Over the past few months we have participated in many different shows from pure art to a mix of festival and craft. We have been to shows with fewer than 200 visitors and shows with over 100,000 visitors. It has been a wild ride for us. But at each one we worked hard to observe and learn. We observed how people interact with our displays and then experimented to see how we can improve their experience. We also observed the other vendors. We wanted to see what they were doing that was working and to see what wasn't working. Over time, we have come to recognize some basic vendor styles both good and bad. We learn something from all of them.
The vendors around us have ranged from first-time-wet-behind-the-ears newbies to been-there-done-that-made-more-than-you experts. Upon reflecting about our various booth neighbors I realize we have developed a sort of short hand to communicate the various styles and a set of responses to them. I thought I would start to share them here.
As a general note, what I am saying applies to vendors of all stripes from fine artists, to crafters to direct sales. While the products and customers can vary greatly the approaches generally apply.
Probably the best kind of booth neighbor is the polite professional. This vendor has been doing it for a long time. They probably make their living doing shows.
- They have their booth design and load in/load out practices down to a science.
- They follow the rules. If cars have to be out by 9 they are moving them by 10 till.
- They stay within their assigned space and always ask if they have a real need to move through a neighbor's space (to access a tent wall or retrieve a dropped item).
- They speak positively about the show, customers and other vendors. Even if it is a rough show they are polite in their conversation.
- Some of them go strictly about their own work and don't chit chat. Some may be more involved with their neighbors. But they are always aware of the customers in their booth and in yours. They understand that it is perfectly fine to stop a vendor-to-vendor conversation in mid sentence to tend to their own customer or to allow you to tend to yours.
- They understand the constraints of working a show for 8 hours. If they know where things like restaurants are they will share that information. They may offer or usually kindly agree to watch your booth if you need a potty stop. They aren't gone forever if they ask the same of you.
- Their prices are clearly marked. Their signs are professional. If they are handwritten it is neatly done and consistent with the rest of their branding.
- Their space is tidy.
- If possible they work on some part of their product during the down times and are willing to talk about what they make, what inspires them and a wee bit about how they make things. Don't ask them (or any vendor) detailed questions about sources, supplies, equipment or processes. They have worked long and hard to perfect their craft and asking how to duplicate things is rude.
- They don't leave early unless it is a dire emergency or they have been dismissed by the show organizer. Boredom or lack of customers is NOT a dire emergency. The professional fulfills their contracted obligation.
You should take time to observe the polite professional. They've been around for a long time because they have figured things out. You can learn from them.