What I've learned doing 10 years of art shows and craft festivals.

I started out doing art shows in 2002, and quite frankly, didn’t know what I was doing.  I had been making jewelry and thought I would give it a try selling.  Alas, ignorance was bliss!  I’ve learned a few things over the years and am happy to share them with you.  Hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes I did!

1.    You will always run out of something.  It didn't matter how well I planned, I always ran out of some style/color/size of jewelry at every show.  And to make matters worse, it wasn’t always the same item from week to week!  I used to work like a crazy woman at the last minute getting together as much inventory as I could and was WAY too stressed out.  As soon as I realized that I was always going to run out of something and to just do my best getting nice mix of inventory together, getting ready for a show became less stressful.


2.    You can't have too much signage.  Okay, I’m sure you can, but my worry was that having too much signage was just a distraction from the jewelry.  I thought that people would be more focused on reading the signs and not looking at my selections.  What I found out is that if you have several concise, well-placed, easy-to-read signs with enough information to help them make a decision you will do much better than having just a few signs, or worse, no signs at all.

3.    Once you can afford it, design a large banner (or have someone do it for you) and hang it in your booth along with pictures of your work.  This is one of the latest things I learned.  People are very visual and make decisions in a split nano second even from 30 and 40 feet away.  Give them a reason to come into your booth.  Pictures of your jewelry is worth 10,000 words!


4.    Prepare yourself to hear “Did you make this?” several dozen times over the course of the show.   In the beginning, the answer I wanted to give was, “No, in fact I have minions working in my basement.”  As I did more shows, I decided that when people ask this question, it’s because they want to interact with you, but don’t know what to say.  Take that as a launching pad for your conversation.  Here’s a sample response: “Why yes I did!  Which designs do you like best?”  or “Yes, I am the artist.  Here is a piece that took over six hours to make it a series of 23 steps.”  

5.    Accept credit cards.  In this day, people undoubtedly expect to be able to hand you a credit card and you be able to process it on the spot.  Now with a smartphone and a credit card reader, you can easily do it.  There are several merchants out there that can help you get this done for a small or no monthly fee in additional to a small percentage of every sale.  As I found out, if people can’t use a credit card, and they don’t have cash or a check, they will walk away without making a purchase.  (Don’t expect them to go the ATM machine either.)  

6.    Have as much inventory at eye level as possible.  This actually is a lesson I learned from dear hubby who works in the grocery business.  Not all spots in the grocery store are created equal.  Products on eye level are in the primo spot.  People don’t like to bend over to try to look at something!  Once I took that notion and applied it to my jewelry, sales went up. Combine this with effective signs, and your results will be so much better!  

7.    Have a nice, easy flow through your booth.  People don't like to feel trapped.  If you’re outdoors and it’s possible, open up the sides of your tent to give people the feeling that it's more open.  You can still “confine” your space by putting up some sheer curtains.  It can close the space, yet let enough light and ventilation through that people still don't feel like they're trapped.  


8.    Invite everyone and anyone you know to come by your booth.  Have you ever noticed that passersby are drawn to a crowd of people?  It must be the mob mentality, but they are drawn to find out what everyone is looking at.  (And the opposite appears true too.  If nobody is in the booth, people think the jewelry must not be that good.)  What shoppers don't need to know is that it's just your friends stopping by to see how the show is going.  It’s traffic!  

9.    Have a box for people to put their contact information in if they want to sign up for your mailing list (versus a clipboard).  This is an interesting one that I found out here recently.  I used to have a clipboard in my booth where people could put their information (and see everyone else’s).  Once I started using a box for people to put their information in, I averaged 5 to 6 times more people signing up for my list.  I don't necessarily have a good explanation for this, except privacy is becoming a bigger issue and how personal information is used is becoming an ever increasing concern amongst consumers.  

10.    If at all possible, display your jewelry where people can touch the pieces. This one kind of makes me cringe.  I used to make sterling silver jewelry and had to start displaying it under glass because too many pieces were getting stolen.  I continued to use the same display when I first starting selling resin jewelry.  You might think that having it in a glass display makes it look more ‘posh’.  Yes, it does that.  And it also makes it look expensive (and maybe out of someone’s budget).  It also gets people wondering, “Who does this lady think she is?  That pendant was $15 and I had to ask to see it??”  Of course if you’re selling very expensive pieces, keeping them secure is a must.   

11.    Dress the part.  You don't need to get out your Sunday best or your evening ball gown, but make sure that you've got on some nice clean clothes that are appropriate for the event.   While you may be a starving artist, people don't expect you to look that way.

12.    Having the right amount of inventory is crucial.   I used to get very stressed going into a show and wondering if I had enough inventory to sell.  Here’s my guideline for how many pieces I should have ready to sell:  for the average show 150 to 250 pieces.  If you have the majority of your work at a price point of $15 or less, have 350 to 400 pieces ready to go.  If your price point is typically over $100, 50 pieces should be enough for you to have a good show.  Of course you may need to adjust based on your show’s audience, but this is the place where I always start.

What other advice do you have about doing art shows?