I did my first show in the Fall of 2004. It was an outdoor show put on by a local service organization. The booth fee for the show was only $75 for a two day show. But it was a mix of the notorious "buy-sell" folks, and those who were showing and selling their own handicraft. It was supposed to be a juried show. I have since heard some refer to these shows as being juried by check.
It was a good show to get my feet wet....literally, it rained most of the weekend. But I also learned about how important it is to learn as much as possible about a show before committing your hard earned money. I came out ahead, but I knew it was not the right environment for my work.
This weekend I did the Art in the Park show put on by the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA. I like this show. It is a local show for me, and the booth fee is a very affordable $150. They attract a good crowd. Good in numbers, and appreciation for handcraft. But there is the risk of rain. It is a one day show, rain or shine. Fortunately for the two years I have done it, the weather has cooperated.
All together, I have done sixteen shows since the fall of 2004. Not a lot by some standards. Some artists do more than that each year. But enough to look back and see what I could learn from the experience. I spent the morning crunching the numbers.
One comment I hear frequently from artists is that a show is "too expensive", based on the booth fee. The worst sales I ever had at a show was one with a $50 booth fee. The show with the greatest sales dollars had the most expensive booth fee. But it also was an expensive show for me to do. Out of town, no great deals for hotels, ....in the end not worth the overall costs.
If you look at the graph below, you will see that the general trend is that as the booth fee increases, so do the sales. I guess you could say it eliminates the riff raff. You have to be serious about your work and your business to pony up $1000 or more to do a show. In business speak this is a barrier to entry. Conversely, the easier it is to do something, the more competition there is. This is where the focus is based on price, first and foremost...think EBay. The more obstacles there are to enter the market, the better the chances are for profitability on the other side. Another barrier to entry into these better shows is the jury.
The smooth curve is the exponential trend line of sales. It is an attempt to smooth out the noise.
With each show it gets easier. I can relax and enjoy it quite a bit more. I am not so frazzled, or overwhelmed by the preparation. This last show I did not have the pre-show panic until about 4 p.m., the day before the show. And recognizing it for what it was made it easier to manage. In the beginning I could work myself into a mass of anxiety for a good week or more before a show. I was always worried about not having enough work or the right work....now, what I have is what I have. And it is more than enough. I have never come close to running out of inventory. I no longer panic about what the sales will be. It doesn't do a thing to help the outcome, and I have learned there are just too many variables beyond my control.
I played with prices a bit at this show. Some older stock that I wanted to get rid of I priced lower than the comparable new work. Guess what? There was no difference in sales. People chose based on what they liked, not the difference in price. They were more likely to get a design in a smaller size if price is an issue than to go for a less expensive but different design.
I am still trying to find the perfect balance. The right shows, the right work, the right prices. The unattainable utopia. Each show teaches me a few more lessons, and moves me a bit closer to where I want to be.
Beyond the dollars and cents though, shows are the best place I know to find out how people react to my work. To see what gets ooh's and aaah's. To see what someone points out to there friends or family. It is market research in the best sense.
I will never love the set up and tear down. But for now, I like that chance to get out of my studio. To meet other artists. To meet the people who admire my work. To see my work through the eyes of others.