This is the first segment of my Marketing Series on Craft Shows. This particular post, designed for the true craft show novice, will explain the differences in types of craft shows and help you decide which kind of show is right for you. The next segment will help you find those shows.
So, you think you’d like to sell at a craft show! I’m assuming you’ve already developed and created a product that you feel is of decent quality and design that other folks will like it and want it.
The first step in moving toward your first craft show is to determine what kind of show you belong at. The majority of my readers will fall into the “arts and crafts” category as opposed to “fine arts.” While this can sometimes be a fine-line type distinction, it is a big difference when it comes to shows.
“Fine Arts” shows tend to feature more one-of-a-kind, higher-end creations like oil paintings, large focal pieces of furniture, sculptures, large mosaic or stained glass pieces, gallery quality-photography, etc. Fine art shows tend to be expensive juried and quite exclusionary.
Most dictionaries define “fine art” as “art produced primarily for aesthetics and not for utility.” Unless your jewelry is made from precious metals using only fine gems, it is most likely not “fine art.” I have only once seen a crocheted item in a fine art display and that was a unique sculpture-like piece meant to merely be displayed. Fine art generally is considered to require fine skill. In other words, if an average crafter or artist could produce the item following instructions from someone else, it most likely does not qualify as fine art. Since most of us would not be described as geniuses, virtuosos or Michelangelo prodigies, I will move on to regular arts and crafts shows.
“Arts and crafts” shows have further distinctions and clarifications. Some are designated as “traditional,” “primitive,” “period,” “folk”, “contemporary,” etc. I have even seen some designated as “Western,” “Coastal” and “loving hands.” All of these labels are very subjective and open to discussion.
One of the most ambiguous terms out there is “professional crafters and/or artists“. A show advertising such participants is generally trying to convince potential customers that this show will feature a higher quality of merchandise. Most definitions say “professional” means engaging in an activity as a career. No one says you must be completely self-supporting in your career. My position is, if you are out there trying to sell your products for money, you are operating as a professional. “Professionalism,” in my opinion, is a form of business-like behavior. (And that, my Dear Reader, is a topic for another day!)
The next most basic fact involved in picking a show to do is whether the show is “juried” or “non-juried.” (For the record: In my 30+ years of experience, I have not found the fact that a show is juried or non-juried to cause any significant difference in my sales.)
A “juried” show means that a person or committee will review the quality of your merchandise to determine if it meets a certain standard for participation in their show. Jurying is generally accomplished through the submission of photos of your merchandise. In most cases, these jurists require about five shots of items “representative” of your product line.
Sometimes, a jury will also request photos of your booth or set-up. If this is your first time, you will need to do a dry run set-up and take pictures. If you are applying for an outdoor show, set this up outside. Likewise for an indoor show. (Such a dry run can also alert you to set-up problems you may not have considered.)
***Do not let the jurying process prevent you from participating as a first-timer. This merely assures a better selection of work and generally will attract buyers that return year after year as they know they can count on the merchandise available at such a show. By the same token, do not allow the fact that you get juried out of a show keep you from trying again. Often, shows limit the number of crafters in each category and may only accept the five best in each category.
I have come across a few elite shows that require in-person jurying in which you bring your creations to them for physical review and, often, questioning of you as the creator. A few juries I have participated in have required the representative photos but also a list of specific items that will be sold. Anything not listed would not be allowed. I would not suggest one of these precise shows as a first-time experience.
**Some juried shows also require a “jury fee” that is charged over and above the show fee and is usually non-refundable. Again, I do not recommend such shows as a first-time thing.
Do not overlook other selling venues like street fairs and festivals, school and church sales, flea markets, farmers’ markets and roadside stands. Many a successful crafter has gotten their start at the school or church event. These events tend to be less expensive but smaller. Customers tend to expect more reasonable pricing at these locales and, in the event of the flea market, will try to bargain with you for a better deal. You will also find the set-up is not as elaborate at most of these events and a beginner can get away with a table with a nice cloth and some folding chairs. (Although, a nice display can and will encourage more sales! We’ll discuss displays, later.)
Okay, this seems to be enough for a beginner to digest for now. Think about what kind of show seems right for you and what you are prepared to invest in doing your first show - both in expenses and time. My next segment in this series will tell you how to go about finding the right show for you.