My First Quilt Market: Part 4 — Setting Up a Booth

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At the heart of Quilt Market, the large wholesale trade show that showcases all things quilting, are the 559 exhibitors and 1177.5 booths at the George R Brown convention center in Houston, Texas. Although I’ve been to many quilt shows, I’d never experienced what it was like to set up a booth. Until now. I was able to follow Morna McEver Golletz , president of the International Association of Professional Quilters, as she set up her booth.

Setting up the booth is the last stage of a long process. First there is the paperwork — registering for the booth and then completing a half-dozen rounds of paperwork (all with different deadlines) for your booth’s electricity, piping for the draperies, and contents rental. I learned that everything has a price! Even the flooring is not free, and carpet for a 10  ft by 10 ft booth can cost $300.  Lighting is also expensive. Vendors have the choice of bringing their own booth construction materials or renting them.

There is also a great deal of planning that goes into a booth. The booth has to be designed to allow customers (including those in wheelchairs and on scooters) in and out of your space. You need to decide a theme and color scheme. You need to have good signage. And you need to plan what you will sell, what you will demonstrate, and how your inventory will be displayed. Most vendors will pre-construct their booths before the show to make sure that they didn’t forget anything.

Getting your booth contents to the convention center is a big deal. Larger vendors, or vendors living close to Houston, may opt to drive a truck to the show. Smaller vendors often ship the contents of their booth.  (Beware, I also learned that hotels and convention centers generally charge $1.00 per pound to receive these goods.)I also learned, from talking to other vendors, that there was no air conditioning in the convention center on setup day. Given that the temperature in Houston was 80% with about the same amount of humidity, this experience had to be horrible for vendors with a lot of setup.

We began our booth setup journey in the shipping room at our hotel. This room was piled with boxes that had been sent by guests.

Package room at our hotel.

Once we found our boxes, they were put on a hand truck to be carried to the convention center.

A hotel employee pulled our booth contents (as well as packages for other people) across the street to the convention center. He waited at the door while Morna pulled her belongings to the booth. When we got there, I saw that she’d already done some setup.

The basics of the booth.

The next step was unpacking her trunk so that she could hang curtains and display her materials.

Morna hanging curtains.

That was as far as I got. When I came back to the booth for the show, Morna had finished the set up. Posters and signage were up. The light pole (on left) had been disguised with fabric. Tables were covered and her magazines were artfully displayed. Doesn’t the booth look wonderful?

Finished booth!

To learn more about how to set up trade shows, I attended a 2 hour presentation by Shelly Stokes. Shelly, owner of Cedar Canyon Textiles, is a trade show veteran. I have pages of notes from her lecture, and I must say that trade show vending was far more complicated (and expensive) than I’d envisioned. Shelly offers trade show coaching for people who want to reduce their trade show trauma and learn how to have more effective booths. I have to say that, based on her lecture, this would be an amazing opportunity for new vendors.

I really enjoyed my behind-the-scenes look at trade show setup. My thanks to Morna McEver Golletz for allowing me to tag along.

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