31 Oct 2016
Next weekend (Nov. 5), we’ll be at the Winter Arts and Crafts Show at Hershey High School. We’ve talked about preparing for book festivals, art shows, conventions, and other special appearances. We’ve talked about whether you should do book signings. We suggested ways to put on a great display and a list of ingredients to create your own unique presentation.
This time, we’ll discuss preparing for shows. If this is your first show, I strongly suggest rehearsing your set-up. Set up your table in the living room just like you would at the show. Imagine that you are a customer. Is your table inviting? Are the books easy to pick up and thumb through? Can people see the handouts clearly and pick them up without knocking over other papers or books? Can they see a price list?Setting up your table display in advance can alert you to problems that you can easily solve now, rather than in a hurry at the site. It also can expose gaps in your planning, or give you ideas to improve your display.
Once you are happy with your table, future shows won’t require nearly as much planning. In fact, unless you change everything, you shouldn’t have to rehearse your set-up again. You’ll find yourself tweaking instead. A new type of flyer; a change in banners; buying wire book racks to display your wares instead of keeping them flat on the table. Small changes that will improve the look of your table and make it more inviting to customers.
Preparing for Shows: A Month Away
Nearly everything can be done in the week before the show, but when it’s a month away, there is one vitally important task:
• Do you have enough books? Not just books, but any printed material that will take a week or more to get: color flyers, bookmarks, business cards, pens, whatever’s in your bag of trick.
Do you need new table banners or signs? After a few shows, they’ll start showing wear. If so, you have a month to place your order in time for the show.
Here’s what you should be looking for in the week leading to the show:
• Do you have the paperwork the organizers sent you? Each group does it their own way, so here’s a general list: your table location, admission ticket (if any), coupons for free coffee and/or snacks, lottery tickets, and a map to the site. You’ll also need to know when they open for set-up, when the show begins, and when it ends. Also note if they’re strict about when you break down your table and pack up. Violating this and any other rule might lead to being asked not to return.
• Because you’re selling as a retailer, the state might also require you to have a tax license on display. This could be a serious matter depending on the rapaciousness of the state’s tax authority. At one recent show, the dealers were buzzing about an event at an adjourning state. The “Sopranos”-like tax agents had moved through the hall, seeking proof of a license, levying fines and threatening to confiscate vendors’ goods if they didn’t comply. I don’t know if the story is true, but it reinforces the lesson that you should make sure you’re obeying the law.
• Do you need directions to the site? I use MapQuest, but just reviewing the route on an atlas would ensure that you get there in plenty of time to set up before the doors open. The worst time to check your route is on the road early in the morning when you haven’t had enough coffee.
• As long as you’re checking the route, look up the weather as well. If the event is indoors and the forecast calls for rain, a plastic tarp might be needed to shield your boxes as you move them inside. Rain and high winds at an outdoor event means you’ll have to make contingency plans. Can your car be parked close to your location? Is your canopy secure against high winds? Can the canopy be enclosed?
• Is your vehicle ready? Does it have enough gas? This would also be a good time to check the tire pressure, as well as your various fluids: windshield washer, oil, antifreeze, brake, transmission, and steering. We generally neglect checking these, so this is a good time to check when you have money on the line.
• Is your equipment box ready to go? The ideal time to ensure this is when you got back from your last event. The memory of what you forgot to bring will still be fresh, and you’ll be in a business frame of mind to get it corrected. (See “How to Get Better at This” below for advice.)
• How about material for this particular show? This could be power bars and extension cords, flyers announcing special prices for this show, or a laptop/projector combination for a talk you’re giving.
• Do you have your cash box, with whatever materials you need to accept credit cards?
• What are you going to do about water, snacks, or lunch? Eat there or brown bag it? Don’t forget paper towels or wipes.
• Are your clothes ready? Are they clean, ironed, and repaired?
• Now’s the time to think ahead about any networking goals you want to achieve. Who attended last year that you’d like to meet this time around? Is there a special guest that you’d like to seek advice from, a bookseller to sell books to, or another vendor or author you want to do business with? If you kept notes from the previous show, now’s the time to review them, or do some research online.
How to Get Better at Preparing for Shows
When my wife was in the Navy, she learned the seven P’s: “Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.” Keeping this in mind can help keep the gremlins from making off with your flyers, or the hammer to secure your canopy.Here’s the secret: Set aside a place for all your show-related material. I use a salvaged baking rack that sits next to the furnace. On its shelves I store everything related to public appearances. There a box of marketing materials; the equipment box (tools and other items not book-related); the cash box with pens (plus Sharpies for signing books) and an envelope containing cash; the tools for accepting credit cards; a bag containing the signs; and another bag containing the rolled banners. Next to it sits the canopy in its golf-bag sized case and the boxes containing my books. The only things not here are the four heavy bags filled with stones used to hold the canopy legs down.
Otherwise, everything I need is in that space. I even keep duplicates of the tools I need, such as a hammer, a box cutter, duct tape, and packing tape.
I make sure everything is up to date and exactly where I want it. The day before the show, I bring everything upstairs and store it in the living room. I make one last check there before loading the car. The next morning, all I need to do after breakfast is hop in the car and drive off.