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Wire Jewelry Display & Booth Ideas
By Dale Armstrong – I guess the best way to talk about this subject is to tell you my story. While I was working at a restaurant I began selling my jewelry to co-workers. A well-known artist, who lives locally, saw my work and invited me to participate in her nationally known art show. Of course I was excited and said yes!
Now, I have to stop here and tell you that this show was two weeks away and having only ever visited a variety of art shows and craft festivals around the country, I had no earthly idea as to what I was getting myself into! I had no tent, no display items, no ‘anything’ that I needed. So I turned to a co-worker (you now know as my friend and faculty member ‘Stained Glass Lindi’) and asked if she wanted to do the show with me, adding her beautiful glass pieces. She agreed and then admitted that she also was clueless about how to get things together.
The following weekend I paid a visit to another local show, just to ‘walk it’ with a different eye, looking at how vendors had their booths set-up, what type of tents were available, etc. Obviously I was supposed to get into this business, because when I stopped to question an older woodworker about his type of tent, he offered to sell it to me the next day (at show closing) for just $100 because he had decided to retire. OK, now I had a tent! And a good one at that, with metal bars you could ‘chin’ on. (And while the gentleman took it down, I had to number each of the zillion pieces with a magic marker so I knew how it went together again.)
Display items and tables were my next goal. I choose a wooden rack (the kind that goes on the back of a commode) to which I added lots of screw-in hooks so I could hang my hand-made earring cards. (Poster board cut with scissors and holes made with a small paper-punch, labeled also by hand.) At a local yard sale I picked up a couple of tall, plastic, soda displays and had my husband use his grinder to remove the logos and names. My main table was a fold-up aluminum one borrowed from Lindi, who had used it for years while doing wallpaper work (and it was more than a bit wobbly). A folding chair was borrowed from our travel trailer as well as a rug, and as I had worked for a direct sales company in the past, I had some great, blue tablecloths. We all thought I needed more color, so I draped a Mexican blanket over the blue. Now I had to find some type of cover for the holes in those soda displays, and as sewing is not my thing, I bought and cut some felt in the same colors as the blanket (no hemming necessary).
To display my pendants I just used U-shaped jewelry pins and attached each piece to the velvet boards I used inside my storage trays. Rings and bracelets went into the one glass topped box I had to keep cabochons in. All of the signage was made out of paper, printed on my computer, and then covered with adhering clear plastic (I think I found in the cabinet lining section of a department store). And although my very first business cards were quite sad, they did have my name and address on them, and a brief description of what I make and sell.
The result? Well, during that first three-day show I about sold out! I also received several show applications in the mail from other promoters who liked my work enough to invite me to participate in their show. Not bad for a two-week learning experience. Needless to say, over the years I became more professional with my set-up and displays, but not all at once! After all, this was my ‘hobby business’ and I was not going to take funds out of the household to make it happen. Rather, after every show I took my profits and purchased one or two more items (a lot of which I still use today).
The lesson from this experience is: you do not need a lot of expensive display items and professional equipment to get started! Look around your home, basement, garage and those of your family and friends. You will be amazed at what your imagination can do with a few simple items. After all, your jewelry is what people are coming to see and hopefully purchase.
Today one can begin participating in outdoor art and craft shows quite inexpensively due to the selection of affordable tents available from a variety of companies. Check your local department store or ‘wholesale’ club for some nice choices. If you are an outdoors person, you probably have a few good tarps that could be used to begin with, for no additional cost. Colored sheets make great table covers (I still use a lot of those today) and about every computer comes preloaded with a good design program so you can make your own business cards and signage.
Choosing the right show for your work is very important. If it is a local or ‘drive’ show (no hotel/motel necessary) and the booth fee is reasonable, sure, give it a shot. However I always advise my students to ‘walk’ a more expensive or ‘travel ’show first. Yes this means not participating in it right away, but take the time to make the drive and check out the local area for restaurants and a decent place to spend the night, besides ‘walking the show’ to see what types of vendors and items are included, how the promoter seems to be handling things (or if you can even find them) and ask vendors questions. (More on this in a future article.)
Here are examples of different types of booth set-up and displays, according to the venue. The photo below was taken at a high-end sci-fi con, where in addition to their gallery table, each juried artist also has the option of purchasing one 6-foot table. No, that’s not a lot of space and it depends on what you are doing as to how to set it up. This costumed artist was using her space to demonstrate her art form that in turn generated customers interest, who then paid a visit to her gallery table and made their purchases from it. (Atlanta, GA)
The following picture is of a display at an art gallery where the artist was ‘the feature’ and her work is only priced via a list in the customers program. (Boston, MA)
I don’t know about you, but I have found that most people will NOT walk INTO a jewelry booth! (Maybe they are intimidated by thinking they have to purchase an item as admission or something.) To counter this situation (with the exception of my first 2 shows) I never set-up so people have to walk in! Instead, I set my tables up around the perimeter of my space, which puts a boundary between them and me. (Maybe they feel safer this way?) When they walk by my tables I just say ‘Hi’ and tell them ‘what’ they are looking at, describing my art form. If they are interested, I can always come around the tables to help them try things on. (Dothen, AL)
Yes, not being on the end of a booth row can limit your space if you set up around the perimeter, as you would only have about 10-feet of space. My solution to this challenge is to make my own aisle. (Virginia Beach, VA)
After many years of participating in shows all over the United States, I finally have one basic set-up that I now use all the time, with variations being made just by changing the table covers or the holiday theme, (and I still add one new display item every year). Life is good. (Bmghm, AL)
Yes, I like to have most of my work displayed in covered cases. Not only do cases prevent jewelry items from developing limbs and disappearing, but they also protect my work from dust and dirt. (You would be amazed to see how much lint and dust collects on the safety glass tops, within just a few hours ‘indoors’!) And if you are wondering how I fill my cases, I choose to display my items by what I personally feel go together, rarely the same combination twice, and usually surround a higher priced item with a variety of mid to lower priced pieces. (I am also known for changing and moving the contents of my display cases around during a show.) Other folks like to group their work according to either color or material, and still others group by price. As seen in some of the above pictures, I also think that it is very important for customers to be able to freely pick up and try things on, so some of my bracelets are lying loose on my main table too.
You may also notice the little white squares along the edge of the cases. These are my prices. (I think tags are ugly and take away from the jewelry.) I cut small shapes from 3×5 cards and list the item name or the material it is made from and the price. (I know that if I walk into a jewelry store or booth and cannot see any prices, I think they are probably high and I couldn’t afford them anyways.) By using these small cards I can also change the price whenever I want, and not have to worry about cutting and threading, etc.
The arena of display and booth set-up ideas is HUGE! This is just a sample of things I have tried that I hope may help those of you who are wondering in which direction to head while thinking about participating in shows, or those of you who are looking for a fresh idea. (And for all of those who have asked me for such an article via our ‘tips’ submission form, thanks!)
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July 20, 2010 at 7:29 pm
Wow! Thanks for your sharing your ideas, Dale. I thought that selling my handcrafted jewelry online would be the best way. Since I visit so many show, and have worked trade shows, you inspire me to give setting up a booth a try. Thanks. –Ken
July 20, 2010 at 9:25 pm
Hi Ken – You are very welcome for any advice I may have given to inspire you to give ‘doing’ shows a chance. You never know where they may take you!
July 21, 2010 at 1:31 am
Loved seeing the booth set up and definitely know what you mean when you say find what works and keep moving things. I would love to see more on actually displays and some of these ideas in further discussion. I have been searching for ways to set up my booth in less than an hour. I take up to 2 hours to build my booth and I do sell a variety of jewelry pieces. So any insight on this would also be wonderful.
July 21, 2010 at 9:08 am
Hi Teresa, I would also love to be able to set up a regular sized booth (10’x10′) in just an hour! But really, I can see no way to do it as I cannot find a way to lay out my jewelry in cases before I leave home (I do however card and hang my earrings before I leave the house). Each piece has to be placed after the rest of my booth is set up, and if I do an outdoor show (depending on the location) I often do not leave my work overnight! I have to tell you that at my largest show, it takes me about 7 hours to set-up everything from the floor to finish (yes, this one is indoors with amazing security so it stays there until the very end and break-down). However I have to remind myself that this is my ‘store’ and I want everything to be absolutely perfect, and I do sell a LOT when things are ‘just so’. In the new ‘Definitive Guide’ DVD series, WS actually followed me to a real show where they filmed me setting up and arranging my work in cases and out, you would definitely find some new display ideas by watching it!
July 21, 2010 at 8:39 am
If I don’t do a “walk-in” how do I set my tables up in a 10×10 tent?
July 21, 2010 at 9:22 am
Julie, I am not sure what you mean by ‘walk-in’, but if you mean where folks do not have to walk in to your booth, then I would set my tables up around the perimeter. When folks are just starting out and want to know what I suggest when buying tables, I always tell them to get 2 six foot and 2 four foot tables and you can set up anywhere. A good suggestion is to use a piece of graph paper to plan your booth set-up to scale before you leave the house, as seen on DVD #2 in ‘The Definitive Guide’.
September 13, 2010 at 11:33 am
Have a question. How do you set up a 10×10 booth when not on a corner? Most of mine are that way.
September 15, 2010 at 12:32 am
Hi Pam, if you follow the link to the first article I mention, and scroll down to paragraph 13, there is a photo of how to create your own aisle, in a similar situation.
September 13, 2010 at 11:58 pm
Dale, It is funny how things turn out. My first showing is going to be during a Church fund raiser. I have purchased a booth space and a nice 10X10 easy to put up tent. BTW, the tent I purchased sold for $49.00 and I hope is still available at Acadamy stores.
You are a life saver and I admire your being ever ready to help us fledglings
September 14, 2010 at 11:58 pm
Hi Junius – Congratulations on your first show! Smile, stand up to greet folks and let us know how you do : )
December 7, 2010 at 4:30 pm
Wow! Very nice! Thanks so much for the info! I need to get a tent myself!!
February 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm
Funny you mention not setting up so people can just “walk into” your space….I have always set my booth up that way and people LOVE it and tell me it is just like walking into a Jewelry Shop! At which point I tell them yes, this is my “portable jewelry store” and they love it…I make a lot of sales this way and get repeat customers whom then come to my home studio which is set up as a jewelry shop and they buy even more. Guess I am lucky this works for me.
February 23, 2011 at 6:25 pm
Alona – it seems you and WS Faculty member Suzanne Hollingsworth have the same results! Everyone will discover ‘their’ best way of selling – hopefully sooner than later.
June 20, 2011 at 11:07 am
My booth had always been set up at the perimeter instead of a walk-in style, but now I’ve been having more and more problems with that. Howard Alan and his ACE (American Craft Endeavors) want a “professional” looking booth, by which he means a walk-in, carpeted, with glass display cases and pedestals jewelry store. I can’t fit those kinds of things in my car (most of his sellers have trucks), and since some of my jewelry is dichroic glass and drusy quartz, they look better, sparkle, in the sunlight. But he has been taking over more and more of the art shows in the south and moving into parts of the north. After having been accepted to some of his shows, I am now being rejected and advised to have a more “professional” booth, by which he means it should look like a portable jewelry store. The prices of his sellers are all high now, too. 14k gold, precious gemstones. Not everyone can afford that, but that doesn’t seem to bother his organization. So I have to find a way to make my booth more professional and still be able to carry the whole thing in my Toyota Camry.
June 20, 2011 at 4:03 pm
Or Barbara, unless you can justify the cost of either renting cases, lighting, etc from a convention supplier in whatever area you are working a show, find a new promoter! Sometimes the promoter is more worried about getting their booth fee and not the variety of vendors they offer customers.
June 20, 2011 at 11:36 am
Hi Dale, I would love to know what kind of lights you have behind your tables in you booth.
June 20, 2011 at 4:09 pm
Hi Patricia, basically I use clamp on halogen lights. I find these in large office supply stores, sold as a: ‘Clamp-on Architect Halogen Desk Lamp’. I use one for each 3 feet of space so their lights overlap each other. They collapse down to half their size so they are easy to carry and store.
August 29, 2014 at 6:51 pm
Hi, I have enjoyed your emails and ideas.. I am thinking of doing a booth.. Mostly will have earrings. Any suggestions on the best way of setting up. Thanks, Liz
March 25, 2015 at 5:59 am
Great article Dale. As a 20+ year veteran exhibiting at craft shows in Colorado, I can relate to your story of your first show. Mine was in AZ, all I had was one six foot table, covered with a colored sheet and NO canopy! I eventually did get a canopy and more tables.
Now I use four 4′ tables with telescoping legs. I find that raising the tables up makes it easier for my customers. I don’t always get a corner spot, so the four tables work well to make a “walk-in” booth by placing one in front, two going down the middle, and the fourth one in the back of the booth. It allows me to walk behind the tables, and customers do come in! I get a lot of compliments from other exhibitors about my setup.
As for setup and tear down, I can get it done in about an hour, if I hustle. I use a lot of 8″ x 12″ riker mount display cases. I can either keep the lids on or take them off during the show. Earrings are pre-hung on my displays. I use an ez-up canopy, have only lost one to a windstorm (during the night, so all my jewelry was packed and out of the tent). I’d include a photo, but don’t see a place to add one.
By the way, it was my pleasure to take a class with Dale a few years ago at a Denver gem show. I learned so much. If you ever get a chance to take a class with her, you’ll love it!
July 11, 2015 at 9:43 am
Love the article Dale, thank you so much this gives me ideas on how to set up displays. I want to sell my jewelry local first and have no idea how. Lol thanks to you, I at least have ideas now.
July 13, 2015 at 6:20 pm
I loved seeing how your display ideas evolved over time. One of your commenters asked about a faster way to set up and display their jewelry. It used to take me three hours to set up and two hours to tear down. Many days I thought about this and came up with a few ideas I use today. I saw an A-Frame that is used for selling DVDs on sale and bought it for $99. Then I bought white leatherette display pads on sale for 60 cents each. I bought a big roll of white Velcro on sale and began putting the necklaces (three to a pad)on and securing their position (\"v\" shape) using the Velcro. I have the necklaces grouped together to match my website. Because I have so many earrings, I used the earring display I made years ago. It is made of pegboard that I painted white. I bought 3\" long screws with nuts and lock washers, and put all of the earrings on that, also grouping it to match my website. There are so many shelves that everything can be easily displayed. I have my eye-catcher jewelry displayed on busts on the top shelves on both sides (it\’s double-sided). I have mirrors on both ends of the A-Frame. Customers can flip through the display pads quickly and easily remove them from the Velcro. –The set-up is fast– just open the A-Frame legs, slip the shelves into the holes and add the pads of jewelry (and the earring display), and if you\’d like to do as I have, add your bust displays with necklaces. I also had enough room to put the bracelet display on one of the shelves AND add a basket of fun jewelry for kids! The pads are loaded/unloaded in a tote, and I use luggage containers on wheels for a fast, easy way to and from the vehicle. I also put wheels on the bottom of the A-Frame so I don\’t have to carry it, and bought a very durable, collapsible cart to haul the tote(s), etc. I will be putting up some photos of the A-frame on my website’s blog, the J Liz blog-a-log so you can check it out. –I also make knit horses, so you’ll see those too. The are displayed on a Spinner Rack, which is also a really great way to display a lot of items in a small space. –I also use it for the spiral necklaces I make. My website address is http://www.jlizjewelrnmore.com I also have a facebook page, and started a facebook page for the Rathdrum Farmer’s Market Vendors. You can check out displays there too!
July 13, 2015 at 6:26 pm
I made a typo in my website address… the correct spelling for the address is http://www.jlizjewelrynmore.com –I forgot the “y” Sorry ’bout that!
October 5, 2015 at 6:50 pm
Thank you so much for sharing your hard earned experiences and information. I am new to jewelry making and just starting to think about setting up at a show or two this spring and summer. This information is well worth the read. Thanks again.
December 9, 2015 at 6:48 pm
I recently retired and took up jewelry making.
It started off by beading ID necklaces for dogs in a local dog park.
Nearly $200 later it was time to learn the skills for making earrings.
My inventory is up to around 150 pairs, along with a few simple
bracelets and necklaces. I have sold items to women at the park and they
like my work. Next will be setting up at a flea market. My budget is
extremely tight, so it’s peg board display, and perhaps and old fireplace’ screen to hang from. I designed business cards that double as
display cards. We’ll see how it goes. I’m just wanting to earn enough to keep a flow of materials at hand. I have no expectations of getting
rich. Tips on licensing and taxes would be helpful. Also, one market
requires judges to evaluate your work for a non-refundable fee. Then
you have to pay for membership, if accepted. The expenses scare me at
this point.Any ideas are welcomed. Thanks for your tips!