by Kristin Krull.
(Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)
Well look at you! You have all this great stuff assembled and ready to display. But where should you set up shop? Will anyone come? How can you show off your goods without spending big bucks on a venue? This post will touch upon ways to go about organizing your first trunk show. Not your first show? Perhaps you’ll find new insight for better trunk show days ahead.
So many people responded to my recent post about Trunk Show Success, that I’d like to expand upon it. When I wrote it I was coming from a place of having lots of experience. My biggest inquiry was where to go to have your first trunk show, and how to not spend too much money on the occasion. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about the beginning of my trunk show career, which wasn’t much of a career, I might add. It was more like me running around the city with my plastic bins in tow and ready to set up anywhere that would have me. Any place that would have me, oh, I was so flattered. But flattery only goes so far if you’re not pulling in some money to make it worth your time.
Everyone Has to Start Somewhere
With the holidays coming up, you should soon begin sniffing out possible venues and get the ball rolling. Here are your options, in no particular order of importance:
Have it at home, or a friend’s home, or the community room at your apartment building. Having a show at home not only puts you at ease due to familiar surroundings, but you get to keep the bulk of the profit. If you have it at a friend’s house, offer her a deep discount or some kind of super great deal.
I was hesitant to do a show at my mother’s home (my first home show) because it’s a ton of work and just because people come, doesn’t mean they’re going to buy anything. And of all the people that say they’re going to go, you’d be lucky if half of them actually show up. My advice would be to start early with the invitation process.
My mom actually took a poll with her friends to see when most people would prefer to attend such an event. She first asked if they prefer it to be on a weekend, or weekday. Then, what month? Is closer to Christmas better? End of summer? What do people want? Find out and make it happen! After you set a date, make sure you talk about it frequently to your guests.
Tell them how you’re going to have wine and munchies, that there will be a drawing, or free gift with purchase. Getting others to bring a little something ensures their attendance, wink wink!
Ask your guests politely for their confirmed presence. Make sure they understand (with tender and caring words) that there is a lot of work that goes into trunk shows, and you’ll need to know how many wine glasses to have (ahem, that’s a polite way of saying “are you coming or not?!).
Arrange Your Space
Cleverly arrange the furniture so that people can easily walk around your tables and displays. Don’t let your furniture create dead-ends for people to get cramped in. Put your biggest table in the middle of the room and push away all other furniture. DO NOT set chairs everywhere.
This is not a party (is it?), it is a showing of your work for the purpose of hopefully making sales. Your chances of making sales plummet if everyone is plopped in a chair. Make seating available, but very limited.
Also, put all your pets in another room, nothing steals the show like a dog needing attention and a cute kitty rubbing on your legs. Even if it’s a bird in a cage, put it away. In fact, put all distractions away. That giant puzzle you’ve been working on for months? The baby’s high chair? AWAY! People are wired in social situations to make small talk, and anything that steals the attention away from your goods has to go!
Make it perfectly clear that you all gathered here today for one reason, and it isn’t to solve puzzles and get updates on baby.
Set Lighting and Mood
Don’t forget great lighting too. No, not that old yellow-bulbed table lamp. Get your tallest light fixture in gear with the brightest bulb it can take (safely!).
Turn off the television and play soft, popular music. I’ve read that people tend to spend more when in a relaxed environment, so find the right radio station and set the volume at an appropriate level.
Don’t light candles, not worth the extra worry. The battery operated kind that have a flickering light work best and is so much safer. Nothing stops a sale like hot wax dripping onto the carpet, or on your customer’s shoes.
The main lesson when having a trunk show at home is to make sure your guests are absolutely confirmed, and remember just because they show up doesn’t mean they’re going to buy anything. Go forward with that mindset. Tell yourself you’re just providing a nice space for people to see what you’ve been working so hard on.
Of course, if someone is ready to buy, be ready yourself. Have change, have a receipt book, have a calculator, know your city’s tax rate. The idea is to have fun, and be confident! If someone compliments you, say “THANK YOU! I worked really hard on that! Here’s something similar…” Take all compliments like you deserve them, and you do!
What else contributes to a relaxing, inviting environment? Maybe have a small food and drink station to make it special, but not too much or it becomes about the food. Maybe have a friend help you with making the sale so you can be free to mingle and chat. Anyone with their wallet open ready to buy doesn’t want to interrupt your conversation with someone else, and the longer they wait to give you money, the more time they have to change their mind.
Pay attention to the attention
You’re going to hear a lot of “Ohhhhh this is so nice. Oh you’re so talented” but actions speak louder than words. How long do your items hold their attention? You can tell if your items suit the needs of these people by the way they rally around it. Are they really shopping? Or are they just looking and being polite? Either way is okay, because this is a learning experience that will help you figure out if this should remain a hobby or not.
Pay close attention to how people are responding to your items, and remember that even if the group before you isn’t exactly throwing money at you, there is a group of people SOMEWHERE that will buy your goods– maybe you just need to relocate. This is all part of paying your dues– trying out different spaces and places until you find one that fits.
There are so many venues to try, so many different ways to find what works. If you’re starting at square one, know that it is likely you’ll have to try many different things and different places to see who’s buying what and where and at what price point.
I’ve done several trunk shows where nobody came, and the store owner and I just drank wine and ate crackers all night. I’ve done shows where 2 people came and I made one sale. Don’t let it get you down, it’s part of paying your dues. You don’t know until you know. Right?
Finding your golden trunk show space is different for everybody and every business. What works for the quilter may not work for the painter, so don’t drag around on other people’s coat tails hoping that their success rubs off on you. Use your head. Really think about where your customer is hanging around, and see if you can have a trunk show there.
Heard about an upcoming craft show at the local high school? Don’t get too excited just yet. Look into it, how many other vendors are selling the same stuff? Do you really want to set up in a gymnasium full of competition? Maybe, but make sure your display is out of this world.
Access Your Options
One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard is regarding table fees. Did you know you can set up pretty much anywhere if you just ASK? Do a little homework, talk to store owners, event coordinators, and write everything down so you can compare information later. Just because you talk to someone about a possible venue doesn’t mean you have to actually participate. Having a wealth of information gathered at your fingertips gives you the power to decide what works best for you.
So many people wonder why I don’t have a booth in my city’s biggest art fairs. Simply put, I don’t want to pay $500, $800, or $1000. Why should I when I’ve already found my sweet spots, where I only have to give 10% of my sales to the business?
I can’t imagine spending my entire day wondering if I’ll break even, wondering how many hundreds of people are going to bypass my table, and if I can spend all day outside in this heat/cold/rain. That sounds like an ego-crushing day if you ask me. However, there are some artists who thrive off these expensive shows, and God bless ’em. If you have such awesome sales that a $500 table fee won’t sway you, more power to you.
For me, I can’t see myself getting excited about such a venue, but to each her own. If you do decide to pay big money for a table, make sure you ask the event coordinator where that money is going. Why is it so expensive? Find out if what kind of advertising they will be doing prior to the event. Facebook mentions help, but so do radio ads, newspaper ads, flyers, email lists, and social media. Make sure the company or person in charge isn’t just pocketing your $500 (although, it is their right to do so).
Please keep in mind that there are places out there that will let you set up a trunk show without paying for your space, or paying very little for your space. I’ve paid $50 twice, and it was worth it, thankfully. There are some venues that give you the option to either pay upfront for your table or ask for a percentage of sales, like 20%. If it’s your first time at this venue, opt for the 20%, because if you only make $40, well, you lose.
Check things out a year in advance. That’s right! There are many opportunities where communities host “annual” events. Before you commit to a space at the event, go to it first. Walk around and talk to the artists. Have they done this show before? Is it worth it to them? Are there too many of the same kinds of vendors? Is there an entrance fee just to shop?
Don’t forget the little things, too, like is it too hot for your comfort level? Is the place poorly lit? Are most of the shoppers mommies/grandmothers/teenagers/men? Finding these details out in advance will give you a leg up for next year.
If it seems like a place you could see yourself selling, then make a note of it on your calender for next year, months in advance. If the venue doesn’t have the things you need to make you comfortable all day, then maybe skip it. Good thing you found out all this out in advance, a real time saver!
Become Part of the Venue’s Events
If your goods are in a store, take action to participate in the store’s own events. Store owners are always open to making their event bigger and better in little ways. If you do not sell in a store, go around to stores that you think will attract your kind of customer and ask them if they ever have special events/ladies night/special sales, and ask if you could be a part of it.
Tell them that in your experience (even if you have none, act like you do), you can offer them 20% of your sales for that evening– any more would mean you’re prices get too high and people don’t buy as much. Store owners usually know what kind of percentage they want from vendors, but nothing is written in stone (is it?), so make sure your conversation is private and work something out that you both can agree too, then keep quiet about it.
Also make sure you have a good reason why you’re items would compliment the event. If your jewelry gets a good response or has good sales, perhaps the store owner will reserve some permanent shelf space for your line. Score!
Have you ever been to an art fair, or a ladies’-night-out event, and witnessed actual scowling from the vendors? I’ve seen this. One side of the room is packed with people, and the other side is virtually empty. The vendors and their helpers get this look on their face, that look of defeat, like they’re wasting their time, like they’re bored, like they’d rather be anywhere else. Don’t ever be that person!
Remember you are creating a memory for your would-be customers. They may not buy anything from you on one occasion, but maybe something on your display stuck in their mind, and they might want to see about acquiring it later. What’s their memory of your space going to be? Are you smiling? Do you look engaged and ready to assist? Are you primping and prepping and styling your display with pride? Or are you scowling, or texting, or hunching over as you stare at the busy table on the other end of the room?
I’d bet most vendors don’t even realize this is how they come off. One way to stay aware of your demeanor is to keep watching your fellow vendors. Do they look preoccupied, uninviting, and otherwise miserable? Make sure you don’t look like them. Remember you have set up shop to show the world how unique and incredible your goods are, and how proud you are of it all. Be happy! Be thankful! And if you make a sale in the process, wonderful!
Giving your customers warm greetings and heart-felt thank you’s may be enough to make them remember you, and that puts you a step ahead.
Trust Your Gut
Ok, so you have a nice spot to set up, you’ve got all your items and displays ready. After the rush of getting it all together has passed, now what? You’ve got hours and hours to kill. If you’re lucky enough to have someone assist you (someone that you trust that is good company), it makes it easier to take bathroom and snack breaks.
As for me, I work alone. I guess I’m a control freak and if anything goes wrong I want it to be my fault. Sure I get busy, but I have the gift of gab to hold several peoples’ attention and I can keep the ball ever rolling toward the sale. One thing I know for sure it that TEN hours will go by in a flash, and it only feels like 3. I’ve worked 12 hour trunk shows, from 7 am to 7 pm, without skipping a beat. I know I’ve found my calling after working a 12 hour day and I still have energy after I get home and can’t wait to do it again tomorrow.
This feeling of fulfillment and gratitude gives me sustainable energy, but it wasn’t like that for me in other working conditions. I used to work for a huge corporate company that offered great pay and great benefits, but at the end of a mere 6 hour shift, I’d just want to collapse or go home and cry.
Not that the work was so hard, but it’s such a drain to do something you just don’t want to do. So while doing trunk shows, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Are you unbearably, inexplicable tired after only 3 hours? Are you cranky, irritable, and silently complaining about things? Take notice! That is your gut telling you that maybe this side of the business is not for you, and that’s okay. Maybe you just enjoy the designing, or the assembling, or the advertising. Learning to trust your gut feelings is the best guide you can have, and only then are you able to walk the path that was meant for you.
I hope my trunk show experiences help you to make wise, time-saving decisions about where to set up your display. If you’re in it to win it, you’ll move heaven and earth to make it happen, but it doesn’t happen overnight. If it does happen overnight, please leave the address of the venue in the comment section below. Just kidding! Happy trunk show!