Monday, March 1, 2010

The Great Hunt

How do I find good craft shows to participate in?  Because of our ministry, we usually move every 6-15 months and usually the moves are to entirely new states.  All the advice I've seen about finding good craft shows says that you should attend one year as a customer to get a feel for the show, then apply the next year if you want to be a vendor.  I don't have that luxury ... I'll probably be gone next year.  So how do I pick the shows I apply for?

I start my internet search by using Google.  I use key words "craft show" then the cities and towns in my very near area.  I make a list of my finds with a few pertinent details -- date, location and fees if I can find them, and whether the show is part of a festival.  If the info is available, I also note how long the show has been in existence and whether it's juried.  Then I use alternate phrases like "craft fair", "art fair" and "art show" and keep googling.  I also expand to include the state, rather than the specific towns near me.  I've found that some states have very organized directories -- those are wonderful!   I also check the various towns for their own Chamber of Commerce, visitor information or city events listings.  Compiling this list can take some time but is well worth the effort.

Once I have my list, I begin the sorting process.   I first eliminate anything that is both a Saturday and Sunday sale -- our ministry comes first and we've committed not to do sales that take us away from our Sunday worship.  Most shows want the actual vendor in attendance, not just a representative .. and some are very specific about it.  I then look at distance -- how far is a show from my location?  I like to keep them within 45 miles, although if a show sounds really great, I'll go further.  I next look for juried shows -- even if I've missed the application deadline, I"ll check to see if they have space available -- sometimes they do, especially if someone dropped out.  In my experience, a juried show that has been in existence for many years is a good bet -- they will likely have quality arts and crafts with a good reputation which usually draws serious buyers.  But sometimes, that's not the kind of show available .. so then what?

Open shows can be good or bad .. and there are several factors that I look for.  How long have they been an event?  Are they supporting a school, team, or community group?  Are they part of a festival?  What is their booth fee?  If I can find out previous attendance and how they advertise, that can be valuable information.  The longer they've been around, usually the better they are and the better they're known.  A long running annual event will generally attract repeat customers and because of word of mouth, will have a larger customer base.  Those shows benefitting an organization will depend on how actively the community is involved -- and I can't always tell that by looking online.  I've done one show benefitting a fire department that had hundreds of people -- another show, in the very next town only had about 150 attendees.  Festival related shows have also gone either way.  I've come to the conclusion that if the festival sounds like lots of fun to ME, the show is worth the gamble.  The 2 best shows I've ever had were part of festivals .... as were the 2 worst shows I've ever had.

Often the booth fee can be an indication of a show's success.  For one, shows with higher booth fees have bigger advertising budgets.  Most of the shows I do fall in the $50 - $100 range.  Shows that are cheaper are usually poorly advedrtised, with fewer attendees -- and lower profits.  Shows that cost more require that I sell a lot more just to break even. 

Organization and a "friendly professional" attitude are also factors that I consider.  Once I've decided to apply to a show, I generally contact the organizer to make sure there's space available.  Their response is important to me -- how quickly they respond, the tone of their message and how organized they sound are critical factors.  There are some shows I've thought sounded like good possibilities until I heard from the organizer.  If they sound like they don't have a clue what's going on, I avoid it.  If they sound cranky, I avoid it.  I do like shows that have applications that can be downloaded from the internet or are sent as attachments in that response email -- it seems that if someone is tech savvy enough to make their applications electronically available they are savvy enough to use tech as one of their advertising tools.  Frequently, the potential customer who is tech savvy is usually better educated, younger or from a higher economic demographic -- all of whom tend to be better spenders.  And since my objective is to make sales, it's nice to have customers who want to spend money.

When I first started doing craft shows, I did all open shows.  They are usually less investment up front and don't require displays that are as professional.  Every juried show I've seen required table skirts and sometimes other display options.  The profits weren't as large in those early shows but I learned a lot from them.

There are other kinds of shows for the crafter to be involved in and there can be differences in shows in different seasons ... next time!


sammysgrammy said...

Very informative, Gentle. You did your homework. I love how you're able to combine your talents with the ministry the Lord gave you.

Rita @

Debi - Tink's Treasure said...

Great insight. Thanx for sharing your expertise :-)

KippysSoMature said...

Thank you so, so much for passing on what you have learned! Synthesized into a wonderfully informative and super helpful post! I really appreciate you sharing - I had no idea about any of this...I know more now :o)