The (Not-So-Secret) Secrets to Having a Successful Show

Roses & Rust

Doing craft fairs, art shows, and the like can be intimidating, especially for those who are new to the whole thing.  When I started out, I had been making jewelry for years and selling it at school, at work, and wherever I went, but I had no experience with shows and I didn’t know how to set up an appealing booth.  When I did my very first show, I was completely clueless.  I was by myself and didn’t know a soul (which can be deadly if you need to go to the bathroom and have no one to watch your booth!).  I had no canopy, and not much of a display.  I had my necklaces tacked to a corkboard that I had covered with bright purple satin, propped up by a box.  It was pretty lousy, I must say.  My sales were decent, considering I had absolutely no presentation.  I was, however, quite literally fried by the end of the day due to lack of cover.

Over the years I have done a number of shows, from small to large, and I’ve tried to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, so that I can incorporate those things (or discard them) as I move forward.  I often encounter newbies, and the most common thing they ask about is booth setup, display, and basic things they should know starting out.

To Start With

Before you start, consider your location.  Will you be inside or outside?  This will determine what you need to bring with you.  If you’re doing an outside show, you’ll want a canopy.  In fact, many shows require you to have a canopy.  When buying a canopy, get one with a white cover.  Why?   Because some show organizers will specify that you must have a white canopy cover for purposes of uniformity.  It creates a more professional and cohesive presentation.  So save yourself some headache and just buy white to start with.   Otherwise you may find yourself scrambling to get a canopy cover at the last minute to conform to a show’s requirement.

Try to check out the location beforehand to determine where you’ll be setting up.  Take into consideration the weather, whether you’ll be setting up on grass or dirt of concrete, etc.  You may want to bring a tarp (if it’s allowed) to keep down dirt or other nastiness.  You may also want to bring sides for your canopy to keep out the sun.  You can always fashion some from curtains or material if you don’t want to fork over for canopy sides.   If it will be really hot, you may want to bring a fan.  Alternatively, if it will be cold, make sure you wear warm clothes, gloves, etc.  And always wear comfortable shoes and clothes.  It’s a long day, and it will only be made longer if you’re uncomfortable.

If the show is inside, then things are considerably easier.  Bear in mind that you may need to change a few things around for inside versus outside shows.  For instance, many people like to hang things from their canopies for better visibility.  However, you won’t have that option inside, so think about how/where you can hang things for an inside show.

Everything Else You’ll Need to Know

I am attaching my checklist, Musts for Outdoor Shows, with explanations for all of the items listed.  I’m concentrating on outdoor shows, because it’s that season, but you can always make tweaks as needed.  If I’ve forgotten anything, leave a comment and let me know!  I’ll add it to the list.

I will say that the single most important component to having a successful show is a good attitude.  No amount of preparation can beat a genuine smile and a healthy outlook.  If things go wrong, and they will, don’t let it ruin your day.  If you forget something, make the most of what you did bring.  Don’t let a bad mood ruin other people’s day.  Paste a smile on your face if you have to, because that’s what you need to do.  No one wants to buy from a whining sourpuss or a prima donna with a superiority complex.  So get out there and make some sales already!

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A Few Things to be Grateful For…

It’s funny how things happen.  My year had a very rough start, as many of you may know.  My mom, who had been ill for months, passed away in January. Mom’s death really took the wind out of my sails.  Since I work from home, it was easy to hide away from the world while I dealt with my loss.  The problem was, I was living in my head a bit too much.  I knew I needed to get back into the real world.

I love doing shows.  I enjoy sharing my work with people, and sharing their enthusiasm and appreciation for my work.  It really helps me remember why I do what I do.  It was tough getting back into the swing of things, but once I started, I found it to be very cathartic.

Considering how my year started, it’s amazing how much things have changed in such a short period of time.  Some really incredible opportunities have come my way in the last few months, and momentum seems to be growing exponentially.  I’m a bit overwhelmed and very excited by the possibilities that are presenting themselves.  I am so grateful for those opportunities, and for all of you who support me.  Thank you all for helping me do this — and for helping me get through a very rough period in my life.  You’ll never know how much it means to me.

The GOOD Stuff

A week ago last Sunday I had the pleasure of taking part in a new series of events here in Sacramento called the GOOD: street food + design market. Taking a page from the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco and the Dose Market in Chicago, GOOD features the best in local artists and designers.

Unseen Heroes and inFORM, the geniuses behind this project, have joined with the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership to create a very vital, visually striking marketplace that drew over 2,500 people on its opening day. The building was buzzing with excited visitors who were sampling fabulous food and drinks from the local area while perusing a wonderfully curated selection of vintage and handmade goods.

My immediate neighbors were the lovely Marosi White of Accent Décor, Vanessa Lopez from Heart Clothing Boutique, and Bridgette Maldonado of Gypsy Mobile Boutique. What a wonderful group of women! They were friendly and welcoming, and I loved the variety of items they were offering. Though related, each of our booths had a slightly different vibe that offset and complemented the others. It was really quite a fabulous setup! I must admit, I had the best spot in the house, under a quite architectural, imposing black iron rack originally made for holding large rugs. It was a great backdrop and wonderfully delineated my space.

I was so busy during the day that I didn’t really have time to visit the other vendors much, though I did say hi to my friend Danyelle Petersen of Schiff’s Estate Sale Building and got to meet the very talented Rachel Sprinkle-Strong from Popcycle, with whom I happen to share a mutual friend! BTW, thanks, Rachel, for sharing your amazing ice cream creations with us. They were just the ticket for a warm summer day. And who would have thought of coconut curry ice cream? Rachel, of course! Though I was busy nonstop and thought I’d miss out on all the amazing food on offer, my friend Mary was kind enough to get me the yummiest lamb gyro from Fuzion Eatz – savory and spicy, cooled down with yogurt. Fabulous! For more information about the vendors involved, you can visit the GOOD vendors album on Facebook.

I had a fabulous day selling at this innovative new marketplace, which was more like attending a party than working (that’s in part due to the great music being spun by the guys from Phono Select!). From start to finish, everyone involved was friendly, creative, helpful, and really excited to be there. I have to say, I’ve never been involved in a show where the staff not only helped me unload my car but helped me set up my booth. That blew me away! This is a really stellar group of people doing amazing things to revitalize an area of Sacramento that can really use it, while giving the folks of Sacramento a great destination to look forward to each month. Kudos to everyone involved, and thank you to all of the lovely folks who came out to see us — especially those of you who followed me from other shows! I can’t wait for the next one, and hope to see you all there!

This series runs the first Sunday of each month through November at 1409 Del Paso Boulevard in Sacramento. For more information, you can visit the GOOD Facebook page, or stay tuned to my Facebook page.

Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lea

Mom with great-granddaughter Selah

My mom’s name was Sara Lea.   And yes, she loved to bake.  Her creations were epic.  Thus, in my family the tagline “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee” was amended to “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lea.”

Mom was known for her fabulous baking and cooking, as well as her quick wit and incredible adeptness at backgammon, cribbage, Scrabble, dominoes, and any card game known to man.  Her love of games and her tutelage is directly responsible for me meeting my husband, who is the love of my life.  The two of them got on famously, of course.  Thanks, Mom, for bringing someone so wonderful into my life.

I grew up in the kitchen with my mom, fascinated by how she could peel an apple in one miraculously thin ribbon of skin before chopping it into slices for her mouth-watering apple pie, or how she could make creating a heavenly pie crust look like the simplest thing in the world.  Her talent for creating amazing dishes from humble ingredients to stretch the budget for a family of seven was like magic.  She was a kind of superhero to me, able to negotiate the pitfalls of a large and often dysfunctional family while still managing to be gracious and loving – though we all felt her wrath at times.  And believe me, her yelling was always preferable to her silence.  She had a cold shoulder that could freeze you to the bone.

Mom had a huge heart and endless love for her family.  She was also opinionated, stubborn and straightforward – all traits that I inherited from her.  And though we didn’t always see eye to eye, I always knew that she respected me.  She may not have agreed with me, or understood why I felt the way I did, but she never made me feel stupid or unimportant.  She spoke to me as a fellow human being, and knew that in order to get respect, you have to give respect.  In short, she was my best friend.  She loved me unconditionally, as I did her.

I lost my mom this past January, after a long struggle with health issues, many related to decades of smoking.  The irony is that she quit smoking back in the late ‘80s cold turkey; no patches, no gum, nothing but sheer willpower.  She was so strong.  And when she made up her mind to do it, she did it.  That strength continued to keep her going through months of sickness, when a lesser person would have succumbed.  It was painful to watch her struggle to breathe even when she was hooked up to an oxygen tank.  Her heart was amazingly strong, and kept stubbornly pumping when her lungs had had enough.

This is my first Mother’s Day without my mom, and it breaks my heart.  Seeing and hearing all these ads for Mother’s Day just tears through me.  It brings home all the pain of losing her, again and again.  I get angry and feel lost, but then I remember that my mom is always with me, in my heart.  I know that in time the pain will ease, but for now I struggle.

To all of the mothers out there, and to all of those who have lost their mothers, I send out love and thanks.  Our mothers are so much a part of us all, and one day just isn’t enough to give them the thanks they deserve.

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Making the Cut – The Art of the Successful Show Application

Roses and Rust 2011 – Photo by Kara Stewart

I know how tough it can be to get into the shows you really want to be a part of.  But don’t be discouraged, because everyone has to start somewhere.

My first piece of advice?  Be realistic.  You want to challenge yourself, but make sure you’re honest about the quality of your product and whether what you’re selling is appropriate for the show you’re trying to get into.  Do some research about the show.  Think about the audience.  What kind of crowd will be attending, and how many people are expected to attend?  What is their demographic?  What kind of disposable income do they have?  Don’t be shy about asking organizers these details, but be prepared for them to exaggerate a bit.  After all, would you bother to apply if you knew they only expected 100 people to show up?  Probably not.  Most folks are honest, but I have on occasion been told a little white lie (or even a whopper) about attendance or other details.

Don’t apply for shows that are too large for you (especially when you’re just starting out) and don’t apply for shows that don’t feel “right” to you.  For instance, if the show has a country theme and your aesthetic is urban, it probably isn’t a good fit.  If the crowd will consist of an age group that might not connect with what you’re selling, give it a miss, because your sales will be reflective of that.  Save yourself money and a lot of frustration by doing your research first.

Ask other people who’ve participated in the past what their experience of a given show was.  Take care to consider what they sell, because one person’s experience may be vastly different than another’s depending on their product, price point, location, and whether they already have a relationship established with the show organizers and attendees.   Find out the negatives and the positives.  Remember that what one person may consider a drawback may actually benefit you.

Armed with your research, think about where you’d like to sell.  Is there a particular area you like to visit?  Have you attended shows in that area that appealed to your aesthetic?  Check on that city’s chamber of commerce website to see what shows are coming up, and find out how to apply.  If you have a product that won’t necessarily sell well in your immediate area, consider shows in the surrounding area.  Location can make a tremendous difference in a show’s success.   If you’re just starting out, you may want to consider sharing a booth (if it’s allowed) and see if you can carpool to help defray the costs.

Keep in mind that some shows may have an application deadline that’s six to twelve months before the show date, depending on the size and popularity of the show.  Start looking for shows at least six months in advance, although many smaller shows have application cutoffs that are much closer to the show date.

There are many places online to find out about upcoming shows.  You can go to your search engine of choice (mine happens to be Dogpile) and type in some relevant terms, such as “craft show,” “art show,” the name of the city or area you’re looking for, and any specific theme that may apply, such as “holiday,” “children,” “pet show” or whatever you think will narrow your search.  Another option is sites such as Festival Network Online, Festivals.com or Craftmaster News, which offer both free and paid options for searching events.  Take some time and explore.  If you’re not tech savvy, find someone who is and have them help you.  The internet is an invaluable research tool, and as more organizers move to electronic submissions versus hard copy applications, you’d be well served to utilize it to your advantage.

Once you’ve figured out which shows you want to do, and you have the applications in front of you, study them and pay close attention to what they’re asking.  Make sure to give complete, comprehensive information.  Remember, this may be your first (and only) contact with the person viewing the vendor applications.  If you haven’t taken the time to properly fill out your application, they won’t be inclined to consider you for participation.  Consider who may be reading your application, and tailor your answers accordingly.  For example, if you’re applying for a “green” show, and you sell a product that is recycled, repurposed, upcycled, or otherwise Earth-friendly, highlight that in the description of your business.

If you’re asked to submit hard copy pictures of your product and/or booth, make sure to include them.  If you’re asked for digital copies, make sure your picture files sizes meet their requirements.  Don’t send enormous files, or they’ll know you weren’t paying attention.  If they ask for five pictures, send five pictures, not three or ten.  Think about how you would feel going through all those applications from people who couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to what was being asked for.  Would you want to read them?

In this increasingly digital age, it’s important to have a web presence.  It gives you a professional appearance and allows people to gauge how you present yourself.  It can be as simple as an Etsy shop or a blog that features a good sampling of pictures of your work.  Make sure it’s professional-looking and strictly business.  Don’t link to a personal blog with your review of the latest blockbuster films or your poems about Ryan Gosling.  Again, keep in mind that people are making their decisions based on what you provide them, since most often you won’t get a chance to meet them until after you’ve already been chosen.  Your first impression is really key, especially for larger shows.

Always remember that if you want to participate in a show, you have to play by their rules.  If you don’t want to follow their rules, then find another show.  Don’t aggravate people by asking for special consideration, or pestering them for information that’s easily available on their application or online.  That tells them right off the bat that you’ll be a headache.

If your application isn’t accepted, don’t take it personally.  The show’s organizers may be inundated with folks who offer a product similar to yours, or perhaps your product just isn’t a fit for their event.  For future knowledge, you may choose to ask the organizer what caused them to deny your application, but don’t be obnoxious about it.

If there’s a show you have your heart set on and they didn’t accept you, make it a goal to apply the next time around.  Then attend the event and pay close attention to those who did make it in.  What are they selling?  How are they presenting themselves?  What kind of aesthetic does the show have, and how do they fit into it?  All of these things will give you an idea of how you can alter what you’re doing to fit what the show organizers are looking for.

My most valuable piece of advice is this:  Be positive.  Have confidence in what you do and convey that to others — after all, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, neither will anyone else.  Share your story.  Share your passion.  Take time to engage with people on a personal level and develop a rapport.  This will make you memorable in the sea of vendors, I promise you.For more information about successful show applications, check out this article from IndieMade that offers some valuable insight from show organizers.

If there’s something I haven’t covered that you’d like more information about, let me know!  I’ll be happy to address it.

Until next time, good luck and happy sales!

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I often hear complaints from my fellow artisans/ Etsians about copycats.  I admit that at first blush it can be upsetting, when you spend your time and energy coming up with and executing new ideas only to have them hijacked.  However, on further reflection I’ve realized that it means I’m doing something right, something that’s worth repeating.  As Charles Caleb Colton said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  I suppose your reaction is dependent upon your perspective.  I choose to be philosophical about it.  I figure that I may have gotten the grain of my idea from something that I saw someone else do, so I can hardly claim to be completely original.  After all, we are inundated with information daily, and things seep in subconsciously.   I am a sponge for trivia and an extremely visual person, so I can’t honestly say that I’ve never been influenced by anyone else’s ideas.  With that in mind, I can hardly point the finger at someone “stealing” my idea because I can’t say with certainty that my idea is a completely original one.

I’m often told that I have a very unique style, and that people like my work because they haven’t seen anything else like it.  For my part, I’ve seen other artists who are doing similar work, but not in quite the same way.  Some seem to be direct copies of my work, especially since they’ve favorited my shop and are obviously aware of my work.  My response?  I work harder to create a better quality product with my own personal stamp on it, priced reasonably so that people want to come back again and again – and they do.  I’ve been told I could justifiably raise the prices on my work, especially since each piece is one of a kind.  And while I could charge more, nothing makes me happier than seeing one of my pieces go home with someone who truly loves and appreciates it – and not everyone can afford the prices that Anthropologie charges for their mass-produced items.  I like the idea of my work being in so many places at once, and while that way of operating won’t necessarily make me rich, it makes me happy, which is fine by me.

I noticed the other day that someone just started an Etsy shop with a name very similar to mine – so much so that they might be confused.  That is, of course, until you actually start looking around in the shop.  The quality and style is not on the same level as mine, and I can only cross my fingers and hope that folks recognize the difference.  I’m not worried.  I was annoyed by it at first, but then I kind of chuckled because it meant that I have more exposure out there than I thought I did.

When people ask me where I get my inspiration, or how I find the materials I use in my work, I tell them.  I love teaching and helping, and as a result, I can always get help when I need it.  I enjoy helping someone else achieve their success, especially younger artists.  Nothing annoys me more than artists who act like they’re giving away a trade secret when you ask them where they source their materials and what inspires them.  I see that as extreme insecurity, and unfortunately it seems to be rampant in the creative community.  One thing I try to teach people is that you have to have a tough skin to survive the scrutiny of selling your work to the public, and you must have confidence in what you do.  If you can’t handle the idea that people won’t buy your work or that someone might “steal” your ideas, life’s going to be difficult for you.

Create your own unique signature.  I can always recognize my own work, as surely as I can recognize my own child, and my customers can recognize my work as well.  I’m focused on building that recognition, and thus I don’t concentrate on the negative aspects of people copying what I do.  If anything, I find I am invigorated by the challenge of staying fresh.  I don’t want to get complacent.  If I have to stay one step ahead of everyone else, it brings out my competitive nature, which in turn fires my imagination.  So to you, my competitors (or copycats, if you prefer), I say thank you for keeping me on my toes.  It helps me create a better product.  Hopefully I’m returning the favor.

Is This Thing On?

After several years of saying that I was going to start a blog, I finally bit the bullet.

First off, why am I doing this?  Because I truly enjoy what I do, and I also enjoy sharing it with other people, whether they are customers, fellow artists and/or fellow vintage enthusiasts.  I’ve often been asked about my inspirations and where I get my vintage pieces.  I’ve also been asked many times about techniques, resources, the best shows to participate in, etc.  I figured this would be a good clearinghouse for all this info, as well as a way for you to learn about my shops and what I do.  I invite input from everyone else as well, as I know you folks have some valuable thoughts and questions.

I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with you all!