A Tale of Two Shows

I'm still figuring out holiday shows here. Back in Iowa I had a nice little roster of holiday shows I had grown to love, and now I miss them (shoutout Not Your Mother's Craft Fair and Market Day). Out here in Washington, it seems like each neighborhood around Seattle has a craft fair in a high school gymnasium, and some of them are amazing while some of them are more for socializing than sales. I'm still trying to figure out which ones are for me.

But, while there are dozens of small craft shows, there are only a couple really big ones. I applied for two: Urban Craft Uprising and Best of the Northwest. Only got into Best of the Northwest (UCU is notoriously difficult to get into) and set my expectations based on my previous Spring sales at BotNW in March, and the excellent reputation of the show. Remember back in October when I said I wanted to sell $10k for the holiday season? Well, I expected at least $3k of that to come from this show. Readers, this did not come to pass.

Booth Fee: $600, Hotel Room $250, Time Commitment: 3.5 days; Sales $1300

It's always a let down when a show under-performs. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, and honestly I'm not sure I can blame it on the show itself. The quality of the work there was excellent. While I think the show runners could have done more online advertising, the show is a long-running one with a very good reputation. I was one of about half a dozen clay artists, and while most others also had a disappointing turn out, two of my clay friends went home happy and rich. Their work looks nothing like mine.

I'm going to assume that this show's patrons are mostly not my intended audience. I had a thousand people stop and compliment my work. I had about 5% of them actually purchase anything, and most of those purchases were small ones. Maybe my style of modern pottery isn't what patrons were looking for.

Booth Fee: $75, No Hotel Needed, Time Commitment: 1 Day; Sales $1300

Let's contrast that to a little evening pop-up show I did last Friday in Bellingham: A Maker's Market at Ciao Thyme Commons. I'd done their spring / Mother's Day pop-up last May, and it was a bit of a dud, but I heard such encouraging things about the holiday show I was really excited going into the event. I got there to set up at 2:00, the doors opened at 4:00, and over the next four hours I sold the exact same amount of work as I had at BotNW.

Best of the Northwest is a larger, longer, higher-priced and higher-prestige show. The Maker's Market is new, local, small, and asks very low time and money commitment from its vendors.

Now, clearly I'd like to have more shows like the Maker's Market ... but this is the difficulty: I have no way to know ahead of time how successful a particular show will be! If it's my first time participating in a show, I can ask other vendors how they've done, I can put at least some stock into the show's general reputation, and I can hope that the higher booth fee reflects a higher-quality art market ... but nothing is guaranteed! There were thousands of people at BotNW, and very few of them liked my artwork enough to spend money on it, and there was no way for me to know that ahead of time.

Will I do BotNW again? Well ... maybe. You might think that's a little crazy, but the truth is: I made money at this show. Not a lot, but some. And, it's at a time of year when there aren't many shows (especially the spring show) and shows aren't just about sales, they're also advertisement. I need more people in Seattle who are interested in buying art to know about my work, and this show accomplishes that goal. My web traffic jumped by 40% that weekend. I had a handful of sign-ups to my mailing list. I had a follow-up order. The weekend wasn't a failure. It just wasn't the unqualified success I was hoping for. Will I do Maker's Market again? Definitely! It's a fun, low commitment show that was absolutely a great return on my investment. I love the venue, the show runner is amazing, and the other vendors have become a great part of my extended maker network. But you know what the weird thing is? I'm not sure what it did to further my audience reach. I had ZERO website views that Friday evening. Nobody signed up for my mailing list or emailed me about follow-up questions. It looks like this show does a great job tapping into the audience I already have and giving them a more convenient way to buy my work, and that's a valuable relationship I'll continue to nurture, but I may have already reached all the modern pottery lovers in Bellingham. Is that success?

Thank you for tuning in to this week's nerdy business breakdown. I hope behind the scenes posts like these are interesting to those of you who aren't makers and useful to those of you who are.



Whidbey Island, WA

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