How to know a good show

This February I will be doing the Baltimore ACC show (wholesale
and retail) for the first time (gaah!), so I am not a seasoned
pro, and I’m not even a jeweler but a bead weaver, but I can give
the perspective of four years of dabbling.

There are several newsletters and lists which “rate” craft
shows. Sunshine Artist is the one I hear of most often. You can
get a sense of the price ranges, types of craft offered, number
of attendees, etc. and also some subjective ratings from
participating craftspeople.

You improve your chances of reaching the right audience by doing
only juried shows. You are less likely to be in a booth next to
the person who makes pink fluffy crocheted toilet paper roll
covers with googly eyes if there is some judging process.

Talk to your friends and your customers. Ask them which shows do
well for them and where they buy stuff. If you have a customer
who is a faithful buyer, use him/her as a “model” for reaching
your market.

While it can be impractical to go to all the shows you want to
do, there really isn’t a better way to get the feel for a show.
And as for cost, the time you spend checking out a show is much
less than the time you might waste by not vetting it ahead and
ending up in a show with an inappropriate mix of crafts and

It is hard to be patient, but I am learning that it takes a
couple of years of doing a show (even a “good” one) to develop
the recognition and audience that makes for success. This season
I joined the PA Guild of Craftsmen and did 4 Guild shows. Two of
them were in the same venue, six months apart. The first show, in
July, was not so great, but I did get a lot of new names for my
mailing list. So when I did the holiday show last weekend, the
majority of my sales were from people who’d gotten my mailing and
came specifically to buy from me.

You also need to consider whether your work is at a price point
where you’re not going to do well in a low- to mid-price show. My
really high end stuff (full size bead woven purses in the low 4
figures) sell much better at “destination” venues…places where
people go specifically for something unique, rather than craft
shows where the goal might be more like “let’s get out of the
house and do something.”

I’m sure you’ve considered most of these points already, but
that’s my 2 cents’ worth.

Amy Karash
Fine Craft Bead Work
Wayne, PA

Amy- This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for some
time. You’re near me- I live in Drexel Hill. Is there a local
chapter nearby? When I inquired a while ago the nearest one was
some distance away, and being a typical reclusive artist I
couldn’t deal with that. I guess what’s stopped me in the past
is the jurying process, having to go to State College in person,
and some of the political horror stories I’ve heard about it.
I’d like to hear about your experience.

Hi Karen Good feedback. I am also a person new to the “shows”.
I have found out that there is no guarantee regarding shows. My
feeling is that outside the really big shows, the ones with the
prestige, the ones that are really competitive, there is always a
chance of having a questionable year or a changing
audience…Sometimes I get discouraged and feel this is more
difficult than climbing “old rag” mountain…But its my
customers that write nice notes and emails that keep me hanging
in there. I think that middle income customers are disappearing
and only the established jewelers can rely on that market, I
also believe that making low end items takes as much time as high
end items. So what do we do? Its hard to make a living from low
end items. I have to thank the orchid members for their feedback
and encouragement they give. I think patience and moral support
keeps us focussed and gives us hope. Thanks a lot.

It is possible to sell out or sell VERY well at a show. It
certainly is not predictable. I once saw a "craft show virgin"
sell out at a huge holiday craft show. They were selling iron
lawn ornaments on Thanksgiving weekend ! Nice work, but not what
makes you think Christmas. They went home with nothing to load
on their truck but cash. I have also had one show where I sold
nearly all of my major pieces. This was my third year at a local
show that usually was a sleeper. I continued to go because I
liked the festival overall, good music, local to my home, etc.
For some reason, my work sold well that day…then my husband
got transfered and we relocated. I think that the following
factors contribute to selling well.

  1. Dumb Luck. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right
    time. 2. Regular attendance. If you return to a show, people
    will come back for your work. A mailing list can be used to good
    advantage here. 3. Good quality work. Improving over time. 4.
    Evolve. Although I probably have my own style by now, I
    constantly try new designs. They don’t always sell. I am
    frequently dead wrong about the public will like. 5. Try not to
    take it personally. (HA!) Some days I couldn’t sell a cheap pair
    of earrings. Other days I sell much more expensive stuff. 6.
    Have as wide a price range as you can. As a college student, my
    first exposure to craft shows was literally wandering into one
    held near campus. I paid for my ticket and spent all weekend
    wandering the show. It was my first exposure to handmade work. I
    would have loved to buy things, but most of the items were priced
    way beyond my budget. Now I try to have something available that
    anyone can afford- especially kids. 7. If you like what you’re
    doing, keep at it. Allyson