Shows are my bread and butter – the majority of my sales are made at shows, and in this article, I hope to share some of the ways I make them successful for me.
First, of course if finding the right show.
If at all possible, visit a show that you’re interested in and take a look before making a decision. You can learn a lot this way – are there a lot of customers? What genre seems to be predominant?
If you can’t visit a show beforehand, do some research. My favorite tool is Sunshine Artist Magazine (www.sunshineartist.com). What makes it a wonderful publication is the tons of show reviews that are written by the vendors, not the promoters. You get the skinny on how hard it is to set up, what last year was like, how busy it was, and what selected vendors made over the course of the show.
Be careful about putting too much weight on what any one vendor tells you. Someone may say, “OH this would be a GREAT show for you!”, but you don’t know what that person’s definition of “great” is. A good show for them might be $300, while a good show for you might be $3000. So take all suggestions with a grain of salt.
Decide if you would prefer a juried or non-juried show. Non-juried shows are usually inexpensive and they pretty much take anyone who applies. Juried shows require you turn in slides or digital photos of your work (about 4-5 pieces) as well as a slide of your booth, and the competition is high, particularly in certain categories like jewelry. These shows are normally more expensive, but can also net a lot of money.
Applying to shows is a lot of work.
I’ve always equated it with applying to college – fill in the application way in advance, pay your application fee, then wait and wait. Most juried shows have applications out in the fall and winter for the coming year’s shows. Here are some things to keep in mind:Pay a professional to photograph your work. You have literally seconds for the jury to see your work, and you want it to look its best. Additionally, the difference between professional slides and do-it-yourself slides (no matter how good) is easily seen to juries that see thousands of slides each year.
Keep a calendar that is JUST for your shows. I print out mine off the computer, pencil in shows that I’ve applied to, mark them out if I don’t get in and highlight them if I do. That way, you don’t accidentally apply to two shows on the same weekend, and you can pace yourself and not overextend yourself (or your inventory).
Be prepared to get rejection letters. I do about 15 shows a year, 95% juried, and I get my fair share of rejection letters. As I make jewelry, I’m already at a disadvantage – promoters get far more applications for jewelry than they do anything else. People who have done the show in the past usually get preference, so there may be only one new slot a year for your category!
Your booth is important!
When jurors look at slides and find two people whose work they love, the booth slide is often the tie breaker. You want your work to be presented in the best possible way. For jewelry or similar items, get your tables UP – I use bed risers to get them closer to eye level. I’ve collected pretty boxes from Marshalls or TJMaxx that I set busts on, to give height and levels. I tried to make my booth reflect a cute boutique – you may choose to make yours ultra-modern, with all black, white and silver, or go for a whimsical approach, and have all kinds of colors and cute stuff.For outdoor shows, you’ll need a tent. If you are just getting started and are not sure this is what you really want to do, an inexpensive EZUP will work. As the name says, it’s easy to put up, but it won’t stand up to abuse and if you are going to do tons of shows in various environments, you will probably want to invest in something else. I have a Light Dome (http://lightdomecanopies.com), which is expensive, but I love it because it’s quite sturdy, and I can use the frame for my indoor shows as well.
At the show:
Smile, have fun, and enjoy yourself, no matter what happens. There’s nothing that turns a prospective customer off quite like a vendor that is grumpy and busy talking to anyone who will listen about how slow the day is/how little money they’re making/how the booth two over is selling cheap stuff and killing your margin. If I encounter someone like that, I just walk away. Who needs the negative vibes?
Never ever ever read a book or newspaper at a show. Never. I can’t tell you how many vendors I’ve walked right by because they had their nose in a novel and I didn’t want to bother them. On the other hand, I do encourage you to work on a related project whenever feasible. I take chain maille or another time-intensive project with me to every show. Some shows, I’m too busy to even touch it, but when I do work on it, people like to stop and look, and it shows them that yes, you DID make all that stuff!
Whenever you make a sale, ask if they would like to receive your email or snail mail newsletter. A lot of people don’t like sharing emails anymore due to the huge increase in spam, but don’t mind giving a home address. This will allow you to market to them, promoting web sales or other shows in their area. I get a lot of repeat business this way.
Doing shows takes a lot of work, a lot of energy, and a lot of practice. I’m fortunate that my husband sets up my tent for me and is Chief Schlepper, but we also have learned to set up in rain/wind/with a three year old screaming. You just never know WHAT will happen! Here’s a couple of hints to keep you sane:
Keep a packing check list so you won’t forget things.
Keep a tool kit JUST for your shows.
Carry water. And aspirin. Oh yeah. And band aids.
Keep your sense of humor.
Before leaving town, go online and find out where the closest Walmart/Lowes/Home Depot is, for emergencies.
So there you go – a bare scraping-of-the-surface about shows. If you have more questions or need help, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll gladly assist!