Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Application Season Has Begun!

It's that time again .... time to make application to craft shows for the coming year!  Some of the shows this summer have application deadlines coming up soon.  So just how does a person go about locating and choosing a craft show?

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.  Schedule is important to me -- I prefer not to do shows every weekend so I try to pick the best shows available on the weekends I'm available.  I look at distance -- how far is a show from home?   I like to keep them within 60 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.  Where are they located?  I'll risk a show if it's located in a tourist destination during the summer (or main tourist season).  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.  Two of the 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 $75 - $150 range.  Shows that are cheaper are sometimes poorly advertised, with fewer attendees -- and lower profits.  Shows that cost more require that I sell a lot more just to break even but they normally have a good track record and are worth the risk.   This year, I'll be applying to 2 shows that are new to me -- and they top $200 in fees -- cuz I like living on the edge!  Really, I don't think they're that risky -- both are in the summer in tourist destination communities and have been around for over 30 years.

Organization is important.  Look at the application -- is it laid out in a logical way?  Do they ask for information that seems pertinent?  Are their regulations and guidelines easy to understand ... and do they make sense?  Some applications include a map of the venue -- does the layout make sense?  Do they have adequate parking -- for vendors and for customers?

If you have no experience with a show, and especially if you have any concerns about the show, NETWORK.  If you do online sales through a site like Etsy, get involved with a team from your area -- ask questions in the forums.  Use social networking sites (like Facebook and Twitter) to connect with other vendors from the area.  Some shows offer an online list of the vendors who participate -- connect with some of  them to inquire about a show.  Some vendors post their schedules online -- contact them (politely, of course) to ask about their experiences with certain shows.

Besides the questions I've suggested above, there are a couple other important ones.  What is the attitude of the show organizers?  Are they sensitive to vendor concerns?  Or are they more concerned with getting your booth fee?  Are they organized about unloading, setting up and loading up?  Do they do a good job of keeping similar types of crafts from being located to closely to each other in a show?

I've had some interesting experiences the past couple years.  
I sell jewelry.  In one show, all the jewelry vendors were located in the same area of the venue.  I don't really care about the "competition" -- but other vendors also make good customers.  If the vendor next to me is selling baby blankets or pottery, she is much more likely to purchase something from me than if she's selling jewelry.   
I also did a show last fall that was terrible -- it was a 3 day show,  the fees were high and they indicated that jurying would take place at the show (those who passed would be offered an application for the next year).  It sounded for all the world like everything at the show would be handmade -- it wasn't.  There was a ton of "buy/sell", especially a lot of imported, cheap junk.  A flea market is a lousy venue for me -- and this show was the most expensive flea market I'll ever do -- you can bet I won't get burned again.  At this same show, which was an outdoor event with about 300 vendors and located in streets closed off to vehicle traffic, about 15 of us were put on a street that was a block away from the rest of the show, across a busy highway.  We only got a fraction of the foot traffic.  One of more irritating aspects of this was the number of empty spaces in the main area of the show -- we easily could have been located where the customers were.    At the end of day 1, one of my neighbor vendors spoke to a show organizer suggesting some changes, only to be arbitrarily dismissed.  It appeared that once they had our booth fee, they really didn't care whether we were successful or not.  Of the 8 vendors we talked to, 7 stated that they wouldn't be back next year -- the one who would was from that town but intended to ask for a different booth space.

This got longer than I expected ... sorry.  But I hope it helps someone.  If you're new to craft shows, start small.  Try to do either indoor shows or plan to borrow a canopy.  Do a lot of reading up on doing craft shows.  You'll learn a LOT from your first 2 or 3 shows.

Most of all, have FUN!  And have an awesome sales season!!