Passion does not equal profit. If expecting to make money, we need to separate our love for creative making from the down to earth reality of selling.
The caution is to not let our creative passions cloud the realities of marketing, selling, generating profits, and avoiding loss.
I will always encourage makers to make the best work possible. No holds barred. BE PASSIONATE. Work hard. Spend countless hours doing what you love. But when it comes to making money and selling for a profit, that is when business principles apply.
Read the post I wrote for Artsy Shark: “I Covered My Expenses” and Other Forms of Delusion & Denial and see if "I covered my expenses" really means I lost more money faster than ever before and four days of my time. Have you asked yourself what is the "opportunity cost" when spending weeks making low cost sell-able, bread & butter items to prepare for a show? What if you had spent that time making your most inspiring, most creative work without thinking about who might be shopping at a show and what their budget might be?
One broad observation about the American Craft Council Show applies universally to any retail display aesthetic, even all the way to my local Farmer's Market and on to fabulous trunk shows or ACC .
Do not include packaging in your display.
By packaging, I mean cards that hold a pair of earrings or the boxes that you will provide to the customers with their purchase. No matter who you are, or how great your work, or fabulous the box, it just plain looks bad -- more like discount retailing at Big Lots than artist made jewelry.
Learn from the masters of selling jewelry - Tiffanys. Despite the heavy branding investment that Tiffany's has in the Tiffany Blue Box and the trademark color, you never see a Tiffany box or bag as part of the display in the case.They know that the packaging is the treasure box, not the display. The packaging is the "take home" part of the purchase experience.
What brought this to my attention was this display at a booth at the ACC show.
The exquisite earrings by Yong Joo Kim at the American Craft Council were rather lost in her boxes on the table. The boxes, the shredded paper filler, along with the large tags all look like clutter competing for the shopper's attention. Even in this photo (above) you can hardly find her elegant earrings.
In contrast, these necklaces by Kim really grab your attention with the silver foam core background. This simple method was effectively eye-catching despite the rented pipe and drape (which is usually unsatisfactory).
The flat surface of the foam core accentuated the texture of the necklace and with a little lighting created a beautiful shadow. It would have been much better to let her earrings rest on foam core on the table as well.
So..... no more earrings on cards, please. no more gigantic tags, please.
Petra Class(left side of photo) and Biba Schutz (right side of photo) have combined their booths every year. Side by side they synchronize the
appearance while keeping a completely separate identity. Without the curtain "wall" between the booths, it creates a
big expanse of eye catching space.
In another example along the length of an aisle, Sarah Jane Hassler and Karen McCreary combined two standard booths to create an inviting open space.
Many booths adopted an L-shaped layout (diagram shown below). While it looks fine in this layout diagram, there is a problem with this booth configuration. The L-shaped layout creates a narrow aisle which can be an imposing gauntlet to the customer that may not want to be trapped in a narrow aisle uncommitted to a purchase or conversation.
L-shaped layout plan:
Below is what a l-shaped layout of a booth looks like at the show (below.) The narrow aisle is even more intimidating if the booth has a display case rising higher and creating vertical space like a wall.
Combining two L-shaped booths side-by-side Sarah Jane Hassler and Karen McCreary had a great innovation. The narrow aisle they both would have had with an L-shaped layout going solo is combined. (The green line is where most booths have pipe and drape divider between booths. Just imagine how narrow this aisle would feel at the show.
Combining the center into open space in between their displays was inviting and allowed a non-threatening reception square (shown below). Customers could walk into the space and look around without feeling trapped.
Notice their signs diagonally across the back corner of the booth.
While not identical, the signs used the same font and styling to look cohesive. Both sellers also used the same earring display and fabric below their tables.
The ultimate in booth collaboration were three people creating one seamless booth going down the aisle. After viewing the show with the somewhat overwhelming density of one booth after the next, it was refreshing to see this long extended open booth layout by David Whippen, John Liston, and Niki Ulehla (booths 320, 321, and 322). It also was an award winning booth. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Ryan Interactive Editor, American Craft Council
Removing the pipe and drape walls between the three
booths kept their space open. They showed a few large pieces of
furniture and sculpture of Whippen and Liston.
The jeweler Niki Ulehla was in the center with a minimalist display on a table. No jewelry cases contributed to the open booth layout.
How did all these booth collaboration occur? They simply asked the ACC show organizers to place them next to one another. That simple -- and it happened. What a great idea for your next show.
One thing I noticed at the American Craft Council Show in San Francisco was how well designed and effective signage improves the overall impression of a booth.
ACC supplied a small tag for the booth. Sure it had your name and location, but it was too small and generic to be memorable. Unremarkable in every respect, it did not establish an artist's identity and was too high. Lesson learned: Do not depend on generic name banners as your signage. They do not differentiate your booth any more than map coordinates.
The sign below for Lauren Markleyexemplifies a step up with minimum effort. It has her name, an image of her work, and a short description, in this case "Contemporary Jewelry".
But this sign could also be better. It was lacking size. It needs to be bigger to make an impact. It also suffered from being wrinkled and had a slight texture to the plasticized finish (shown below.) The plasticized finish reflected the light and the wrinkles distracted from the overall impression.
You can see the "linen-like texture" to the sign in this close-up, and the grommets in the corners were distracting to the overall aesthetic. Avoid putting grommets in your sign if at all possible. Grommets may be a necessity for an outdoor sign that needs to be tied down against the wind, -- but inside they are not working.
Instead, add a pocket or fold over seam for a ruler or pole at the top and the bottom. This usually looks far more attractive and straightens out the wrinkles creating a more polished appearance.
Moving on to an improved example:
The sign for Beverly Tadeu was more successful. It seems to be printed on fabric so it has a matte finish. There are no reflections even though the light is shining right on her sign. The highlight on the sign was very eye catching. The sign also matches her fabric booth drape.
Hanging the full height of her booth, the sign goes seamlessly from the top of her booth to below eye level with a big image of her earrings. This is a great way to inform the customer walking past your booth exactly what type of work is available for purchase.
Notice that the sign has no grommets at the top of the sign and seems to be hung from a pole at the top of her booth. Perfect. No wrinkles. It projects a polished impression.
Her clean and white jewelry display of simple matte acyclic matches the sign aesthetic perfectly.
Notice that on the front of her display table Beverly Tadeu hung a piece of sheer unwrinkled fabric to conceal the legs of her table. This scrim is like a veil creating a more polished appearance to her booth presentation. It also matches her booth drape.
Notice that she did not use cases to display her jewelry, a growing trend. So often the cases are a barrier between the customer and a purchase. Getting the item for sale into the customer's hand is one of those #1 sales techniques. While I can see that this is a security risk, if you can afford to go in this direction, it is a great idea.
When everything works together it creates a seamless aesthetic with a more cohesive and polished impression.
Part 1 raised the questions: What is the impact or purpose of an entry fee? What is the role of music in the shopping environment? Impact of lighting in the sales environment. A price comparison between Renegade and ACC.
Part 2CONTINUES the comparison ...
CLOTHING REPORT: Renegade Fair:
Miss Charlotte Kruk reported "that the clothing seemed to lean toward
the edgy...aligning with the spirit of the faire which I think is
tremendously charming, relevant, and frankly fun, thrift store remade,
recycled, reassembled, reinvented eclectic style. This is an aesthetic
that I have always related to, make and wear myself; I was raised in the
thrift store on the paternal side of the family and under the sewing
machine on my maternal side. (My family often went to the second hand
store and every time my grandmother would say "whatever you can't live
without." - pretty funny when you think about this kind of "spoiling")
had every style and fabric you could imagine all leaning toward the
artist made creative aesthetic with a price tag that reflected the
makers development, growth in process, personal style and materials.
Some of the fabric was loom woven, but more were painted silk, fabric
applique, or specialized technique. I did notice that this year at the ACC show the clothing was more fitted
and fashionable than in previous years. One of my favorite jackets was
by Susan Bradley Designs using neoprene (such as would be used for scuba suits).
TYPE OF WORK for SALE: Renegade
had a lot of the t-shirts and cards with graphic images that have
become the predominate merchandise. Charlotte added that a lot of the
merchandise used the laser cutter. "Seems like when one person is doing
something it catches like a rash. The predominant rash in the Renegrade
craft community right now is going to the Tech Shop and using the laser
We both love the Tech Shop, but Miss Charlotte has a point: "To what end of unique and hand-made is this tool when the
artist isn't taking time to develop the object beyond the industrial
Miss Charlotte said there was a contrast between
Renegade and ACC in the diversity of the objects, skill and aesthetic
voice. "I enjoy the raw, gritty renegade aesthetic for its spirit of "I
MADE THIS" pride." By comparison, ACC was a very serious gathering of
makers, who have spent a multitude of years developing their voice,
understanding the consideration that lighting, sound, negative space,
color, height, etc play on the viewing of the object. ACC sellers say "I
made this" and stand firm in the numbers they're asking for their
craft, their vision, their labor, knowing what it takes to establish the
aesthetic voice that it takes to reach the platform of the ACC.
WHATS NEW? A
few years ago, the Renegade shows were all the rage garnering a
reputation based on a new and trendy appeal, along with questions about
the direction of this craft movement. Charlotte says, "It thrills me
that at the Renegade you watch a guy on a sewing machine with a device
he's invented to power it by riding his bicycle...And there he sits
freehand stitching truly elaborate and inspiring patches, each unique
because his hands will never do exactly the same thing twice, nor would
he want them to. I LOVE RENEGADE for its gritty energy, it's youthful
vibe of makers who desperately want to earn a living from their ability
to "make" but are maybe just getting started with refining their vision
and fine-tuning their personal aesthetic and creating a market that is
I asked Miss Charlotte Kruk after the show: How is the “I made this
“ from Renegade different than the “I made this” at ACC?
Charlotte's answer: "The point I
was trying to make was the voice of a sweet child (the renegade artist) that
cannot be ignored "I made this" and you stop to acknowledge because
it's important to build pride vs. the refined voice of an accomplished actress
(in this case our ACC ARTIST); who has repeated the phrase over and over in so
many different fonts and italics through intonation that it becomes a statement
FINAL THOUGHTS: "What a pleasure to slow down and
really "view" the show with Harriete. I'm sure at that pace, I would
have seen a whole lot more than at the racing speeds my family zipped
through the Renegade Craft Fair."
"I think the highlight for me was getting to the reception at Velvet da Vinci and
seeing all those makers who you took the time to congratulate and
educate, together in one space. It was amazing to me to see all these
dynamic artists in booths from the farthest corners of Fort Mason
representing the farthest corners of the United States all sharing a
bite of cheese and "bologna" together. Aahahaaaa ...but seriously, I
enjoyed the second viewing of their work in the cases and seeing their
faces again and together...and was pleased to see how each with their
own unique style and vision had this great spirit of appreciation for
one another. "
"Wonderful. (thanks again Harriete, for letting me be the
Robin to your Batman...great stuff.), I'd repeat that experience
anytime! cheers, Miss Charlotte."
Super wonderful to spend the day with Miss Charlotte. Hope we do it again soon. Harriete
Fortunately, my friend and ACC show companion, Miss Charlotte Kruk, went to both shows so she had many observations and comparisons.
Comments in quotes are from Miss Charlotte Kruk.
ENTRANCE FEE: Renegade ACC No entrance fee. $14.00 entrance fee or FREE for ACC members What is the impact or purpose of an entry fee? I'd love to discuss it at length & think about it. Since it was free, "the Renegade show was
PACKED making it very hard to see the work if you were unwilling to
crowd in with the masses."
their any reason to fill the place with lookers? Yes & no, but obvious answer is that the ACC entry fee becomes a self selected group of motivated shoppers.
SCHEDULE: Renegade - 2 days ACC - 3 days Saturday/Sunday Friday/Sat/Sunday Who goes to a show on Friday?
CUSTOMERS: Miss Charlotte said, "The audience for
the ACC show was definitely more mature, immaculately groomed and
packaged in a way that advertised their serious intentions; a refined
air of sophistication, but with a sense of personal style that cannot be
found on a display mannequin in Nordstrom."
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF MUSIC? While "the Renegade boasted DJ music pumping throughout the venue," Charlotte noticed only one or two booth exhibitors at ACC who had low playing music in their personal space. I didn't notice anyone at ACC playing music.
Music is an interesting issue. Music is generally considered an "audience-sorting device" and can have either a positive or negative impact on the shopping experience.
LIGHTING: Kruk reports that "Booth layout and display were much better at the ACC show. Compared to the Renegade show, the lighting was much better and brighter overall as almost every booth had additional lighting for display." ACC Booth of Sarah Jane Hassler & Karen McCreary More discussion about their booth layout and signs in a future post on ASK Harriete
DISPLAY: "The items for sale were also more crowded at the Renegade show. There was definitely a restrained minimal aesthetic in many of the booths at ACC. The ACC artist (for the most part) seemed to understand the layout and flow of the space, understanding that movement through the booth is critical for an enjoyable shopping experience." (More about booth layout in a later post.)
A PRICE COMPARISON: Renegade Fair: Miss Charlotte said that a dress (playful coverall smock-dress recycling men's suspender straps) for $85 was marked as "reduced price for the faire" and probably on the $100 end at her Oakland Boutique "Field Day and Friends."
ACC: Many jackets started at $500 and up. There were scarves at lower price points in every style and fabric you could imagine.