Does this mean we’re Fancy?

Article #10 in our Craft Show Advice: What to look for when looking for a Gallery.

So you’re doing it. You navigated the weirdness and learned what it takes to be a successful Art or Craft Show Vendor, peddling your Handmade Goods to the masses.


But as you spend time between Shows, putting your product images and details online in your free web page because you learned – either ahead of time or the hard way – that Etsy and other pay-to-play sites are a waste of your time and profits, you start to wonder what it might be like to see YOUR Handmade products on display in an actual brick-and-mortar.

You remember those, don’t you? Although in this some-day post-Covid world, maybe those have gone the way of the DoDo. Well if they have, then this entire article could be moot, but go ahead, amuse yourself by reading it anyway.

Having “Been there, Done That and learned a lot” we have a few pointers for you to keep in mind when exploring this idea.

Those of us who live the gypsy life of the Art Show Vendor often pride ourselves in NOT being for sale in a brick and mortar. What we’re really saying is we’re glad to be mobile and free and not the OWNER of a brick and mortar. Truth be told, if someone else has a few bricks and a nice little shop, we would jump at the chance to slap our products on those shelves and split a few bucks with you.

Seriously. The Velvet Zebra is always looking for a new little quirky shop or shop owner to take a fancy and want our products on their shelves. For a few years, as we were realizing the popularity of our Chainmaille jewelry and designs, we would spend our Vendor Down Time contemplating the idea. We read articles, did research, but damn it wasn’t nearly as simple as those magazine stories kept suggesting.

“Create an elevator pitch” they said. “Bring samples” they said. “Find shops that seem likely to carry what you sell” they said “Be persistent,” they said. “Follow up with managers,” they said.

What we heard was “Annoy strangers to the point of them not wanting to see you in their store ever again.”

Seriously, unless Sales is your life-long passion, it’s not a simple thing to walk into a cute little niche store that you admire or enjoy, then basically pester the manager about carrying your products when they likely don’t even have the power to say Yes anyway because little did you know, they’re owned by a larger group that has no intention of talking to you.

If you love that, super. Do it, then tell them you know of a great Chainmaille company that is also available!

If you hate that as much as we do, it’s gonna be harder. And being hard doesn’t mean you don’t believe in your product or that you lack the conviction required to back your own workmanship and produce a viable Handmade product. It just means you’re not good at that kind of confrontation. And don’t kid yourself, selling YOU to a stranger who hasn’t asked for your pitch or your notions of greatness is a form of confrontation.

Galleries are another story – easier to get in based on the fact that the nature of most galleries is to carry Art from locals – but it’s still not a sure thing. They have to have openings, your prodct has to be a good fit, and there are rules and such you may or may not be on board with.

First we’ll confess that for us, our introduction into Galleries was a fluke, and likely not to happen again as luck would have it.

One day, after a few years of wondering, researching, reading and deciding that trying to blindly sell ourselves to shop owners wasn’t in the cards, as we were sitting in our booth at our favorite yearly summer Art Show, it happened. Now, keep in mind it didn’t happen to just US, they were visiting the Art Show on purpose, selecting such Art as they deemed appropriate.

The manager of a gallery right there in town came to us with an offer, and a contract, to join their gallery. They’d had a Chainmaille artist for a few years, but his products were too expensive and therefore not bringing in any sales. He wanted out, and they wanted us.

Being wholly unfamiliar with Gallery-joining, we showed that contract to a fellow vendor at the show, one we trusted and knew were also in galleries. When they examined the terms and assured us it was a stellar contract, one they would have signed immediately had they been offered, we decided it might be worthwhile. The day after the show closed, we took samples and had a discussion with the gallery owners, and by that next weekend made our first delivery.

Thus began a 3-1/2 year adventure full of ups, downs, and frankly quite a lot of sales. Unfortunately, the Gallery owners were bat-shit crazy and eventually divorced and lost the business. Until that point, we enjoyed rather impressive sales but were frustrated by the lack of diversity.

We don’t mean cultural diversity. The woman in charge of picking products only liked “Earth Tones” of her choosing. She wanted only certain shades of Blue, Green, Brown, Red, Black and Silver. Anyone familiar with our work knows we enjoy COLOR. And our clients enjoy our use of color as well. But for this gallery, we could only work in those tones. We believe, had she allowed the inclusion of ALL of our color choices, we would have sold even more.

While our product was in this Gallery, the owner of another Gallery contacted us about also displaying in her shop, in Colorado. We made a large wholesale to her up front, but after a year it became too difficult to manage an out-of-state relationship and we pulled out.

At the time of the divorce and the Gallery closing, we were happy to leave. The relationship was changing, the terms were changing, and we were pretty angry. But now we’re feeling the emptiness and wishing we could get back into a Gallery or Shop.

So now you’re wondering why we’re telling you this, and not giving you the promised advice. Never fear!

Whether a Shop or a Gallery, if you’re putting your Handmade goods into someone else’s business, there are going to be terms to deal with. Terms that can benefit you, them, or both, but only if you’re careful.

Clearly the Gallery or Shop needs to make money carrying your Products, that’s a given and easily understood. Even more clearly, YOU need to make money, as the Artist supplying the Products. Neither of you wants to get screwed over, so you’ll want clear expectations regarding your profits, terms and expectations.

The Terms we agreed to were a 60/40 split, with no exit penalty and a 30-day notice of cancellation.

What that meant was for every dollar made, we kept .60 cents, they took .40 cents and if we ever walked into the Gallery and said we wanted out, they would give us all remaining unsold pieces and we could just leave. And if they didn’t want us any longer, they had to let us know 30 days in advance of us picking up our unsold pieces.

At 60/40 we were able to still make a profit after subtracting our cost of materials and the Gallery’s 40%. We had to adjust our picing slightly but at the time we had been undercutting ourselves a bit, and our Gallery sales were proof that our pricing was in line with the norms and our clients acceptability.

Clearly the Gallery deserved earning 40% of our sales because they were running the Gallery, they were paying the rent, they were processing the sales, and they were managing the taxes. When the second Gallery came along, since they were in Colorado and we aren’t, we made a large Wholesale deal with them, then using the same terms, arranged to give them inventory when needed to take to Colorado. Unfortunately being so far away it became too difficult to manage and we cancelled that arraignment a year later.

When the divorce came to a head, and the Gallery we were in began having issues, the owner decided it was time to alter the Terms. He wanted to do a 50/50 spit. It was that point we packed up and left. Three months later, they were closed, divorced and history.

So now you’re thinking “But, I mean, 50/50, that can’t be so bad, right?”


Remember you’re the Artist. YOU have to buy the supplies that go in to the making of your Product, and spend your time making the Product. So at 50/50, you will NEVER make more money than the Gallery. If you don’t make more than the Gallery, you’re just an employee working for THEM.

If you spend $20 to make, say, a felted hat. Never mind the time and effort and artistry it takes, you are immediately in the red for $20. You take that felted hat and give it to a Gallery, priced to sell at say $100 just to make it simple. Now it sells and the Gallery keeps it’s 50%, which for this felted had equals $50 bucks, and they give you your 50%, which is also $50 bucks.

But YOU started out $20 in the hole, remember, because YOU were the one who paid for the yarn that you made the felted hat with. So your profit is only $30.00. It’s easy to forget that before you can count any profit you have to take into account all debt..

For a second you think “Oh, just add another $20 and sell the hat for $120” Doesn’t matter. You still get 50% of $120 and have to subtract that $20 you spent. So at 50/50 split, you will never make more than the Gallery, and you won’t even make the same amount, because you will always be the one buying supplies and starting in the hole before any sale.

The gallery we were in was just your standard, average Gallery, owned by a person (or couple) who filled it with Art from local Artists that they found appealing. There is another type of Gallery out there – known as a Co-Op – that you’ll find a little easier to get in with, but the Terms are vastly different and might not appeal to you, the same way they do not appeal to us.

Being a Co-OP Gallery means it is operated by the very Artists whose work is displayed inside. In order to operate, they rely on the Artist participation and membership. This does not in any way reduce the quality of the Gallery or the Art found inside. But it does add a layer to the usual Terms.

If you want your Art in a Co-OP Gallery, you’ll have to be willing to commit 2-3 days a week, or some number of hours per week or per month, working IN that Gallery. Also you’ll likely be expected to purchase a membership that will renew yearly, which can be anywhere between $60 and $800. So on top of giving the Gallery a good percentage of your profits after every sale, you’ll be working as a sales cleark several hours a week (you don’t get paid for that, remember) and before you make a single sale of your own Art, you’ll be out not just your supplies and time, but also that $60 to maybe $800. Some of them even charge a “rental” of whatever shelf or floor space your Art will occupy.

It’s the in-store version of an online sink-hole, wherein your are out a LOT of money up front, and have to give up a LOT of your own time, before you’ve made a single sale. That Gallery might be fantastic and you might sell tons, but keep in mind you aren’t profitable until you’ve paid the debts incurred first.

The Velvet Zebra have day jobs. Essential-Worker day jobs that pay quite well, provide retirement and health insurance, and cannot be tossed aside so that we could work for free in a gallery 3 days a week to sell Art made my ourselves and others. And reading these Articles, you already know how we feel about paying out sums of money prior to making any sales.

HOWEVER – if this idea appeals to you, and you’re okay with Terms like that – then by all means go ahead. You might find working there very fullfilling, even though- again – you don’t get paid to work there. You working there is part of your agreed upon Terms, and being a Co-Op Gallery that’s how they keep the lights on. Just remember, having your Art in a Co-Op Gallery is NO LESS amazing, fun and Fancy-As-All-Hell than being in any other Gallery.

It’s just different. With different Terms.

We’re always on the lookout for another Gallery. Maybe someday we’ll find one with Terms we can agree with and the same success we enjoyed before. Maybe someday a small Shop owner will approach us about putting our products on their shelves.

It nearly happened one day, as we were shopping around one of our favorite little towns. Simply by wearing our product, we caught the eye of the shop owner’s wife who asked for our card and website to show her husband. We were intrigued, and a little hopeful, but that husband never contacted us. Just as well, as a few years later he went under.

In the meantime, Covid-be-damned, we’ll do our Summer Art Show, and hopefully one we wanted to try before Covid closed them all. We’ll continued to sell on our own Webpage (right here where you’re reading this) and we’ll continued to Chain-on until our fingers fall off !

And while you’re waiting to see if all the good Art and Craft Shows will come back this year, you can hang around here for more good Tips and Tricks to get your booth and your gypsy lifestyle started out right!

Check out our next Article: Displays and Set-Ups, the DIY-Of-It-All !

Seriously, can NOTHING be Simple?

You’re an Artist. You make something wonderful, by your own hand, and you want to start selling it. Good for you!

But you have questions – like:

How much should I charge?

Do I need my own webpage?

Should I sign up with Etsy?

Are Facebook / Instagram Ads really the way to spend my money?

Is this How-To article on going Viral a good use of my time?

Well buckle up, Betty, you’re about to read a very frank, no-holds-barred article full of opinions, experience, advice and balls-out facts. You’re going to have to decide for yourself if we’re off our rockers or maybe speaking a grain of ugly truth. In fact, most of the advice you’ve probably read up until now suggests you should never disclose stuff like this, but we’re not average.

So if you want answers to those quesitons that speak more from truth than the standard confusing rhetoric you’ve been finding, we’ll happily show you the hairy underbelly of the Velvet Zebra.

Question #1 on most people’s minds when they’re considering selling their Handmade items is: How Much Should I Charge?

No doubt you’ve been looking around the web, you’ve even Googled that very phrase, thinking there’s probably some logical formula out there that everyone uses to calculate their costs to produce their perfect sell-for price only to find a convoluted, somewhat confusing explanation that looks something like this:

Cost per Unit x Hourly Wage + Utilities / Rent – Wholesale = Fukitol.

And it makes about as much sense as a Government Budget.

Look – unless you’re opeing a brick and mortar, or you really CAN calculate the number of kilowatt hours you used while making your single unit, how many ounces of water you may or may not have consumed during the making of that unit, figure in what you ate for lunch and come up with some kind of hourly wage you feel you should be making, there’s really an easier way to do this:

Cost x 3 = Retail. Cost x 2 = Wholesale.

The two of us who make up The Velvet Zebra have day jobs – thankfully they’re essential day jobs – if we factored in our hourly wage to our Chainmaille, we wouldn’t sell a single item because the prices would be absurd. And our studio is our home, so the lighting we ‘used while making it’ would have been used reading a book, taking a nap or petting a cat if we weren’t making a product, so let’s be serious.

If you knit, you know exactly how much yarn costs, and how much yarn you used to make that scarf. Take that cost, multiply it by 3 and you have your retail price. Now you’ve made back exactly what it took to make the scarf, so you can make another plus enough profit to either make 2 more identical scarves, or slap it into the bank.

Your wholesale price is lower, but remember wholesale means you’re selling in bulk – you’ll get a big hit of income straight up, and hopefully orders for more, so your profit is volume. For wholesale you’ll want to set a minimum order, for instance ours is $500.00. That’s up to you.

Question #2: Do I need my own Webpage? That depends on a few factors only you can decide, but keep in mind if you’re just now starting out, and you’re asking this question, do NOT spend any money on a webpage! It’s not like buying a new puppy and immediately you need food and water bowls, a leash, a bed, vaccines and something to clean that pee stain off your rug.

You’re just starting. You don’t know for a fact this stuff is going to sell, how well it’s going to sell, or that you’re going to keep at it. You don’t know Jack just yet.

You can get a WordPress blog for nothing, literally, and make it into just about anything you’d like. As you grow — if you grow — that WordPress blog can be altered and grown, in stages and for not a lot of money. If you’re reading this article you’re at a WordPress blog. It says in your browser because we pay WordPress a yearly (nominal) fee for the domain name. As we grew, we also upgraded our site to one that allows a BUY button on our listed items. We did NOT upgrade to the plan that is straight-up eCommerce because that plan is pricey. I’m sure it’s worthwhile, but bear with us as we continue on, there’s still lots of information here you can use and not pay a single dime for.

There are loads of eCommerce sites you can pay to use. Sites like Big Commerce, Shopify, WooCommerce et al – where you can set up a web store relatively easily, but pay a monthly fee for the pleasure. We’re talking, on average, $30/month. That’s thirty dollars of YOUR profit, even before you’ve made a profit. Per Month. Including the months when you dont’ sell a single thing. We hate to say it, but you’re going to go several months, quite possibly even years, making zero dollars a month before it kicks into gear and turns a profit. That, or you’ll shoot out of the gate like wildfire thanks to friends and family, then grind to a smashing halt when they’ve had their fill. Now you’re in the hole, and don’t even kid yourself that you’re profitable until all of what you’ve spent has been made up, and then some.

If you’re already using Square to take payments – or you’re about to sign up (and you should if you’re not into PayPal) you need to know they will GIVE you a website of your very own. It’s a web page where you can showcase ALL of your products, loads of photos, videos, and full descriptions, product variations, simple set up using templates – all for free. They will process your purchases via whatever plastic cards your customers want to use, they’ll send the receipt, tell you who bought what and where to ship it, calculate in whatever shipping charges you want, taxes you’ve set, and any promotional sales or giveaways you desire. They even have code that will give you a “button” to put anywhere, at not cost to you, that turns every social media outlet, or blog, or Facebook post into your own personal eCommerce store.

For. Free.

The only thing you’re paying for is the processing fee that you pay any time your customers hand you a credit card at an Art Show – 2.3%. You’re gonna pay that anyway, whether your customers are in person or using your web page. The kicker is, when you’re not making sales, they’re not charging you anything.

Now ask yourself – does it matter WHERE your webpage is, if it’s your webpage, your brand, your products, and your customers will have no difficulty using it?

Now you have a FREE WordPress blog – if you spent a tiny yearly fee you have your own domain on that FREE WordPress blog – if you’re using Square (PayPal is doing it now too) you can put a Direct Purchase button on any product you showcase on that free page, turning your Free WordPress blog into a Free eCommerce site.

Nifty, huh? And it doesn’t matter “where” your page resides.

Keep in mind, no one is going to find your website unless YOU tell them where to look, regardless of who is hosting it. Shopify, Big Commerce, etc, aren’t spending two cents advertising for you. YOU are paying THEM, so they don’t need to tell the world you exist, that’s not their business model.

Their business model is selling web pages to YOU.

Keep that in mind as we continue . . .

Question #3: Should I sign up with Etsy? In a word – No. In two words – Hell No. If you want to, go ahead, we’re not going to stop you. Your friends probably have Etsy pages. People you meet on the street have Etsy pages. You’re seeing commercials and reading articles in magazines about house fraus making millions from their Etsy shops all the time.

You know why they write about the occasional House Frau? Because that’s so rare, it’s newsworthy.

Here’s the deal – Etsy’s expensive, especially for a Handmade Artist just starting out. They’ll charge you Per Item to list a product for a limited time, then take a cut for running your customer’s credit card, and if your item doesn’t sell within a set time period you have to take it down, or pay again to keep it listed. Here’s the other deal – your customers have to sign UP with Etsy just to shop! They can’t even BUY from you unless they, too, have an Etsy account. Now they’re gonna get spammed by Etsy whether they bought from you or not.

Now here’s the ugly truth – Etsy isn’t a group of Handmade Artists supporting each other, they are a corporation who’s product output is Data Mining. Etsy doesn’t care if you do well. They got their money when you signed up and started posting your products. They get even more when they data-mine from your customers, who had to sign up just to make a purchase. They get paid again in a month if you have to list that item again, or the item’s replacement if it sold. They’re getting paid just because you’re there – how much are you making? And they make damn sure you read about those House Frau’s because that will make you think you can do just as well, and you’ll stay. They know you read that article “How Jannette went from making nothing to 40k a month with her Etsy Soap Shop!” And they know you’re assuming that could be you one day.

Ponder this for five minutes, then make up your own mind:

Let’s say you make a teapot that you sell for $40.50. It costs you $13.50 to make the teapot and you price it at cost x 3 = $40.50, but to appeal to shoppers, you’re going to offer Free Shipping. Now you list it on Etsy.

It’s going to cost you .20 to list that single Teapot for 4 months. Only 1 Teapot (fees add up when you have more than 1 available item or version of that item) then when it sells, you pay Etsy a 5% transaction fee, (that’s 5% of the price you listed the teapot) then a payment processing fee of 2.9% + .30 per transaction.

Your Teapot’s costs are:

$13.50 to make

$15.00 shipping flat-rate medium box for your tiny teapot with lots of padding.

$2.03 = 5% transaction fee (this would be doubled if you hadn’t added “free shipping” because Etsy would charge you a shipping processing fee)

$1.47 = 3% payment processing fee +.25 charge

.20 = product listing fee

.20 = listing the next Teapot to replace the Teapot you just sold.

Total costs to sell your $40.50 Teapot on Etsy = $32.40 (because you are paying for shipping and not letting Etsy get a percentage of that fee) leaving you with $8.10. That’s not even enough money to pay the cost of what it took to make that Teapot in the first place. So while you just sold a $40.50 Teapot in your Etsy shop, it cost you $5.40 for the pleasure.

Hopefully you sell something smaller and lighter, so you can use a small flate rate box for $8.30 instead of $15.00. Or your Teapot is feather light and you can ship First Class for less. Granted, most people would include the price of “free shipping” in the price of that Teapot, but would it have sold at that higher price?

So there you sit, with a brand new Etsy store, wondering where all of your customers are. Etsy told you that just by having an Etsy store you’ll be exposed to millions of shoppers who spend money at Etsy every single day. Sure, you and about 18 million people just like you.

Well, you’re there, but do they know it? Probably not, unless someone happened to search a term that your page had embedded in it’s SEO, and they happened to click on your name instead of the other thousands using the same terms . . . So after a month or two with no sales, you do some research and discover you’re expected to Be Involved. Etsy is telling you in order to lure shoppers to your store, you should get out there, spend hours chatting up other shop owners, visiting their pages, schmoozing around and making friends. You gotta leave comments on Blogs, follow everyone’s Instagram and Pinterest like a Mo’Fo’.

Now you’re spending all the time you normally dedicate to making your product hunting around Etsy, trying to make friends and leaving comments everywhere like electronic breadcrumbs.

The biggest problem with that is – aside from using up all of your product-making time – you’re only luring other Etsy shop owners who are doing the exact same thing.

You know who buys Poetry? Poets who are trying to find out what sells.

Now you start to worry. Everyone who’s anyone has made a fortune with an Etsy shop, right? So what are you doing wrong? You read some more, you research, and you discover Ads.

Etsy will, for a price, allow you to create Ads. Keep in mind it’ll take your time, effort and money to make the Ad. And how does Etsy heple with that? By graciously accepting your money.

There’s no guarantee implied, no money back if the Ad flops, doesn’t reach the audience you thought it would or brings in exactly zero sales.

It’s all still on You. You have to spread the word, You have to get your online store’s name and location out there to your buying public. You have to generate sales somehow . . . Etsy already made their money.

So we’ll ask again – does it really matter WHERE your webstore is, if you’re the one who has to do all the work?

Question #4: Are Facebook / Instagram Ads really the way to spend my money?

The real question to ask yourself is – “How many times have I visited a site I saw in an Ad on Instagram or Facebook?” Don’t get us wrong, we enjoy Instagram quite a bit. Facebook is a tool we use, but Instagram is enjoyable. And yes, they’re both owned by the same corporation, and it’s all about Data Mining. Facebook doesn’t give one shit about you as a human being other than what data it can suck from your marrow. Instagram is the same – they’ll happily sell you Ads, over and over again, but you’ll get no promise or guarantee of results. And they use very complicated algorithms to determine when and where those Ads are placed – yours might cost you money but never really be noticed.

The only answer to this is – Advertiser beware. If you believe your tiny Handmade business can part with what will slowly build into a lot of cash before you’ve even gotten off the ground, then dive in. Spend your money, watch your Follower count tick up, but also check your sales.

Are they ticking up, too? Be honest. 90% of us are window shopping, not buying, on Instagram. We’re looking at pretty things, then moving on to the next pretty thing because we’ve become immune to those Ads that pop up between our feeds. Our thumbs just scroll right by, like putting on deoderant every morning. You do it every day, so you’re pretty sure you did, but on that drive to work as your picture your morning routine, you can’t swear you did it.

We’re going to repeat this one thing: Facebook doesn‘t give one shit about you as a human being.

Neither does Instagram.

Or Etsy.

Not Go Daddy, not Big Commerce – Not one of them.

And those Handmade magazines you’re subscribing to, the newsletters full of advice you signed up for, the recurring subscription to You Can Do It Too (not a real magazine) don’t care beyond that payment you made.

Data mining is the new Black. So Facebook and Instagram et al, they just want your information. They’ve built a platform you find enjoyable so that you’ll give them that information, and your friends will, too.

That magazine seems to have good information, but you soon realize the articles are all the same, don’t pertain to your situation, or are pretty much promoting Etsy ad-infinitum. Then one day you realize if you read one more article about a soap maker and her millions thanks to her Etsy store and a dream, you’re gonna be sick.

Even that online newsletter you found, with what appears to be good solid advice on how to build an online presence. Until you got halfway through and it stopped and offered up a “sign up for our newsletter” and you couldn’t go any further unless you signed right up for their monthly spammity spam spam.

Everyone. Wants. Something.

If it sounds a little like maybe we snapped one day, you’re not far from the truth. If you think we’re a tad anti-Etsy, well . . . Duh. We asked ourselves one day – Do we want to make Custom Handmade Chainmaille, or do we want to spend all of our free time Marketing? There isn’t enough time in the day to do both.

So how DO you make it, selling your Handmade products online? Fake it till you make it, baby. Your biggest help will be doing Art and Craft shows in person, in between pandemics. If you can get into a Gallery, you’re golden. Word of mouth, people who saw your work but didn’t buy hopefully took a business card at least. People who did buy want to know how to buy more.

We do, on occasion, purchase short-run Ads on Instagram. You can spend $10 bucks and in 2 days have about 5,000 people at least SEE your post. Seems like a lot, but it’s not. If you want an Ad that will make more of an impact, you gotta be willing to spend more. And when we say more, we’re talking about $200 a day on each Ad so that it will gain enough exposure. (We don’t do that)

Just remember WHATEVER you’re doing to promote your products, whatever money you’re spending now in the hope of making a sale, or twelve, goes against anything you can call Profit.

And until the Incoming has exceeded the Outgoing, you’re not making money. So keep a tally – all of it – from Booth fees to Ads and, if you do it – Etsy fees. Add up your supplies, everything you have to purchase in order to make your items. Add up whatever you might be spending on a web page, an eCommerce site, an Instagram promotion. Everything you spend on business cards, displays, bags, tissue paper.

Add all that up, then subtract what you “made” in sales.

Only then will you know if you’re profitable, or just a fun hobby.

And check our our next Article: Galleries – are they for realz ?

This Time, it’s Personal!

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.

We cried.

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.

People are Scary!

If you’re not very outgoing, then vending at an Art Show is either going to be hard for you to get through, or a learning experience and opportunity for growth.

Maybe you do these things with a partner, who is outgoing. That will help, but you really need to work on it. If only one of you is engaging the customers and the other one does nothing but stand there – that’s gonna seem creepy.


The Velvet Zebra is two women – sisters. One of us does do the most talking with customers because she started learning the craft and digested all of the facts and figures that people tend to ask. But the other overcame any shyness she started out with years ago, and has become perfectly comfortable talking to strangers and making sales.

In other words – people don’t scare us.

With that in mind – you’re going to hear a lot of interesting things from your customers, regardless of what you sell. Remember, the customer is always right, unless they’re physically accosting you or trying to damage your products. That’s not to say the cusstomer is always polite, or that the customer is always nice, or that the customer always has more than just two brain cells to rub together. They will say things, interesting things, and your best response is a smile.

And by interesting, we mean strange.

Years ago, we sold polished stones. Lapidary work is a hobby of ours – we collect, cut and polish agates, jaspers and beach stones. We would hear the most ‘interesting’ things as we sat, smiling at our customers.

Things like:

“These arent real though, are they?”

“Do you find the rocks in the ground already shiny like this?”

And our favorite: “Are they rocks, or stones?”

We’ve spent many an hour explaining how Geodes are formed. We’ve educated people on the difference between an Agate and a Jasper, how rocks are named and why – – when you spell Polish with a capital “P” you mean that the jasper is from Poland, not merely that it’s polished. We once spent thirty minutes trying to explain to a very nice but confused college student that crystals actually grow. He couldn’t grasp the idea that something without a circulatory system could possibly “grow”

We even had a gentleman – who very clearly did not want his daughter to come into our booth – grab her hand and say “It’s not rocks, it’s glass, they’re lying. Rocks can’t shine like that.”

And yes, we just smiled. One of us may have raised an eyebrow, but we said nothing out loud. Clearly he had no intention of looking, or buying, so we just let him go so that our real customers wouldn’t hear what we might have wanted to say.

The Chainmaille gets even more comments, the most common is “Oh, this is just chains, right? Look, they just put chains together.” Typically said by one shopper to her friend or spouse. If they’re polite, they’ll actually ask “Is this just chains?” To which we respond “Rings. They’re rings we’ve put together one at a time, which is why they look like chain.” Some of them believe it, some don’t, even when you demonstrate.

You can explain your products to your shoppers, but you can’t understand it form them.

It’s advisable, if at all possible, for you to demonstrate your creative process there in your booth. Depending on what you make, of course. We always have a piece of Chainmaille we’re working on that we can demo – just be prepared for a crowd to form and linger, watching you do what you do – it can be distracting. Usually they’re so fascinated they can’t stop watching or asking questions. It doesn’t always lead to a sale, but it does add credibility and draws more people into your booth.

We used to think we were the only ones getting strange questions, but if you take the time to listen to shoppers in your neighbor’s booths, you’ll hear a lot of similar questions and comments.

A photographer we know who often had a booth beside us would occasionally print on canvas, which made his photos appear as if they were painted. We listend to a customer argue with him as to whether or not his own photograph was in fact a photograph or a painting.

You’ll hear people say rude things about your product, out loud, knowing you can hear them. You’ll hear shoppers tell their friends – also quite loudly – that their twelve year old child knows how to make what you’re selling. Some of them, we kid you not, will show you an item that they made themselves and expect you to exclaim how incredible it is and that they should set up a booth right next to yours and start making their fortune.

We’re not sure what point they’re trying to make, just know that the best response is a smile, maybe a slight nod if you’re feeling generous. Never comment back or try to defend yourself. They’re not in your booth to buy from you, they’re in your booth to make a statement about themselves that even their companions probably don’t care to hear.

They’re not your customers, butthey are right there, in your booth. All you can do is smile, nod politely and let them have their moment. Your customer could be standing right behind them and they’ll hear whatever you say.

Think Facebook, only Face-to-Face.

How you interact will also determine whether or not a browser is willing to become a customer. Many of them are there alone, and they’re like frightened deer, moving quietly from one booth to the next. We have a rule of thumb as to how best to interact with the wide range of society you’re going to see.

When they first approach, look at them and smile. Offer up a polite Good Morning, or Afternoon, and let THEM decide what happens next. They might want to come in a browse, they might want to just glance and move on. You’ll find countless articles on the web about how to lure a customer in, how to “grab” them with your sales pitch, dazzle them with your polished bullshit and get them to buy something.

Go ahead, if that works for you. As shoppers, we hate that. As vendors, we don’t do that.

We suggest you read the room. Let the customer dictate how you interact. Some of them want to chat you up while they look around, some of them want you to leave them alone in case they want to exit without buying, some of them aren’t sure yet. If they actually enter your booth, but don’t make eye contact, let them browse. Don’t stare straight at them, give them space but remain available. If they pick up or touch your product, let them know they can try it on, or that it comes in other colors, whatever is appropriate to your product. If they’re a scared deer, that’s all the interaction they want from you. If they’re becoming curious and interested, they’ll take you up on the offer to try it on, or ask about another color.

Now you can really go ahead and interact. They’re interested, they’re brave enough to touch your product, so offer to answer any questions they have, offer up a mirror, tell them what other colors that item comes in and you have a hook in. This is the time to pitch, without chasing them away.

Aggressive sellers are annoying.

Passive buyers are potential.

Don’t screw the pooch.

If we’re giving you the impression everyone you meet is going to annoy you, that’s not the case. People in general are polite, will say nice things about your product and hopefully will even be so delighted as to make a purchase. People-watching is one of the great perks of being a vendor, and if you’re not afraid to make conversations with strangers, you’re likley to have a fun experience just being there.

It’s just that, after a few years, you’ll notice patterns. The most common thing you’ll hear is “Very pretty stuff” when a browser wanders through. Or “Do you make all of this?” And the familiar “I’ll be back, I just go here and I want to do the rounds.”

Our theory is that people feel it’s necessary to apologize, in a way, for not having bought anything. Only 5% of those who say they’ll be back actually come back. But 99% of those who DO come back make a purchase. 80% of people will say Thank You as they wander out of your booth without making a purchase. 10% won’t even acknowledge you exist, and be prepared for a solid 8% who are on their phones and never stop chatting with someone who isn’t there, even as they pick up and try on your products.

People will gather in your booth and start chatting with a friend they haven’t seen in months, completely ignoring you, your products and anyone else trying to get in.

People will enter your booth in the middle of a conversation that they don’t even pause as they touch your products, glance around, and exit.

People will enter your booth, look extremely interested in something, then suddenly be pulled out by a child or spouse or friend who wants to look at someone else’s booth.

And you’ll notice the Waves. No matter the venue or time of year, people come and go in Waves. There will be times when you are so busy you can’t eat or run to the restroom, and times when it’s so quiet you’ll wonder if it’s okay to slip underneath one of your tables and nap.

It’s never okay, but it’s tempting. Really tempting.

Seriously, we’ve been tempted.

We once saw a vendor who sold hammocks fall asleep in one of his hammocks and miss several opportunities to make sales because his customers were too embarrassed to try and wake him up!

When there are people in your booth, other people will suddenly want to see what all the excitement is about, so make sure you have enough open space for them. Nothing is more attractive to shoppers than something other shoppers are looking at.

Indoor or Outdoor, one thing is very important when setting up your booth – Prices. We’re not talking about what to charge, we’re talking about how to display them. Do not make your shopper have to ASK you about pricing.

For real, people. Whatever it is you’re selling, find a way to display the pricing clearly and up front. Whether that’s individual prices on items like we do, or signs that indicate prices for groups, like we also do – or a combination or variety – whatever it takes, don’t make your shoppers have to ask you what something costs. Chances are they won’t.

Chances are very good. Especially if you’re busy with someone else, and they’re just at the edge of your booth, looking at a piece, wondering if they should give it a closer look or try to get in and look at more. If they can’t find the price without having to ask you, they’ll probably assume it’s too high, or that they’ll have to wait in line just to find out, then you’ll see them change their minds, and nothing is more embarrassing to a shopper than giving the impression they can’t afford what you’re selling.

You have to think about your customer and how THEY feel. Most of them are “just browsing” and that’s just fine. Not everyone who walks into your booth is going to buy from you. In fact the majority of the people who walk into your booth aren’t going to buy from you, or anyone else. They’re really just wandering around, so let them. They want to look at pretty things without any pressure, and that includes seeing what your prices are.

If you’re using signs to show your prices, think about where you’re putting them. Look at your display from a visitor’s point of view – where is your eye going? Are you looking down to see products? Put the sign down there. Are you looking up? Put the prices up there. If your customer is browsing by looking down, they’re not going to look UP to see a sign. Even if it’s right there, they’re not going to notice it. You can put out more than one of the same sign if that helps.

Well displayed prices can turn a browser into a buyer. When you hide your prices – turning tags upside down, making them ask – what you’re actually doing is putting them on the spot. They might not want you to see them flip that price tag over, especially if they’re not going to pick that item up – it can embarras some people. Even if you think that is weird, you’re going to have to accept it in order to be successful at shows. You’re getting the entire spectrum of humanity at a Craft/Art show and you don’t want to cater to just the outwardly brave. The inwardly shy, the socially awkward, even the ones that don’t speak your language have money, too.

Need more tips, tricks, facts and advice? Check out our next Article: This Time, it’s Personal!

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

Craft Show Realities – the Stuff no one tells you about.

The Velvet Zebra has been attending Craft and Art shows for over 20 years, and as you would expect, we’ve seen a lot. In reading these Articles, you might begin to get the impression we dislike or regret getting in to this kind of business.

Please be assured this is NOT the case.

We truly enjoy doing this, take great pleasure in attending Art Shows, and love to meet customers in person and chat about our craft to anyone interested.

But we want everyone new to this to understand what they can honestly expect, and by doing so assure you that when these things happen to you – you are NOT alone. They happen to everyone, but no one really talks about them. They’d rather post lovely staged photos of their booth, all pretty, with sunshine and butterflies, and tell you how emotionally fulfilling it is to travel from place to place and display works of art in a crafty way. Magazines will show you gorgeous booth set-ups, vendors in pretty outfits, smiling as they adjust a beautifully displayed piece, excitedly awaiting their first customer of the day. You’ll read story after story about the breakout sucess stories, the pretty bits and all the rainbows and unicorns of attending an Art Show.

You’re forgiven if you just threw up a little in your mouth. Life isn’t like the glossy pages of an online magazine.

We wish someone had been honest with us, just so we’d have been informed and mentally prepared. It was years into this business before we realized we weren’t the only vendors experiencing a lot of what we’ve been talking about. We thought there was something unique about our situation, or perhaps we were doing things wrong.

There isn’t.

And we weren’t.

But vendors only talk about the grit to other vendors, and they put on a happy face when a newbie comes along, asking for advice. We want you to become a Handmade craft / art vendor. We want you to join this mad, crazy, fun, sweaty business. But we want you to come in armed with honest information.

Information like:

Your first Indoor Winter show? They’re unique, but fading into history in many regions because of the encroachment of Commercial vendors. Too many of the venues are selling spots to more and more Commercial products, pushing Handmade right out the side exit. We assume you’ve been reading these Articles in order, and read what we told you about doing a show that allows commercially produced things. But if you’re doing an Indoor Holiday Show, just know this:

You’re going to have lattes and / or hot chocolate set down, and occasionally left, on your tables. You’re going to endure a venue that plays holiday music, but only has one CD and it’s on repeat. At some point that CD will stop and no one will remember to put it back on, so that ear worm of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is stuck well and truly deep inside your brain. Someone somewhere is selling kettle corn and it’s gonna get everywhere.

We truly hate the smell of kettle corn.

Equally dangerous is the vendor two booths down who sells fudge. Thankfully we at the Velvet Zebra cannot eat fudge, but we can smell it. Sadly, your customer’s kids have been holding on to a piece of fudge for an hour and now they want to wipe their fingers on your table covers while Mom looks at your products.

If you’re in a gym, it will echo like a mo-fo, so make sure when you chat with your customers that they can hear you clearly. If you’re in a grammar school, no NOT pass up the chance to use the restrooms – it’s a hoot! If you’re in a church, space will be tight so you probably won’t get a full 10 x 10. And the majority of the people who shop there also attend religious service there, so they know over half the vendors personally. If you’re in a community center there will probably be a room selling fund-raising food. It’s never something you want to eat while sitting in your booth, so don’t count on that for lunch (think chili, soups). If you’re in a barn (been there, done that) you’re going to freeze your ass off. No venue is going to heat that barn for a winter holiday show, so bring a coat and a few blankets for your lap.

Sometimes an indoor show will have enough booth space for you to bring the frame of your canopy, allowing you to use the skeletal structure as framework for your displays. We’ve never needed to do that, but we’ve seen it done many times. You can usually rent tables and chairs for the event, but we recommend bringing your own. Typically there is limited electricity available but it will cost a little extra to have it.

If you’re shopping around for a Winter Holiday show to attend, pay attention to whether or not they charge at the door, and how much. Once your customers have parked, paid to get in the door, and started to look around, they’re already out a small chunk of change and making the decision not to purchase much of anything over $10.00. They’re more interested in seeing what you make so they can go home and try to make it themselves.

Your first Outdoor Summer Show? You’re in our favorite territory! You’re probably in a park, hopefully on grass. The upside on a hot day is that you can wear sandals or go bare footed. The downside is that your ground won’t be a solid, flat surface. You may have to fuss with your setup when you get started, to make sure things are as level as you need them to be. Children, and some adults, are going to lean on your tables. If you use leg risers to lift your tables up a bit, moving them and adjusting them is going to be irritating first thing in the morning – so have your breakfast and a first cup of coffee ahead of time. Once you get things just right, you’ll be happy.

You may battle a bug or two. If you’re allergic to bees, we assume you’re used to protecting yourself. When they get inside your canopy they often can’t figure out how to get out. And make sure to check for dog poop before you set anything up!

First thing in the morning, when you’re setting up, the grass is gonna be wet. If it’s a nice day, no worries. If it turns nasty and rains, well you’re already damp, so don’t stress. And depending on where you are, the weather is not a guarantee. We’ve done our August show in torrential rains that thankfully didn’t last the whole time, but while they lasted – – oy!

Your canopy is rain resistant – not rain PROOF.

If you’re not on grass, but pavement instead, you won’t be able to stake that canopy so make sure you have all those weights we’ve been preaching about. If your inventory is breakable, set up your display with care. We’ve heard our share of glass and pottery shattering during set up and tear down. On hot days, that pavement is going to radiate heat up into your white-topped canopy and you are going to glow, big time.

That’s Woman for sweat.

You’re going to sweat. Outdoor shows are held in the Summer months, when it’s hot. We have done Summer shows that had monsoon style rains and we’ve also done the same shows during 100+ heat waves.

Interesting fact: Shoppers only SHOP between 50F and 80F. When that mercury inchest into the 85-90 degree mark, Shoppers become Zombies. Zombies will wander in and out looking for shade, but they’re in a heat-daze and will not Shop. If your weekend show ends up a weekend heatwave, well, better luck next year.

Know that your canopy WILL get peed on, just pray it’s by dogs and keep a jug of Clorox wipes in your Show Supplies kit. Remember those canopy walls are water resistant, and they don’t show stains. Your top is going to save you from some bird strikes too, and that cleans off easily so don’t fret. If you’re packing up to leave and notice your canopy is pretty dirty, or wet, but you just wanna go home – remember to open it back up at home in a day or two and wipe it down really well, then let it dry thoroughly. Whatever you do, don’t pack that baby up for the season without making sure it’s clean and dry. That canopy is going to be your best buddy for years to come, but only if you treat it as such.

Are you vending in this show alone, or do you have a business partner / spouse? A little bit of advice from us to you – – Keep Calm. Whether setting up, vending, or tearing down, you’re going to hear some choice words. The vendors to your right, left, or three booths over are going to come close to blows during that a hot summer show. And we get it. Everyone gets hot, a little stressed struggling with a set up or canopy or custom bit that needs to be screwed together or nailed into place. As you can expect with any multi-day adventure, not everything is going to go exactly as planned. We have heard some pretty incredible argumenets arise from just setting up a booth, and truth be told, we too have fallen victim to the occasional heated argument.

But we’ve learned from them. We both realize now something you should keep in mind: We’re both in the same situation, at the same time, and as much as we think we can, neither of us can truly read the other’s mind. And “a cup of coffee” does not a breakfast make. Not on a hot morning when tension is high and physical labor is in order.

We now make a point of remaining calm, understanding we’re both equally hot, we’re both equally tired, and nothing that does or does not work out the way we thought it would will alter the course of the universe. Now we can set up, vend, and tear down all while remaining Zen and helpful.

Sweaty and exhausted, but Zen and helpful,

There will be down-time. Even at a great show, there will come some times when nothing much is happening. The best way to change that is to take out your lunch and try to eat something. People will appear out of nowhere and want to shop and chat with you.

There will also be busy times, when you desperately need to pee but there are too many customers browsing and appearing out of nowhere and you cant catch a break – just a bladder infection.

Unload the car, put up that canopy, then pause. If you haven’t yet, eat something. Then realize you forgot to attach the side walls and bring the canopy down a few notches so you can do that. Then raise it again and go to the bathroom.

Now attach your sign — lower the canopy again if it goes up there and you forgot. Get your tables, chairs, displays set up and take another breath. This is why we arrive at or even a little before allowed set-up times. Try to do as much prep work the day before that you possibly can. We pre-determine what pieces are going up and bag them seperately, eliminating that first-day time-suck of trying to decide which pieces go on display and which ones stay in their cases until space opens up.

Need more tips, tricks, facts and advice? Check our next Article: People are Scary!

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

Craft Show Etiquette and the Lack Thereof!

So now you’re a vendor at a Craft / Art Show. Awesome! You’re all set up and selling your Handmade products. If you’re at a show with us, we’d love to say Hello!

Now comes the interesting part.

Depending on what it is that you sell, you’ll find there are behaviors exhibited by a large majority of shoppers that are going to be unique to your product. For the Velvet Zebra, we sell Chainmaille in various forms – Jewelry, Hauberks (clothing) Art and Accessories. If you’re not familiar, Chainmaille is very tactile, so we expect and encourage people to touch or pick up whatever it is they’re looking at. Our Hauberks are either on a dress form ‘model’ or hanging from our booth on plastic torsos, very visible and easily accessed by curious hands. We situate them carefully in order to catch people’s eye from a distance and lure them to our booth.

We welcome touching (except by children with obviously sticky fingers). A large portion of our shoppers will start out just looking, as if they’re afraid to pick something up. When we notice that, we encourage them to “feel free to try anything on, we do have a mirror” which is always followed by their surprise and delight at how light-weight our products are, and just how much they can’t STOP touching them. If they seem hesitant, or reply with a “just looking”, we remind them it doesnt cost a thing to try something on.

Those are normal behaviors common to any Vendor.

But then there are other, more interesting things we get to witness on a regular basis.

There’s one we call, the POKER.

A Poker is a shopper who enters our booth in apparent “just browsing” mode and with one finger, literally takes a POKE at a necklace. Not a touch, to see what it’s made of, or an idle, disinterested feel-up, but a POKE delivered with enough force to push that necklace about two inches. They won’t pick it up, use more than one finger, or even look at you, they just came to Poke. They’ll go down the line, resting-bitch-face firmly in place, and just Poke at everything before giving a sniff and wandering to the next booth.

Then there’s the PLOPPER.

Ploppers find a piece that catches their eye – – they’ll pick up that beautifully displayed necklace, examine it closely, maybe even show it to a companion or make a comment about how lovely it is, then they’ll PLOP it back down in a heap and move on. Sometimes right out of your booth, but other times straight over to your next carefully and artfully draped piece so they can pick that one up, give it a feel, maybe even perform the strike-a-pose try-on, only to then Plop that piece back down in another heap, often on a completely different table.

The FEELERS are fun to watch.

A Feeler has touched one of the Hauberks and were surprised by how it felt – to the point of being unable to stop feeling it. They will pet it, caress it, put both of their hands under the bottom edge and bounce it up and down. If we’re doing our job, we can use that surprise to bring them further inside, where they discover our jewelry is equally light and fun to touch. Often they’ll then discover one of our Art Panels that they can also caress and fondle as if it were a fur pelt. Hey, we get it, this stuff DOES feel amazing!

The ARNOLDS are common to every seller.

An Arnold is someone who has spent a little time in your booth, or even a lot of time in your booth, then says “I’ll be back” before leaving. Sometimes it’s “your work is beautiful, I’ll be back” or any variation of “we just got here, we’ll be back.” Will they? Probably not. Some will. Some of them were genuinely impressed but want to see all the other booths before they decide who is going to get their money. It’s like being on Shark Tank and wanting to hear all of the offers before making a decision. If you hear “I need to go get cash, I’ll be back” you should follow up with “we take all forms of plastic, even Apple Pay.” If they really were interested and only thought they needed cash to buy, you’ll likely make a sale. If they were just being polite and seriously want to leave your booth without embarassing themselves, they’ll have another come-back to counter you. Let them go with a smile. They really only said that because they felt like they had to say something.

The UNIFORMED are also not exclusive.

The Uninformed are innocent. They’re shoppers who don’t know that they’re visiting a Handmade Only Art or Craft Show. They don’t realize that in order for you to be a vendor there, you had to hand-create everything you are selling. These people – – polite and well meaning – – will ask you “Did you make all of this?” And when you reply “Yes, I (we) did” will often react with surprise, sometimes admiration, occasionally disbelief. After you’ve done this a while, and you’ve heard that question thousands of times, you’ll start to think they should know better – – they should realize this is a Handmade Craft Show and everyone participating had to create what they’re selling.

Calm down, and remind yourself that while you’ve hear this a thousand times, each person asking you has only done it once.

The PRIVILEGED are annoying.

These people have nothing to do with shopping, they’re not attending your Craft Show, they’re not visiting your booth or even looking where they’re going. They are unique to an outdoor show. The Privileged either didn’t realize this show was taking place, or Just. Don’t. Care. They’re walking where they want to walk regardless of what’s in their way. These people will come up from behind – if your walls are up – walk through your vendor space, then your booth, simply because it is the shortest distance between where they are and where they want to be. They won’t settle for walking between booths, if there is space, and they certainly can’t be bothered walking five or ten more feet to a designated entryway. Nope. You are merely In Their Way, and they’re coming through. At an outdoor show, you have to be a tad more vigilant with your own security. People coming up from behind, through the space you have designated as your packaging / bagging / wrapping / personal area can be very unnerving. Especially if you have a cash box or a cell phone secured back there.

There are a few tricks we’ve learned over the years, like piling empty Tupperware containers to form a wall just high enough for a Privileged not to want to step over. Placing our chairs firmly against the legs of the canopy adds another of barricade. If you’ve procured a space behind your booth for sitting, consider an outdoor seating umbrella – they form a little cubby for you to sit in, secure some of your kit, and you can even bungee them to the legs of your canopy, forming a tiny but mighty force field of security that really irritates the Privileged. Lowering your sidewalls halfway down can also deter them from cutting through.

If they come up behind you and demand loudly that they want ‘through’, politely direct them to the nearest designated entrance. They will sometimes complain that you’re in their way, that you don’t belong there, etc. Don’t let it get ugly, for your own safety and that of anyone shopping your booth at the time.

We also recommend not using a cash box. Keep your money on your person. Fanny packs are weird, sure, but they do make some pretty fancy and very attractive newer versions and alternatives that can blend right in with your outfit. Or you can even have a pocketed apron custom printed with your logo. Just be safe.

If you think spending 2-3 days at an Art Show is going to equal a lot of sitting-on-your-ass-eating-snickerdoodles, you’re wrong. You’ll get in your steps every time a Poker or a Plopper leaves your booth, having to go reset everything they Poked, Plopped, or Felt-Up back where it belongs quickly before more shoppers come in. Even a well-meaning Feeler can disrupt your set up.

And these are adults. The kids are another story.

If we could offer up one tiny piece of advice to your Parents out there it would be this: Please stop telling your kids to “Touch with your eyes”. All they hear is the action word TOUCH. And it isn’t their fault, they’re larva, still learning the rules of polite society that some adults never master.

We do not stop children from touching our products – they can’t hurt them – but kids don’t just touch, they PICK (lifting the pieces up and down partially with two fingers, up and down, up and down, while staring at you as if daring you to tell them to stop it). Kids POKE, too, like a lot of the adults – but they Poke Every-Single-Item.

It’s only made more annoying by the parents repeating over and over in futility “Touch with your eyes.”

It’s best not to say anything, just smile and endure – but do keep a politely watchful eye on the little buggers, some of them aren’t above depositing a booger on your display or table cover. If this outdoor show has large rocks, like in a city park, or a statue or a plaque of any kind, it’s going to get played on / with / around. If your booth is anywhere near one of these attractions you’re going to experience some stress. Kids can’t resist those things. They’ll climb the rocks, hang off the statues, jump up and down on the plaques. You’ll spend a few hours in fear of them killing themselves, or falling right into your canopy leg, before you realize they’re not your children. Hopefully whatever they’re playing with isn’t going to block the entrance to your booth. If it does, have a discussion with the organizer and see if they can move you, or adjust the line-up of booths a little better.

Again, it’s not all children, but therer are always a handful at every show.

You’ll start to think it’s only happening to you, or that you’re the only vendor there who has to constantly get up and reset your products in their proper place after a booth visit by a Poker, Plopper or Picker, but trust us, it’s happening to everyone.

Think your potential shoppers are the only ones who get weird? Nope.

Your Booth Space is all the space you get. That 10 x 10 section has got to house You, anyone working with You, your Displays, all of your Product, and your kit (supplies, chairs, lunch). It’s considered rude, and against the rules, to ooze our and put some of your products out in front, outside your booth. That’s where customers walk. That’s where the Fire Marshal says people have to be able to run if the zombies come. That’s just good manners.

That’s also a rule one or two other vendors will ignore. Just remember Karma is a bitch, so you don’t have to be.

Now that said, if you’re at an Outdoor show, with plenty of space between vendors, and you have ALL agreed to spread out a tad – that’s fine. Either the rules allow it, or everyone around you has agreed to it. It does make life easier, but don’t count on that happening.

At an Indoor show, you can forget it. All of you are packed inside a limited space, and your alloted area has likely been taped off to indicate where your space ends and your neighbor’s begins. Respect that, or be prepared for a very uncomfortable show and a lot of angry elbowing and evil-eye contact. That’s where your floor length table covers come in handy for hiding a lot of what you don’t need to use. This is also where verticle display space will be your friend. A corner booth space may help you out, but they are usually more expensive. Just be careful not to box yourself in or those infrequent but needed trips to the restroom are going to be more adventure than you wanted.

Most indoor venues that last more than a single day will offer a few amenities – like a booth sitter if you need to use the restroom, or coffee/tea that will be brought around at very irregular intervals and never when you want it. In the summer, an outdoor show might offer free water to help setting up your booth/unloading your car. If you are doing a show alone, don’t be afraid to ask a fellow vendor for a hand – there’s always going to be someone there willing to help.

And if you love to people-watch, a Craft or Art Show is pure entertainment gold!

Check out our next Article: Craft Show Realities – the Stuff no one Tells you About.

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

Craft Show Facts, Tips and Reality Checks

So here you are. You’ve taken the plunge, you’ve joined our little gypsy squad, and we’re thrilled to have you, but you’re not too sure if you’re doing this right . . .

Well first off, congratulations for being a Handmade artist – the world needs more of us. I hope you took our advice and the shows you’re vending are only allowing Handmade goods.

Now to make the most of your new situation.

You’ve got your canopy. You’ve got your displays. You’ve got your lovely Handmade goods laid out in an easy to shop fashion. That’s going to depend on your product and how it needs to be shown. If you’re not sure how to display, the only thing we can suggest is to search the Internet, look at other vendor’s set-ups, and experiment. Someone selling paintings has a completely different staging requirement than someone selling jewelry, or that guy who carves wood bowls. There are loads of DIY methods for building interesting displays, and you might have to experiment and make changes as your vendor career evolves.

You can go down the rabbit hole of the ‘net until you’re dizzy, but whatever you decide, our advice to you is: Keep It Simple.

First, because you want your Product to show, not your Staging.

Second, you want this to be portable and not-too-difficult.

We’ve been doing shows for 20+ years and we have it pretty easy – relatively simple staging, easily torn-down for taking home, doesn’t require a trailer. However, we DO require an SUV with a roof rack.

Whatever you’re selling, and however you set it up, the key to a good experience for your shoppers is visibility. You don’t want to clutter your booth with SO much product, their eyes are confused as to what to look at, because their brains will be confused, too. And a confused shopper is an irritated shopper.

An irritated shopper is going to the next booth.

We get it. You have a LOT of product. Believe us we get it – our inventory feels massive some days. Still, it’s better to have a tidy, visually organized booth that clearly shows what you’re selling in an attractive way that invites your shoppers IN, over a cluttered booth that you have all to yourself. You don’t have to put everything out at every show. Have six different colors of the same thing? Put one out and mention to your shoppers that other colors are available – it’s an opportunity to chat with them if they’re open for it.

That being said – you probably read a lot of advice when you went down that rabbit hole telling you to display your products “creatively” using props and pretty things that are only there to enhance what you’re selling. You probably read that you should sell an ‘experience’. That’s fine, if the experience you want to sell is a pretty spot for shoppers to get some shade before they go see what the next booth is actually selling.

Pretty is nice, yes. Props do make a booth attractive. But when the seventh person asks you for a price on that Prop you’re using, or glances at your booth and decides there isn’t enough Product to make stopping in there worth their while, you’ll start to wonder just how useful pretty is. If your customer can’t tell immediately what it is you’re selling, something isn’t working. And don’t forget, the cost of all those props cuts right through the heart of your profits.

So seriously think it over. Look at other booths, visit other Craft shows, ask yourself what is the first thing you see when you look at someone’s booth? What is the first thought that comes to your mind? Do you see their product, or just their pretty? Do they have enough variety, or just props?

We’ve all seen lovely photos online of the seller who has that pretty, well-set-up-booth that has a mat on the ground simulating a shop floor – large displays that span the entire width and length of their booth with maybe 10 items on them to give an open, airy feel. The sun is out, the booth is nice and shaded, everything is color coordinated with little ribbons floofing in the breeze (yes, we said floofing) You look at a photo like that and think “damn, my products don’t fit like that, I have too many or they’re too bulky or can’t be displayed that way. But now you’ve seen what the magazines call “The Way You Should Display” and you feel inadequate and a little messy.

Snap out of it!

You’re not inadequate or messy (okay we can’t SEE you but we’re confident you’re not messy). Take another look at that Booth. Are the displays wall-to-wall-to-wall? The photo was taken with no one inside that booth – is there room for more than 1 shopper? Honestly? If your shopper bends over, is his or her butt knocking over the other display? Where does the vendor sit? Or stand? Is there room inside that pretty, organized booth for 1 or 2 vendors, 3-6 shoppers, at least 2 kids and possibly a dog looking for shade or a spot to pee? Can the vendor see his or her entire booth’s contents or are there blind spots?

Pretty has a place, but it’s not always at an outdoor Art Show.

Now, you’ll soon learn that people come in waves. Each show is different, but each show has the same Wave pattern: Light in the early morning, building until noon – everyone vanishes during the lunch hour for just enough time to make you think you could scarf down a quick snack (you’re wrong) – then they come back, but by some alien timeclock no vendor is privy to, they all disappear at 3:00. No one knows where they go, or why, but you can set your watch to it. 3:00, poof! They’ll come back, and keep shopping, but don’t even bother asking what goes on at 3:00, they won’t tell you.

At the end of your show, regardless of tear-down time, you’ll have stragglers. Even if you’re in the middle of packing up, don’t send them away! We make more sales during our tear-down than you can imagine!

Now for some Honest Truths – a.k.a – Things that WILL Happen:

Poeple WILL set their drinks on your displays.

Regardless of what you sell, or how it’s displayed, people WILL set their iced lattes or foo-foo frappachinos with whipped cream oozing down the outside of the cup ONTO your displays while they look at your product, try it on if appropriate to what you sell, or even just to adjust their own clothing or hunt for their phones. And the children – keep an eye on those children! If they have ice cream, gum, something gawd-awfully sticky – its going on your display if you’re not vigilant. There are parents who seem to assume that by entering your booth, you’ve accepted the responsibility of babysitting while they shop. It’s going to happen – not with every parent because a good majority of them are far more adult than that – but it WILL happen.

People WILL take up your entire booth to chat with their friends.

If they’re not wandering together in a gaggle, they’ll discover each other while inside your booth, then suddenly forget where they are and start catching up on all the latest. One or two of them might idly pick up some of your product as they chat, but they’ll also forget they’ve done so when the gossip gets juicy. And since a crowded booth attracts more people, your real customers are going to have a hard time getting inside to see what you have.

There’s really no good way to handle this, so its best to just let it ride. Eventually one of the Gaggle will realize they’re taking up space someone else wants to occupy, or they’ll begin to naturally wander to the next booth. You may be tempted to ask them to move along, but nothing good is going to come from it, unless it has become a serious hinderance. Use your own judgement, but if you do ask them to move along, make sure you do so politely, your customers can hear you.

People WILL try on everything you have and still not buy a thing.

If you sell a product like ours that can be tried on, be prepared to do a lot of work for occasionally no reward. If you’re doing your job marketing and schmoozing, you’re going to have a few people who need to try on EVERYTHING, and occasionally the same thing three different times. When they make a purchase, it’s worth it. But when they look at you, say “Thanks” and leave without buying a thing, it’s exhausting. But that’s part of doing business. They weren’t there to buy no matter what you were selling or how well you were selling it. They were there to be entertained, and they were.

People WILL take photographs.

For us, this is not an issue, and it’s occasionally amusing. You’ll make your own decision about photographs, but for The Velvet Zebra, we welcome photos. Our product is online, we regularly post pictures on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and right here on our Webpage. We WANT people to see what we make, so why would be refuse them taking photos? But some vendors do loudly forbid their customers from photographing their products. Which is why we see people trying to hide their phones, pretend they’re not taking a picture, or we’ll hear one whisper to another that they want to take a photo and to please distract us.

Again, our policy is; Go Ahead. So when we see someone trying hard not to be seen taking a picture, we tell them they don’t have to hide. We will even hold a piece out in the sunlight so they can take a better shot. Some of them ask first, which is polite, and we always say Yes.

Customer service may not always land you a sale, but it IS noticed, and it will often lure people into your booth who want to buy, not just photograph. Keep in mind, everything you do while in your booth is being seen by someone – unless all four of your walls are down and zipped. The Truth might not be Out There, but your Customers are.

Got any tips or tricks? We’d love to chat, feel free to leave a message.

Check back in July for our next article: Craft Show Etiquette and the Lack Thereof.

You’re Here, Now What?

Welcome to the world of Craft Show Vending. You have a Handmade product that you decided to start selling, you’ve read our previous articles, and you’re taking the plunge!

Good for you! Now’s the time to find out if someone other than your family thinks your products are worth buying. The Velvet Zebra is lucky, our family members are utterly unimpressed with our products, but the general public love us.

When you start out, you’re going to feel like a real rookie, but don’t worry because we all started somewhere. One thing you’ll find to be true is that ALL the other vendors were once rookies too, and 98.2% of them are going to be helpful, informative and kind. They’re going to offer suggestions if you ask them, they’ll answer questions you might have regarding the event, and once they get to know you, they’ll share about other shows they do that you might also enjoy.

If you have issues with wind knocking over your displays, they might offer suggestions like how to use clamps, small fishing weights, or build your displays differently.

If you have trouble setting up your canopy, since you’re new at this and all, some of them will come over and help you out. If you realize you needed duct tape, a pair of scissors, some tie-downs or the use of a step stool for ten minutes, don’t be afraid to ask. One or more of them will happily loan/share with you. Seriously, we are one big happy family out there – a little band of gypsies, if you will. You’ll see many of the same people at other shows, and you’ll see this group again if you come back. You’ll get to know your fellow vendors very well and enjoy catching up once a year or more.

You’ll notice we said 98.2%. Just like any gathering of human beings, there is the occasional ass-hat. Don’t worry, they don’t last. They’re usually so grumpy, so territorial or so paranoid, they eventually stop coming. Don’t stress about them.

When you applied to this venue, and were accepted, you most likely received a packet telling you what the hours are, what the rules are, and where your space is. Typically you’re going to occupy a 10 x 10 booth space – but that can vary. You will have chosen or been assigned your size when you applied. The canopies are, in general, 10 x 10 so that is considered a standard. Our advice in this article will refer to that as your booth size.

The first thing you need to do is find your space. You will have likely been given instructions on set up procedures, typically an outdoor show simply tells you when you can set up, and where your space is. Some shows also have a load and unload schedule, if access is limited. You’ll obey these rules and try very hard to ignore the fact that a whole lotta people seemed to have decided they didn’t have to. Don’t sweat it, just follow the rules and smile. Karma will deal with them.

If you’re outside, you need your canopy, so unload and set that puppy up first thing. Stake if you’re allowed, but also use the weights that we flat-out insisted you buy. If that wind kicks up, you WILL regret not using weights. Lots of weights.

For the love of all that’s holy, use weights.

Okay so you’re there. You’re excited. You’re brand new and pumped with anticipation. Take a deep breath and unload your vehicle. Depending on your product and your set up, it’s best to get your canopy up right away so you’ll know your space limitations. Then, if possible, completely unload your vehicle and move your car to the designated parking you will have been told about. You want your customers to park as close to the venue as allowed, but don’t stress over that ONE vendor who feels it is his or her right to park RIGHT THERE and ignore the rules. Karma sees all.

Now you’re unloaded, you’re setting up, you’ve been told the times fo ropen and close but someone wanders by and starts to look at what you’re doing – – our advice, greet them with a smile and invite them to come inside. Tell them you’re still setting up and apologize for the clutter, but never turn away what could be a sale. Are they early? Sure, but they probably had no idea this show was happening, let alone what the hours are. Chances are they just wandered by, maybe taking the dog out for a jog or a tinkle – maybe they won’t buy anything – but again smile, and invite them to look. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve made sales before we were even halfway set up.

If you took our advice in our previous article, your canopy has walls. And if you’re at a 2+ day show, and you don’t want to curse the very ground you’ve been walking on, you’ll have attached those walls during set up. The canopy walls are not a permanent thing, you’ll have to put them up and take them down during set up and tear down – and how they attach depends on your canopy, but trust us when we say you need to attach them straight away, even before you set a single thing up.

If your display is better without the walls down all day, that’s fine, ours is too. You can roll them up and secure them with bungees or ropes or tie-downs, so they’re up high and out of the way. Then when it’s time to close up shop for the night, undo your do, roll them down and zip them up.

You do NOT want to try and attach the walls at the end of a very long day, with your set-up already set up. You’re tired, probably a little sweaty, your tables or displays are now in the way, and people are watching, even if it’s just the other vendors. What you’re doing now – struggling with massive white sheets of water resistant cloth that make a funny noise, flap in the slightest breeze, and don’t fit quite the way they show in the photos, while sweat makes your pants stick to your thighs and heaven forbid some plumber’s butt is happening – is not something you want them to see.

Attach them at the start, you’ll thank us.

As for zipping all four corners together like the picture on the box – it’s almost impossible your first show. You might have to pull the legs in at the bottom – the’ll splay out a little naturally, especially if the ground isn’t perfectly level, and you’ll struggle a bit. Eventually you’ll get it, and the more often you use this contraption, the easier that will get.

Oh, and the bottom is another issue. You’ve got stakes and weights – if you’re using the spiffy, never-do-a-show-without-them weights that sit on the feet of your canopy legs you’ll find the sides can’t go down and around them. Play with the bottom zipper, use a few bungees, whatever it takes to make sure those sides aren’t going to come up in the night, and no one can SEE what’s inside – don’t let your insides poke outside. You’ll get it, just be creative.

We always return the next morning with an hour to spare before opening. You might need that time to roll your side walls back up, unpack or uncover anything you snugged away for the night, check your displays and price tags, get your chairs and your packaging/charging set back up. Then you can sit back, enjoy some coffee and greet those early shoppers taking their dogs out for a tinkle again. Maybe they saw you yesterday and came back with some cash.

Helpful tip: If you’re in a park and it’s popular with dog walkers, have a bowl of water at an outside leg of your canopy – the owners will think you’re sweet and they’ll pause and glance at your product, and might even buy something.

Helpful tip #2: If you’re in a park and it’s popular with dog walkers, and you have a bowl of water at an outside leg of your canopy – just know your table cover, or sidewall if it’s down, will get peed on. Either be vigilant, or accept the inevitable and keep wipes handy.

Again, your choice.

Your canopy is going to get peed on regardless, if it’s up overnight. Just so you know.

Stay tuned for our next Article: Craft Show Facts, Tips and Reality Checks.

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

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.

Craft Show Questions? You’ve come to the right place!

So let’s assume you make something, or several somethings, and you’ve been really tempted / curious about selling your handmade goods at an Art or Craft show, but you don’t quite know what to expect.

You’re in luck! We’ve been doing this for 20+ years, and we heartily encourage you to do it as well. Seriously, welcome to the club. Here you will find not one word of negativity toward your desire to sell your Handmade items at a Craft or Art show, but you will find some sound advice and tips we hope will help guide you into it.

First off, may the god of your choice bless you for making Handmade items. The most important – nay VITAL – piece of advice we will offer you is this:

NEVER attend an Art Show that allows Commercial products.

No made-in Peru friendship bracelets. No Scentsy candles. No brand-name clothes or knitwear of any kind! Your Handmade art, first of all, is more valuable, unique and special than any mass produced crap that sells for a quarter of the price. If your customers can’t see that, they’re not your customers. More importantly, and we say this with love because it pertains to the Velvet Zebra’s products too, you can’t compete with that.

You just can’t.

You’re making felted baskets that sell for $30.00 each, and some Schmuck at the same show is peddling felted baskets from Country-X that are mass produced by small children. The most HE did was pay wholesale and truck them to the show where he’s selling them for $8.00. We wish we could tell you that customers will see how much more value there is in your Handmade felted baskets, but let’s be honest – if they can buy one for $8.00 they’re going to.

So never – and we mean NEVER – be a vendor at a show that allows Non-Handmade anything. And if you’re at a show that professes they don’t, but you and the other vendors clearly SEE someone doing it, dime them out. Seriously. And if the people in charge don’t kick them out, never do that show again.

This is the main reason most Holiday shows are going the way of the Dodo as far as we Handmade artists are concerned. The venues that put them on, typically a High School or Benefit event, are solely interested in the Booth Fee that you’re paying. Once they have that, they’ve made their money. They could give a rip how well YOU do. They may profess to only allow Handmade, but if they don’t sell each Booth space they have, they’ll turn to Commercial vendors and sell them, which in turn is selling you out.

And that brings us to the Elephant in the room we call Commissions.

We’ll leave this up to you to decide, but if you’re doing a show that has A) a Booth Fee as well as B) Commission on your sales – we say No every time. They’re making money from our Booth Fee, we’re not about to let them make money from OUR hard work and expenses. It’s different if you’re in a Shop or Gallery, there your commission is the only money they make. The difference is, you’re not paying them simply for the chance to be there. That’s what a Booth Fee is, you’re paying the venue simply for the right to be there and sell your product.

How much is too much? Personally, we cap a Booth Fee for a 2-day show at $200.00. The show we attended regularly happens to be a 3-day show at $175.00, which is ideal.

Remember, in order to justify being there, you need to make a profit. If it takes the entire event just to earn back your Booth Fee and nothing more, it’s a bad show. If you spend more on food than you make selling your product, it’s a bad show. If you have to spend money on a hotel because of the location of the show, keep that in mind when you tally up your earnings.

Our motto is: We’ll try any show once.

That is to say, if it sounds like a good fit, if the Booth Fee isn’t over our limit, and we’re really feeling the itch to get out there – we’ll try a new show. Once. There are a lot of shows we’ve tried once and have never returned. There are a few shows we’ve given a second shot, just to be sure. We’ve even walked out on a few right in the middle – which is Craft Show Taboo. We’ll talk more about that in future articles.

Now if you’ve never done a show before, there are things you need:

A Canopy. You can get these anywhere, we got ours from Costco. We’re on our third canopy after all these years, but they’re pretty hardy. Make sure you have Walls, you’ll need them. Aluminum frames are your friend, unless there are a few strong men who are also your friends.

Weights. Don’t even pretend you won’t need weights for an outdoor show. These you can make yourself (when we started out, we used kitty litter jugs with handles and filled them with water). They make amazing round weights that fit over the feet of your canopy that are portable and incredibly useful.

Seriously, we mean this, you NEED Weights.

Tables. Also an easy Costco or just-about-anywhere purchase, unless what you’re selling requires an elaborate Wall-type structure. If you’re using tables but find they are a bit too low for easy shopping or set up, bed riser feet are a great addition.

Chairs. You might think you’re going to stand up the whole time, but you won’t.

Table Covers. If you’re like us and you’ll be using tables, be sure to cover them. Get covers that go to the ground, they’ll hide all the stuff you’re going to cram underneath them, and you are going to cram a lot underneath them. They even make some now that snug up around the legs, so there is no extra fabric flapping around and threatening to trip anyone.

Displays. These will depend on what you are selling. Search the Internet, check out other people’s displays, whatever you need to do. There are a LOT of things you can buy, and a lot MORE you can DIY.

Supplies. This is up to your needs, but keep in mind how you’re going to write receipts, package your sales, wrap anything delicate or bag up small things, and how you’ll keep your records on the fly during potentially busy times. We’ll talk details in a future article.

Food. Do NOT forget to bring food. You can‘t count on there being food nearby, and what you really hope will happen is that you’ll be too busy to even think about dashing somewhere for food. Ideally, you’ll barely have a chance to shove a PB&J down your throat when you think no one is looking. So don’t forget to bring food. Also keep in mind when deciding what food to bring – your customers are going to see you eat this, so we suggest no leftover spaghetti.

Other things to keep in mind – depending on your needs – is how you’ll accept payment. We use Square now, we used to use Paypal. When we started out we were a Cash/Check only Booth – that ended years ago, and you’ll make an S-ton more money if you take plastic. But there will be cash sales, so make sure you can make change. Everyone is going to have $20’s from the ATM, keep that in mind.

Our advice to you is also to Price your items well – by that we mean don’t make your customers ask how much something is, they’re more likely to just walk away. Prices shouldn’t be a secret or something you are embarrassed to say out loud. Put up signs, put your price tags facing outward, whatever it takes to keep the customer in your booth. (In coming articles we’ll delve into the What Now? Of being a vendor and how to deal with all sorts of customers)

So if you, too, are a Handmade artist and you’re ready to take the plunge and become a Vendor at an Art or Craft Show – do it. Find a show you want to try out, you’ll find a ton of them if you search the Internet. Keep in mind they probably start taking applications at least 6-months in advance of the show. You might have to pass a Jury to get it, that’s not hard if you’re Handmade.

You might need Insurance – don’t panic – there are places online that can provide you with Show Insurance, which is a policy that will cover you strictly for that show at an average cost to you of around $40.00. The Internet is your friend, search Craft Show Insurance and you’ll be find.

Welcome to the club ! And good luck.

Check out our next Article: Know your Audience.

We’d love to chat about your experiences – please feel free to leave a comment, ask a question or offer up some advice to all the newbies out there.

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