Monday, October 29, 2007

Reading Tea Leaves

I don't know if it is reading tea leaves really, or being hit over the head with a mallet! But my current approach to retail shows is not working. Looking at the numbers, the average cost per show has increased, and the average sales per show has decreased. I am approaching a dangerous intersection.

I am not sure exactly where the problem lies, or if perhaps it comes from many places, but I know I need to rethink my approach. The show this weekend in Providence was a beautiful one. The work that was on display was a visual feast. There is so much amazing talent out there. And yet, many artists at the show struggled to cover their show expenses. Lately, I feel like I am making more of an investment in the business of the show promoters, and the collections of the craft buyers, than I am in my own business.

Is the overall craft market in need of a new model? Look at the radical transformation that has occurred in the music industry in the last decade. Does the world of craft need such a reformation? Will craft shows be replaced by Etsy and the There are fewer and fewer shows that have the following, and buyers, to sustain the $1000 or more booth fees that some of the "better" shows are charging. Perhaps two day shows, rather than three? Perhaps more affordable venues? I am not sure. I do know that I am not alone in my struggles in the retail craft world.

In the meantime, I know I need to reform my approach at a show. I have to rethink my merchandising strategies. My knowledge in retail merchandising and display is very limited and needs some rethinking. This is my Achille's heel.

I had the input of a good friend, Sandra McCaw, this weekend about problems with my display. She helped me start to see some of the pitfalls of my current set-up. Buyers need to be able to assess things quickly and easily, or they are on to the next booth. I had grouped things by color. I thought that people would be drawn to certain colors and could gravitate to that area of the display and focus in on that. The order I thought I had created felt chaotic to others. Different styles of jewelry here and there. When I rearranged the work by style, rather than by color, I saw the difference. Light bulb moment.

One of the things that you learn with interior design, and I had also been told was true with booth displays, was to have things at different heights. It helps the eye travel. But, when you have a pedestal and case display for jewelry, things are displayed more or less on the same level. The variations in height are more subtle. But, it works. Perhaps the process of shopping for jewelry is one that needs a more quiet and studied reflection. The levels might work better for larger objects. I am going to be going away from my current booth set-up, and look into cases with pedestals, or hanging my work on the wall in framed shadow box type displays. Cleaner and more elegant. Likewise, Elise Winters made the suggestion to rethink the background for my work, moving from black, to a white background.

The craft market is soft. There is no room for anything less than being spot on in this business, right now. I have not hit the mark. I am rethinking everything right now. Will I continue with retail? Where and how? Will I continue to make and sell my vessels? And of course, where am I going with those displays??

I had scaled back on retail shows this past year. I will cut back further still this coming year. My wholesale business has more than doubled this year, and is looking better all the time. I will spend more time nurturing the development of that part of the business. Right now, the retail side of my business is on life support. Changes are in order. Stay tuned......

1 comment:

Barbara J Carter said...

It's not just you! Fine artists and craftspeople everywhere are struggling right now. I've visited dozens of retail arts festivals this year, and everyone says the same thing: "it's slow this year".

It sounds like you're on the right track, scaling back the retail and increasing the wholesale.

If you haven't yet, do be sure to check out Bruce Baker's CDs on displaying and selling crafts.

Good luck to you, and to all of us!

Barbara J Carter