First off I must say that I’m really bad at the aesthetics of display, this is definitely not going to be a ‘how to make your stall look fab’ post! If you want stall display inspiration just click over to Pinterest and there are literally thousands of pics to flick through. This post is going to be about practicality and basics, your style is entirely up to you.
If you want to have the best possible display, the only way to really do this is practice. You can imagine things will look a certain way and when set up they look entirely different or don’t fit. Draw it out then practice laying it out before you go to your first event.
Firstly, a few things that are just helpful in making your stall look great.
Work to your strengths
I’m TERRIBLE at keeping things tidy so I have to work with that rather than trying to produce something that’s going to be a headache for me to lay out or maintain. If you have skills or ‘deficiencies’ like me, work with them rather than against them. Be honest with yourself, if you are terrible at combining colours, for example, don’t try because you’ll never feel secure about how your stall looks which means you will spend forever fiddling with it.
Stick to your demographic
Your display should appeal to your target market so determine who they are and design things around them. An easy example would be items targeted at children – your display will need to be low enough for children to be able to see and reach things, it will need to be brightly coloured and you are probably wise to make it easily cleanable! Ask yourself WHO are my demographic and WHAT do they like?
Are you cheap and cheerful or sophisticated and expensive?
Your display is what will attract people to your table so have your display reflect your prices. Are you selling ‘market stall’ items or high end hand made? If you are ‘pile em high and sell em low’ then do just that, if you are looking for a high price for high quality goods, your display needs to reflect that. I wouldn’t rake through boxes for a £100 handbag and if I was looking at items 5 for £1 I probably wouldn’t bother approaching really sophisticated looking stalls as I’d assume they were too expensive.
Black can make colours look great up close but it does nothing for anyone at a distance
I love black but it seriously saps light. Sure the items on top of your table may look great but for someone looking from a distance you kinda disappear. If you are using black then add signage or something so that from a distance you are eyecatching rather than a black hole that just blends in.
Find a way to build height on your stall so people can see your goods without having to stare directly down on your table. Pinterest is great for finding ideas for how to add height, just remember to make everything very stable.
It takes a great deal of skill to make ‘a plethora’ not look ‘cluttered’
You don’t have to have EVERYTHING on your table, which applies to both stock and display equipment. Coco Chanel said of accessorizing “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” This works for table displays as much as it does for fashion. It’s only YOU that knows that something is not on there.
Your product is what people should see first, not your props
You’re not setting up a museum display, you’re trying to make your product look good. I’ve seen some beautifully crafted displays, but I’ve not been able to tell what’s for sale and what’s for decoration. If people comment on your display more than they buy your goods, then you’re doing something wrong. Strip it right back and see if your sales figures go up, then you can start adding your beautiful props back in.
Textural and natural usually work
Now I’m not saying that all displays should be textured and natural, but it’s much easier to work with that than with flat, shiney and man made. Texture can be added by using pattern as well as relief and textural cloths are much less likely to look like they need a good iron! Wood and baskets will immediately look warm and welcoming and are easy to pick up cheaply. Slate and stones also work really well to give a simple classy look and have more warmth than flat black.
If you’re not confident with colour, natural colours work well too. Creams, taupes, pale greys and pale browns usually all work well together – and work with wood, slate and baskets easily. They wont fight for attention with your products but look warmer, and are easier to maintain, than white.
Of course these wont work for everyone, but if you’re stuck for a place to start find a picture of a flower or landscape that you feel fits with your theme or brand and start building your colours and look from there.
Your opinion is most important
Now obviously everyone has different opinions about what looks nice and certain things will suit your style better than others. I’m quite a good case in point being a jeweller whose jewellery looks much better away from the jewellery standards of clean lines and shiney monochrome. Do what feels right for you and screw everyone else, including me and my ‘helpful tips’!
The biggest mistake people usually make is that they plan their display in a vacuum. They set out their ‘dream’ display and don’t take any of the practicalities of life and work into consideration.
When planning your display for fairs and markets the first thing you should be thinking of is –
What are the limitations?
All events have largely immovable limitations on space and time and these will differ per area or event.
These limitations will be things like –
• What space do I get?
• How long do I have to set up?
• How far will I have to carry items? Will I have any help?
• What is my transport situation?
• Do I need to own my own table?
• Will there be electricity available? If there is, will I need my electricals PAT tested?
• What restrictions are there on what/how I can display? (ie do I require a table cloth)
• Health and safety!
These limitations should form your display design rather than trying to force your design to fit them (but I know you lot, you’re much more into the creative bit than the planning so if vice versa works for you, go for it you chaotic beggars!)
Quick reality check – EVERYBODY would like more space, their back to a wall and electricity, so we aint all gonna get it! Create a display that doesn’t depend on these things and you’ll have a much better time of it.
Let’s just think through the limitations above as to how they will inform your final design.
Do I need to own my own table?
I’m putting this first as it is the biggest variable that you can cheaply take completely out of the equation –buy your own table! Folding tables cost £20-£40, solve the feeling of ‘what table am I going to be faced with’, and allow you to practice and plan your display exactly as it will appear at events. You’ll never be faced with a display that fitted fine at home but now doesn’t fit on the table you’ve been given and some events simply don’t have ones you can borrow.
Find out what the ‘norm’ for your area tablewise is, and buy a table the same – for example the norm here is 6ft x 2.5ft (an average ‘hall’ type table). If you’re not allowed to bring your own table to an event, then generally the tables don’t vary much from the norm. Where you are, there might be no norm. If this is the case, do some research on events you want to attend to find out if you can bring your own table and/or what size of space you will be allocated so that you can try and get a table that will provide your display base for most events.
A word of warning – a pasting table is NOT an adequate substitute for a proper sturdy table. They are not made for holding more than 1 sheet of paper and I have seen several completely collapse taking all the stallholders stock with it. (Yes one was china!)
What space do I get?
Where I am, most indoor events let you have 6ft of space. This is an absolute – you get 6ft, you make your display fit within 6ft. This is where practicing your display comes in, if you don’t have your own table, mark out a 6ft area and use it as a blank canvas. If, like me, you kinda love drawing things to scale with graph paper (mmmmm scale drawing with graph paper) do that. DON’T guess your space sizes, actually measure because a guestimate wont do.
If you decide you really NEED more space, be prepared to pay for it. You don’t need to bring, or have on display ALL of your stock at once and you should have plenty space under your table for back stock that you can bring out if something sells or someone wants something that is not on display. It is a real faux pas to apply for events and say on the application ‘I need more space because my display is big’ and can result in you getting turned down for events. Most organisers will be happy to sell you a double space but why should they turn down another paying stallholder so you can have more room, and why should you get a bigger space than someone who is paying the same as you?
If you can’t fit into the space readily available, perhaps reconsider if attending these events is right for you. If you sell very large goods – such as furniture – maybe try bringing a couple of small examples and use the rest of your space as display for pictures of your goods, wood stain/paint samples, and perhaps access to your website through a tablet or a catalogue that people can look through. Remember craft markets are not just about sales on the day! (See previous blog post)
How long do I have to set up?
Obviously we’d all love to take our time, chat, drink tea and leisurely get prepared pre event, but sorry folks, time is money. Most venues will be paid for either by the day or the hour and you’ve paid for your spot based upon how much the venue is costing, as well as paying for the heating, electricity and staff who actually have to be there while you set up. Find out what the average time is in your area and practice or amend your display until you can do it in less than that time.
How far will I have to carry items? Will I have any help?
In some (rare) cases there will be people on hand to help you carry stuff in, but keep in mind that there could be another 100 stallholders who are also wanting their help so plan on being self sufficient. Steps are common into venues so be aware that you will likely not just be able to pile everything onto a trolley and wheel them in. Feel free to ask organisers if there are steps etc but if you want the maximum opportunites, make your display items ‘step friendly’.
It may seem obvious, but make sure you can safely physically lift your boxes/cases and display items. I know more than once I’ve filled a box nice and neatly then gone to lift it and, no chance! Be aware of your own physical limitations, you don’t want to get injured.
What is my transport situation?
If you’ve got a mini you likely can’t fit a whole shop in it! If you only have room for 2 boxes in your car, that’s all you can take so plan accordingly. If you’re serious about ‘the fair life’ and transport is a problem, maybe you need to think about changing your transport situation rather than trying to work with it.
Will there be electricity available? If there is, will I need my electricals PAT tested?
Organisers have to lay out their events on a ‘needs first’ basis and sorry but unless part of your body needs electricity to keep you alive, you don’t NEED electricity. More crafters have disabilities than in the average workplace and if they need a certain space to be able to see/hear/get up then that’s much more important than someone who wants to turn on lights or charge their phone. You also need to be aware that LOADS of people ask for electricity for one reason or another and some venues don’t even have a single socket. If electricity is a dealbreaker for you, you need to realise that this will minimize your opportunities and cost you extra– is it REALLY making you that much extra money?
Some venues require anything plugged into their sockets to be PAT tested. This can be done at any electricians and isn’t desperately expensive (around £5-£10 per appliance when I last checked), but if you are working on a small budget it’s something you might not want to spend money on. Not all venues require it, but it will give you extra opportunities if you get it done.
There is an easy way around the dependence on electricity – battery power! Swap out your electric lights for battery ones and you’ll never need to worry about whether you are next to a socket. Battery tea lights and fairy lights are really really cheap (you can get them in pound shops) and if you look around you can find bigger ones in lots of different designs online. This might take you some time to figure out, but the extra opportunities, the money you save on PAT testing, and lessening of uncertainty should make up for it.
What restrictions are there on what/how I can display? (ie do I require a table cloth)
This is something you want to check out. Where I am, most events require you to have a cloth covering the sides and front of your table. Regardless of whether or not you are required to have the fronts and sides of your table covered, it’s a good idea to do so. Under your table is where you will mainly be able to stash your stuff. If you’ve spent time designing a lovely display on top of your table, do you really want it spoilt by everyone seeing the complete disaster zone that’s underneath it? (What do you mean it’s only my table that looks like that underneath???)
Whatever restrictions organisers have put on they do so for a reason so be aware that in certain situations you might have to change your display to comply. Take this into consideration in your design. Be fluid and flexible and you’ll have more opportunities.
Health and safety!
H&S is REALLY important. Don't let anyone, including yourself, get hurt. Adhere to basic health and safety rules –
• Don’t pile things up high so they might topple
• Electrical cables must not hang, they must run along the floor and be taped down
• Don’t have sharp stuff/poisons/breakables where little paws can reach out and grab them
• Don’t have stuff that people might trip on or will encroach on the walkway
• Don’t have a ‘dangerous’ display such as broken glass or mirrors, irritants or toxic substances, or unstable shelves/tables.
Remember, your limitations whether personal or otherwise are what really inform your design. Working with them will give you more opportunities and an easier time of it.