Posted on 42 Comments

Setting the table

Marketplace 2010

So, it’s a rainy Spring Sunday, and I’ve been thinking.  Thinking about the vendor event I did this week, the kind of events I always do, the ways I set up my table, what products I show, what products I choose to leave in the box under the table… And what I’m realizing about all of this is that I could use some advice.  I’m confident in my creative skills, and I’m confident in my ability to make my little web shop pretty and inviting.  But what escapes me is how to improve my success with face-to-face selling.

I am often disappointed after one of these events.  I nearly always make back my table fee, and then some, but I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve made enough sales to make all of the set-up and tear-down work (which I rarely have any help with) worthwhile.

I suspect part of the problem is that I get myself into these events that are more vendor-ish than craft-ish. In other words, it’s Tupperware, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, and me.  One of these things is not like the others, right?  So, ok, maybe I need to be more picky in my choice of venue.  But that aside, I think my display could use some help.  When I look at my table in comparison to some of the others… well, it just doesn’t WOW me.

The photo at the top of this post is of my spot at last Thursday night’s event.

  • Does it make you want to stop and take a look?
  • How would you improve it?
  • Would you show more items?
  • Would you display what is there in a different manner?
  • (Would you iron the tablecloth before the show?  Geez…)

Any and all suggestions are welcome – and please don’t be afraid to criticize.  Honest critique is what I am after.  And hey, if you’ve actually been to one of my events and seen my setup in person, all the better.

There are photos of past displays on my facebook page if you want to see more.

So?  Lay it on me 🙂


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Posted on 42 Comments

42 thoughts on “Setting the table

  1. Oooh, that’s a toughie. I think you’re right in that sometimes the venue might make things a little more difficult BUT your stuff is beautiful and it practically sells itself.

    The one thing I’d suggest is that you should put up more signage! Make a bigger Polkadot Cottage sign to put up on a wall behind you, make a bigger one for the front of the table cloth. It’ll help draw the eye in. Along those lines, maybe use a more brightly colored or patterned table cloth with a black runner over it – the table cloth will help catch the eye and the black runner will let your wares “pop”.

    Hope that was helpful! Also, looking at your setup pictures only made me drool even more over your earrings…

    1. I agree – I definitely need a bigger sign. I like my homemade one, but it wasn’t really cutting it. I also like your tablecloth idea. I’d stayed away from patterns and bright colors because I didn’t want them to compete with the jewelry, but a black runner on top would definitely solve that problem. Thanks for the feedback!

  2. Hope you don’t mind the essay but I have a couple of ideas…

    You have such a crisp, modern, yet homespun style on your blog that I think should be translated into your booth. To me, with your sewing skills and a name like Polka Dot Cottage, your table cloth needs to reflect that.

    Since polka dots might compete with your work you could have it as a border on the cloth or and under cloth with a thick crisp white (yes ironed or that fancy no-press stuff) runner or topper on top. You could even decorate the corners of your table skirt with some of your over sized buttons. This would give people ideas as well as continue your look.

    Katie is right about the signage. That would be great behind your booth. As well, it would be good if your display had more height to it. I have seen people that raise the table with lengths of pvc pipe stuck over the legs. Also you could stack boxes, or baskets or books or something to get hieght.

    Another thing I love about your style is the retro colors and the gorgeous photos. You could use some of those bright colors in your display. Old retro lamp or funky vase could display necklaces or bracelets. Maybe you could have some of your photos blown up and used in your display. Like maybe ones of your feet in a pair of your funky sandals or ones with you in your skirt.

    You also need a big funky retro mirror with a polka dot frame or something for people to look into when trying your jewelry. Or you could make one of those mirrors in an old window pane, to give your booth a cottage feel.

    I think what is happening right now is that you are making a display like any old boring person would do and you are not old or boring. Look at your site and draw from that. You have everything you need, right inside you! 🙂
    .-= See Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor’s latest blog post: Beaded Lanyard Vote Causes a Stir in Polymer Clay Tutorville =-.

    1. I definitely don’t mind the “essay” – you make some great points and are very encouraging about it (in fact, I admit I got a little misty, LOL!) When I made my fabric sign and my tablecloth, I was going for a little bit of the bloggy feel, but I’m seeing now that I really didn’t take it far enough at all! Last night I combined your photo idea with Kate’s idea for a bigger sign, and ordered a 6-foot banner with my logo and four of my photos on it. I can’t wait to see how it looks!

      And yes, definitely need a mirror. I am often thinking of that, but always forgetting it!

  3. I went to an expo called Whole Child Whole Planet in Northridge, CA yesterday as a media vendor with It was a lot of fun to table all day and I enjoy going around to the booths too.

    I was ruminating on my friend who owns a shop called Green Diaper Store. They are an on-line gig with a real-life stock. She brought in a lot of product and the turn out for the event was so-so. She was pretty frustrated because the booths can cost a lot and you shelpp in and out. I noticed, in retrospect, that the more savvy vendors brought little stock to unload and instead brought a sampling and got people to their website. The idea was to brand the products and energy behind the collection. Especially with higher end, luxury items like fashion and jewelry, you may not sell a lot on the spot. But later, when we’re thinking about the event, we may return to your website, inspired by what we saw and experienced that day.
    We might tell our SOs where we want our next present to come from, KWIM?

    The next step is to analyze the events you are choosing and what outcome you need from them. If you need to sell on-the-spot product, then you may want to make sure you are hitting the right market at the right time. If you would rather do broader branding to drive people to you ( maybe a regular Farmer’s Market gig?) or to your website, you might choose lower cost, more diverse events.

    In terms of your booth, I would say you might consider an interactive piece. There was a perfume maker yesterday who also did jewelry. To smell the wonderful smells, you stopped and tried different strips. Then you saw the necklaces- ooohhh shiny. You need to get people to stop. Raffles and drawings are another option, or a spin to win.
    You have to get us to stop. You can choose how that looks for you.

    I also might suggest a mood setting component for a background or something that adds more flavor to the vertical pieces. I’m looking for an emotional sense of how I’ll feel wearing your stuff. I like your banner and your booth now feels spring-ish and delighful and fresh to me. You just need more frame for it to make sense. I also think the little cups are distracting. There might be too much happening at the booth at the same time for me to understand if I should stop.

    1. Thanks, Nikki, there’s a lot to think about there. I like the idea of interactivity, and of mood-setting for the background. And unloading less stock would certainly be a plus!

  4. YOur website is fantastic and I agree with above that you could use some of the inspiration from the site to transfer to your table. I would use blocks to have different levels on the table to show off your items. Have a backdrop as suggested and make it bright and colourful thats will make people want to come to your stall, stop brownse and buy.Have a great selection of your crafts. Not sure if you can have a clothes rail for your clothes items, but it would be easier for people to see what’s on offer. Wish I was nearer to come and have a look for myself. Go for it you have some brilliant stuff

    1. I agree that the clothes are awkward. They’re a relatively new addition to my sales, and I’m not even convinced I should keep them there – maybe it’s better to just concentrate on the jewelry? I don’t know. But you’re right, if I do keep them, they need a better way to be displayed. I like the idea of varying levels for the jewelry display. I’ve never been very good at making that happen, so it’s something to work on. Thanks!

  5. hi lisa — you’re getting some good advice here.display was part of what i did for a living for a number of years, so i’ve seen a lot!

    the first thing i felt/thought when looking at the pics of your table is that it doesn’t feel like you. you’re such a genius at putting together the elements of your site and blog to create a certain environment that speaks of creativity and lightheartedness. it’s time for the booth to follow suit! think of the way you stage some of your table settings/photo shoots and draw on those elements, trying to come up with a unifying theme to keep it from being to scattered.

    i agree about the mirror. it’s key. yes, something whimsical and fun; not over-embellished, but engaging, so when people look at themselves wearing your jewelry or holding up a top, they see themselves as part of the environment you are creating.

    i know all of those stock black display elements are the easy way to get everything seen, but they make the table too “heavy” and kinda too “slick”. could you mix in some vintage or salvaged pieces for display? an old shutter for the earrings, perhaps? i’ve seen necklaces and bracelets displayed on vintage (or new) bottles — even rusted cans of different heights made a cool patina to view items against. then there’s the old standby of a tray or shallow dish with a lip, with a layer of beans that the items rest on. it’s tactile and adds an organic element. speaking of organic, think of a way to un-styrofoam the lady heads! subtle decoupage?

    i have more ideas but i want to percolate, and gotta run for the moment.

    1. My original reason for all of the black, was that I was afraid that anything too interesting would compete with the jewelry. I make such colorful things, I though they’d stand out more against black. Still, I do see your point. Elements of this display show very little creativity. I think I need to head to the thrift shop and scope out some interesting displays. And yes, the mirror! I keep thinking I need one, but I always forget, when I’m setting up my table.

      I’m not too fond of the lady heads, either. I’ve only used them that one time so far. Decoupage might work…

      I like the idea of the beans!

  6. i think a professional display has a tablecloth that reaches the floor. the black items look heavy compared to the table cloth, but if you added a black table topper, it would probably look a lot different. for my table cloth, i have this slim suede like material that barely wrinkles at all.

    i think the venue is definitely a problem. you need to be with more crafters. or even artists. art fairs are a lot more expensive than craft fairs, and also usually require a lot more setup (tent and such), so maybe starting with craft fairs is the best idea. we have renegade, DIY and regular craft fairs. with your internet savvy, i’m sure you can find some in your area.

    i had to give up art fairs. it was too hard to set up and break down by myself. too hard to answer questions about my pricing all day long, and too many hours. i might consider a craft fair in the future, with less polymer (ie expensive) books. but now i put my stock on etsy.
    .-= See gerri’s latest blog post: spring seedlings =-.

    1. I have a local arts/music festival coming up that I think will draw in the right crowd.

      Thanks for the tip re: tablecloth length. I’m starting to get some good ideas for improving my table covering – that alone may be enough to make a big difference in the way it all looks.

      I’m with you on the art fairs – I can’t handle the cost, or the setup / breakdown. Not yet anyway. Maybe someday.

  7. First of all, good for you for getting out there and I like the items you have chosen to display. I’m a little odded (word?) out by the amount of black and the two towers at either end. I think your work would be better displayed on lighter display units, the black seems heavy handed and doesn’t reflect what I know of your work, IMO.

    Your work is all about color, so you could paint the display pieces a variety of colors (muted versions like those you work with.

    Lastly, if the towers were together and a lighter color, I think your booth would be more approachable. They seem barrier-like.

    I hope this helps and that I haven’t been offensive. You are an amazing creator and your work is spectacular.

    1. Thanks! Those two black shelving pieces are relatively new to my display – they’re actually my husband’s for when he sells books at conventions. So, while I think I agree with you, I can’t paint them. I think I will probably just replace them and find some other way to add height to the display.

  8. Hi Lisa,
    The comments and recommendations given here are very good (for me too). I participate constantly in fairs here in Puerto Rico and keep challenging myself to improve my table all the time. I use a tablecloth that is long to the floor and use safety pins to fold the ends like a present to make it look clean. The fabric on the tablecloth is pretty thick and it rarely needs ironing. On top of the tablecloth (sand color) I use a square brown “tweed like” fabric on a diagonal (in the front you’ll see a hanging triangle with interesting texture).

    One of the issues with your display might be there’s too much difference in height between shelves (which are a good size for your skirts and tops) and the rest. You can add a medium height just by placing the necklace and earrings display over a small wooden box or other box covered with fabric. If you want to change the color of your necklace displays you can just wrap them with a jersey fabric tying it at the back. I love Cindy Lietz’ idea of you making a tablecloth with a polka dot border. Maybe you can add your name: Polka Dot Cottage with a fabric applique technique on the tablecloth; probably a different polka dot color fabric for each letter.

    Well, I hope this gives you some ideas. You have the creativity, obviously. I think I will be setting up my table here at home tomorrow and taking a picture to come up with new ideas for myself!!!

    1. I love the idea about changing the color of my jewelry displays – I never thought of that!
      It seems like layered tablecloths are the way to go.
      Thanks for the tips, and I’m glad you’ve been able to get something out of the comments to this post, too! Have fun playing with your setup.

  9. As I discovered looking round a show this weekend a nice dress form goes a long way

    1. I have to agree. I wonder where I could find one relatively inexpensively.

  10. Hey girl…I’ve been in the business of doing displays for at least 25 years!!! Buy the cheapest polyester (black) – enough to go floor to floor on the 3 exposed sides. (It won’t wrinkle) Then use fun colors that are relative to your wares on top. Nothing that will compete. Use your empty boxes to sit on top of the black and drape the colored cloths over them – jooshing everything – make different levels and balance your wares out. A great mirror for the customer to “ooh and aah” herself will be a great plus. Film some friends/family modeling your clothing…have a small tv or your laptop on your table with that showing all the time…you could also have someone film you actually creating those very items you are selling. It’s difficult to lug and set up and break down by yourself. Use the biggest boxes you can carry (or invest in a small cart) and use the boxes for lifts on the table. And, as others have suggested – invest in a great sign. You’ve received some great ideas – can’t wait to see which you incorporate into your next display!

    1. Thanks for the tips – I love the idea of showing a work-in-progress video, or photos. I have to figure out how to do that without giving up too much table real-estate. I used to have a framed sign that showed the various steps it took to go from a package of clay to a nice pendant, but I retired it. Maybe it’s time to bring it back.

      1. re, work-in-progress photos, how about one of those “frames” that show a slideshow of pictures? you know, the ones that grandparents like…

        1. I thought of that, too. Although they tend to be pricey (and maybe a little too “slick”-looking). I have to keep an eye out for one that’s inexpensive and neat-looking, or at least, alterable.

  11. I do a lot of shows and they are always good sales for me – or nearly always, the ones that aren’t are the odd ones out. First, yes, more product. If you can, lots more product.

    Second, I never worry much about shows where you are selling against Mary Kay and other network sellers because they have fairly high set selling prices. Yes, it’s not handmade art but it’s also not the rows and rows of buy/sell stuff. THAT makes me nuts. Study the home party vendors, many of them have very nice setups, good order sheets, good spiels, excellent catalogues. If you’re looking at doing home shows – and I’d sell your books AND your jewelry / sewing there – I’d even go to a few of the ones your friends hold.

    Also, realize that at small community shows like this the less expensive stuff is what will sell. So bulk your table with that. Several racks of earrings and simple pendant necklaces.

    Barbara Brabec has lots of good craft show how to advice in her books. I don’t know if you carry any of her books – some of the older editions are kind of outdated – but I highly recommend them for lots of information about craft shows, selling in shops, doing home shows and all that.
    .-= See Elaine’s latest blog post: Teaching Classes =-.

    1. The only Brabec book I ever read was definitely dated. Maybe I should check the library for a more recent one. I am thinking I’d like to try doing home parties.
      I think one of my problems is that I don’t have enough of any one item these days. It used to be I had piles and piles of barrettes, or covered pens, but as they have sold, I haven’t made more. And the things I’m doing now seem to be in much smaller batches. It’s probably time for a good old fashioned production push, so I can fill up my table again with lots and lots of choices.

  12. bright, big signage. A more festive display – use cake stands for the shoes… colorful bowls and jars on the table with business cards – goodies and the jewelry. Make it look like a dessert table not a sales table. That will get people in. With a fun name like polka dot cottage — you could really rock this. Look for some white shabby shutters to hang your garnets from… etc. 🙂
    .-= See crush.’s latest blog post: super cute fishbowl party ideas! =-.

    1. Ooh, a dessert table – how fun is that? Now I definitely want to go thrift shopping for supplies…

  13. I love your site and I agree with what others are saying. Draw from your website. Fresh flowers and jewelery displayed on vintage cake stands…?

    1. Fresh flowers is a great idea!

  14. Hi there, I read your post yesterday and saw this post today on just the thing (displays for craft shows) – hope its useful –

    1. So many great tips there, and the photos are very useful – thanks for passing it along!

  15. i love your post and also all these wonderful comments.
    do bring all the charm of your blog and crafts into your shop – your tablecloth is 50% of the image, make a spectacular cloth, and also a wonderful dressing “tent” .
    here are some inspiring ideas — one from a pro and the other from a no-budget makeshift shop, both wonderful:
    i wish you lots and lots of success and fun!
    .-= See nancy minsky’s latest blog post: Loving jeans =-.

    1. Thank you for the tips and the links to explore! I am definitely starting to get the idea now:-)

  16. There are already some great responses here so mine might be redundant, but after a Google search I found this link that might help. It’s “How to Set up a Craft Booth that Customers Can’t Resist”…hope it helps (:

    1. Thanks for the link – I especially liked their link to a discussion about color.

  17. I agree with all the comments shown above and just had one thing to add. My mother is a very crafty person and we have a very diverse selection to sell every Christmas.

    One area we always try and have is something small for kids. Something cheep that they’ll find fun to play with and will drag them and their mothers to our table. The profit margin on that stuff isn’t usually much, but while the kid’s deciding how to spend his/her allowance, Mom’s looking at the rest of our table. It’s worked very well for us.

    1. Definitely. I used to have more low-end/cheapish items on my table, but I’d been phasing them out. Probably a mistake! Thanks for the tip.

  18. Definitely going to agree with those who are suggesting punching up the cottagey feel of your booth. One thought I had is that I’ve seen so many people use shutters to display pieces – I think they would integrate well into your layout, as well as help to construct your retail “cottage”

    Take this with a big grain of salt, since I don’t have the guts to go out & sell much of anything. =)

    1. That’s true – I was liking the shutters idea, but I never related to the “cottage” theme before. That makes it even better!

  19. So, less about table displays (which I know little about), and more about marketing and worth-it-ness:

    Remember that some folks are window shopping.
    The worth-it-ness may come not from sales at the craft fair, but from folks who like your stuff, pick up a card, wander off, and go shop on the internet without the craftsperson staring at them. Make sure you have a way for shoppers (not just buyers) to find you online later.
    And tell people who do pick up cards that they should be sure to visit (or subscribe to) the blog as well as the shop, since you sometimes have giveaways here. You have sold me SO MUCH MORE stuff since I started reading the blog than you ever did before, and it’s not because I didn’t know about you, or like your work; it’s because this blog is fun and entertaining and pretty much an excellent ongoing relationship-builder for prospective customers.

    1. I’m glad you reminded me of that point – having bought my fair share of handcrafts from bloggers I admire, I know the theory from the point of view of a buyer, but I sometimes forget it as a seller. I do always put my blog address on the business cards I hand out, but I don’t make a point of mentioning it. I think I will talk it up at my next event!

  20. […] of the fun things I’ve been collecting for my craft show display.  You ladies came up with some great ideas for me to play […]

  21. […] the way, I have been so thrilled with all of the feedback on my craft show table! I’ve already taken steps towards implementing some of your suggestions. As soon as the […]

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