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Hi,

I'm a newbie to the art fair circuit and have a question about doing shows alone. Right now I'm an army of one, meaning I set up, take down, and staff my booth solo. I don't have a significant other or a business partner and probably won't be getting either one anytime soon :-)

I'm looking for suggestions on how to get reliable and trustworthy help with shows while on the road. I know some shows offer booth-sitters, but many I've looked into do not. Getting  help with setup and takedown would also be nice at some point too.

Any suggestions on doing shows solo would be great...thanks!

Nancy

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Hi Nancy

I am doing my first art festival at Lido Key, Florida.  And I am doing it solo, a bit nervous about it,but I'm sure all will work out fine.  If you do any shows in Florida, maybe we can request to be side by side and help each other out.  We can learn each others set up and break down and tag team the duties.

Carla Cope

 

The show promoters may be able to hook you up with other artists doing the show. You might also contact that states Craftsman's or Artist's Guild and see if they have any young members who would be willing to help. Sometimes newbies want to see what show life is like before taking the plunge, or a retired artist who would enjoy booth sitting.

I can't add any more good advice about setting up alone .... I have plenty of help from dh at shows (and dd at some) and you have already gotten good advice from the trenches.  I know this, even with dh there we do miss dd when she is not in attendance.  She is the "runt" of our group.. smallest and youngest (32 yo) but does a lot in helping set up and tear down, even though she has health issues.

I just would like to add that even though we usually have 2 of us, sometimes 3, we routinely bring a cooler with water and snack type foods to eat on for lunch.  We are eating a specific lifestyle (diet) and this helps.  Plus if we get busy we don't have to take time away from the booth.

I just remembered that at one show this fall, dh went to help set up and was to return to tear down.  Dd and a friend were going to be there to help work the show.  The first morning of the show, my friend got a call from one of her sons who was suddenly "in a pickle" and needed her.  Fortunately my friend had her own vehicle and dd was there to help work the booth.  So sometimes even the best laid plans can go awry with friends, relatives or volunteers who volunteer to be there to help.

Ditto for what everyone else said. 

This last two years, most of my shows are by myself

Additional tips:

- I have had some luck with craigslist ads. Really helpful to have help when taking down a trimline tent, when you are tired and rushed at the end of the show

- when you are selling by yourself, you have to be mindful of the customer that wants to talk forever. "I'd like to hear more about this, but I can't focus on what you are saying right now as I have multiple customers". And often, this offends people and they leave. Too bad. If you have a second sales person there, you can 'hand them off' to hear stories about changing an engine, baking cookies, the grandkids. In palo Alto, one woman was in my booth almost 2 hours - it turned out ok, and she, unprompted, started talking up the work to everyone who walked in, resulting in two sales, even though she herself never wound up buying anything.

- my work tends to attract alot of technical how to questions. Great conversations to have, but not when I am selling. When I am selling, I am expecting a customer to give me money, and I give them work. If they are not going to give me money, then they are not a customer. Sounds harsh, but when I am by myself, and there are multiple prospects in the booth, and someone starts monopolizing the conversation with a tool discussion, not what I am there for. Much harder to do the quick snap decisions when you are by yourself. 

- after a few hours of continuous talking, especially in a dry climate, my voice can give out. Sometimes during a show, there will be times when I have to reduce my talking for up to 15 minutes to rest the vocal cords. 'Sorry, so many in the booth today, my voice is giving out, tell me, what do you like/dislike about this piece versus that one?"

- you have to have all of your mechanical business stuff, receipt book, square reader/cell phone, pens, packaging, etc ready to go, where you can quickly find them, so when you make a sale you are not fussing around, this can really annoy customers

- have multiple bottles of water hidden in your booth, so you can quickly grab a drink when you need it. Also some food.

- it is a remarkable thing when you have a crowd gathering in your booth, listening to every word you are saying. Sometimes no one will be in the booth, one person walks in and starts a conversation, then a minute later I look around and there are up to 20 people listening to my every word. And if you have 3 customers who are thinking about buying something, it is a skill to arrange them all so you can make 3 sales at the same time. 'Which one are you thinking about?" No, she is taking that one, here is another that is similar/better/worse ". again, would be easier if you had a second person with you, but if you do not then you do not

- custom work. It is hard to have a productive commission discussion at a show, with custom work, when the booth is full of people. Unless it is a simple tweak "I am buying the large one and the small one, can you make one medium sized?" it is best to have those conversations after the show. I also find that a discussion of custom work can be a way of a customer saying no, they don't like your style/color/size/haircut/price, only it takes much longer to figure that out. Again, harder to do when you are by yourself. 

In fact, this is one of my weak points, and I'd like to hear from others who have success with when/where to have the custom discussion

- lastly, having a 2nd person there to give positive reinforcement to both yourself and customers is very valuable. Hard to do when you are by yourself.

It is fun, exciting, exhilarating, depressing, sometimes all at the same time. Enjoy the experience.

My husband and I are almost always together for the shows, but we have had health issues a time or two. For some of our shows we know a lot of people and they have been incredibly helpful.  We once were next to a guy who walked around a little at set-up and found some early teens who were there with their families and glad to help with the carrying, both before setting up and after packing up.  Of course they were well paid.  Although we are usually together, I made sure that I could set up and tear down the tent myself.  As was mentioned before, other artists are usually willing to help a bit for the crucial pieces, (for me, getting the tent lifted into the tent bag and zipping it up).  Art fair people are the BEST!!!

I do all shows alone, 15 this year, 18 last year, and am currently 84 years old. My canopy is a Finale, somewhat lighter than others, but sturdy, especially with cross bars at the bottom, so I am able to lift it by myself. To that end, I exercise with weights every day so I stay strong. I take my time setting up and tearing down, I don't have to be the first one out of the park. I do play the age card by requesting a booth spot close to where I have to unload, so I don't have to trundle everything so far, and fair management are usually agreeable. Yes, bring your own food and drink. I have a little sign that I leave on my chair when I make a potty run, 'Back in a few minutes' and I take my cash box with me. Since my work is 2-D and mostly framed, it would be hard for someone to run off with a piece, and so far have not lost anything. Many shows offer booth sitters, but they can be hard to find when you need them.  

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