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Monday, August 8, 2011

Everything you wanted to know about art and craft shows but were afraid to ask!!!

It seems that finishing the blog about the Australian wedding piece was almost as much of a relief as actually finishing the piece!  I have had such a had time getting it together enough to blog again.  But after a bit of a break, I am back.

As many of you know, I have quite an active Facebook page. (if you would like to check it out!!) One of the most common questions I get asked involves Art and Craft shows.  Advice on how to get started etc.  So I thought that would be a good topic for a series of blogs.

I am by no means an expert on this.  I have been selling my beaded jewelry at art show for about 6 years.  I have met many people on "the circuit" that have never had a job other than doing shows.  But I have learned a lot in the time I have been doing shows, and maybe I can contribute some helpful information.

Let me share a little of my own "history". The first show I participated in was in Boston, NY.,about a 20 minute drive from where I live.  The space rental for 2 days was only about $25 so it was a pretty low risk way to try out ths new venture. It was part of a town celebration with a carnival and the whole works.  I bought myself a $69 canopy at Walmart and got together some tables from saw horses and plywood. I covered them with fabric and made some pretty acceptable displays. I set up the morning of the show in my spot in the middle of a black top parking lot.  It took maybe an hour to set up everything ( those were the days- now it takes 3-5 hrs-  more on that in the future). 

The day was sunny but incredibly hot.  Crowds were pretty much nonexistent.  During their big parade the shoppers were entirely nonexistent.  The temperature climbed to 100 degrees.  At one point, I looked around and I could see about 4 other vendors in their tents from where I sat at my display.  They were all fast asleep!!  I'm not kidding!! The people on one side of me seemed to be doing well selling their 50 cent necklaces from China though, and I saw quite a few ears of corn and bags of tomatoes go by, so I guess that was pretty lucrative, but I made a total of 2 sales. I think it amounted to $15. What a miserable day.  It is the only time I have ever packed up after the first day and not come back to finish out the weekend.  And thankfully, it was the only time ( so far) that I have not made my booth fee.  Although sometimes it's been close.

I didn't take any photos of that first booth, but here is a photo of what my display looked like around that time.  I will show you how the booth progressed over the years in the next few posts. You will also notice the type of jewelry I am selling evolve and change.
My very first setup- set up as a test in my dining room!  I have  bead embroidered pins and a few necklaces, but the rest are all just simple stringing or bead weaving.

I made all those necklace displays from foam board covered with velvet or felt!

a closer look at the brooches 2005?

It really is amazing that I ever decided to continue on this path after that beginning!  But continue I did, and next time I will tell you what happened at the next show.

Here are some of the things I learned are warning signs from that first show:

1- The booth fee was incredibly low. You would think this would be a good thing, but quite often, a low booth fee portends low sales.  Sometimes you luck out.  But as a general rule, it seems that you will be able to sell higher priced items at a higher priced show.  Of course there are exceptions- these shows are real jewels and should be treasured!

2- This was a village celebration.  Complete with carnival, beer tent, parade etc etc.  Again, this is not always the case, but it seems to me when a craft show is combined with all these other things, people go to have a good time, and may walk around to the craft booths, but are not as likely to buy.  Plus, it means lots of kids- which isn't really conducive to leisurely jewelry shopping.

3- This show was also a flea market and farmers market.  How can you compete with Chinese imports?  My jewelry involves hours of painstaking work, and I take great pride in it.  But I cannot compete with that 3 for a dollar earring guy!  If a show is not juried ( and even some that are) it will most certainly have what we call buy/sell there.  And you will be undersold.  No two ways about it. There is a place for buy/sell- I have bought my sharenof it.  But I can't compete with it and will not knowingly do any shows that include it.
4- When I started talking to the other vendors, almost all of them said this was their first year. Mmmmm- why didn't anyone do it more than 1 year? If possible, it is always nice to either visit a show, or speak with someone who has done it before- preferably someone who does work similar to yours.  A person who sells soap will have an entirely different experience from someone that sells fine art paintings.  Everyone has different expectations too.  Where one artist is thrilled to have a $200 weekend, another is not pleased with $3000.  So take this into consideration when asking how their show was. (plus- keep in mind that numbers are often exaggerated)

However, the positive reinforcement I got from the compliments (though not sales) was what kept me going on to do other shows- a LITTLE smarter, but still a lot to learn!

Here are a few good resources for researching shows:

a forum of New York Artists discussing shows

a very active group of local Rochester, NY artists who review and discuss shows and show issues

a group that discusses shows across the country 

Sunshine Artist Magazinean invaluable magazine (at least it was to me) when trying to sort out which shows were best to apply for

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