October 27, 2008.
Today I consider myself an artist and an Entrepreneur but not a crafter. I was once a crafter and even exhibited at many a craft boutique, show, home event - you name it I did it. Okay, maybe twice upon a time. it's not that Craft Faires and Boutiques are not great, they are just not what I do these days...but like I said I used to. And if they were profitable for me, I would travel all over the place to with my proeducts - some products work and some don't.
With the holiday season (at least in retail) in full swing I thought I would give some tips, hints and help if you are thinking of doing a show, or exhibiting. These seem pretty general and you might think, "duh Jamie we know this", however you would be surprised at how many people don't research and just jump in with two feet and think they will make a ton of money.
Doing The Craft Show Circuit
In 1988 I started college, a junior college near my home. I was taking a full load, living at home and working part time. This was the time of big hair, big jewelry and spin art t-shirt with leggin's. While visiting a neighbor I came upon the idea to make earrings. I made jewelry and I ran my first business, Designs by Jamie for about 4 years. I had my products sold in physical stores, hair salons, nail salons and I did tons of craft faires. When I started Jamie's Painting & Design I actually started doing shows, trying to test the product and to garner interest and figure out price points.
I did the shows as a young college student and then much later as as a mother. I sold two very different products and I sold to two different customers. I don't think I know everything but I do think I learned a thing or two;
- Every show is different and you need to accept that. What works for one show will not work for another. You should recognize the audience and make product, or price product for each show. I had the good fortune of having products at different price points and was able to be flexible with each show. One year I developed these present box pins for women to wear - they were super easy to make and they were priced at only $5.00 - one year we sold out at every show.
- Make your prices easy to read and easy for the customer. Shocking I know - some shoppers only want to browse and do not want you to point out the price point and reason for the price on each item you painstakingly made (believe me I get it). Make your prices easy and put price tags on items. A $10.00 item is going to be an easier sell than $11.99 - know what is an easy last minute purchase vs. a well-thought out piece of original artwork.
- Bring items that your customer is willing to pay for. Even if you are a renowned artist (again, trust me I know you are talented) does not mean that the Craft Shopper wants to hand over a bunch of bills to you. Most are just there to look, and some customers are there for original items, original gifts. Everyone wants a deal though. You are fighting with the guy who sells hot-dogs, the woman with the Falafel, the beer man and woman with her $1.00 table of crappy cheap toys from Oriental Trading Company. An art show does not always mean that the customers come with "art" money to spend.
- Be flexible. If you look around and realize your products are over-priced make a change and make it fast. I once did a show for a mother's club and at the last minute decided to sell wholesale - in two hours I had 40 sales. And do not forget to tell them you are having a sale. I made up a big ta-do about how this was a once in a lifetime sale for the mother's club - it worked, and I still made a profit.
- Enjoy the Event. If you hate talking to people and you hate craft faires - then don't do them. You have to love the possibility of a sale, you have to enjoy sitting at the booth for a long, long time. And maybe days...be prepared and ready to talk to people. If you enjoy the whole experience - this is for you. I only like it when it is super, super busy - I can't stand to sit there, makes me crazy.
- Develop a Thick Skin. Be prepared for some harsh in your face criticism. If you can just go with the mantra, "I can't please everybody" you will do fine. However if two women walk by and they start to insult your products, discuss how ugly your products are and pretty much depress you...suck it up. I have had more compliments on my work than negative comments - however the bad one's stick with me. If someone is willing to discuss with you, your prices or your products - maybe engage them in a conversation. Just listen, you won't change them but maybe they will give you a great idea. Or ignore them and go grab yourself a Falafel.
- Get with the Holiday. If you are doing a Fall Boutique - get with the program, people expect fall stuff. You selling sloppy seconds from Christmas at a July boutique - not so good. Have an idea what the "theme" of the event is and have something, anything that fits that category. Your customer will be looking for that - again, know your customer. Here in the bay area there is a huge Pumpkin festival - we found the stores in the area and did fall and pumpkin coasters for them - with enough time for them to sell them at the event.
- Walk Around. I had to do many a show alone, I know how it can be - long and boring. Try to get a friend a family member - another person who has a booth to let you get out. Get out and walk the show. See what others are doing, watch other people. You can see an your next year at the show, or you can see what not to do. You may see the same people at the shows year after year - play nice. They may be the only personal conversation you have for the next 48 hours.
- Do the Math. You need to pay very close attention to the cost of the show, any hidden costs and the amount of inventory you bring to the show. When I made jewelry I never looked at margins I charged the same for a pair of earrings with paint and glitter as one that had 14 rhinestones on it. I knew what the customer would pay (the most was about $20.00), but I was not great about figuring out my cost. Some shows have the vendor even give a percentage of sales to them after the show. So you pay $500.00 for booth then 10% of sales - you better sell a lot of stuff!
- Competition. This is a fine line for you to walk, because first you do not want 14 other people doing what you do. You want to stand out - but not too much. If there are some other people making jewelry sort of like you, but not a ton that could be good. However, find out if this is a good jewelry show or maybe mostly straw dolls. It's hard to find out, but do make sure the show is right for you and if it is not do not do it again. Find another one. It is easy to get information on the Internet, research the show to death.
In the end if anything it is good to get out there and see what the customer is saying. I wish I had taken better notes at these shows so I could help other's wishing to exhibit. Each show is a learning experience, don't be afraid to change it up - especially if the show did not cost much to exhibit at. Good luck and be careful with them glue guns - I have many a scar on my hands from those suckers!