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Art show blues

Hi All. I’m wondering how the art show biz is doing in other parts of
the country. It’s really sucking wind here in California. After 4
shows this season I’ve cleared only a few hundred bucks! WTF? It was
way better during the “official” recession. I just finished the
biggest and best show in LA and it was horrible. On Sunday, I sold
more in my Etsy shop than at this elite show. Yeah, there were 100
other jewelers, but this is usually a great show anyway.

So, what’s doing in your neck of the woods? Is ANYBODY making any
money? I’m wondering if this business model is on life support.


I just did a show in a rich Minneapolis suburb last weekend, and it
was up to par. I’m hoping for a good summer season!


It’s been hard to even answer that question this year Allan. I have
done shows 6 weekends in a row. I haven’t lost money, but have made
VERY little.

Some artists have been telling me they are losing money at more
shows than not.

Also, the weather has been so bad that it’s hard to tell. It rained,
hailed, had high winds, extreme heat or unusual cold at 4 out of the
5 shows.

It seems to be the same story all over the midwest and southeast…


Allen, I feel for you. We did shows for about 20 years. Four years
ago we partnered with another jewelry artist that we had known from
those 20 years of shows to open a store. We continued to do shows
for the first 18 months, although we did strip out some of the less
productive shows. During the last half of year 2 my spouse, the
accounting brain of our operation, showed us that the numbers really
were not working, and in 2009 we abandoned shows altogether and
devoted ourselves 100 percent to the store. While it has not been
easy, we have survived fairly well. When we hear from our many
friends who are still doing the shows that we used to do, we hear
overwhelmingly that it is still a very tough time out there.

I don’t want to say that our path is the right way to go…it has
worked for us, but not without its challenges. But it took an
unemotional look at the numbers to make our decision.

When we did shows we produced what we wanted to and hoped someone
would buy into our vision. We had developed a pretty great following
over the years…enough to support our families, send our kids to
college, etc. Now we repair, rework and design based upon our
customer’s visions…our own designs still get produced but do not
take the lead. We focus on our ability to produce whatever our
customers can dream up. We have found that those customers who still
can afford fine jewelry want something designed just for them. So
that is what we do.

I think that this business is pretty tough at all levels these days,
not just at the shows, unfortunately!

Peggy Wilson
Harbor Jewelers

Bummer, Alan. I’m pretty sure I was at the same show. I had a good
show, but it was primarily with layaway. My work is high end and
layaway is extremely helpful. I didn’t get a chance to ask too many
other artists, but one or two that I spoke with did, and one or two
didn’t. My year started out VERY poorly in both Fl and CA. It was a
relief to have a good one. FYI…an artist in my medium asked advice
because she didn’t have a good day on Fri. I looked at her cases
with her and suggested she make a change. As it was she had her least
artistic, least expensive, most “popped-out” looking pieces
dominating the center of her cases, with the important, beautiful
pieces more around the edges. I suggested she pull some of the small
pieces out ( they were somewhat the same anyway) and put them in one
case only and not in the center. She did that, put the important work
in the center and had a decent show. Could have hppened that way
anyway, but maybe it helped. Lots of really good jewelry in many
forms. Better luck the rest of the year.


I have three shows under my belt, one of them a first year show. The
first year show was not well organized or advertised… yet, it was
OK. I plan to give it another chance because I feel the potential is
there, and the organizers seem sincere about making improvements.

The other shows I have been with before. Sales at one were half of
the previous year and the other show was very good with scads of
purchase awards. Not enough data to draw a conclusion.

I’m doing some new work mixing copper in with silver and fabric. It
has been well received - customers tell me that they always receive
compliments when they wear the pieces.

Judy in Kansas, where the turtles are chasing me down for food when
I’m in the garden… if I’m wearing flip-flops the little stinkers
sneak up and nip my toes!

I am in California too. I do not do many shows and the last one was
really bad. A music festival that was not canceled due to rain and
high winds. I had a river going through my booth. Most of the vendors
did not show. The coordinator had no consideration for the musicians
or the vendors. I hope this was a fluke. Will not do that one again,
unless compensated for holding my end of the bargain. I was the last
booth standing at the end of the show. I have a few Renaissance fairs
coming up. What I don’t make in sales I make up in fun!

Aileen Parmenter

I gave it up in '08, I was selling my handmade jewelry along with
polished rock specimens. I did all the wrong venues for my jewelry
and made a lot of small sales of rock material. Still it wasn’t
enough to keep doing it. Back in the early 90’s I did craft shows
around the San Fernando Valley, and Pasadena and South Pasadena. All
the time I heard other exhibitors talking about the thousand dollar
sales days in Arizona. People talked about the great shows in
Northern California, and how everything sucked in LA. So I guess it
was great everywhere but where I was! I am happily doing my jewelry
as a hobby now, with no pressure to make that booth fee back. Maybe
things will pick up when this economy gets back on it’s feet. Picking
out a venue is still a mystery to me, I hope your sales pick up. By
the way, back in the 90’s my best sales were in Pasadena and South
Pasadena. Stay positive!

Vicki K, SoCal

I’ve only done only 2 shows this year. The first I was down 20% and
the 2nd I was down 50%. I still made money but these are usually my 2
best shows so it’s disappointing. I am in Southern California. BTW -
this isn’t just art shows. Two friends are wholesale jewelry
designers who sell at trade shows and they are having a very hard
time. So many of the shops that used to buy in quantity from them
have either gone out of business or are cutting way back. There is
just so much jewelry out there. In January at the LA Gift Show there
were many new vendors selling imported, cheap, cheap jewelry with
beautiful design. Sometimes I think I should make something else.


hello allan -

a part of a sentence in your post:

there were 100 other jewelers,... 

reminded me of an all-jeweler show promoted by a nationally-known
south florida museum awhile ago. there were 200 jeweler/exhibitors.
at standard multi-media artists shows, when someone buys from a
neighbor you can’t really mind since it’s a different medium, but at
that show everyone offered the same product. when someone asked if i
had anything with a ‘such-n-such stone’ in it i had to answer
’sorry, no’ - which evoked a quick response from the jeweler in the
booth to my right, “i do!”

people, think more now, clean up less later.

I think shows in general have been down over the long haul. In the
1980s and early 1990s my shows were pretty good, but by the late 90s
I was selling less at shows with better work and better presentation
than what I had before. Some shows are still viable for some
exhibitors, but not nearly the opportunity they once were. My
explanation is cultural more than economic. There was something new
and exciting about arts festivals and fine craft shows in the first
several decades that they were on the scene. When they started
making good money more shows started up and they became less of a
special occasion. And then there was the internet. And the generation
that first was excited about art shows got older and their lives more
cluttered. And so on. Times change. My business grew much faster
when I quit focusing on shows.

But lately jewelry sales have just been down in general. I will put
this trend on the economy. High end sales are holding on OK, but the
middle and lower end of jewelry sales, which would be the price
points that do best at shows, are really in a dry spell. My business
has had more no-sale days in the last several weeks than we have had
in many years. I don’t expect this to last forever. 2010 was our
best Christmas season in 3 years, but lately things are not so good.
The most noticeable type of sale that is down is the standard
production item pot-boiler designs that are usually the easiest to
make and sell. This is also the category that does best at shows.
Custom work and repairs are holding steady.

Even in hard times our modern economies are amazingly robust. A lot
of the problems come from people overspending and this has been
happening at every level, from governments to big businesses down to
average people living from pay-check to pay-check and struggling to
meet the minimum payments for their credit cards. It is the average
person who is sobering up from this spending and borrowing binge,
while governments are still in denial that this is the problem. A lot
of jewelry sales are impulse buys. Consumers are being a lot less
impulsive. It is a hardship for us, but after people get their
finances under control, they will be back. There are trends and fads
and fashions that come and go, but human nature does not change.

Stephen Walker

I did all the wrong venues for my jewelryand made a lot of small

Jo-Ann has been doing a street fair now and then, mostly for fun and
public relations - she’s involved in neighborhood grass-roots
politics. And she has a friend she splits the booth fees with.
Frankly, she mostly buys saleable things - it’s not an art-fair
thing for them. They’ve been paying like $125/day, split two ways.
Anyway, they looked into this one certain event and thought about
doing it. It was $500 and they required you to buy your own insurance
through their carrier. And there was a cleanup fee, too. The total
was around a thousand bucks. That was for day, 11am to 5pm. 6 hours.
Jim Binnion said it a couple of years ago - the people making money
off of art shows are art show promoters, by and large.

I’m wondering how the whole market thing is playing out world wide?
Seems like most of the responses have been from the US. How things
going in the rest of the world?

Beth Wicker

Stephen makes some great point here that we should all pay attention

A. The internet. This has changed the business model for all
retailers. Not just jewelry. Why fight a crowd milling about with
double wide strollers, dogs, dust, sticky fingered children, and
sometimes foul weather for a jewelry purchase when you can relax, sit
in front of your computer with a beer or cup of coffee and see
everything on line? Etsey has replaced the craft show.

B. Impulse purchases are down with the economy and disposable
income. Folks are still buying, but they have less to spend and no
credit, so they are thinking things through very carefully.

As Stephen says…“The most noticeable type of sale that is down is
the standard production item pot-boiler designs that are usually the
easiest to make and sell. This is also the category that does best at
shows. Custom work and repairs are holding steady.”

With CAD and China cranking out “pot-boiler” pieces it is up to us,
the craftsmen, to be flexible and able to change and reinvent
ourselves and our products to not compete with them, but to find
another niche that will make us a step above the ordinary.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

Hi Beth

Australia has quite different ‘shows’ to what you have in the US -
ours are a mix of art/craft and definitely not as many of them

Personally I’ve found customers to be more thoughtful rather than
impulsive with their purchases. A high percentage seem to be buying
smaller/less costly items than perhaps they would have a couple of
years ago eg. they will admire both, but buy earrings rather than the
necklace (or both!). Overall takings are down a little at shows so
far this year.

Custom orders have remained steady, perhaps a little higher.


Yesterday I attended an art show (did not have a booth). Most of my
time was spent observing how the business owners/artists were
reacting with the lack of customers looking at their work. A lot of
disenchanted looking owners even though the crowds were large.
Navigating though so many dogs on leashes and double-wide baby
strollers made it difficult to get to many booths!

The busiest booths were of extremely colorful paintings, or dichroic
glass items. The whymsical artwork was a big hit as well. Jewelry
trends are: Copper, Brass, Wood, Glass, Silver, Leather, and beads.
Not much gold at all. This is a big festival here in MN and I hope
all of you who hada booth had a great turn-out.

M. Mersky

Hi can you please give me an idea of what you mean by pot boiler


I don’t usually do jewelry shows, as such, but I display my work in
art shows at conventions. Usually I’ll sell a few pieces, but it
hasn’t been real great for the last year. I’ve seen some improvement
in the last few shows, but that could be a flash in the pan.

I was at the Greater Southern Gem and Jewelry show in Jackson, MS,
and it was a train-wreck. Nobody there was happy. I was especially
unhappy, since I’d been lured to it under false pretenses, having
been promised several students (my real source of income, on trips)
who either didn’t exist or who forgot that their presence had been
promised. I’m going back to getting tuitions up front.


can you please give me an idea of what you mean by pot boiler

A “pot-boiler” is a product or serice that is a good earner and a
day-in and day-out mainstay of a business’s income. “Bread and
butter” is used for the same meaning. It keeps the pot boiling or
keeps bread on the table.

For me the pot boilers are the good selling production designs that
are easy to reproduce and can be sold for a descent profit without a
whole lot of bother. I have seen a drop in these sales but an
increase in custom work. This week has been really good for sales for
me. I hope others are experiencing a thaw also.

Stephen Walker