Getting ready for a craft show or design trade fair? The 4 essential planning stages + handy check lists

Doing a design or crafts show requires a lot of planning and organising!  Especially if you haven’t done a show before, you might feel pretty overwhelmed as there are so many things to think about!

Would it help you to have a simple action plan and checklist so that you know what to do at what time?  So that you won’t forget things that will make your life easier (and a little less stressful …)?

Guess what?  Here it is!

Snowdon Design at Top Drawer

Snowdon Design at Top Drawer


Stage 1:  preparing for the show

What are your goals?

What would make this fair a success for you?

There are lots of different reasons to do a fair: to get sales, new galleries, get feedback, get press, raise your profile, get 150 names for your address book, …

Make sure that you write down as exactly as you can what you want to achieve,and then plan to make this happen.  Invite specific people who you want as clients, let people know that you will undertake private commissions or are looking for an agent.

Note that especially trade buyers will want to see you a couple of seasons or years before they actually will order from you, so don’t be too optimistic in that area.

Read the exhibitor manual and make a note of all the key deadlines in your diary, such as loading in times, images and info for catalogues, ordering electricity etc.

What will you sell? Identify what you already have got, and what other pieces you will need to make.  Do you need to make additional work to cover a wider price range?

Will you be launching a new collection?

Make a list and plan in more detail how much it will cost to produce and how long it will take. In this blog post 7 successful creatives share how they create and launch their collections.

How will you display your products?  Presentation is absolutely key to a successful show.

  • What kind of feel will the stand have (e.g. contemporary, funky, minimal, homely)?
  • Will people be able to touch your work?
  • Will you have lots of work on your stand, or will it be more sparingly? Will your display accurately show your brand values?
  • Where will you sit or stand?
  • Where will you keep your order book, cash, wrapping material and potential stock?
  • How will you fix your work or display to the walls (and have you checked if this is allowed)?
  • Will you be using colour in your stand, and how will you do this (often a great idea, but you are not often allowed to paint a stand wall)?
  • Will you include prices or titles next to your work?
  • Is your display easy to transport (not too heavy!) and will it be easy to install on the day?

If you haven’t done many shows I would recommend that you recreate your stand in your studio or home e.g. set out the size of your stand with masking tape, and play around in the space to see how it all fits together.

Don’t leave it till you are at the stand to work it out there,you will be too stressed out.

Who is going to help you?

  • Who will help you with the wrapping up, the transport, the display?
  • Who will help you during the show?
  • Who will help you to bring everything back?
  • Who is going to help you run the show at home?

It’s wonderful to come home to a nice comfy dinner after a busy day at your stand.

Plan in advance, and don’t try to do everything by yourself.

How will you market yourself?

Many first time exhibitors spend lots of time on making and thinking about the display, but forget to actually market themselves!  You really need to make plenty of time for this to have a more successful show.  Marketing is one of the most worthwhile activities in preparing for a show.

Have you got a mailing list and can you let people know that you will be at a particular show through a newsletter, email, postcard or letter?  Do this 4 – 6 weeks in advance, and then repeat again 1 week before the show.

You even might select your top 10 clients and approach them in a more personal way, such as a card or personal email.  You even might ask them when they are exactly planning to come to the show, so that you can make sure you will be at your stand.

For a full list of last-minute marketing activities to make the most of your show click here.

How will you price your work?

Have you got all the paperwork and promotional material?

  • You will need to have a price list (or two), possibly a CV or artist statement, ideally a portfolio to show other work you have done, and possibly some promotional material like post cards, business cards or images of your work with details.
  • If you take orders then you need an order book, plus info on your terms and conditions (e.g. minimum order, payment terms).
  • Also check with the organisers what you need to bring for the press (often you can leave promotional material in the organiser’s office).
  • Also make sure you have got a book where people can leave comments or their contact details, or were you can staple business cards in.

How can you be helpful to the organisers? The trade organisers will be busy, so it helps if you return forms and other information promptly.  But also do contact them with info about yourself so that they get to know you better.  Ask how you can help them with promotions.  Ask their advice if you are unsure.

How will you accept payment? If you will be selling on the stand then you need to have a cash box with some change.  Will you be accepting cash, cheques, credit cards?  Make sure that you check with your bank the various options, and also check with the organisers if they have credit card facilities and wifi connection.

From a security point of view: How and when will you be bringing cash or cheque books to your bank safely?

What else will you need to bring? Do you need a mirror, cash box, storage space, chair/stool, bubble wrap, calculator, wrapping paper (for Xmas shows!)?

Do you need red little dot stickers to say ‘sold’ (one of the best ways to make your work more desirable for others too!)?

Make a list of all the things you will need for the set up, and during the show and order them all in time for the show.

Have you booked a massage? OK, you might be laughing about this one, but it is the best tip so far, isn’t it?!

Make sure that you relax the evening before setting up the show.  Many people work till late in the evening to get everything ready, and are then stressed out on the setting up day, and knackered by the time the first visitor enters the show.

Look after yourself, and keep enough energy to focus on the fair itself.

Anthony Dickens - Design Junction 2012

Anthony Dickens – Design Junction 2012


Stage 2: Setting up

Only now are you getting ready for the big day …

Check the setting up information!

Make sure you know when you can set up.

Be aware of the parking facilities, and how long it is from the parking to your stand (you might need to bring your own trolley!).  I have been involved in the organisation of many group shows (like Chelsea Crafts Fair, 100% Design, Top Drawer) and there is always one exhibitor who has got their date wrong. Major stress is the result!

Have you got all the paperwork ready?

Bring all your contract information and the exhibitor manual with you during the set up so that you can check if all is done according to how you want it, and that you have proof of what you ordered and paid for.

What will you need to bring to set up?

Make sure that you make a list in advance of all the tools that you need to create the stand.  Charge up electrical tools in advance.

What will you do with all the packing material?

Make sure that you know what the options are to leave packing material with the organisers, or if you need to store it somewhere (and sometimes you can only bring it back home).

Make friends with your neighbours!

Setting up days can be very stressful, but try and be polite …

Getting to know other designers and crafts people is one of the best things of doing craft and design fairs.  You can network, observe from close by how they do business, and help each other out if you need lunch or a toilet visit.

East London Design Show

East London Design Show

Stage 3: doing the show

Make sure you sleep ok and arrive in time It’s great to have a couple of drinks after a day’s hard work, but you will be surprised how tiring this whole business of fairs can be!

Look potential clients in the eye, smile and say hello! Be friendly and inviting.  Ask questions instead of giving a long monologue about you and your work.

Don’t sit in a corner, head down, reading a book or tweet about how bored you are …

Tell stories about the ideas and inspirations behind your work.  Make it personal.

If you are talking to a potential client, then it is much more likely that somebody else will stop too to have a look.  People love popular stands!

Be yourself! Think about how you want to be treated when you buy something.  You don’t need to behave like the stereotype of the teenage shop assistant or door-to-door sales person.  Say ‘thank you’ and engage with them when people buy something.

Make it tactile! Most design and crafts products are tactile and need to be handled to be fully appreciated.  Make sure that you hand over your work to potential clients, or leave a note ‘please touch’ with your work.  It will make the conversation much easier too!

What will you be doing all the time? There are quiet and busy times at any show.  Check in advance with other stand holders when you might need help, or when it is a good time to have a look around yourself.

Also it is great if you can look busy at your stand but can be easily disturbed.  For example fiddle around with your display, make some work (e.g. crochet or embroidery) or sketch something.  Again, it is far easier for people to start talking to you, and it will make you ‘look’ more creative.

Take a break and eat properly Get some fresh air as it will make you feel much better after sitting in stale air for hours.  Have a little snack, but avoid having foods or drinks on your stand, it really doesn’t look professional.

What will you be wearing?

Make sure you feel comfortable in your clothes, but do make an effort.  Definitely wear easy shoes, and possibly bring two pairs with you. Is the space particularly hot or cold (e.g. air conditioning)? 

If you create jewellery or fashion accessories, do wear them! You are the greatest example of your own work, be proud to wear it!

Capture information This should be your number one priority at any show: Get to know people, and then follow up!

Fairs are a great way to ‘people watch’, see how others sell and talk.  Find out what people like about your work, about why they are buying or looking.

Check who is coming to the fair, how they are dressed, when do they stop to look properly. (Never judge people though on the way they dress … when I worked at Chelsea Crafts Fair I saw some of the richest people really dress down so not to attract attention).

One of the most important tasks at the fair is to make sure that people sign up for your mailing list in a book, even if they don’t buy this time they might be interested in the future.

Make notes about clients with special wishes, write a note to yourself how to remember the person (do a little portrait) or who needs priority when you are back in your studio.  You will be surprised how easy it is to forget that great potential client on Tuesday morning, when you are back in your studio a week later!

Rachael Taylor stand at Top Drawer

Surface pattern designer Rachael Taylor – Top Drawer

Stage 4: after the show

The real selling starts now! Huh?  Yes, it is very common that over half of your sales come after the show! People actually order or confirm orders after the show, and sometimes this can be much much later.

Following up is crucial if you want to be successful.  You will find loads of creative ideas to follow up with clients (without making a nuisance of yourself) here.

You might like to send a friendly email out 1 or 2 weeks after a show to say’ thank you’, with a nice image, and a gentle reminder that they have to order by a certain date if they want your work before Christmas or similar festivities.  You will be surprised how many sales this can generate if you do that nicely and timely.

Relax! Make sure you have a bit of easy time straight after doing a show, you will need it.  Look after yourself.

Prioritise your work load Straight after the show(or indeed during the show) prioritise what needs to be done first.  Plan your workload.

Who do you need to get in touch with?

What is the follow up required?

Take some time to put your new contact details on your database so that you can stay in touch with them for future events.

Evaluate against your original goals

Did you achieve what you wanted?

What worked?

What could you do better next time?

Take some time to write down some notes to yourself, you will be surprised how easily you forget them.


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9 Responses To "Getting ready for a craft show or design trade fair? The 4 essential planning stages + handy check lists"

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  1. says

    What a great article and so much wonderful information as I’ve never done a show before. I’ve already started making a list. And one of the best ideas, well I cant say best, but great idea is setting it up at home first to give me a feel of what i want my booth to look like. And since mine is handmade jewelry that would be alot of different color, as thats how i like to make my jewery, anyway, Thank you again ane I’ll be letting everyone know how my first show turns out!

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