What you need depends on what show you're doing, and how you're doing it.
For the past few years, I've been doing jewelry shows as part of Knew Concepts, so we've been doing tools. We also do woodworking shows. Tools again. So it's slightly different than when I was doing jewelry, but a lot of the basic principles are the same.
First thing: indoor or outdoor? Bigtop tent, or individual tents? If jewelry: security? Team booth, or solo?
The absolute basics are a notebook, and a few pens, as well as a few bottled waters and some form of munchies to keep your blood sugar up. (I use chocolate chip cookies, myself.) You want something with enough carbs to give you some burn time after the sugar spike, or you'll be in worse shape after the spike wears off than you were to start with.
Water is absolutely required. You'll be shocked at how dry your throat gets, talking for 8 hours solid.
Shoes with good, padded soles. You'll probably be on your feet for 8-10 hours solid. Plan for it.
Altoids (or other breath mints) and sore-throat lozenges. (I'm partial to the Burt's Bee's Honey ones. They do wonders for a throat that's been talking waaaaay too much.)
I keep a notebook for making notes during the show, including a page for "lessons learned from this trip..." And I make a point of reading it after we get home, and again before I head out for the next one.
Also keep an envelope in the notebook for biz cards. I’m not nearly as good as I should be about following up with all of them, but at least it keeps the cards all in one place. Remember to make notes on the back of them to remind yourself what you spoke with this person about, or if there’s anything you need to do for them when you get home.
I also bring a pile of mine along in the show box, just to make sure I’ve got them. Multiple pens because they wander away.
You’ll also need black fabric or blankets, something to cover your tables when you’re not there. It’s about the best “closed” sign you’re going to get.
When we’re doing KC on our own at shows, we’ve got a crate that gets truck freighted in ahead of time with all the inventory and booth stuff in it. In there, we keep a couple of boxes of show stuff that just lives in there all the time, so we know we’ve got it. (Check again before the crate goes out, of course….)
One has hardware for setting up the booth, and one has extra stuff for fixing/displaying/demonstrating the tools.
The hardware box has things like an extra 25’ extension cord, an extra power strip, a roll of black duct-tape, zip-ties of various sizes, bungies, a few trash bags and food sized ziplocs, a box cutter, and one of those modular screwdrivers that does 2 sizes of phillips, and 2 sizes of flat, just in case. A roll of clear packing tape, and sometimes a hammer, depending on the show. I keep a set of allen wrenches and a crescent wrench in there too, but that’s more because of the nature of our stuff than anything a normal jeweler would need.
The show box has stuff like extra business cards, pens, sales pads, sample pieces made with the tools, some demonstration parts, like an oversized, cut-away saw clamp, so we can show people how they work, that kind of thing. Adapt that to service whatever you’re actually selling. I also keep a goodie bag of spare parts, and tools to install them. We get people coming in with issues at the shows, so it’s good to be able to fix their saw and send them on their way in a few minutes. The same thought could be expanded to jewelry. Keep a small little toolkit with the gear to fix basic problems for whatever you’re making, and people will remember you. In a good way. At minimum, a few polishing cloths, and maybe a can of compressed air.
The most important thing you can take with you is a friend. I’ve done national shows solo. It sucks. You really want someone else there who can handle things when you’re stuck talking to people, or to cover for a few minutes while you go deal with the hydraulics. (or get lunch) Things just go better when there are two of you. It also gives you a guaranteed partner for dinner, which is a surprisingly important consideration, far from home.
Do NOT let yourself get so bogged down that you forget to get lunch. Or you’ll crash hard about 3:30. Ask me how I know this… Make sure your buddy gets food too.
It takes a surprising amount of energy to talk to people all day, and you need to remember to keep yourself fueled up to be able to do it. Even the extroverts among us. You may be able to do the first day of the show on nerves and caffeine, but I guarantee you won’t be able to do it for the second or third day. JCK is ?5? this year? I was there for set-up and tear-down one year. 8 days straight. Go ahead, try doing that on nerves and coffee, I dare you. Remember to take care of yourself, or you (and your sales) will regret it. (far more than whatever would have happened in the 30 minutes you took for lunch.)
For tools, security isn’t such an issue. I just put the sample pieces back in the crate, and lock it. No big deal.
For jewelry? BIG can of worms. JCK has something like ?30? different vaults scattered around just the main floor that people make arrangements to store their stuff in overnight, along with armed security. But that’s not typical. What we did for the ACC & craft shows that I did years ago was to pack down the serious stuff, and wheel it off to our hotel rooms every night. Which made the trip up there a bit tense. Which also explained why we tended to stay in the hotel attached to whatever hall we were in. (Another reason why you want to bring a friend, or team up with another jeweler you know, at least for that aspect of things.)
I’m far enough out of that side of things that other than saying that you want to pay attention to security, I don’t have anything currently useful to offer.
Another issue is load-in/load-out, and freight. Depending on the show, and whether it’s a union hall, there can be all sorts of considerations and costs. For example: you can use a standard LTL (less-than-load) freight company to get your crate to the show and back, but they typically can’t get it into the show. For that, you have to use the hall (or show’s) logistics company. For a modest fee, of course. Typically what happens is that there’s a package deal from the logistics company that combines the long-haul freight with the “materials handling fee” (getting it from their warehouse to your booth location) into one charge. Which they give themselves a discount on, so it’s usually cheaper to go with their ‘combo’ deal. Cheap-er. Not cheap. Nothing to do with shows is cheap. If you have any capacity to do so, get a weight on your crate. Our most recent show involved our show crate going out with a certified (by them) weight of 510 pounds, and coming back half empty with a “certified” weight of 1087 pounds. Absolute crap, and we eventually managed to twist enough arms to get that revised, but without having had the 510# outbound weight, we’d have been hosed.
If you’re driving yourself and your stuff (like we mostly do) you may (or may not) be able to load in your stuff yourself, or put up your own booth, or even plug in your own laptop. It depends on the hall, and whether it’s a union hall, and how much of a pain they’re feeling like being about that, if so. Things now aren’t nearly as bad as I remember them from the 90’s, but some of those experiences were bad enough that I still remember them. So read the show contract CAREFULLY, and make sure you understand what the work rules are at the show. What you can do yourself, and what you have to hire show people to do. Then figure that cost into your calculations of whether it makes sense to do the show. Just because you got in, it does not follow that you should actually do the show. If you’re not going to at least break even, you’d better have a pretty convincing “other” reason for doing it. Sometimes PR and showing the flag counts, but not always. The ultimate point of the whole game is to make sure there’s more money coming in than going out. If this show won’t help with that, why are you doing it?
For whatever that all’s worth.