I started this blog series back when I first started doing shows as a diary to show what it takes to start up and actually do craft shows. It was more of a “lessons learned” through the school of hard knocks, because being a newbie, I didn’t have a clue. Even though I blog about shows and what I am doing in my shop at DGM Woodworks, that site is subdued somewhat, because it is geared toward my customers. Now that I have over a year under my belt, I have a more educated point of view on the subject.
Since I have never done a show outside of a recession, I still have no reference point as to how well this business could be under a normal economy. The first part of this year was miserable. I battled bad weather that canceled some show days. I had some shows that had perfect weather and a very high attendance, but sales barely covered my expenses. My shows ranged from small one day street fairs to large three day art festivals. With all this under my belt, I still have no idea what is going to sell well at a show because every one is different.
The only correlation I can see is that price points drive each particular show rather than the product. I would have a show where everyone is buying in the $50-$100 range one weekend, and the next weekend 10 miles away, they would only be buying in the $10-$35 range. The only consistency seems to be the price points. Last year and up until the middle of this year, I only carried endgrain boards which put my products in the $35 – $100+ range. Sales were very good last year, but this spring, they were way down. Around May, I started making a wide selection of face grain boards in different sizes that ranged from $10 – $30. All of a sudden sales spiked and I was having trouble keeping enough inventory built to handle each show. Obviously, everyone loved the new boards, but I suspect it was the price point. So, I went to show with a huge inventory of face grain boards, and guess what? The higher price end grain ones were flying off the shelf. I brought over half the face grain ones back home and had to increase my end grain inventory the following week. (This was after I banged my head against the wall for a while trying to figure it out). Coming back from a show with a lot of cash is good, but I still want to know why.
If I had to pick one product to single out, it is bookmarks. I got carried away this spring and made up around 500 bookmarks. I have about 10 left. It was a real unconscious and lucky move on my part because at a couple of shows, bookmarks kept me from losing money. They always sold well, but not as well as I would have thought for a $5 item. I was averaging about 10 a show during the first half of the year. However, I hit one show this fall and sold just fewer than 100 of them. It was on a Sunday and the bible thumpers were out in force. Overall, two thirds of my bookmark inventory was sold at the fall shows.
This fall, particularly September and October, were completely different shows from the spring ones. I have never experienced people lined up out my booth with my products in hand waiting in line to check out. It was pretty intense. I made the mistake of booking two back to back shows in October with one of them being out of State. I thought I had plenty enough inventory to handle both shows, but the first one, which was three days long, cleaned me out. I had a lot of boards that were at least a year old sitting in a cabinet because I didn’t think they were pretty enough to sell. I emptied these out and took them to the next show and sold them all, for a reasonable price. In fact, I even increase the price on a few items from the previous show, and it didn’t slow down the customers. My Dad accused me of price gouging, and I just replied “Supply and demand”.
So are spring shows not as good as fall ones? I believe the answer is yes. Every experienced crafter I have talked to at shows always tells me that the falls shows are much better. I can understand this, but was the spring shows really bad this year because of the recession? I also believe this is the case because many long time crafters at these shows were not doing any better than me. Some of them gave me their sales numbers from previous years, and this spring seem to average about 75% below their normal sales for the same show. I was up about 25% at the 2009 fall shows compared to 2008 so I am assuming that the economy has taken a positive swing from spring to fall this year. The only people making money this spring were the food vendors. One thing I did note is that this spring, everyone was paying in cash. This fall, everyone was using plastic. When they use plastic, they tend to buy multiple and higher priced items. It wasn’t uncommon for someone drop $300 or more and walk out with an armload of stuff.
This year resulted in wild swings. I went to each show with absolutely no expectations. Some would return 1.5 times booth fee and some would return 20 times booth fee. I had trouble staying awake at a few also. I set up in the rain at some shows and closed early because of rain at some shows. I started out the day at some in a T-shirt and finished the day wearing three jackets. At one show, I had to change my shirt three times because the humidity was so high I was sweating buckets of water. Craft shows can be a miserable way to make a living, but they can also be a lot of fun. I have made a lot of new friends this year and have socialized with friends this year that I met last year. The number of repeat customers is very high and word of mouth tends to drive sales between shows. I am still trying to figure out how to become wealthy at this, but until that happens, I just keep plodding forward with a goal in mind.
-- I don't make mistakes, only design changes....www.dgmwoodworks.com