How to exhibit at a design show or craft fair

Rebecca Harkness |

November 25, 2016

As the Christmas design and craft fairs approach, we thought it would be really useful to share some advice on how to put your best foot forward. Luckily, our commercial director Rebecca Harkness also runs sales agency Design Relations, offering consultancy to brands who want to make the most of the exhibitions they take part in, such as Alexander Mueller, whose stand at the London Design Fair is pictured above. After working with her for Decorex in September, furniture designer Tom Raffield said, “When spending so much on doing a trade show, sales training from someone like Rebecca is an absolute must and a very worthwhile investment.” We asked her to share some tips…

Exhibiting at a trade show or craft fair for the first time can be very daunting, especially as there are now so many different types of events available to designers to show their products. And even if you’re an old hand, there are lots of ways you can really optimise your efforts to get the most out of the shows you do.

Pick the right show or fair for you.
The best way to choose the right show is to attend as a visitor and talk to as many exhibitors as you can. If that’s not possible, look at the exhibitor list from the previous year and see if your brand and products seem like a good fit.

Book early
For most design shows, new exhibitors are required to apply for a stand – it’s very important to do this as early as possible. Some organisers offer early bird stand prices if you apply for and book a stand early, and some will also offer a payment plan so you don’t have to pay 100% of the stand cost upfront. You will also benefit from more time with the marketing and PR teams giving you opportunities you would miss out on if you book a stand close to the show.

When applying for a stand it is important to have:

  • Good photography and a clear description of the pieces you want to exhibit.
  • Knowledge of the design show you’re applying for.
  • An explanation of why you think your products are a good fit for the shows.
  • A website which is up and running, even if it’s not quite finished.

That said, if you have left it until the last minute – don’t panic. Exhibitors do pull out of shows, so you might get lucky at the eleventh hour.

Don’t over invest

Even if you have the budget to go for a larger stand, it is a good idea to test the water for your first show – go small and grow the stand size each year.

Remember that you don’t need to show everything you’ve ever designed – select the strongest pieces in your collection, the ones that you have good photography of and those pieces that are most relevant for the audience. This approach will give them space to breathe on your stand so visitors can engage with them more easily.

Ask questions

Before booking your stand it’s important to know exactly what it will cost for you to exhibit.

Ask the show organiser:

  • What is covered in the stand cost? Is there a registration fee?
  • Is the stand a ‘shell scheme’ stand (where walls and flooring are provided) or a space-only stand (where you’ll have to order those yourself)?
  • If it’s a shell scheme stand, find out about the walls and the flooring – what are they made of? Can you paint, fix to, or wallpaper the stand walls? Do you need to repaint the walls to their original colour after the show?
  • Does electricity and lighting come with the stand? If, not, what is the cost for electricity and lighting. If yes, what type of lighting comes with the stand? If it’s only the house lighting, you might want to invest in spotlights to draw attention to your stand and make sure your products look their best.
  • Are there any restrictions on what you can have on the stand?
  • Are there any other hidden costs, such as insurance, parking, storage, etc.

Design your stand

Now you know exactly how your stand or space will look when you arrive, it’s time to plan ahead and think about what you’d like it to look like when the doors open to visitors.

Think of your stand as a space to inspire potential buyers and clients – don’t just place your products:

  • Style your stand with props (think about the Instagram opportunities!).
  • Paint your stand walls in a colour that will stand out and complement your products.
  • Light your stand – the extra cost for spotlights is usually worth the investment.
  • Clearly display your own branding and perhaps even your website address.

Check out our Stand Design Ideas Pinterest board for inspiration, or get in touch to book a stand consultation.

Promote yourself

The organiser will give their exhibitors PR and marketing opportunities, but it’s important not to rely on this and come up with your own marketing and PR strategy. Many exhibitors focus so much on getting their products ready for the show, that they forget to invite anyone to come and see them! Add your stand number to your email signature, send out invitations to all your customers and suppliers and promote the fact you’ll be exhibiting via social media – even invite key bloggers and journalists for cake and coffee on your stand. Not only will the people you already know get to see your latest work, but people you don’t know will be drawn to your busy stand wanting to know what all the fuss is about!

Make sure you’ve got press quality images

Journalists and bloggers trawl design shows and craft fairs for new designers and makers to write about. It is a big expense to do a trade show, but take my word for it, investing in good photography is vital for success. Having good product and lifestyle shots will massively increase the chances of press coverage, which will build brand awareness in the run-up to the show as well as driving sales afterwards. If you can’t afford professional photography, read our Resources post on How to Photograph your Products.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Before you arrive and visitors start asking you questions, ask yourself the following:

  • What is your pricing structure? Work out (and print out) your wholesale, retail and trade pricing.
  • What is your sales strategy? How do you plan to move conversations on the stand towards a sale?
  • What is your post-show sales strategy? How are you going to follow up with the people you meet and what are you going to send them?
  • What are you going to give to people to take away? Have you printed your business cards and press kits?

Then get a good night’s sleep, pick a gorgeous outfit you feel comfortable in and most importantly, enjoy it! Good luck.



Rebecca Harkness

is founder and director of Design Relations – a global sales agency helping brands with the business side of design such as exhibition consultancy and sales strategies and training – and commercial director of confessions of a design geek.

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