This is the first of three posts by guest author Alison Antelman,* an experienced craft show vendor. Her first craft show was the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival 12 years ago. Since then, she has learned to investigate prior to craft show participation and use her years of open studio experience to help her assess shows and select the most successful events.
Alison Antelman at Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival
FROM Alison Antelman:
There are many different ways to run your craft business, including selling online, through galleries, or via wholesale and retail shows. In this series of guest posts, I will be focusing on juried retail craft shows. Today’s post will discuss 6 steps of craft show research.
Experience has taught me that craft show research saves time & money. If you’ve never sold at a craft show before, I recommend that your first experience should be at a local venue.
Where to start? A summary...
Every time you consider participating in a new craft show venue do the following (before you apply):
- View the show website.
- Visit the show.
- Walk the aisles.
- Discuss the show with other artists.
- Investigate show organization & promotion.
- Get a brochure/guide to the show.
Where to start? The details...
1. View the show website:
- Look at the list of last year's artists, particularly in your medium, then look at the individual artist’s websites and their list of events.
- Do you like what you see?
- What are the price points?
- Is there anything that is of a similar type/range to what you make and sell?
- Email past participants asking about the show.
- Remember to tell them who you are and be gracious when asking a stranger for advice.
- Show participants are usually willing to share information.
2. Visit the show
Some shows will give you a free pass if you tell them you are a prospective vendor. This tells you something about the promoters. American Craft Council usually obliges with this request for their shows. The Paradise City Art Festival was not so generous and I didn't end up going (although I was in the area visiting.)
3. Walk down the aisles
- How does the overall setup of booths look?
- Is the layout easy to navigate?
- What does the work look like?
- Review quality. Are there t-shirts and items made from purchased parts or is it primarily artist made?
4. Discuss the show with other artists
- Talk to the artists and ask them about their work. The artist’s attitude at a show can be very telling. Do they seem happy? or angry?
- Always remember when chatting with an artist to step out of the way when they're doing business. They are there to sell their work.
5. Investigate show organization & promotion.
- How many years has the show been in existence?
- What is their potential attendance based on previous years (e.g. 300,000 is huge)? If they promise 5,000 then the clientele must be very specially interested because that is extremely small.
- In the end, it's about the quality of the audience.
- What are the specs on setup? If it’s the day of the show then you must make sure to have the necessary time you need to set up along with a change of clothes to convert from roadie to salesperson.
- Where and how do they advertise and how far is the reach?
- Do they offer any services to patrons or to artists?
6. Get a brochure/guide to the show.
- I have one artist friend who brings me the guides to every show he does.
- More resources for craft show guides in a future post on ASK Harriete.
Reassess Every Year:
I reassess the shows I’ve done and revisit others. It's a constant cycle that depends upon the economy, weather, audience, and even some luck.
It's important to apply to more shows than you plan to do since juried shows change their juries each year and you may not get in consistently. I’m starting the cycle again, with many show applications coming up for 2013, always keeping in motion.
Metropolis II Bracelet: Reflections on the Hudson
by Alison Antelman. Oxidized sterling, 18 + 22k gold, vesuvianite, tourmaline, peridot, hand fabricated hollow forms, handmade box clasp.
8 x 2.5 x .25
Do you have information or experience related to today's post that you would like to add? Please consider leaving a comment. I'd like to use this post for a new document in the Professional Guidelines. A comprehensive spectrum of opinions is important.
READ THE ENTIRE SERIES about the craft show marketplace:
*Note: The opinions expressed by the author, Alison Antelman, in this post are hers and hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ASKHarriete or Harriete Estel Berman. No endorsement or refutation is implied.
This post was updated on June 30, 2022, to provide current links.