We’ve seen some things, man, and some stuff.
A woman was in our booth one lovely summer day, chatting us up. The topic somehow ventured away from our products to the various surgeries she’s had over the years. We can’t even pretend we know how that happened, but before we knew it, up went her skirt right there in front of Thor and everyone, to show off a particularly large scar.
She didn’t buy anything.
We have a fellow Vendor we’ve known for over 18 years, we do at least one show a year with her. She’s a lovely human being, relatively normal, but she has a habit of repeating the same thing every year. You know that uncle or aquaintance you see now and again, who says “you’ve lost weight!” every time you see them, even though you know you’ve gained 10 lbs since the last time? For her, every show was a “fifteen.”
“Wasn’t that a good weekend? We did fifteen.” Then next year “Well it wasn’t a very good weekend, we only did fifteen.” The year after that. “What did you think of the weekend? We did fifteen.”
You’re left to assume she made $1,500 that weekend. She wants you to believe she made $15,000 but she’ isn’t going to come out and claim that. Although who knows, she could mean she made 15 trips to the Ladies or finished off 15 lines of coke.
We don’t ask.
Oddly enough she’s also one of those vendors who will park wherever the hell she wants to, block the loading area because no one stops her, and arrives late for every show.
During one indoor Holiday show we had a fight with another vendor that almost got ugly. Due to the setup of the venue, the only thing separating vendors was a fabric wall that everyone was supposed to respect. The ladies behind us felt that if they could shove their show supplies UNDERNEATH the fabric, keeping it out of their sight, it was fine. We, however, didn’t appreciate their show supplies being shoved into our booth space, so we — let’s just say — encouraged those supplies to go back where they should have been.
Picture a 2-day indoor Holiday show with this as your main entertainment.
The reason that was our only action was due to the show’s poor attendance, coupled with a performance stage directly to our right that caused audiences to gather and fill the space that we Vendors were trying to occupy.
A gentleman became quite vocal when we asked if he wouldn’t mind please holding his cup of coffee, rather than placing it on our table then trying to SIT on our table to watch the show.
That was a long weekend.
We stopped doing winter Holiday shows because of the poor attendance, and the plethora of commercial vendors. The venue will claim they only allow Handmade, but they have to fill the spaces and people selling Scentsy candles, made in Peru bracelets and bags, even Mary Kay cosmetics are just as happy to fill them. The venue doesn’t care, they want the money.
Nothing will crush your soul quicker than 3 days at an indoor Holiday show with nothing to do but listen to Felice Navidat on repeat and contemplate the force it would take to actually remove your eyeball with a plastic spork while other vendors tell you that this show “used to be so good.”
A fire alarm went off during a tear-down after a very long, very slow Christmas show one year. While we all knew it wasn’t real, and wanted nothing more than to keep packing up so we could just get the hell out of Dodge, the firemen came and forced us all to evacuate for thiry minutes.
At least they were good-looking.
There are wild bunnies in the park where we set up for our yearly Summer show in Poulsbo, WA. SO cute ! And shoppers walk their dogs in that park, so for the entire weekend we get a great doggo-fix.
Some days, here in the Pacific Northwest, it rains in Summer. One day it rained so much on the Friday of a 3-day show, the venue closed early so we could all go home and dry out. Well, technically they closed down because lightning was striking all around a bunch of people standing underneath canopies in a park.
By the time we’d secured everything and zipped up our booth, we might as well have fallen into the bay, we were so wet ! We both had sweatshirts on that had become so heavy with water they were sagging down around our knees.
One summer it was so cold, we had to go into town and buy sweatshirts.
We did a Pirate Festival once because another Vendor had told us how fantastic they were.
She was wrong.
It was a three day show, Friday through Sunday, and far enough away that we had to get a room (at a thankfully cool and very bohemian hostel). That show was so bad – – not just bad, seriously annoying – – we broke the rule and zipped our booth shut on Saturday afternoon, then sat inside, waiting for the end of the day. Then we drove our car right up to the booth and packed up, booth and all, and left. We went back to our room, ate cookies for dinner in our lovely room and swore never to do a Pirate Festival again.
But if you ever get the chance to spend a night or two in a LOGE camp, don’t pass it up, they’re really fun.
Remember the weights we’ve talked about? It takes very little wind to pick up that canopy – – and not much more to send it sailing away even with you hanging on to the frame. Google it if you don’t believe us. Even with 15lbs of weight on each of the four legs, we’ve had our own canopy try to lift off in what would have been considered a relatively uninteresting gust of wind.
We’ve seen grown adults dragged across pavement while hanging on to their canopy for dear life after a gust took them by surprise. We witnessed one 10 x 10 lift off and slam into a lovely pickup truck (not owned by the vendor) smashing the windshield. We’ve even watched while one canopy decided to leave the park and take a dip in the bay, breaking the vendor’s toe along the way.
We’ve often struggled ourselves to get our canopy down and disassembled during high winds, before it could take off for parts unknown, and that’s even with the weights in place.
No joke, it’s terrifying.
We traveled for a one-day show once, to try it out. Got a hotel for the night before the show, knowing we could just red-eye it home afterwards. That night, while we were relaxing in the hotel before the show, it started to rain. Then the weather man said it would rain through the whole weekend.
Two adult women cried themselves to sleep from the stress of it all. The next day we and every other vendor there spent half the show desperately trying and failing to keep our products half way dry. Our canopy was destroyed that day, the frame bent beyond repair by gusting winds.
Remember last Article, when we said aggressive sellers are annoying? We attended a Christmas show one year in a lovely old tourist spot, housed inside a 140-year old Victorian mansion. Ourselves and a second vendor shared the large dining room area of this lovely house. It was a large half-moon shaped room with two doorways, so customers could walk in, visit our tables, visit their tables, and walk out to continue on to other vendors.
Our “companions” were such aggressive sellers, a customer would walk in the doorway next to us, begin to look at our wares, then by physically urged to “come on over here for some free popcorn!”
After a few hours of this, we confronted that vendor in what could have become an ugly scene if his wife hadn’t take our side.
Holiday shows suck.
We did one in a barn once. It was the livestock barn at a county fair site, but not during the county fair. This was a Holiday show right after Thanksgiving, and featured a Santa for photos, and an outdoor Holiday Lights setup for people to wander around in. The barn itself was clean, each stall held a Vendor, but it was poorly lit as most barns are and not heated.
We dealth with it the way anyone would – – by huddling around the vendor who sold soy-based candles. The real problem was the lack of advertising, signage, and any other indicators that would have told the people visiting the venue that we existed.
After four hours of not one single customer walking into the barn, we all packed up and left. The organizers were a bit taken aback that we could possibly feel disappointed – after all, so many people came to see the pretty outdoor lights and stop by the big bonfire for s’mores.
It’s not all frustration, though. One year, out of the blue, we were “headhunted” by a gallery and invited to add our products to their shop. After the show, we met with them, signed an agreement and enjoyed three years of very good sales. We’d still be there today if the couple who owned the gallery weren’t bat-shit crazy, divorced now and out of work.
Such is life.
It was really hard to see that gallery go – – we had steady sales coming from it, and since then haven’t been able to find another galley to get IN because they all work on a co-op business model. That doesn’t work when both of us have day jobs.
Doing an Art Show helps you realize your product is worthwhile. There’s nothing more satisfying than tourists and locals alike actually purchasing items you’ve made, and buying more the next time they see you. Anyone can sell to friends and family (except us) But to sell your product, year after year, to strangers and repeat customers means you’ve got something.
But those of us who don’t have a brick-and-mortar have a more unique challenge. Even with the simple things.
Jewelry such as ours displays best on necklace forms. They lay out nicely, hold a shape and appearance that people can relate to, and make it easy for a customer to pick up and put back down.
But if you sneeze, they flop over. Because space is limited, both on your tables inside that 10 x 10 space you’re living, and also your vehicle if you don’t have a big fancy trailer or spacious minivan. So instead of a nice, thick, heavy necklace form you’re going to want something collapsible, stackable, easy to manage. They usually have a back that flips out and they hold a necklace at a gorgeous angle.
They also flop OVER at the drop of a hat. You’ll probably spend hours, or years, constantly picking them all back up after a slight breeze flows through your canopy. We’ve re-desiend our displays a number of times, trying to find that sweet spot between beautifully displayed and sturdy enough to maintain our sanity.
We believe now, after 20 years of trial and error, we’ve found the perfect set up. Trouble is, Covid-19 has prevented us from trying it out.
And don’t get us started on your little “behind the scenes.”
You’ll picture it in your head – your booth set up. You’ll plan it for months ahead of your first show. You might draw it out a few times, or even cut out some card stock and do a little mock-up to see where you should put your tables, where you should sit, how you should set up your package and receipt station. And it will be lovely – all organized and neat, just as visually attractive as your product displays. You’ll picture yourself making a sale, you and your customer all smiles and small talk as you take the item from their hands then artfully and deftly wrap it in colorful tissue paper, then slide it into a little bag with your company name and logo on it, already pre-filled with more colorful tissue paper and a business card. Then you’ll smile as you ring up the sale, and your customer will smile back as they tap their card on your reader, or hand it to you to swipe through. Then you’ll hand over that pretty little bag, give them back their card, and both of you will smile as they promise to tell all of their friends about your lovely, beautiful products.
This is what’s going to happen:
You’ll plan that booth set-up, for weeks if not months, but the ground you’ll find yourself on will dictate a few changes. Okay, you can handle a few chanages. Your receipt/bagging station will be a small table by your chair(s) but it’s pretty small because you can’t waste space. You’ll have your bags prepped, with some tissue paper and business cards, but you realize you can only have a few sitting out at the ready because they’ll take up too much room. So your tissue paper is folded and your receipt book / card reader / cell phone is on top of them to keep the wind from ruining everything. After the third or fourth customer has handed you 20 dollar bills, a fourth one comes in with a 100 and they’re tourists who have no idea how to find a cash machine. You give them all of your change and pray everyone else that day uses credit cards. While you’re making another sale, that tissue paper takes flight. Your prepped bags fall over and the grass is still damp from morning dew. You’ve got three other customers waiting to hand you credit cards and you’re trying very hard to keep straight who is buying what, get them a receipt, find some paper you can shove into a bag that may or may not have a business card in it all while keeping an eye on those teenagers who have been hanging around the edge of your table for fifteen minutes “fingering” some of your product. You’ve keeping that smile plastered on your face, though, because you have customers. And one of them has a dog who just peed on your display and tried to dig your lunch out of your zipped bags that are under your tables.
It is fun, though.
To be honest, just the thought of packing up and setting up can give you a headache, but once you’re there – – once your booth space is all set up and ready, your products are displayed, your signagae is up – – once you’re sitting there, sipping some morning coffee and watching the sun start to warm everything up . . . It’s fun.
Spending a day outdoors, in your own little portable physical shop, surrounded by your hand made goods while customers look everyting over, try things on, ask how you made such lovely things, and purchase one or more items that you made with your own two hands is a good day.
It makes you feel like an Artist.
When you’ve spent the better part of a year making things with your own hands, creating something you believe is pretty, or useful, or desirable in whatever way is appropriate – – when you’ve asked yourself over and over “Is this worthwhile?” “Am I wasting my time? Kidding myself? Being ridiculous?”
You’ll re-think what you’re doing a thousand times. You’ll wonder if what you’re really doing is over-indulging a fun new hobby that no one else will care about, but you’ll find you just can’t stop. So you keep going, until you have enough product and enough nerve to sign up for a Show and give it a whirl.
Then, you’re hooked.
A ton of us Handmade Artists – – as talented as we all are – – simply cannot give up the “day job” that pays the mortgage and gets us the health insurance in order to get that massive bank business loan and open up a brick-and-mortar. So we become Vendors at Art Shows. Our store-fronts become a portable 10 x 10 canopy, or a selection of tables and displays.
We’re not starving Artists, just wandering gypsies.
And if you still wanna join, check out our next Article: Can Nothing Be Simple? When we explain how to calculated selling prices, how to start an online store for NOTHING, and all the other nitty gritty details.