April 18, 2012

How to Artist Alley: Booth Essentials UPDATED!

Time to take a break from talking about products! (Don't worry, we'll get back there soon).

I'd like to spend a post and talk about all that OTHER stuff you'll need for your booth. Not packaging, not booth set up, not products, but all those little random things you don't think about but couldn't live without.

How to Artist Alley:
Booth Essentials
a.k.a. all that other crap you need but didn't think about it until the last minute

I'll be honest. I often forget about these kinds of things until the day before (two if I'm smart). So instead of freaking out and trying to put all this together at the last minute, I'm presenting you with a fun list of things you should probably work on eventually collecting for your booth.

The goal is to not spend a fortune on stuff, but do understand these kinds of things are more like an "investment" and if you're in it for the long haul, you'll want to get good quality versions of these essentials later (as the need arises).

The Main List:

  • Cash box (and accessories)
  • Folding Hand Truck/Cart
  • Trash Can
  • Plastic storage
  • Extension Cord
  • Snacks/Water
  • Large Bedsheets

Cash Box

They're pretty easy to locate.

Probably THE most important thing you can have at your booth. A lot of beginning artists get away with using things like decorative boxes, shoe boxes, plastic boxes, and what have you. But if you plan on doing this for a while, it would be wise to invest in a GOOD Cash Box. This is going to be where you keep your cash all weekend, so there are some key things to look for when buying one:

#1 Locking
Make sure your box is lockable with a key. This is mainly for money safety - if you need to get up, look away, and/or not be within the vicinity of your box, it should be locked.

This is also important if you are sharing a room with other people. Always take the Cash Box back to your hotel room each night, and keep it locked unless you're counting/sorting what's in there. This prevents any issues and possible thefts.

#2 Set-In Tray
While not an absolute requirement, I strongly recommend having a Cash Box with a removable tray (and thus having space underneath it.

Why is it important? Well, it's to give the illusion you only have so much cash in the box, and it will protect large bills. If anybody gives you a bill bigger than a $20, it should go INSTANTLY underneath the tray. Also, try to avoid keeping more than a few 20's on the upper tray too. If you end up getting a lot of 20's, store them underneath the tray. The less people see in your box, the less likely you'll be a target for theft later.

Note: I've never had a problem but I am also super protective of my cash box.

Cash Box Accessories

Other items you want to keep on hand IN the cash box are:

  • Starter Cash
    Always have a set amount of cash in your Cash Box before the convention starts. This way when they all walk in with $20's, they can actually buy your things.

    I like to start with $50 in the box, with:

    10 - $1
    4 - $5
    2 - $10

    That will at least give you SOMETHING to work with change-wise on Friday. Do NOT assume that people come loaded with $1s.

    NOTE: Remember to RETURN the same $50 at the end of the weekend to the cash box out of the money you made. It'll save you cash later - because then you won't have to replenish it every convention! (This is also where having it locked comes in handy - you can just lock the box, forget about the money inside until next con, when SURPRISE! Your starter cash is ready!)

  • Envelopes for storing extra cash 
    You can separate it per day if you want, I tend to just keep one, and keep a running tally each day - writing it on the front. Better than a bunch of bills flying around your box. ALSO - if you are not going to get a heavy duty locking box, then envelopes are a must just for organization. They can be the cloth ones or just paper ones. Up to you.

  • Counterfeit Pen
    I don't have one yet myself (I should though), but you can get them at office supply stores. Prevents getting bad bills. Not that I've ever had a problem, but it's wise to do for things like $50's or $100's. 

  • Writing Pen + Small Notepad
    In case you need to write something down, maintain inventory, keep track of how to split money (if you are sharing products)

  • Decorations
    C'mon. No need to be boring. Jazz it up! It's like your little personal space at the booth, make it pleasant to look at when you open it up. 

Folding Hand Truck/Cart

If you spend any decent amount of cash on your essentials - please buy one of these:

Your back will thank you.

This is known as a Folding Hand Truck or Folding Hand Cart.

Why is this a vital piece of machinery? Because gravity is a cruel mistress, that's why.

Actually it's because OUR BOOTHS ARE HEAVY. No kiddin' folks. Once you put all your booth into a few boxes, each of those boxes will weigh QUITE a bit. Oh sure, you can lift it from the car to the floor, but try carrying that box (or two) from the parking garage through the habitrail, across the street then into the hall where you have to wait in line. Then haul it to your booth. do you REALLY want to be lifting it for that long?

Oh and don't forget. If you couldn't carry it all the first trip, you have to repeat that trip as many times as you need to get all your boxes.

Or you can be lazy, and buy one of these! With a hand truck you can load up a  few boxes, frames, wire panels, you name it, and use gravity and simple machines to get your product where it needs to be with minimal effort. And doing this multiple times is much easier than multiple trips (or conning several friends into hauling things for you - I did that long ago).

Make sure that it folds too - why, you ask? Well, it needs to fit in the car somehow, and the smaller the better!

You can find folding hand carts/trucks at local hardware stores, sometimes office supply stores, or more likely you'll want to order online. If you're super lucky, you'll find them at garage sales for super cheap. Just make sure they can handle the weight you're going to toss on em.

Garbage Can

FNISS Wastepaper basket IKEA
My Ikea Trashcan

You'd be surprised how few trash cans are at conventions until you're stuck at your booth and can't find one in sight distance of your space. So how does one mitigate such a problem? Bring your own trashcan! This is probably one of the easiest things to get for your booth because you can use any of the following:

  • Old plastic or paper shopping bags
  • Old packaging box you don't need any more
  • An actual small trashcan (you can get em at Ikea for like, $2)

Anything that can "hold" something is prime target for being a trash can. Don't let it take up too much space, but don't leave home without SOMETHING to toss stuff into. Just make sure it's a decent size that if you had to crumple up things like paper or put a few used bottles or cans into it'd fit with extra space.

Plastic Storage

Sterilite Clip Box Set of 4 - Green (Medium)
Here's a small box,
but they come in all sizes.

As fun as it is to throw away all the old cardboard boxes after you sell all your products, you're still going to want to invest in some good plastic storage for those items that you'll still have after the con (and take with you time and time again). These boxes will be there to store display parts, cash box, leftover products, supplies (like button makers and parts) and more.

I strongly recommend finding the types of boxes that latch on the sides, as they are the easiest to move around and the tops won't pop off during transport.

Extension Cord

A lot of conventions lack free, easy to get to electrical hookups, so you either purchase it separately, or pay to use one that's already set up. Whatever the case, ALWAYS bring an extension cord and/or a power strip. Just because you ordered power doesn't mean they're required to help you get it to your table.

An extension cord will allow you the freedom to be "sort of close" to a plug rather than required to be directly next to it.


JUSTINA Chair pad IKEA Woven with yarn in different colors, which adds life and character to the chair pad.
Yet another item you can find at Ikea.

For the love of all that's sacred, find a way to slip a pillow or seat cushion into your booth products. You probably don't think about it, but most places have standard metal folding chairs. Then think about the fact that you'll probably (or at least should) be at the booth for a good 8+ hour day. That's a lot of sitting on an uncomfortable chair.

Bring a pillow/cushion to make it easier! Your body will thank you.


Sounds silly, but I'm putting it in here anyway. If you're like me, I get so hyped about working, and into the moment I forget about things like food or eating. Heck, I'll forget to drink water and then wonder why I'm dehydrated!

To prevent unwanted dehydration and/or starvation pack non-perishable items like crackers, granola bars, breakfast bars, fruit snacks or whatever floats your boat that's not real messy. You want them to be small, bite-size, something you can eat fast in case you need to talk with a customer. Also make sure to pack a couple of bottled waters for yourself (they can be refilled easily by drinking fountains), and maybe a juice or two.

Keep em under the table, so that way you won't have to wander too far if you get hungry.

Large Bedsheets

SLUMRA Flat sheet IKEA Polyester/cotton blend makes an easy to care for fabric which is less liable to shrink and crease.
You'd be surprised at your need for these.

I'm so ashamed I forgot to put this on the list at first! This is one of the more lesser thought about, but vitally important items for your booth.

What are they used for, you may ask? Well, so glad you did. Bedsheets like these are used to drape over top of your booth when you are closed (either during the day if emergency calls) or at night when your booth closes up. I know, a lot of conventions will have "closed rooms" that the alley will be located in. That's NO REASON to think that you don't have to worry about safety.

It's always a wise idea to cover up your booth to deter any would-be thieves. The more effort they have to go through to see/get to your stuff, the less likely they'll try to take your things. I've never had a problem, but I've also thoroughly covered my booth and removed all the expensive/vitally important items every time.

You don't need to spend a ton of money on these. I highly recommend going to local goodwill stores, asking relatives, or if you must - visit discount stores and find the largest bedsheets you can. Just the flat ones. I strongly recommend getting king sized, and getting at least 2. That way, if you have a taller display, you'll be sure to cover the whole thing.

Also, in a pinch, they can be used as decorative tablecloths!


Just because you're having an artist's booth doesn't mean you should only think about your products! A booth will be like your "store" and every good store needs a good infrastructure to back it up. Keeping yourself organized and comfortable will make your Alley Dwelling a more positive experience!

NEXT UP: We're going to be discussing how to actually GET a spot in an Alley. You know, how the general sign up process works, and what to expect.


  1. I honestly never thought about seat cushions and yet they seem so very logical. This is seriously helpful!

  2. I'm glad that my posts are helping out!

    I learned the seat cushion trick really early on when I would have my booth in GVSU's hallways with their wooden slat benches. OUCH.

    Also, on a side note, if you're ever wearing anything cumbersome... you should probably have your own special chair. :P I have a small 4-legged stool that fits under my giant Rue dress for such such an occasion.