Re:Craft and Relic: Highlights, Lowdowns and WTFs

I was approached back in July or so about this show, and had many reservations going in. For starters, it’s a first time show. Those are a crap shoot at best, even when very experienced organizers are behind them. The people putting this on do a rummage type thing, which means some experience, so that’s good. But selling art and selling fine junk are very different animals, so I was still kind of unsure. Then the gal originally putting this thing on leaves for what were stated as personal reasons. Which could mean anything at all, not necessarily bad. Life happens all the time. But it sends a ripple of unease when your original contact departs in any case. So I was nervous.

Thankfully, mostly, I was to be pleasantly surprised.

Highlights: Despite this being their first rodeo doing art sales, the team brought it. Advertising was apparently very well managed because the preview “buyers club” tickets were sold out, and there was a line out the door Saturday. The crowd was huge, packing the isles for most of the day. Sunday, sadly, not even close. Thanks Packers, you bastards. This is like the third or fourth event I’ve done this year that got tanked thanks to sports. I don’t care for football/baseball at the best of times (I’m a rugby and martial arts girl) but when you mess with my money, I REALLY don’t like you. But I digress.

The venue was large, comfortable, with free and ample parking and easy load in/out. That means I could put my vehicle close to my booth and there was plenty of time to do everything in the manner I like to do it. A Friday setup from 1-7 was awesome. Nobody needed to be in a hurry or in anybody elses way. There were booth sitters and wifi, plenty of helpful staff around, and very decent food (thank you Tito, for your awesome empanadas and fresh churros). Nearby, affordable hotels and easy access to the highway also a bonus. Also, can I just say how AWESOME it is to be able to set up my stock and leave it overnight? An indoor, locked venue is the shiz.

The organizers served us wine and cupcakes Saturday night to thank us for showing up, which was sweet.

Lowdowns: Like, five mega churches within a ten mile radius. Which, whatever, pray where ya wanna, it’s a free country. But I don’t do well in conservative environs, and it showed. This venue wasn’t in Milwaukee proper, but a near suburb. Sales-wise, I did about what I expect from a suburb. Which is just enough to be worth it, but not enough to be exciting. Interestingly, it wasn’t art that really moved. It was knits. And not knits at full price, either. Knits I’ve got on super duper sale because I’m done doing them and want to clear the inventory to make room for other things. So it was not a spending crowd. People seemed far more in to the vintage stuff than the art, which there was more of at the event as a whole in any case. Not sure if that’s because the organizers wanted it that way, or it’s just the way it happened to work out. I made my nut and some profit, but it wasn’t bangarang. However, it wasn’t such that I needed to drown my sorrows either. I’d be interested to see how this show would have done if the Packers hadn’t been playing on Sunday. If we’d had Saturday’s crowd both days, I’d have been far happier with the results fo’ sho’.

Also, apparently there were vendor discounts at area hotels…that no one told us about. It was listed on the website, or so I was informed later when I asked wtf with that. That’s the kind of thing that needs to go in an email, folks. Most vendors have nothing to do with your website after downloading the application, and you absolutely can’t trust Facebook to deliver the news to everyone. Communication was a bit schizophrenic in general, actually. I got eleventy billion emails about discount tickets and whatnot weeks in advance, which I only really needed like one of, but didn’t get an email about forms that needed filling out by Friday till Thursday. But whatevs. First rodeo.

WTFs: I had THE BEST NEIGHBORS EVAR. I know this has zero to do with the organizers, but I felt the need to be joyous about it. I’ve been lucky at shows that I’ve never had any truly douche-y people as neighbors, but thisĀ  time I was particularly surrounded by awesome. On one side of me were my favorite pickers from Elkhorn, of all people. I ended up buying some stuff from them during setup (I have a junk problem, I own this), and on Sunday she brought me a ton of beautiful, nature cleaned deer bones she had just randomly accumulated and didn’t know what to do with. On the other were two lovely jewelers who couldn’t have been nicer or more mellow and accommodating. Across the way were a couple who’s daughter and I were apparently separated at birth, and the vavoom-iest vintage mama I’ve ever done met. She and I, weirdly, worked at the same place just two years apart at Bristol, and know a crazy number of the same people (I mean, she knows Muffin, ffs!), but have never managed to run into each other. She joined mah boo and I for dinner and over deliciously greasy burgers we discussed everything from Stevie Nicks to business to belly dancing. Just down the way was a wonderful gal with a booth full of awesome vintage junk and art, who processes roadkill and also had more bones than she knew what to do with, so brought me a box of goodies I traded for, and a lovely bobcat skull she gave me a killer price on. I came home with more bones than profit, but hey!

Second and more wtf of the wtfs was the music. No one should ever use amps in a gymnasium. Ever. And you should also not have three musical acts playing amplified at the same time in such an echo-y space. Gymnasiums are horrible for music, and unless you’re going to play acoustic only, don’t play at all. But that wasn’t the true nightmare. No, it was that I heard the most hands down, horrific, gawd awful butchered version of ABBA’s Dancing Queen I’ve ever had the misfortune to suffer though. I think Ripley’s should be contacted, it was that bad.

So, all in all a positive experience. I didn’t make good money but I’m inclined to try their April event and see what happens. Response to the work was largely positive, so I’m gonna give this one another go. I know they’re looking for more vendors, so if you’re willing to gamble a bit, I wouldn’t tell you not to in this case.

Next up, Red Door!

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Success

A customer, fellow maker and follower of FB posed a really good question to me this morning. She’s just started doing some small shows, and wondered what equals a “successful” show. What makes me want to go back and do it again. I thought the question was a really good one, and since the answer can be somewhat subjective, I’d do a blog post about it and invite other artists and vendors of any sort to throw their two cents in in the comments or on FB to help answer it. I’ve only been doing art shows for a little over three years now, but I spent more than 20 doing renaissance faires, and a lot of the same stuff applies.

So, in order of importance, here’s my list of the Things:

Money: Costs versus profits. I’d love to make art for art’s sake. Plenty of people do. But in those situations, making art because you love to is usually an added bonus to a life already paid for in whatever way. For those of us who make this our primary living, a show has to pay to be under consideration for the future. My formula is a loosey goosey one, and I’m sure better mathers have better formulas. But the way I reckon it is like so; add up the total cost of operations first. That means table fee, fuel, food, incidentals (I had to run to Walgreens for Advil once, another time for bubble wrap, you get the gist), hotel if applicable, and any other cost directly related to working that event. That’s your nut. The money you absolutely must make back for the show to pay back your investment in it. Related to this, you should have a budget. A number beyond which the cost of operation is higher than the gamble is worth to you. This depends hugely on your own financial situation, but you should come up with one. The One of a Kind show for example has a $2500 table fee. That’s just the show fee, not including food, fuel, parking, etc. So the actual nut would be even higher. I could potentially sell out of all my stock there, but I simply can’t come up with the initial cost of doing it, so it’s not even under consideration, despite the potential profit. Your limit will depend on what you’re willing to gamble with. Go in to every show with the understanding that you could lose your entire nut, and choose a number you can do that with and not starve to death or miss a car payment.

Say my nut for a show is $400. If I make only that back, I don’t consider it for next year. It goes without saying that if I don’t make even that, that show is also off the list. If I make up to twice that or a little better, I put it on the list of shows I’ll apply to again if something better doesn’t present itself, or if I have a slot to fill next season. Because I made a profit, it’s worth considering. I may consider it too low a profit for all the work I put in, or I may think that’s just fine. Here’s one of the places the subjectivity bit comes in. If I up to triple the nut or better, it’s officially a good show and I’ll apply again next season.

The money part is often very personal. If you have a day job that pays your bills, any profit may be just dandy because you’re doing something you enjoy and it’s paid for itself. So you have to look at your own finances and decide what equals “enough” profit for the show to be worth considering again. All this assumes this is the first time you’re at a particular show. Shows go through booms and busts like anything. Long term, sometimes you’ll do really well and sometimes you won’t. And that’s a whole different set of parameters. I’m just going to address first times here, for the sake of not writing a freakin’ novel. But commenters are welcome to add whatever they feel is relevant.

Crowd: You’re not selling appliances, you’re selling art/craft/whatever you want to call it. It’s a very personal sort of item and you want your crowd to be engaged and responsive. If they’re not, it’s a sign you might not do well in that area. I have found personally that I do really well in young, funky neighborhoods that attract a large percentage of lib arts educated people to live in them. Which isn’t to say I haven’t made some really great sales in white collar neighborhoods. I totally have. But my best shows, the ones I go back to year after year because my profit is consistent and the crowd is engaged are the “nightlife” neighborhoods. Lots of bars, cafes, galleries, music venues and general funkiness. That won’t be the case with everyone, obviously. I know lots of people who kick ass in the western suburbs like Elgin and Shaumburg, while I barely made back my nut in those areas. You’ve got to cast a wide net at first and see where the fishies swim in from. Which makes your first few years kind of an expensive gamble, but such is the cost of opening a business no matter what you’re doing.

An engaged crowd, for the sake of defining my terms, is one that is *interested in what you are doing*. That may not necessarily equal buying, but could lead to potential sales in the future. All of my post show Etsy sales and commissions, that is, people who said they saw me at a show but didn’t buy there, or bought there and found me online for another purchase, came from areas with engaged crowds. An engaged crowd asks questions, looks carefully at the work rather than just scanning and asking prices, gets excited about the stories in your work, wants to chat with you, says nice things about your stuff, and generally leaves you feeling positive about the exchange, whether or not it involved money.

Pain in My Ass: Or as I like to call it, the PMA factor. Not everyone has this variable. I am an impatient human and do not suffer bullshit well. Which I think is fair, because I’m also super flexible and easy going, so you kind of have to be disorganized on an epic scale to make me fed up with your event. The usual stuff people get their diva on about just doesn’t even bother me. So how big a pain in my ass a given show is, when added to profit and crowd, can affect whether or not I’ll do it again. If PMA is high, so better profits be. If profits are moderate and PMA high, I may skip it, if low, I may give it another go. Take Northbrook for example. PMA was very low. But I lost money at that show and the crowd was so not into my glittery shenanigans I may as well have been selling shoehorns for all the interest they had, so I say nay nay. Edgewater and Lakeview both had high PMA factor but excellent profit margins and a super engaged crowd, so worth it. Glen Ellyn had moderate profit and so so crowd, but low PMA, all of which combined makes me inclined to put it in the “would do again if not too busy” category. I was too busy this year as it turned out, but as I refine my skills and organization, it will get put back on the “to do” list.

This is, of course, a super subjective category if it even exists for you. Some people sublimate incredibly well and nothing in this business ruffles their feathers. My feathers get ruffled by dumbassery in particular, and there’s lots of room for it at these kinds of events. Organizer divas (*Your* artists? I’m sorry, is there a contract for indenture I wasn’t aware of? I’m not *your* anything, lady.), bad staging, poor communication, lack of parking, load in/out nightmares. All these things are part of the PMA factor. Your PMA factor may have totally different things in it depending on what chaps your personal ass to the point that it will affect your inclination to return to an event when taken into consideration with other factors.

These are my big three. There are other, smaller factors I figure in. Distance from my home, length of show day, little things that when taken in with other, bigger things, add up the plus or minus column for a given show, but money, crowd and PMA are the major ones that, together, equal the success or failure of a show in my eyes. And even then it’s not a given. I may do a show I considered a failure again because enough other vendors told me it’s a trainable crowd, for example. But I’ve got my baseline and that’s an important place to start from.

Fellow doers of art/craft/vintage/flea markets, you are welcome and encouraged to add your thoughts and opinions to this forum or FB. It helps us all when we share insights.