Booth Setup: Come In or Keep Out?

by Linda Tenney.
(Palm Harbor, Florida USA)

I was curious what other vendors’ opinions are on having your booth set up either so shoppers can step in and look around or if your tables define the perimeter and shoppers browse from outside.

Outside vs. Inside Booth Setup

Outside vs. Inside Booth Setup

I have a 10’x10′ white tent and have done about 8 shows with it. I have two 6 ft. tables and one 4 ft. table and with these you can create a “horseshoe” shape that fits the 10×10 dimensions perfectly.

I have mostly set up my booth so that my tables are on the outer perimeter of the tent, as this is my preference: I am inside, “behind the counters” and shoppers browse from the outside. This gives me space for my little work/office table and a chair and to easily reach under the tables for supplies.

But it seems most jewelry vendors’ booth setups that I have seen here on JMJ do the opposite: the horseshoe is inverted and shoppers can come into the tent. I tried this once (see photo) and didn’t like it as much. I like having my “personal space.”

I know some may say that having the inverted “U” shape is more inviting to shoppers and simulates more like walking into a brick & mortar shop. But as a shopper myself, at some of these outdoor shows, I don’t want to enter someone’s booth because then I might feel obligated to buy. I like “window shopping” from the outside.

I know neither approach is right or wrong or even better than the other; I just wondered what people’s opinions were and maybe if you noticed a difference in sales with one approach over the other? Or perhaps other options are viable that haven’t been mentioned?

Linda Tenney
Heart of One Creations
Heart of One Creations on Etsy

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  1. Sarah S. says:

    I haven’t done any shows myself, but as a shopper, I like the inverted U where I can come inside. It can help get people out of the weather (sun or rain) and invites them to browse a little more and not just walk past.

  2. Another thought: If you have your tent walls down (for inclement weather, etc.), you can’t do much with an outside-the-booth layout, because the tent walls will block everything off. On the other hand, I like having a dedicated behind-the-table transaction space, especially when there are a lot of people browsing in the booth, blocking all the table space. I’m looking forward to hearing more opinions on this interesting issue! 🙂

  3. One problem with the U configuration is that when you get more than a couple of people visiting, there’s no room for anybody else to come in without bumping into each other. It looks (and is) crowded. Also, where do you stand without blocking the view?

  4. A lot will depend on where you are placed at a show also. If there are booths on either side of you, the outside layout won’t work at all. I like the U shape because it is more inviting, allows people to get in out of the sun/rain, and there is still enough room at the back for a chair, etc. There’s not a lot of room but you are not there for your comfort, you’re there to sell stuff. If you hang a tarp from the back you can extend your personal space by pegging it in the ground like a tent. It will keep the sun/rain off of you too. Also, you should arrange the tables so that there is room for you to come out and speak to customers or show them something of interest.

  5. We do a little of both. We use 4 five foot tables that we arrange 2 on the sides and 2 across the back that we angle to form a V shape which give us room to walk through to talk to people while they are in the tent when needed. We place the eye catching items out near the walkway facing out to catch the window shoppers.

  6. I just started doing shows this year. I always struggle with this decision except when the weather is bad. I use 2 6 ft tables and a 4 ft one. I have been putting the bigger tables length wise on each side, and the 4 ft one along the back, forming an L. There is a space to come out. I do my transactions behind the 4 ft table on a small tray table.

  7. As a shopper I prefer the outside set-up as the inside set-up can sometimes feel like you are encroaching on someone else’s personal space. Plus if there is anyone else is already inside I’ll just pass straight by as I hate the crowded-in feeling. As a seller I’ve personally found the outside set up works best and also captures a lot of passing trade – items catching the eye of people who otherwise might not stop to shop. The only exception to this is when it’s tipping down with rain, and then people want to be able to come inside to browse in the dry.

  8. I also have a combination – an L-shaped configuration inside and a tall folding screen outside on which I hang my more-affordable pendants on S hooks that I made from aluminum craft wire. (The beauty of that last part is that it disassembles and folds up without removing the pendants.) You have to consider security one way or the other. Make sure that you can see all of your customers. You never want to configure your booth so that merchandise is out of your sight.

  9. Bev ludlow says:

    Although recently retired, I found during my 28 years as a jewelry crafter, that a U-shape invites theft. No matter where you are, your view if your merchandise is blocked. If I had a corner, I set up an L shape with the tables set back so customers would still be under the canopy top. (I had an awning on 1 side that gave me a bit more coverage for my customers.) If an inside location with booths on either side of me, I used a modified T. I could stand behind the tables where I had about 3 feet of space, customers could access the front table from the aisle, but others could come inside the booth. This cut down on the “too many people inside,” issue.
    Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, as you’ve seen, but my favorite was the T. So much so, that I found myself setting up this configuration even when I had a corner booth.

  10. I do the U, I make an L shape with my two 6×4 tables and a space on the other side for me to go in and out with a a smaller 4×2 table on the other side (with my other product line on it). You can see it here:

    I sometimes put the middle table more forward so the U is less deep – However if I get a booth assignment on a corner or end spot, It’s a whole different configuration, a large L shape open to the corner so people can cut through the open space and hopefully catch their eye on something on the way. 🙂

  11. I’ve done many, many outdoor shows. I can tell you that most customers won’t come in because the 10 x 10 space can get very crowded since a lot of your space is taken up with your tables. 2 people max. Anymore and they other customers will pass right by your booth and you can lose customers. Keep in mind, these customers passed by not even being able to see your jewelry because you have it ‘hid’ inside your booth. When everything is up front, the crowd seems to make a single-file line and wait like they are in the check-out line at the grocery store. This way everyone can see your jewelry! 🙂

  12. Bev Ludlow, I miss seeing you at the local art shows! Your booth always looked beautiful with easy access/viewing to your creations.

    I have recently been playing with the idea to try a “V: shape using two 6 foot tables. This will be set up in a 12″ (frontage) x 10” deep space. It’s still in the planning stage, but the comments are very helpful.

  13. I like the outside. There’s more room to walk and look. If there is people inside I by-pass and don’t stop…Everybody is in the way…

  14. I agree that usually people will walk by instead of coming into a booth. I found the ‘Y’ style of setup works well to let people see a featured item without having to come in, but allows more room for browsing on each side while you are in the back of the Y.

  15. I have tried Both types of booths, feeling VERY vunerable when shoppers could come inside & turn their backs to me.

    I like the perimeter set up best, because I can see all things with a simple scan. However, I’ve been doubting THAT position lately myself & I found A lot of information related to this topic with a simple Google search.

    Now, what I plan to try is the # shaped booth. My front table will be 8 ft. & inset 2 feet. My sides will be 10 ft & inset. I will have my space in the middle & to the back, hidden behind a curtain wall, at the 8 ft. area. Hope this helps.

  16. Thanks, everyone, for this thought-provoking discussion! I guess I am still leaning towards the outer perimeter setup for many of the reasons stated, especially for passers-by–they can see your product right out front.

    I do like the idea of trying the alternate “L” and “Y” configurations, too!

  17. Carol Wilson says:

    I’ve been doing shows for over 8 years. I have 4 tables (4’x2′) and they are height adjustable. I am able to configure these several ways, depending on the set-up of the show. If I have vendors on either side, I use a table on each side, taking up 4′ of the perimeter; then I put 2 tables together across the back side, to one side, which still gives me about 4’x10′ for my ‘office space’, and it leaves a 2′ walk way for me if I need to be in the front part of the shop.

    If I have a corner space, I set up in an L-shape, either inside or outside, depending on the weather. If it’s raining, I set up on the inside.

    My favorite way is to set up an outside perimeter, using 2 tables across the front and one on each side.

  18. I’ve recently had to give up the market because of health reasons, but I’ve found that people expect to be kept out and will move along looking down at tables, if there’s a gap they move on to the next booth! Inviting people in IS more personal, but ALL the theft I had happened when I was distracted by people inside my booth. I’ve also gone to the trouble of using straight pins to secure items to the tablecloth as people seem to feel that they need to touch and test and find fault. I’m very lucky to have gotten my own shop with glass cases now because so much is damaged in the constant moving. for some reason people in Australia (WA) can not seem to understand the difference between a flea market and a hand made one, and I’m sorry but I’m American, my prices are not starting prices for bargaining, and I can’t help but be insulted, so I took to putting the word FIRM on my tags. Love you ALL! <3

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