Craft show popularity contest – pick me!

It’s popularity contest time again: applications for holiday season craft shows are flying thick and fast, and the jockeying is on!

It’s a bit like applying to grad school, or dating inside / outside of your known circle: there are advantages and drawbacks of being known vs. being new. If you’re new, you’re potentially fresh and different (in a good way) BUT also potentially a complete black sheep with dismal chances for acceptance, because you don’t fit in with the needs of the particular show’s audience, price range, etc. If you’re known, there’s the comfort of having been accepted before BUT also the danger of contempt-by-familiarity: seen that, accepted that last year, need to feed the audience something new.

I made first-time appearances at two shows earlier this year. The Warner Spring Show in April motivated me to enact new ideas for my booth display.
Warner Spring'13 Art Fair

The Baraboo show in May was my first outdoor show, and put the new displays (and everything else!) to the test with wildly fluctuating spring weather, including constant powerful gusts and intermittent rain and hail.
Baraboo Spring '13 Craftshow
At the Warner show sales were slow and I didn’t break even (cost of time/supplies to make all the items sold, plus show entry fee). Many other sellers said traffic and purchases were down from the previous year. At the Baraboo show, I did barely break even, despite the wild weather forcing us to close an hour early.

The holiday shows are usually the strong performers for sales, and they’re a bit like college applications: you’ve got your preference (based on entry fee, audience match with your product / price point, location etc), and you’ve got your “safety” options in case your first choice craft show doesn’t admit you — by the time a rejection notice comes through, it might be too late to apply for other shows.

I had considered Art vs Craft in Milwaukee, which has the bonus of being held the weekend of Thanksgiving (prime shopping time), and a proven healthy audience size drawn from the show’s location. The drawbacks for me last year were the show’s two-day running time (wearying to travel back and forth, or expensive to stay overnight), and entry fee. I noticed too late that this year’s show was down to one day (with a correspondingly smaller and more appealing entry fee).

My first choice this year is the Winter Craftacular. For me, this poses the danger of contempt via familiarity: I’ve been in two previous Craftaculars (one Winter, one Summer). So I put my application portfolio together carefully.

Craft Show Photo Set On Flickr

Flickr gallery used for craft show application.

From the Craftacular curator’s viewpoint, my strong point is sculpture (it offers variety to her audience, since most other vendors feature jewelry, household goods or wearables), so I made sure to put in a new piece finished since the last time I applied.

Hoarfrost welded tree sculpture

And I showed innovation, including a sculpture featuring a different type of ceramic flower I only recently began making.

Dahlia in a welded sculpture

Then there’s the dance and balancing act between what people are interested in (and what the ‘curator’ selects to offer the audience variety), vs. what actually sells. In my experience, most people are more comfortable spending on functional items rather than purely artistic items, so my magnets and necklaces sell better than my sculptures.

Most shows only have so many spots for “types” of vendors; if I apply and all the jewelry “spots” are gone, I might be offered a slot only to sell my sculptures and magnets, but not my necklaces. My necklaces sell better than the magnets or sculptures and have a great price point resulting in good ROI for me. Since I know there are many other jewelry vendors applying, I choose my application photos carefully to demonstrate innovation in my necklace product line since my previous application: 3 new flower styles using a wider color palette and expanding the price range.

Flower necklace variety
This helps to show that the curator’s audience will see something new from me, and that my jewelry will be different than other vendors’ wares – it’s all about the customer experience her audience gets when wandering the whole show.

I spent a lot of time concepting and building a new display for my flower magnets, and I make sure to include a photo of that in my application, since the creativity of a display has an impact on the customer experience too (and on my bottom line: a poorly-conceived or executed display can undercut even the best product and price).
magnet display board at craft show

By now I’ve sent in my application and fee, hoping to hear good news next week, meanwhile start working on new pieces for fall!