24 August 2010

Lessons From an Art Festival: Booth Matters


At the Salt Lake Farmer’s Market -- where I have a booth every Saturday -- we have 3-5 feet of space to the right and left and plenty of storage room behind the booth. We don’t normally put the sides down on the canopy (though the back we do because the sun shines in during the morning). There are 12 white grids around the perimeter upon which hang about 50 framed color and B&W images. In the center of the booth is a long table that holds several bins for matted images. Traffic flows in a U shape through the booth and usually with little congestion. My wife and I normally site outside the booth with a small table, which operates as our “office.” So, the Clayhaus Photography booth is relatively open and airy with a spacious feeling conducive to image viewing and discussion, or so I feel.

We arrived early for our designated set-up time at the art festival, and were in for a bit of a shock. The other vendor booths to our aft, port and starboard side were firmly in place and we were supposed to squeeze our 10’ x 10’ booth into a, yes, you guessed it, 10’ square space. We should have thought through the ramifications of that. Yes, I perseverated for a week or two wondering how I was going to fit all my 5‘ x 8’ trailer’s worth of gear into a nice box like our spot, but no real conclusions were reached. Because we were sorting through these issues whilst erecting the booth, set-up took twice as long and more importantly, compromises were required. Other than setting up our “office” ten feet away on the sidewalk (like others were doing), we had no spillage to any sides. That box was tight. I still needed to maintain the U flow though so I cut down on a few other items (a 2nd card spinner and a 2nd matted prints artist easel). The tight feeling was compounded by all the canopy walls needing to be in place. The light was therefore reduced (though it also kept out the rain!). Definitely a compromise of sorts was achieved.

My booth looked “good” but in scouting other booths I came to several conclusions that would help me improve my presence. One, the booth should be attractive, inviting, and professional looking. Two, flow-through is muy importante. And, three, the actual booth location matters.

It is a matter of degrees, of course. After all, I do consider that my booth looks attractive and inviting and has at least a modicum of professionalism. However, there is no doubt that some upgrading would help. For instance, grids are okay but panels such as ProPanels look soooo much nicer and more professional. Enough to spring for the buggers? Not sure yet. Also, I have an assortment of singular framed images that vary in size from around 11”x14” to 24”x30”. I saw many other photographers concentrate on less variety in images and produced much larger prints. Something to consider.

Fortunately I figured out early on that if my booth had a dead end, it would result in a Sargasso Sea effect of potential customers milling about, bumping into each other, whilst trying to escape. Not good for people wanting to look at your work and certainly not good for business. I saw the best flow in corner booths where the artist really worked that position resulting in customers entering and departing relatively seamlessly. Would I pay the extra cash for a corner? In a word, ‘yes!’.

Finally, in some festivals you can request the actual position of your booth. If you know the venue it may be well worth the extra cash outlay to secure a somewhat centralized position. Being relegated to the extremities of a festival is definitely not good. Nor, necessarily, would I want to be next to the band stand. (Unless of course if Jeff Beck or John McLaughlin were playing.)

There is no doubt in my mind that come next year’s festival season, the Clayhaus Booth will have undergone some upgrades.

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