By Cindy Goldrick
Well it's been a few weeks since my partners and I participated in the last of three outdoor summer markets and I'd like to share my thoughts on what went on. I hope my feedback helps anyone thinking about doing the same, and I'd love to hear from those of you who participate in juried and/or non-juried indoor and outdoor shows in the comments section. Together we can make each other better and more successful.
My partners and I conceived of our collective, Bench Artisans, at the beginning of the year to create a cohesive front as we applied to take part in shows around the Niagara region. The name reflects the work we do while playing off the wine "bench" of the region. We were successful in being accepted into one show by the Handmade Market people and then Artistry by the Lake and lastly the Lavender Festival. All of these shows are well-established with an audience and had affordable entrance fees.
We had start-up costs: securing the business licence and domain name; application fees; purchasing a tent, tables and decor; and marketing materials such as business cards and signage. In advance of the event, we set up a Facebook page and we collectively and individually promoted the event through that. Of course, one of your biggest expenses is materials to create an inventory for sale.
Then came the fun and creative part: we had to determine how we wanted to set-up the booth, what we wanted to focus on, and the kinds of goods we would be selling. With three partners, it was important to ensure that we had space to show off our best work while maintaining a cohesive appearance in our display. We decided on a purple and white scheme for the decoration, and we stuck to black velvet fixtures and scrolled metal stands to display our work. We also decided, early on, to showcase the metal clay work by Sue in a charm bar. The charm bar would encourage people to design their own necklace, combining metal charms with pearls, lampwork and other pieces we had already wire wrapped. Everything a customer chose would be joined together by jump rings and hung from their choice of neck wire.
Here's a picture of our first booth set-up in June at the Handmade Market. After that, a picture of our booth set-up at the next two shows. You'll notice we moved the charm bar to the front and we added scarf jackets for sale, displayed on a Judy near the front of the booth.
Guess what sold the best at the last two shows? Yup. Charms and scarves.
Overall, I think it's important that you understand clearly the audience the show at which you are selling attracts. Very few shows attract buyers who are interested in paying full price for art jewellery. Instead, people want to buy something fun and inexpensive or possibly a present for someone. One reason I think the charm bar worked is because parents indulged their kids in it - and the sale of several inexpensive charms adds up, incrementally, to the cost of a pre-made necklace in many instances.
But don't romanticize this method of selling your stuff. There are some pros: you develop your brand and people take your card - if you teach like I do you can encourage people to come out and take classes; you see what other designers are up to and sometimes barter for each others' work; you meet people and find out what their interests are which can help you develop your own inventory; you might get some interesting commissions or repair jobs and make money post-show; and you do make some money - hopefully enough to cover your costs and allow you to enjoy a nice dinner when it's all over!
There are cons and, chances are, lots of things can go wrong:
1. Weather is a huge problem - either it's too hot, too cold, too windy, too rainy, or too humid. We ran into all of these variations except too cold and too rainy over the run of three shows.
2. Shrinkage - people do steal. But you can't watch all of the people all of the time.
3. No one shows up. Or no one is buying your stuff. :(
4. The category you're selling in is overcrowded at the show and there's just too much competition for buyers' dollars. This is true of jewellery at most shows. By diversifying and adding scarf jackets our profits went up. Also some shows allow vendors who don't sell handmade and they compete with cheap imported goods, undercutting your sales.
5. There's a lot of physical labour involved in setting up a tent booth. Be prepared and recruit young people to help!
We learned a lot and are hoping to get into some indoor shows this fall and winter. I'll update you on our success after that!