The Rocky Road to Success: Shows
One Of the Major Steps to Success: Shows
As insight for customers to see what we artists go through just to be present at a show, and for new--or seasoned--vendors trying to make a living.
Into each artist’s life, a few shows must fall. For me, art shows, and craft shows, are my bread and butter—at least until I get my online sales up.
Here are some tips for choosing shows:
Is it cheap? If a show is too cheap, the customers will be not be purchasing your quality items. My $55 pendants will be out of most of the patrons’ budgets at the small, inexpensive shows. (That said, one of my best kept secrets and most successful shows is a little show I do which takes place in a mobile home park each year. ) My advice is to try it out if it feels like it might be a good show, and if you don’t do well, don’t go back. We all laughingly say “I made my booth fee!” But the truth is, sometimes that’s all you make at a show.
$50 and up for a show. That weeds out the competition considerably. If you are at a show with cheaply made items, things from catalogs being sold as original, poor traffic, chances are your booth cost you less than $50. That seems to be the line which is necessary to have a better show with more quality vendors. The advertising will be better at a show costing between $50 and $100 for a booth. So will the customers. And the opposite is also true. I was at a HUGE show—3 buildings—that was so overwhelming to the attendees that their eyes started to glaze over, and they didn’t really SEE anything. Big shows are fun, but in this case, size does matter. I would choose a moderately sized show over a big production any day. Less competition, my work is showcased better, and people are there to buy instead of lookie-loo.
Network. At a bad show? Is the traffic slow? Talk to the vendor next to you…across from you…behind you. Where do they go? If you are not competing with your product, they are usually more than willing to share information. Women especially are attuned to the fact that most other women are trying to make a living, and are willing to help out by sharing good shows, bad shows, etc. Write that stuff down, and take their cards. Share your cards. That soap artist may be selling just the unique gift for that bridal shower coming up! And they may want something equally unique as a gift around Christmas or for a birthday present. Talk is easy, costs you nothing, and sharing is good for your karma bank. We’re all in this together!
Check out your sponsor. There are a number of places online to check out the reputation of the person/agency holding the event. Festivalnet is one of these places to find shows in your area. Plug in the sponsor’s name on Google. You’ll get great info! And if the sponsor is bad at advertising, etc., you don’t want that show! Many sites offer reviews of shows. Read the reviews.
What’s available? On Google, check out Festivalnet, free things to do within your city, fairs, craft fairs, art fairs, festivals. You can use your online resources to check out shows, etc. Decide what’s a good fit for your product.
And while you are checking out what’s available, check out the number of years the show has been held. First year shows are a gamble unless you know for certain the show will be successful, or you are doing a show for charity. I try to look for 3+ years. That way most of the bugs are worked out and your chances of making a profit are greater.
I have found that whether you request a location for your booth at a show, or just have one assigned, it really makes no difference. I prefer to be close to a restroom, and a corner—if I have the money—is a great option. But if your work is good, you will sell no matter the location. Just get out there and smile and pull in the customers.
Plan on about an hour to drive there, and another to set up. Even though they say 10x10 booth, you never know what you’ve really got till you get there. I love the shows that let you set up the day before--so much less stress on the day of the show!
Find out about refund policies. I once lost $450 when I broke my knee and couldn’t do a show. If I had checked the policies, I might have been able to get my money back. Things happen. Be sure you are covered. No one is responsible for your money but YOU!
To tent or not to tent? That is a major question. In order to have a safe, comfortable, open air show, I feel a tent is essential. Be it 8x8 or 10x10(the standard), a tent protects your work from weather, shoplifters, the creepy guy next door(hahaha), defines your space, and showcases your work. I prefer white, but there are many color options out there. Just be certain your tent is sturdy. Easy Up makes some great tents which are easy to put up and take down. Usually, an outdoor show will have people to help you if you are alone. If not, ask the vendor next to you—remember, we’re all in this together! If you do not use a tent, and the weather gets bad, your hard work may be ruined! Use the sides to block wind, as a backdrop, or just for emergency weather conditions. I can tell you, my tent, when lowered and the sides were zipped up, survived gale force winds during one show. The potter next to me wasn’t so lucky, and lost much of his beautiful inventory. Weights are essential. At least 100 pounds of weight for your tent. When the winds or rain get to be too much, zip the sides, lower the tent(a lower profile is MUCH safer for you and your inventory. Think about driving in high wind. It’s the same thing). Others may or may not follow your lead, but it’s YOUR hard work, protect yourself. Later, when the sun comes out, YOUR displays, etc., will have weathered the weather.
Along with using a tent comes the decision as to how to display within your little tent-shop. There are some wonderful examples online, just plug in ‘tent displays’, and see what comes up in images. And check out others’ displays at every show. I watch other vendors to see if people are stopping, purchasing, or are put off by a display. If a consumer feels trapped, they are less likely to enter a tent. Remember that with your set-ups.
I love inside shows. No tent to lug around. I look for those as often as possible. Ask a friend, hubby, wife, family member, etc. to help you if carting your things in and out of a building is difficult. BUY A SMALL CART, dolly, or wagon. It will save you a huge amount of headaches in the long run. They make you more self sufficient. And I never hesitate to loan my cart out if I see someone struggling. Again…we’re all in this together!
What do I wear to a show? Comfortable clothing which will show off my jewelry. For me, patterns, bright colors, and odd attire detract from my art. I think that holds true whether you are a painter, potter, or sell jewelry. Even selling soap requires gentle dress. When in doubt, tone it down. Always look professional and presentable. Taking pride in your appearance=pride in your work=quality.
Some shows have food vendors, but as a general rule, I bring my own food and water to a show. What if you can’t get out to purchase something to eat? Hangry artisans are NOT pleasant! When in doubt, BYO food and drink.
Shows are a lot of work—mostly rewarding. You learn a lot about displays, people, marketing, locations, and what sells well at certain shows. Sometimes I take my cheaper line if the show is in a less prosperous neighborhood. Sometimes I make sure only my A-Game is on display. Learn to read the areas because this will be your key to a great show vs making only your booth fee.
Be sure to bring your smile. Because a smile may be the best item you can display. Just like everywhere else, a welcoming smile will pull people to you every time.
So...what did I choose? Coming up next week!