When I worked a gun show table for the first time in 1985 I had no idea what I was
doing. What I found and what you will find is that your greatest resource will be other
dealers at the show. You won’t be treated as a competitor, but a classmate.
What I didn’t know then, and the biggest question I get asked now, is what do bring?I Your rent will provide you with an 8 foot by 2 ½ foot banquet table and a couple of chairs. The first thing you will need is a table cloth. Stick with basic, single, solid colors. Your inventory can get lost on a print pattern. Pick a color that will contrast with your inventory so that it stands out. You will want it at least 4 or 5 foot wide. When you put it on the table you will want just a little overhang on your side but it should drape down some in front to conceal what you put under your table.
Most people bring a second cloth to a two day show. They throw this over their inventory when they shut down on Saturday night. You choose whether to leave your inventory overnight. Most people do as almost all shows have overnight security.
Pack a lunch, or at least some snacks. The show will have concessions, but, if the show gets busy you may not have time to make a food run.
You will want a simple money box. It should be something that will keep the different size bills separate. This makes it easier to make change. Many people also use a pad of paper to write down their sales for bookkeeping later. You will want a simple receipt pad. Most people don’t care about a receipt, but a few do. I prefer the ones with carbon paper style so I only have to write things once and I have a copy.
Now you’re ready to start, but, how do you start? Plan what you are going to display. You don’t want to waste a square inch of the table top. You paid for that space and it is valuable property you need to use to turn a profit. At the same time you don’t want to pile stuff up on it until there is no appeal to the customer to look because they can’t see what you have. Start with a single layer of inventory, grouped by type, and with a small space between each type. You will learn to adjust as you do this more. You will learn a lot by looking at good and bad examples on other dealers’ tables.
Is each inventory item packaged or presented so that it is appealing to the eye? Is it clean or dusty? Is the price tag fresh and clearly readable? Will the packaging hold up to transport? Remember you have to box this stuff, haul it a long way in a bouncing vehicle, and still have the containers intact when you get there. Trying to set up only to find your box is full of loose rattling inventory when a bag split is not a good way to start the day. Don’t forget to bring a couple extra containers and price tags in case the worst does happen.
Pack your inventory in a good transport container. I like plastic tubs, but, it depends on what you are selling. The size of the tub must fit the job. They should be able to fit under your display table and also into your vehicle. Two smaller tubs may be better than one large one. In this way you can separate extra inventory and find it quickly to restock your table top.
Research when the show host will open the facility for dealer set up. Plan when you have to arrive, get set up, and then plan for at least a half hour of free time before the show opens to the public. This will give you a cushion if something goes wrong. If it goes right this is your chance to meet the dealers around you and maybe do a little shopping before the doors open to the public.
When you arrive watch where vehicles are going and where people are unloading. Don’t park blocking an unloading zone. You aren’t ready to unload yet. Go inside and find the host. Find out what tables you have been assigned and settle up for the rent if you didn’t prepay. Check out your tables. Look for the best unloading zone to use for where you are at. Put a personal item on your tables so you can find them again quickly [a coat, a lunch box, a chair on the table].
Now you are ready. You may have to wait your turn to back up to the loading zone or you may just choose to carry your tubs from the parking lot. A cart of some type is handy. Some show hosts provide them, some don’t. Ours do. If you park in the loading zone make a point of being quick, others are waiting. Take your tubs to your table, the one you can spot because you left an item on top of it. Set your tubs down and go make that second trip. When you are done, move your vehicle, THEN set up your table. Nothing is more inconsiderate than the person that wants to set up as they unload and thus ties up loading zone space forever. When you are done unloading move your vehicle to the back of the lot. The space by the building is for the public when they come in.
Now you can get set up. Step1] get some coffee, 2] table cloth, 3] inventory out as planned, 4] more coffee, 5] arrange your workspace behind the table, 6] set up your money drawer, receipt book, sales log, pens, calculator, etc so that you reach them quickly throughout the day. 7] Top off your coffee. You may have figured out that we drink a lot of coffee. We also furnish coffee free of charge to dealers during the set up times. Not all hosts do, but, we do.
A quick word about your workspace: Unless you were lucky enough to get a table on the wall there will be a dealer set up behind you facing the opposite direction. Plan your space so that you don’t interfere with them. Those tubs under your table make great writing and storage tops. Introduce yourself to you neighbors. Let them know this is your first show. They will be a wealth of information. They will also be willing to watch your table for you if you have to run to the restroom during the show. They shouldn’t make sales for you, but, they can watch your inventory and maybe keep a customer at your table and interested until you return.
You will make mistakes. You will learn from them. You will get good advice. You will get bad advice. It’s just like the rest of your life. If we can be of any help please don’t hesitate to contact us at GOOD LUCK