Sunday, May 4, 2008

What Can You Do After A Bad Show?

Throw in the towel? Decide you were crazy to even think this could work?

Those are possibilities, but maybe not the best ones.

First, sit down with a pad of paper. Divide it into two columns. In one column, write down everything that went wrong. Everything you wished you could have a do over on. Everything that you felt 'in over your head' about. For instance, you did not cover your costs. The weather was horrible. You had work stolen. You heard people whispering about how high your prices were to their friend as they walked out of your booth. You were sick as a dog, and you had no choice but to do the show anyway. You forgot half your work, and your were hours from home. Your neighbor kept coming into your booth and complaining about everything. Your booth was in the worst spot in the world.

In the other column, write down everything that was positive about the show. The people who bought your work were in love with it. The weather was gorgeous. Your neighbor at the show was a gem. You made a connection for a possible new outlet for your work, or two other shows that might be a good fit for your work. You found out about a great display at a reasonable cost. Someone gave you a great idea for a new product to try and work on.

These are just a few of some of the good and bad things that have happened to me at shows....and a few fictional ones for kicks! No matter how bad a show has been, I have always walked away with a bit more knowledge or insight. Some of the insight came from what went wrong, and some was gained from a positive experience.

Without looking at the experience, good and bad, we are leaving the outcome of future shows to chance. The more we understand why something is working for us, or what needs to change, the more we can move towards the success we want.

If a show is bad, it is easy to blame the weather, the price of gas, or the promoter. But at every bad show I have had, other artists have done well. Actually, there was one show....I guess you could call it the exception that proves the rule, where no one did well. Many different things can contribute to bad sales at a show. A recent survey by the NAIA (National Association of Independent Artists) is a real Buyer's Beware wake up call for artists about trusting the reputation of a show before investigating further for yourself. Artists who had participated in the Coconut Grove show in Florida were surveyed and it was fascinating to see the effects of charging a gate fee, or inviting other "attractions" to a show can have on the artists' sales. The group also has a survey of the Artists' Landscape on the website, and it is a bleak one. Artists are aging and retiring. Collectors are no-shows at shows. They too are aging, and less interested in acquiring more "stuff".

Are we back to throwing in the towel? That might seem pretty attractive after reading either or both of these surveys.

I think rather than throw in the towel, it is important to look at your approach from the ground up, and start thinking about what is working, and what is not. Thus the list.

Look around at how people are buying luxury goods these days. After all, craft is a luxury good, isn't it? If the way you, your friends and associates, your neighbors, you or your spouses co-workers are indulging themselves, is at the mall, or on the internet, is it any wonder that sales are down at a craft show? If people are spending $25 in gas, $30 in admission fees, and another $15 to $20 on food at a show, is it any wonder that many in the middle class are feeling too pinched to spend another $50, or $250 to purchase a hand-crafted treasure? Is it any wonder that they might feel as if just looking is what is in their budget?

And yet, some people are selling. Some people are succeeding.

It is time for a critical eye on every aspect of what we do. Is our display the best it can be? Is our work priced right? Is this the right show for our work? Have we done anything new lately? Is there another, perhaps better, way to reach your customer? What have you done to add value to your work? This could be through building your reputation in your media, to packaging, to advertising, to adding context or story to your work.

Sitting in the corner of your booth, engrossed in a Sudoko puzzle is not the path to success. Go to a show as a customer. Walk the show and observe. Which booths draw you in? Why? Which artists make you want to buy from them? Why? Which booths do you walk right past without barely a glance? Why? Visit shops and galleries that carry handcrafted work and notice the same thing. What makes you enjoy the experience? Which work draws you in, and why? Is there any work that makes you say...if only they would do, "x", then that piece would be amazing! Now, think about your own work, your booth, your selling style. Where can you improve? What can you do differently? No matter how long you have been in business this type of exercise can be helpful to shake you out of your routine. It can help you see what else is drawing the eyeballs and dollars of your potential customers.

What if you do all that, and you still feel stuck? Then it might be time for outside help, paid consultant or artist friend. If your blindspots seem to be unmoveable, it might be worth the investment. But doing the work on your own first, will make any time spent with a consultant more effective. They will better be able to get a grasp on where you are struggling. The more efficiently you can help them get there with you, the faster they may help you find some solutions. And we all know, time is money.

The same old, same old, is not going to work.

What will you do differently at your next show? Or will you do shows anymore? Maybe your answer will be to find an entirely different route to reach your customers. We can't just wait out the bad economy. We have to work smarter. Things are changing, and what worked ten, twenty years ago, may not work for anyone anymore. It may be time to forge a new path.


rosepostcards said...

I just love your posts! In the corporate world, an annual review with the boss gives feedback (of one sort or another) of how you are doing. As an artist, it is necessary to seek out that feedback. It is necessary to evaluate and evaluate truthfully.

Things always change. We have to work them and turn them to our advantage. That is true in any situation.


Elaine said...

I have had very few shows where everyone did poorly. There have been a few, mostly weather related issues (two weeks ago, 8 inches of snow in late April comes to mind).

For the most part, my shows are steadily improving. The economy is more optimistic here, though still watching our southern neighbours closely and while the arts and craft circuit is not as prolific in the middle Canadian provinces, it is starting to improve.

My post good or post bad show routine is very similar. I do what you mentioned: I write my notes, goods, bads, ugly. Then I file them for now and get back to work. In a few days when it's a bit removed I see what I can implement.

One line on Etsy amused me this weekend: Craft fairs are the only form of gambling legal in all states.

Susan Turney said...

Hi Judy,
As usual, a great post. One other thing that people should do is emulate Elise Winters. I recently went to the ACC show in St. Paul and she was there. Her booth was very simple...a couple of large posters of her work and a couple of display cases. What really stood out though was that she spoke to every single person who stopped. And if they were looking at something it immediately came out of the case and she also suggested different colors for them. She really got them engaged and her booth was always busy. She had to have a great show. Others there would barely make eye-contact and you almost felt like you were snooping through their booths. Or they sat off to the side watching you but didn't say a word. I think someone should film Elise in action and use it as a teaching tool!!!

Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor said...

This is a very good post, thank you! One way to get a feel for the show is to go to it at least once before booking it. If it is a reputable show, they will be there next year and walking around through the show will tell you whether or not your product is suitable for the show.

Watch for the type of people attending. Whether or not people are buying. The types of things they are buying and for how much. This will help you know if you should even bother with booking the show yourself.