It’s that time of the year again! The calls for artists and vendors are out, and if you’re anything like me, you’re scrambling to get your applications together, because the deadlines snuck up on you again. I have been doing shows for years now, and I am always bombarded with questions about the process from first timers. I LOVE helping you guys out, and I encourage you to keep messaging me - however, sometimes messages are lost in the fray between all the different social media platforms, and I feel like a total jerk. Enter this post, a hopefully comprehensive list of advice and answers to your FAQ’s regarding the process for Craft and Fine Art Shows.
Research, RESEARCH and RESEARCH. I can not stress enough how important it is to do as much information gathering about a given show BEFORE you even start to application process. Many shows have an application fee, and these start to add up - why waste money applying to a “Craftsman” show if your product fits better in a vintage market style bazaar.
Do the work to look critically at your product offering and figure out your median price point. Jot down some details about your average customer (not your IDEAL customer); write down facts about the people who have acutally spent money on your products - don’t get me started on all the ‘ideal customer’ crap out there, IMHO you want to focus on people who give you real life money for your real life products. Ask yourself questions that will help you prepare- what is your overhead budget to cover the cost of travel, booth materials, packaging etc.
Is the show in a high school gym? These usually have good foot traffic, but low price points abound - they are great starter shows to dip your toes in without a huge investment.
Will you be in a shopping plaza or outside? If outside is there shade? Are there restaurants and other shops near by? These things will help with foot traffic, and more people = more potential customers
Is this an annual show? Generally annual shows have a loyal customer base who come back year after year with the intention of spending money, which is ideal for you!
How is the organizer planning to advertise? A lot of show operators do a great job of marketing their events, however there are some shady characters out there who basically take the vendor money and run. It is your job to make sure you are in contact with the organizer and/or their staff and you understand the marketing strategy. Whatever you do, if the show organizer tries to tell you that it’s on the vendors to do the advertising for the show, walk away. A show that places the advertising and promotion back on the vendors will bust 9/10 times - the money you’re paying for the application and booth fee is supposed to cover the cost of marketing. The organizer has a responsibility to make sure the show is a success for the space and the vendors - don’t let anyone try and convince you otherwise!
This will vary show to show, depending on the requirements - however you should be sure you have the following squared away to use across all your applications:
Be sure to include the best photos of your individual items, as well as how you plan to display these things. If this is your first time vending, set up your display in a well lit area, and take styled photos of how you plan to show your work. The show organizers are focusing on two main things- first, that your display is professional and second that it is sturdy. Many organizers are required to have liability coverage for the show, this is in addition to your own personal insurance coverage and covers in the event some sort of disaster happens. Obviously organizers want to avoid needing to use this insurance, so they keep their eye's out for dangerous looking setups. The sturdiness of your display is especially relevant for outside shows, where wind and be an unpredictable and disastrous foe. Second, make sure your display is attractive and polished. You do not have to spend a lot of money to put together a nice booth, focus on keeping things organized and simple for the customer - this will translate into your photos for the application.
You don’t need to pen your entire life story here, you want a quick elevator pitch that gives the reviewer an idea of who you are, what your business does, and how your products will make their customers lives a little bit better. Don’t be afraid to add your personality in here, a rote statement about your unique brand is a bit counterintuitive so be sure to inject some of your personal flare into your statement.
YES! Seriously, yes.
Shows are a triple threat - you make money, you network with fellow makers, and you increase your marketing reach.
This is coming from a major super introvert, and even though some days it kills me to motivate to get out there, smiling and chatting all day - the ROI in second to none in my small business experience. Not only do you get incredible reach to new customers for your small business, these events also function as great networking opportunities. I have met and collaborated with so many fellow vendors that I never would have crossed paths with if not for the market scene. Additionally, I have met other show organizers, which helped me find more venues to show my work.
First things first - don’t be a jerk by packing up early and storming out. This happens WAY more frequently than you would think, and it can really wreck the show for the shoppers and other vendors. Something to consider is that just because you’re not seeing the sales you would like, someone else might be having an OK day, so huffing and puffing and slamming your things then taking off can signal to shoppers that the show is closing down and they will leave.
As I stated before, think of shows as a three pronged adventure, just because one of the prongs isn’t working, doesn't mean the other two are a bust! If you’re not selling, make a point to speak with customers - ask them what brought them out to the market, how they heard about the show, ask them anything - this can give you insight into why they aren’t buying. A lot of times you might worry about “bothering people” and thus scaring them away, but if people already aren't spending money, what do you have to lose? Second, talk to the other vendors, ask them how their day is going, if they are experiencing the same lull or disappointment, brainstorm with them about what isn't working, or ask them about other shows they have found to be better. This is a prime opportunity to pick someone else’s brain about the market community - you’ve already schlepped yourself and all your products out, make it worth your time!
Lastly, give the organizer feedback! They can’t improve the show for the vendors, AKA you and your friends, if no one is telling them what is going on in the seller world. If you don't feel comfortable doing this in person, send them a note after the show, but be sure to take some notes while you’re there in the middle of it. What do you think could have helped?
There is a lot of discourse out there on how discounting your work constantly impacts a customer's view on the products. You can hit up Pinterest and find 100 competing opinions and approaches - below is just what I have found works for me. In general, offering an in-person discount, and rounding can boost sales, but in the end, don’t stress about what other people are doing, focus on what makes sense for your business and sanity.
$10, $15, $20, etc. - make your pricing simple to streamline the shopping experience for your customer.
People love a deal, especially when they are framed in the - “Get a Gift for a Friend and a Bonus Gift for You” - if you sell prints or other small items that you have a decent inventory on hand, this is a great deal to run.
As cliché as it sounds, the most important thing to remember is to have fun! If you're stressed out, your customers are going to pick up on that - try to enjoy getting out in the world and sharing your work. The world of art markets and finding success is 100% trial and error, and everyone is still trying to figuring it out. It can feel like an intimidating undertaking, but if the world's biggest introvert (me) can handle it, you can too! Did I miss a question you would like to have answered? Shoot me an email, or DM over on Instagram - I will compile your questions and do a follow up post in a few weeks.