Marketing and Selling your woodworking #4: Shows

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by huff posted 07-01-2013 11:06 AM 4853 reads 7 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Printed Material (more ways then you may think) Part 4 of Marketing and Selling your woodworking series Part 5: Image (finding the right market) »

Shows; It doesn’t matter if you’re selling country crafts or high end one of a kind, custom made furniture; whether you’re selling at an outdoor craft festival, a juried show or a large indoor home show, the same principles apply.

The biggest mistake woodworkers (or any vendor for that matter) makes; is trying to sell their work at the wrong show. Too many times a show is picked simply because it’s local or the table/booth fee is cheap.

Big, Big mistake! That’s like trying to teach a pig to sing; it will only frustrate you and ends up accomplishing nothing in the end.

If you’ve never done a show before, then I would suggest you attend one or two before you actually spend the money to set up at one. Do your homework first and your results from a show will be much better. It is important to attend one so you have a chance to study how different vendors set up, display their merchandise and how they interact with the crowd.

Take your time to study and try to analyze why a particular booth may catch your eye and another booth may turn you off or just doesn’t get your attention. Is it strictly the merchandise they have on display? Is it the way they have it displayed, or the ease of stopping and looking at their products without feeling trapped? Did the overall professionalism of the booth attract you? See if you can pick out some dos and don’ts of doing a show just from studying other exhibitors. (Learn from their mistakes).
You can spend as little as $10.00 for a table at a flea market to thousands of dollars for a 10’x10’ or larger space at a convention center.

When you’re ready to do your first show; make sure you pick a show that best fits your products and the customers that you need to target. Don’t just pick a show because it’s close by or simply because the booth fee is cheap and you don’t have to invest much.

But common sense can play a big role to at least narrowing down the choices. I would not recommend taking high end custom built furniture to an open air flea market or a country craft fair, anymore than I would spend thousands of dollars for a space at a large convention center when I was trying to sell $2 to $10 items.

If you’re selling a nice product and would like to make a fair profit selling it, then why would you waste your time trying to sell it from a $10.00 table at your local flea market? Hello? Who do you think the primary shoppers are at those places?

Most woodworkers sell at shows with only one goal and that is instant gratification. Dollars in sales! That’s how they judge a show to see if it was successful or not.

If that’s your only goal or mission when selling at a show, then I have to say you’re probably not thinking of marketing or selling very seriously.

There should be a lot more sales after the show and if you’re not focusing on that part of marketing and selling while you’re at the show then you will miss out on a ton of sales.

Would you do a show if the booth space was $1,500 or more; it took you a full day and a half to set up your display, you work the show for 3 long days with 400 other vendors and it took another full day to tear down and move everything out of the show and after all is said and done, you walked away after 5 ½ days with $0.00 in sales?...........SUCKS! No need to do a show like that, right?

Well; that’s basically what I did twice a year for over 20 years, yet I would book 4 to 6 months of work from each show. The key word here is; from!

The very first show I ever did was almost 25 years ago. I was fairly new in my business and decided to do a show to see if I could sell some of my work (sound familiar)? I picked a Home and Garden show in Raleigh, NC. I rented the smallest booth available (about $450.00, if I remember right) and took a few pieces of furniture I built to show.

When I got home Sunday evening after working 4 long days at the show and my voice was down to a raspy whisper; my wife asked me how the show went?
I was so excited telling her how everyone loved my work and I had so much fun talking to everyone about my woodworking and business.

Then she asked me how much I sold and she was not very impressed when I told her; not a damn thing! I told her it was all part of marketing and advertising and sometimes you don’t see the results immediately. At that time it was more of an excuse to give her then me really believing it.

I went back to my shop pretty deflated and wasn’t sure if I would ever do another show since that was the results I got. Well, the phone began to ring the following week. I started hearing from people that I talked with at the show and they were impressed with my work and my business, and they were wondering even though the show was over, would I be willing to come out and talk to them about a project.

The rest is history and the excuse I told my wife was actually true and I realized I must have done one heck of a job marketing myself and my business while I was at the show.

Never let a potential customer walk away just to forget about you and your business simply because they didn’t buy from you that day.

They may not be thinking of a wedding they need to buy a gift for or a graduation, maybe a birthday or it may be a little early to think about Christmas shopping at the time, but if you don’t plant the seed and give them a reason to think of you later, then you have really wasted an opportunity to sell your work.

Over the years, what I’ve sold “at” the shows would hardly cover my booth fees, but what I’ve sold “from” a show is probably 20 fold.

So I have to ask; would you rather sell $300 “at” a show or would you rather sell thousands of dollars “at” and “from” the show. If you’re going to shows only to sell for the 18hours or so that a show is actually open and not marketing yourself and your business for sales in the future then you will lose out on thousands of dollars of sales down the road.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working a show. I’m going to assume you already know how much inventory you need to take, business cards, flyers, brochures, cash drawer, a way to handle charge cards, etc.

I would like to cover a few other tips that can make or break a show for you and you may not even realize it.

Tip #1: It’s called the 7 second rule! That’s approximately the length of time it takes someone to walk past your booth or display. That’s all the time you have to catch their eye, create interest or curiosity and give someone a reason to stop at your booth.

You only get one chance for a first impression and in this case about 7 seconds at the most.

Here’s what I did when I would get my booth set up at a show. I would always walk the isles in every direction approaching my booth to see how it looked from a customer’s perspective. If it looked cluttered or something was hidden from one direction, I would try to change my display to maximize my exposure for those 7 seconds it took to walk past my booth.
I wanted to make sure I was seeing what the customer was seeing.

Tip #2: Make sure you have a professional looking sign made for your booth. Most shows that have booths will supply a generic cardboard sign for each exhibitor. You should never use that sign, it automatically puts you in the same class as the other exhibitors and that’s the last thing you want to do.
This is the sign hanging in my little office at the shop, but it’s also the sign I use at every show. I built this sign from scrapes I had lying around the shop, so as you can see you can make a very professional looking sign without spending a fortune. Once I had the sign built and finished, I took it to a professional sign company to have the lettering done (Vinyl letters). It didn’t cost that much.

I would much rather have a sign like this representing my company then a generic cardboard sign that looks like everyone else’s. You’d be surprised what that will do for a “first impression”.

Tip#3: Whatever you’re selling, make sure you have professional looking displays. I know, you’re getting tired of hearing professional this and professional that, but hey; if you want a successful woodworking business, then you need to look and act like one.
Do not take your wobbly old card table and throw a kitchen table cloth on it and call that a display. Cinder blocks and 2×10’s are just as bad. Look; you’re a woodworker, you should be able to build something special to showcase your products. Make that first impression count!

Tip#4: Never leave your booth unattended. If no one is working your booth, that means you’re closed and if you’re going to be closed, why bother doing a show.

Tip#5: Never, ever stand in your booth with your arms folded across your chest! Nothing says; “I’m bored, don’t bother me” faster then standing there with your arms folded. Remember Tip#1?

Tip#6: Cell phones; leave them turned off and in your pocket. Don’t flatter yourself thinking you’re looking important or you’re closing deals on the phone. If that is the case, then you might as well go out in the parking lot and conduct business, because you’re ignoring the ones that are in front of you (7 second rule)! Texting is even worse!

Tip #7: No eating in your booth. It’s a proven fact that most people will continue walking by if they see you eating because they don’t want to bother you. Nothing will destroy your first impression in less then 7 seconds then a mouth full of food, or some mayonnaise smeared on the corner of your mouth and lettuce stuck in your teeth, except maybe standing there with your arms folded across your chest or talking on your cell phone. If you ever have any doubts about whether you should or shouldn’t do something at a show, always refer back to Tip#1……… chance to make a first impression and less then 7 seconds to get it done!

Tip #8: Never start taking your booth down before the show is over. Again; nothing will destroy your image faster then acting like you can’t wait to get away from there. I’ve closed some great deals the last five minutes of the show or even after closing.
If you’re in that big of a hurry to get away, then maybe you shouldn’t do a show in the first place.

The last bit of advice I would like to leave you with about shows and this also goes along with selling in general. Take the time to critique yourself after the show or after a sale (especially if you didn’t get the sale). If you had a very successful show; ask yourself why?
If you had a lousy show, ask yourself why? Was it really a bad show, or are you basing it only on sales “at” the show?
You may not be able to control the weather or the time of the year the show is held, but if it’s something you did or didn’t do, then you can change that if you’re willing to be honest with yourself.

Was it really the bad weather that made it a bad show, was it the time of year or was it maybe something you did or didn’t do that made it a bad show. How did the crowd react to your display and your products and pricing?

Tomorrow I want to talk about Image. How your image can either help you in marketing and sales or it can hurt you.

This one should get pretty interesting and may offend a few. Just fair warning!

-- John @

9 comments so far

View jerrells's profile


918 posts in 4133 days

#1 posted 07-01-2013 12:43 PM

Huff – again another great post. I was thinking I hope he covers; and it was in TIP #1. Look forward to more and thanks.

-- Just learning the craft my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ practiced.

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 3734 days

#2 posted 07-01-2013 04:54 PM

Lots of good stuff here. As someone starting out who hasn’t done a show yet, this is very appreciated.

-- Brian Timmons -

View DocSavage45's profile


9069 posts in 4091 days

#3 posted 07-01-2013 05:13 PM

Huff (John),

The best one yet! At least for me. You have confirmed what I have been planning. Also what I remember from Art and Craft fairs that I have gone to as a customer. I also think this way when a client for counseling does not return, although sometimes it is just what it is? LOL!

I mentioned that I have gotten excellent advice from a woodworker who markets himself and his very excellent work. He too was a business professional like yourself before gong into making furniture. I also found some good books about the business of woodworking, and selling your work.

But this example is powerful in that your telling us how much is in presenting you and your work.

I have also thought that too many items will cause the buyer to think they may be mass produced? And it was maybe beneficial that you only took the stuff you cared about to that first show.

Woodworkers use a critical eye when thinking about the finished product ( most of them anyway….LOL) But fail to show the product they have made in a critical light here on LJ’s?

Who goes to the show with you? Is that person as excited about it as you?

This was great! Thanks!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Sanding2day's profile


1018 posts in 3095 days

#4 posted 07-01-2013 07:50 PM

Great continued review on shows… Love the sign, thanks for sharing your experiences…

-- Dan

View clieb91's profile


4264 posts in 5184 days

#5 posted 07-01-2013 09:35 PM

Another great section here. One of the things we are trying to do at this point is to attend a show that we are tinking about doing before we sign up for it. We attended a show last year and took note of the types of vendors, clientele and the venue itself. We have signed up to sell at it this year based on that visit.( Should be interesting as it is going to be our first outdoor venue.) While this can be hard for some shows it has helped us chose a few good ones.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 4534 days

#6 posted 07-02-2013 01:19 AM

Thanks everyone; I certainly hope your shows are successful as mine were.

My wife used to tell me; shows were my two social events of the year.

Never figured out if she meant that I had too much fun or I needed to get a life! lol Either way, I always enjoyed doing them and they proved to be powerful marketing tools for me.

-- John @

View DocSavage45's profile


9069 posts in 4091 days

#7 posted 07-02-2013 08:26 AM

Sounds like it was your life? :>)

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 4534 days

#8 posted 07-02-2013 10:50 AM


Sure was; in fact, it still is even though I’m retired. Now I spend my time trying to help others.

-- John @

View PhillipRCW's profile


517 posts in 2513 days

#9 posted 04-20-2015 01:20 PM

I’m doing my first show a month from now. I really love the advice. I can’t wait to put it to use. I do have to use the card table due to limited ability to get it there. I will have a few tables, shelves, wood railing displays, but I just can’t seem to get room enough for two extra display tables. I will be topping them with wood multilevel displays though. I’m not sure if I should use a black cover or brown. I’ve read some marketing techniques that boast positives for both sides.

-- Phillip- Measure twice, cut onc.... Hey look, it's rustic.

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics