Know Your Audience

In the Art/Craft show world some of the best advice you will ever get is “Know your Audience.”

When you make Handmade Art of any kind, and you decide it’s time to get out there and try your hand at selling in person at an art show or craft fair, the one major question you need to ask yourself (after “how much is the booth fee?” And “is this show well attended?”) is WHO is this show for?

There are two kinds of Art / Craft shows out there – You’re regular, run of the mill ART or CRAFT show, typically benefitting a local art guild or artist society – and your more specific shows aimed at one specific group of individuals who will, in all likelihood, have no need for what you’re selling.

Now that paragraph definitely needs an explanation and some examples. We’ll start first with the examples:

A specific show – Renaissance Fairs, Pirate Days, Garlic Lovers Unite!

A regular show – Summer Art in the Park, Crafts by the Dock, Spring Art Fest.

When you’re a vendor trying to sell your Handmade goods at a regular show, you’re presenting your art to people who came there expecting to see art of all types. They’re aware they could see paintings, photography, pottery, jewelry of many mediums, knitwear, wood work, metal sculpture – really anything and everything Handmade. They’re not showing up expecting only to see glasswork and nothing but glasswork. They didn’t come believing there would ONLY be garlic and garlic related items at this show.

On the flipside, if you thought “heck, this Garlic festival needs vendors and it’s in a nice location, well attended. I bet they’d love my hand felted baskets.” You plunked down your $175.00 booth fee for the three day show – don’t be shocked when you make exactly zero sales. Chances are good you’ll spend those three days sitting in your booth watching happy people in garlic costumes walk by, admiring each other’s outfits, posing for photographs, and generally hanging out for the entire festival chatting about garlic. If the coffee vendor is lucky it’ll be a chilly weekend, but for the most part you’ll want to poke your eye out with a spoon by day two just to have something to do.

Please know this is not a reflection on your hand felted baskets.

You have incredible hand felted baskets that everyone loves and buys when you’re at other shows. People rave about your hand felted baskets. So why didn’t you sell a single one at this Garlic Festival?

At Specific shows, the people attending are there for one purpose, and one purpose only. In this case it’s Garlic. They want to eat Garlic. They want to cook with Garlic. They want to wander around with other people who eat Garlic and cook with Garlic. They want to look at Garlic-themed things that they probably still won’t buy because they’ve been Garlic addicts for years and have everything they could possibly need, except a new recipe that calls for Garlic.

It’s not just Garlic lovers, of course. Here at the Velvet Zebra, we make Chainmaille. That’s something you might assume a Renaissance Faire would love to see, right? Not necessarily. Since we aren’t in a SCA group (society for creative anachronism), we have a modern aluminum booth, we don’t dress up AND we work in colors instead of brass or steel, we are not allowed in at Renaissance Faires. You might also expect we could do, say, Emerald City Comic Con because we make Cosplay / LARPing outfits and accessories. Nope. If you aren’t producing your own Comic, or Comic-themed drawings / paintings / toys / etc, you can forget applying.

And your customers will suggest other shows you should try — they mean well, honestly, they’re just not in the know. THEY think the Renaissance Faire would be a smashing spot for you to peddle your wares, but they don’t know the Ren Faire Rules that are keeping you out. They don’t realize Comic Cons only allow comic-book art.

Don’t get us wrong – we’re not against Garlic lovers, or Comic Cons or even Ren Faires. They have a specific audience they’re catering to. That audience has specific expectations of what they’ll find at these venues. They have every right not to allow us in. We’ve put that in bold for emphasis because it’s true. They are creating an experience designed for their specific audience and that audience has every right to certain expectations when they are there. It’s up to US to realize they’re not the right audience for our work.

Another important piece of advice is the one piece of information you don’t really want to hear – and that’s: Before you apply to be a vendor at a show, visit that show as a shopper and take a good, honest look around. Is it well attended? Are the vendors varied and interesting? Did the venue advertise well? Are people buying, or just wandering around looking? Do the vendors look engaged, or bored to tears and nodding off? If you like it, find out when they take applications for next year and who to contact.

You didn’t want to hear that because it means that’s another full year you won’t be vending at that show. You may have dodged a bullet and saved yourself a booth fee and full weekend of headaches, or you may have missed a great year for making money.

It’s up to you, of course. We’ve done it both ways and experienced both outcomes. There are shows we’ll never do again, shows we never miss regardless of the weather, and shows we’d like to do but haven’t been able to get in yet.

Just remember, whatever show you’re attending or thinking of attending, there are 3 questions you need to ask:

What are the booth fees? Is it well attended? Who is this show intended for?

We suggest you also ask: Do they charge shoppers at the door? Do they require insurance? Do they allow commercial products?

For more advice and answers, check out next month’s Article: You’re Here, Now What?

We’d love to chat about your experiences, advice or questions – please feel free to leave a comment.

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