Sunday, September 8, 2013

My show season is finally over and guess what I have learned.

AlyxAndrea Design is nearing it's first anniversary in a few months and it has been one hell of a ride. Tents blowing away, failing miserably at product photography and wasting hours and hours learning how to properly use social media.  But I also got to know a TON of new people.  I have seen an amazing amount of talent at art and craft fairs and have a new on-line family at Etsy -

This last weekend was my last show of the season and I wish I could say I'm sorry to see it end.  I'm unable to continue through the winter because I was excepted into this amazing graduate program at UW-Madison.  I will be attending classes every Saturday for the next FOUR YEARS!!  I won't have full summers off but rather a few weeks and since I spent so much time and money preparing for shows this year I should really probably keep doing a few shows a year.  If for nothing else but to maybe make the cost of my tent back.

Today I'd like to share a little of what I have learned in the hopes that I can help someone else avoid some of my misfortunes.

First and definitely most a good tent!!!  I was unsure if my fibromyalgia would allow me to do shows so I didn't want to spend a ton of money in case I wasn't able to do it.  BAD idea! Although the wind gave all of the vendors trouble and the fair ended up being cancelled due to wind my tent was the only one the lay broken in a heap.

Second, create displays that are easy to store and transport.  I thought I was being all creative by finding some fun treasures at a thrift store but they turned out to be a big pain in the bottom. 

Does and Don'ts
DO...Chose a display stand that is sturdy                  
DON'T...Use fun little decorative candle holders that blow over

DO...Get as much display space out of as little weight and space possible          
DON'T...Use Bulk wooden easels that are heavy and don't store easily

DO...Have plenty of vertical display space                  
DON'T...Fill all of your table space with flimsy candle holders and bulky easels 

DO...Devise a good plan for storing your product      
DON'T...Put each item in little baggies and expect that you will not eventually get sick of putting 70 items in 70 bags and instead throwing them all into a big pile that later turns into a big tangly mess

DO...Make sure everything is secure on your displa          
DON'T...Use pretty little ornament hooks and twist them onto your display and expect that they will hold all....

DO...Make sure you have enough space so that the customer's eyes can focus on individual pieces
DON'T...Squish everything together and expect people to see anything but a big pile of color
DO..Have different price ranges that are easily identifiable        
DON'T...Mix everything together so that when someone picks up your best piece and looks at the price tag they don't quickly run out of your booth

So yes...I have some work to do if I'm going to do more shows.  I haven't yet decided what I'm going to do for next year's display but I know what will be in my garage sale next year.

I also learned a little about how to pick shows that best fit your product.  If you sell $5 items that were made in China you will probably do well no matter where you go and certainly take away from the people who labor over handmade products and pay themselves $2 an hour to try and compete with your prices.  But if you put labor and love into a product that was made in the backyards of you customers there are a few things you should consider when looking for shows.

1. Pick shows that do not allow commercial products.  (However, the show I did this last weekend said they didn't allow commercial products but there were several booths that did.  I'm assuming they have a few things that they make themselves then the rest is all made in Thailand.  However, I'm not sure how the packaged dips vendors made it in.  Doesn't matter....not going back to this one next year anyway.)

2. Try to find juried shows.  These shows are less likely to have commercial products and more likely to have vendors with similar price points as yours.

3. Avoid themed festivals.  If 100,000 people are going to a festival which is featuring the local harvest - cranberries, corn, pumpkins etc. that doesn't mean there will be 100,000 people looking for a nice handmade product to tote with them through carnival rides and games. 

4.  Don't think your saving a buck by focusing on shows that have low booth fees.  Higher fees means more advertising and a history of having a good turnout filled with people ready to spend money on local, handmade goodness.

5.  Figure out if you are an "art" or a "craft" vendor.  If you are a crafter, go to "craft fairs."  Have a ton of each item you sell and price them to move.  The woman selling $2 kids hair ties must have sold a million of them on one of the slowest shows I went to.  The only customers where families with small children.  Moms were all too willing to shell out 2 bucks to make their kids happy because they got to buy something.  However, I can only imagine how little the vendor actually makes per hour when you factor in the labor time.  I also got to know a woman who sells painted gourd bird houses pretty well.  She needs to keep her cost down to compete and people still complain that they are too expensive.  The products you see in big box stores are cheap because they are made in 3rd world countries where labor costs are in the cents not dollars.  You can't expect a person with American bills to pay to live off of a few cents per hour.  But this women creates because she enjoys it and goes to shows because she loves talking to new people all day.  
     My husband spoke to a vendor who makes gorgeous and very good quality metal yard art.  She had this intricate garden bench that was VERY reasonably priced considering how very long it must have taken to make.  I customer asked her the price then quickly replied "F*** you, that's way too expensive."  This handmade metal bench that would last a lifetime was less than $200.  I can not image getting something similar from a retail store for anything less and who knows where it was made or how long it will last.
     If you are an "artist" go to "art fairs."  Customers are expecting to pay for art which inherently is more expensive but also more labor intensive and hopefully of good quality.  Kids hair ties and $3 trinkets will not likely be at these shows.  

6. Talk to your neighbors.  It is inevitable that you will go to shows that don't fit well with what you are trying to sell.  Talk to the other vendors and find out what shows work for them and why.  

7.  Don't give up and don't get discouraged.  If you have made it as far in your trade that you are considering showcasing your work you are probably doing something right.  You're not going to do everything right at first. Your prices may need adjusting, you signage my be lacking or your display might not be working right but all you can do is learn and make improvements.  Like any small business it is common for people to lose big bucks the first year.  Learn from you mistakes and try not to look at the customer that just keeps walking as a sign that your product isn't good enough.  You just need to find the right venue and have a display that works well for you.  All of that takes time and practice.  



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