Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Working the Shows Wednesday - Boutique Shows

With only two weekends until Christmas, the holiday show season, for most of us, is now over. Surprisingly, for most of us, it has been a good season.

We were all braced for the worst in view of the economy but most of my crafter acquaintances have reported better than usual sales at most shows, even those in the areas of the country most devastated by the financial crisis and unemployment. There were some shows that were cancelled early on due to the economic situation and fear of extremely poor sales. As always, there were a few shows that simply weren't able to produce the shoppers for whatever reasons. This was nothing new. Show veterans find a few of these every year.

I believe people shopped more carefully this year. It seemed functional items sold better than pure art for art's sake items. If it was functional AND cute or unique looking - even better. Folks did, however, seem to want a reason to give the item. It had to serve a purpose of some sort.

Boutique Shows

The last two show I attended this year were boutique style shows. For those unfamiliar with this term, these are shows where the crafter generally drops their merchandise off for a show of multiple days duration. It is a consignment arrangement of sorts. All items are tagged with the price and coded with that crafter's id code. The show promoter (or "owner") then sells the items from one central checkout point. At the end of the show, each crafter's sales are totaled, a percentage is kept by the promoter and the crafter is paid. The crafter returns to pick up any unsold stock.

These are called "boutique" shows as most are set up like a gift shop or boutique with the crafts mixed together in a pleasing manner as opposed to separate displays for each crafter. Most are set up by the promoter (also known as "owner" or "manager") and usually use display merchandise provided by the promoter. In some cases, the crafter will provide some supplemental displays especially if they have a unique craft that requires unusual display methods.

Most of us like doing these sales as they have our merchandise out there in front of the world while we're off doing something else. Most are run by crafters themselves who are also showing their own work and are, therefore, concerned about making the show a success. They appreciate the merchandise and handle it with care. The only drawback is that you have a sizable amount of stock tied up, usually during a prime selling period. The good points are your work is on sale 7 days a week for the duration, you're not hauling displays in and out and not spending down time sitting there waiting for a sale.

The consignment percentage is set by the promoter but the crafter sets the selling price. In some cases, crafters are asked to work one or more "shifts" during the show's run where they work the show floor or register. The two shows I attended this year ran for one month (November) and for 10 days, respectively.

Run by one woman, the first show has been taking place twice a year for over 20 years. Over this period, the location has changed a number of times but excellent advertising, postcards to a large mailing list and word of mouth by the crafters has kept it alive and well. It's most recent location (for about 4 years now) is way off the beaten path and a little difficult to find but the crowds have managed to come. Return customers look for new items by specific crafters and also have an eye out for something "new and different" each show. There are about 30 crafters who have been participating in this event for most of the 20 years. Every show, there are a few new folks and a few old ones fall by the wayside for whatever reason.

Producing these shows, twice a year, keeps this lady quite busy. There is a lot of paperwork and planning involved. New crafters contact her on a regular basis. She must meet with each one to review their work and determine if it will fit in with her show. She's careful not to have competition in any area of the show. Multiple jewelers must have entirely different types of work. Painters must do different types of products. If you wish to expand what you offer, you must run it past her. Often, she will nix a specific item as it too closely resembles someone else's product. In addition, she does her own craft and must spend time creating. She and her husband are always on the lookout for new display pieces. (The style of the show is a general store type look and she uses quite a few antique pieces for her displays.)

I began doing shows with this lady over thirty years ago and she participated in a boutique style show I helped to run in those days. I remember her having her first "boutique" show in her living room. It ran for three days and we considered it a big success. Like me, she did as many as 40 shows a year in those days. Now, she makes a healthy income off of just these two shows.

The second show is held in the same general neighborhood. They sometimes run consecutively and shoppers go from one to the other. This show is done on a much smaller scale and has a committee of 5 ladies working together to produce the show. They hold shows four times a year in a club's social hall and it runs for anywhere from 7 to 10 days at a time. They are all participants and choose the additional crafters very carefully so as not to compete with any of their own products. There are a total of about 20 crafters involved with this show. This show also started in one of their homes a number of years ago and has been held in the same public location now for about 8 years.

They also use a large mailing list to send postcards. They post handmade signs on key intersections around the community and run small classified ads in the local papers. They, too, have a devoted following. Interestingly, they require their crafters not to participate in the other show in an effort to provide some exclusivity. I used to think this was bad policy and created a bit of animosity but since they draw on the same clientele I can see why they want to offer merchandise that is different from the other show.

Both shows claim to have had excellent sales this year. While the larger show said sales were about the same as last Christmas, the smaller show noticed a fair increase.

I hope you were able to enjoy excellent sales, too, and are now ready to devote yourselves to your own holiday events.

This will be the last Working the Shows Wednesday post for a while but as the Spring show season approaches I'll bring the series back. For now, we'll all just take a breather.

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