Friday, February 28, 2014

Are Craft Shows for You?

 Ever since my first time selling crafts at a festival (circa 1995), I knew immediately it was for me. The energy, the direct contact with customers, talking about my work... and just the excitement of putting myself out there. It was electric. I felt then, and still do, that when I'm selling my work at a show I am my best self. It's so much fun! But it's also a ton of work. Physical, mental, emotional work. Which also feels good in its way, but may not be for everyone. Here I will lay out some of the pros and cons to consider when you're deciding if the craft show life is for you.

Pro: Good Fun 
Oh man. There is plenty of good fun to be had while vending at a festival. In fact, many of my friends think I have the best job ever. Well, I do. There are bands to hear, beers to drink, neighbors to visit with, customers to say nice things to you... oh and money to be made. All kinds of fun times. I mean, it is a festival. Most everyone is having a good time and looking to spend money. Woohoo! I personally enjoy a view of the stage if I can get it, and I love a pretty venue. Free camping is a bonus. That's why I'll never be rich, I can't stand the big city shows. Give me a free camp spot next to the lake and a pancake breakfast and I'm good.

Con: Heavy Lifting at Dawn  
Oh man again. It's always funny when I get a friend to be my helper for the weekend, and then they get to see how much work is done before super funtime. I actually don't mind the setup part, at this point I don't even think about it. Just put on my headphones and start unloading the van. But it's definitely physical work and long hours. Depending on what you make and your mode of display... well pretty much anything takes lifting and carrying and a couple hours of work to set up. Sometimes you're not able to pull right up to your booth spot, and must haul things a distance. In hot weather. You may have helpers in your home town, but on the road you must do it all solo. Are you ready for that?

Pro: Direct Customer Feedback
Maybe the best business type thing about doing shows is the direct contact with your customers. It is awesome. Whether they buy or not, they will have things to say about your work. Most people who come into your booth do so because they are drawn by what you do. They want to talk about how you do it, your inspiration, your techniques. How fun! I mean, you work in a room for weeks alone with no input... getting out there can really feed your fire. You may get requests and ideas for new products, or hear that a certain design has issues you never considered. Even at shows where the audience wasn't right for my work, I learned.

Con: Long Days On Stage
This could also be under Pro, a lovely day in the sun at a festival is not a bad way to make a buck. The thing is, you are out there no matter what the weather, sometimes up to 12 hrs or beyond. The show goes on, rain or shine. Most shows will not refund your booth fee for any reason (I once had a heart attack two days before a show and could not get a refund). Hundred degrees, drizzle, downpour, wind, dust. You're in it. All day long. Add in slow sales activity, and hooboy a day can last an eternity.

And you are "On" the whole time. It doesn't matter how you slept, what time you showed up, that you set up in the rain with no breakfast... you better be perky and friendly when those revelers show up. You will spend the day chatting up customers, telling your story, smiling, selling. Dancing on stage from start to finish. This, to me, is the most exhausting part of it all. I love doing it, but after a show I need a whole day to recover. Physically and mentally I am spent.

Pro: Work Independently
Hello! Maybe this should be at the top of the list. We creators and entrepreneurs are not so hip to work for someone else. Freedom is a big draw of having your own business, and as an artist is almost required. Of course, showing up for a paycheck is easier and more secure by far. But for me, being able to choose where and when I work, keeping all the money for myself (vs wholesale or consignment), making a chunk of cash in only a couple days of selling ... that feeling of freedom and independence is huge for me. If I need time off, I take it. If I want a sweet vacation with my husband and his motorcycle in the mountains, I find a show there and make it a working trip. If at any time I want to change my artistic style or medium, I can. I love my job because I make it do what I want it to do. It's all me.

Pro and Con: Travel
If you live near a big city where shows are happening all the time... great for you! But most of us have only so many local shows to do and must at some point travel away to fill our weekends. From where I live, it's at least a 4 hr drive to anywhere.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoy the travel. I actually really like the driving part, the van singalongs, listening to stories on my ipod, soaking up the scenery. It's a nice relaxing prelude to the work of the show itself. I try to find some sweet camping wherever I go, which makes me happy. Occasionally I indulge in a hotel room, with its lovely refrigerator, microwave, wifi, and oh yes shower. It's fun to hit a new town, find a cool brewery or breakfast place. I just love all of it!

But later in the season, even I can grow a little tired. Long miles, long hours, multiple weekends in a row out of town... and all while creating work in between. The housework starts to pile up, my partner gets a little whiny about when I'll be home, I start to really miss my bed and shower. But the shows must go on. (I will talk more in detail about traveling and camping in future posts.)

In the end, how you sell what you make is completely up to you. You may decide to do some shows, but only in your home town or only indoors at holiday time. Or, you may join me on the show circuit every weekend. Maybe you'll decide to stick with web sales and gallery commissions alone. This business adventure is whatever you will make it, and isn't that the fun of it?!

Start Selling at Craft Fairs #3: Marketing Materials

Part 3 of a series of posts I'm calling (5 Steps to) Get Started Selling at Craft Fairs. Read Step #1: Find Your Shows and Step #2: Booth Display.

Marketing Materials
Even at the dinkiest of shows, you have the opportunity to get your name and your work out into the world. I think it's the most basic marketing requirement to have a card to give out to your customers, with your contact info and what you make. People will see plenty of other booths throughout the day. If they are interested enough to buy your work or ask for a card, give them something to take away that will keep you in their minds long after they get home. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be a good reminder of what they saw in your booth, and where to find it later.

My big 3

I have 3 marketing items I always give out in my booth - flyers, business cards and hang tags. I print all of them with my computer on card stock. You can get fancy stuff printed online for pretty cheap these days... I know Vistaprint and send me all kinds of great offers for cards and postcards. So far, I have (mostly) stuck to doing them myself. I enjoy doing it and it's easy to change things when I wish.

My hang tags are attached to each of my items for sale. I make tiny square cards with a hole punched in the corner for the price tag string. On one side they have care instructions for my hand dyed clothing. The other side has the Bohemian Mermaid definition and my web site. When I sell something, the care card goes into the bag. I tell the customer that it contains care instructions and my web site. (I usually give them an info flyer as well.)

My business cards have my standard contact info, including my phone number, email, and mailing address. Many folks will ask you for a card just to have a reminder of you for later. I keep my business cards for actual business contacts; a shop owner, a fellow artist, a custom order request. The rest I give an informational flyer.

I think my flyers are the most important thing I give my customers at a show. On one side, I have my business name, a small color example of my work and a bit about me and what I do. I want them to remember why they asked for a card to begin with, since they will see many other booths that day. On the other side, I list my show schedule, retail outlets and web site. In fact, I think my web site is on both sides. Even if you just have your name, some clip art, and your etsy site... it's better than nothing. I have started to print my flyers on card stock, mostly as a better response to folks who ask for a 'card', but also because a card is harder to crush and toss away than paper.

When preparing for your first craft show, don't let your printed materials (or lack of) hold you back. I have seen people not sign up for a show because their logo isn't quite right. Ugh you're killing me. Your priority should be producing good work and figuring out a nice display. Just have a little something with your basic contact info (simple is fine!) to give out to your customers. You'll have plenty of time to add to them as you grow.