside my booth. The name signs that the show gives you are really generic and lack any design. Depending on the show, you may or may not be provided with hooks to hang up signs with, so bring your own hooks and fishing wire.

Fine jewelers tend to use cases that lock instead of having tables with all their goods out on top. I have a personal distaste for the look of the rented showcases. They scream cheap jewelry store to me, and that's not the message that I want to send to a potential customer.

I had my cases custom designed so that the only thing that the buyers would notice is the jewelry and wouldn't be distracted by the fixtures. Now that I have gone through the process of creating my own cases, I can say it is a lot of work but infinitely worth it. I think I get just as many compliments on my cases as I do on my jewelry -- I'm not sure what that says about my jewelry! And, they are just simple plexiglass boxes on steel bases. They are about as plain as you can get. I have seen other similar style cases at the shows, and they can be bought, broken down easily, and assembled at the show for not much time or money.

The rest of the booth design should take into account the branding strategy of your business. My jewelry is more classic, so I went with a very clean design and added touches of color with flowers, photos and a tablecloth in my business color.

I bought my own carpet (again at Home Depot) that was much nicer than the ones that are rented at the shows. It was actually less money to buy it than to rent it, so after a few shows I just threw it out instead of trying to transport it again, since it's the one thing that's always hard to fit in the car.

For the first show, I rented a table and chairs, because I wasn't sure what exactly would work best in the booth. I've discovered that bar-height, director's chairs are the way to go. First, they can fold up very easily. Second, they come in tons of different colors. And, third, you're still at the height of the buyers when your sitting, which means that you can sit a lot more discreetly (very important, because sitting becomes a need).

So now I'm in the process of buying a table at the same height, one that can be taken apart easily (you may be noticing a trend!). In most cases, you can buy the same items that you rent at the show for about the same price. So if you think you're going to do even one more trade show, it's worth it to just go out and buy the item.

You also need a whole stock of supplies with you. I fill up a shoe box with all the necessary office supplies -- scissors, paperclips, stapler, pens, etc. Even if you don't think you need it, bring it anyway. You'll be surprised what you need in a pinch.

Some important supplies not to forget are tape (scotch, duct, electrical, etc), extension cords, lots of pens, folders for completed orders and plain paper for jotting down stuff. You also need to bring anything that will help you write orders.

Lastly, tons of printed materials with pictures of your jewelry are great to have for potential customers. I make a new postcard for every show I do. The posters that I hang in my booth match two of the postcards, so buyers can make a little bit more of a connection. There are some great websites for making very affordable postcards.

I also write my booth number on the postcard for when buyers just want a card to take as they walk the show for a first round. Press kits and look books are also important to have for customers if they request them. My policy is to not give out printed books unless someone specifically asks for one. They are expensive to put together and you don't just want everyone out there having images of your whole collection. But postcards I leave out for the taking.

Once you have all of these elements in place, you'll be ready to take orders. How you go about selling stuff is another story probably best told by someone who doesn't sit and make jewelry all day! Just remember that a lot of the booth design is about branding and expressing to the world what kind of product you have. Everyone needs lights, cases/tables, and a rug, but there are countless different ways of putting it all together.