Hang it Up
A Commercial Booth at a Flower Show
By Jean Emmons
Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 14, Issue 2
I’ve had an individual commercial booth at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show for the last eight years. I would like to share some thoughts on how to make a booth at a large flower show a successful experience for a botanical artist. It is a great way to expand a viewing audience, build a mailing list and make sales.
The country’s third-largest flower show, this show is held every February in the Seattle Convention Center for 5 days. Average attendance is 60,000 with each attendee spending an average of $130.
Renting booth space is a big commitment of finances and time - a 10 foot by 10 foot booth with electricity, credit card line and skirted tables adds up to almost $2,000. Also, you need good panels and good lighting. I love Pro Panels (www.propanels.com). Designed by artists for artists, Pro Panels are tough, portable and come in colors flattering to botanical art. Good track lighting is essential to illuminate the detail in botanical art and to give your booth a professional gallery atmosphere. When I doubled my lighting, I doubled my sales. Credit card processing is essential. I have mine through Costco Small Business Services, but many local banks offer inexpensive, even seasonal credit card processing.
L ocation within a show is critical. It is important to be as close to the display gardens as possible. That way you will get good traffic. Also, being near the display gardens, you can sometimes avoid the harsh fluorescent lighting so prevalent in trade shows. Popular neighbors are a big help. If you’re next to a booth selling unique items that gardeners love (mason bee houses, mushroom logs, rare horticultural books), it can create a positive spillover for you. Once you find a good spot, try to be in that spot every year. That way your customers can find you easily. Selling botanical art is dependent on customer loyalty and repeat business, especially during economic downturns.
The general atmosphere within a large flower show is reminiscent of a carnival replete with crowds, colors, and loud noises. This festival atmosphere can be fatiguing to attendees and not conducive to art buying. Consequently, I’ve tried to create an island of tranquility. A booth must be inviting. A deep carpet and carpeted panels can muffle sound. Hopefully, your tired customer can slow down and look closely at the art. An extra chair for a customer’s spouse to sit in may even prevent the, “But where are you going to put it?” comment.
What your customers can teach you is invaluable. One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn is that I can never predict what will sell. I couldn’t sell a painting of anemones that I loved, nor could I sell the prints and cards I made from it. Sometimes you’re too close to your work to know, so ask your friends and family for advice on what to print.
Remember you are building a clientele. Try to make a commitment of participating in a show for several years.
In uncertain economic times, it is important to have items in all price ranges. In the early years, I sold only cards and a few prints, but those cards covered my expenses. Flower show attendees can feel insecure about buying originals. The first year, they may buy only cards, then the second year prints, then the third year small originals.
Limit peoples’ choices. It sounds counterintuitive, but when I hang less, I sell more. There is a fascinating study by 2 psychologists from Columbia and Stanford about consumer choices. They studied two groups of consumers. The first group sampled 6 flavors of jam, the second group sampled 24. The group that sampled 6 bought ten times more jam than the group that sampled 24. Try not to overcrowd your booth. Your customers will become too overwhelmed to buy. Lastly, don’t stack your artwork on the floor for people to flip through. Your work deserves to be on the wall.
The nicest thing about selling this way is seeing old friends and making new ones. Many attendees, even though they may not buy anything, express so much enthusiasm for your art, it can sustain you during those long solitary hours in the studio.