Preparing for Show Season!

Posted by Roberta Pihl on

Show season is about to open up here in Oregon and it has me thinking about my time vending in local shows. 
Now, I get a THRILL making big, gawdy, in-depth pieces of jewelry using expensive materials and showing off what I can do. I take pride in completing a challenge every time I make something I didn't expect to be able to do, and I know that a vast majority of you all feel the same way. But let's not forget... we have a bottom line, and we won't be able to meet our minimum income to obtain even a small profit if we don't cater to the different expectations of our clients. 
This is where your "bread-n-butter" pieces are going to come in handy - for you and for them.  
The idea is to be able to make a very quick, aesthetic set of jewelry that doesn't take very much time or material to complete, but appeals to your client base. And a sure fire sign that you're able to make a BNB jewelry design, is that you can make them in large quantities all at once. 
This doesn't mean sacrificing quality for quantity, but for someone like myself it means I have to let go of any idea of adding embellishments if they aren't necessary. In the sets of earrings above, I was DYING to add some silver balls or granulation or stones - anything to add a little spice to these pieces! But I held off and decided to keep them as simple as possible to save some time and materials. Now, if I wanted to remake them and add a little something to it, it wouldn't be fair to myself to charge the same base price as I would as they are now: I would have to charge more. And during shows people will rapidly walk in and out of booths to see what you have and how much you generally charge for your work so it helps to have something simple, easy to make, eye catching and inexpensive right at the mouth of your booth or wherever the most amount of traffic goes through your area. You may be surprised to find that these inexpensive pieces will sell out more quickly than some of your higher end pieces, and in effect make you more money. As a plus, it tends to draw people in to see some of your higher end work as well and getting you more sales on the pieces that will offer a higher profit.
While placement of your BNB pieces VS your higher end pieces is important, so is the overall look of your booth or table. Choosing warm colors and utilizing the right lighting will really draw people in. Adding a little bit of contrast helps as well, and you can use that contrast to draw people's eyes to what you want them to see the most. But this doesn't have to be an expensive thing to do: when I did my booths, I would choose some long cream colored table cloths to place my displays on. Some craft stores will sell inexpensive wooden-framed chalkboard displays, and the natural wood and black contrasted with the cream enough to draw potential client's eyes to reading what is there. That is where I would primarily display my BNB pieces because I wanted them to see those first since they're more likely to sell. For displaying my higher end pieces I would add a little spice of red to the mix, indicating that they're of higher value and still worth a look. But I would keep those in the back. For lighting, I would keep halogen floodlights above (I liked the sparkle they throw off on stones!) and some more warm and gentle colored rope lights closer around the displays, keeping the booth inviting. 

So now you have your bread and butter pieces, your booth is set up, lighting is right... it all looks good.. but there's still something missing....? SIGNAGE! Having a sign telling people who you are and what you're offering them is invaluable! Banners are great but can be bulky and hard to set up, though worth the effort if you can place it above your booth. Many people choose to place them in the front of a main table, but I have always had a better response from people by keeping them up and out of the way though still visible. Other artists will have a tabletop sign well placed in the corner of the table - you want it to stick out enough to tell people what they're looking at from afar, but still blending in with the rest of your booth so it all matches. As for displays themselves, keep the actual display low key to keep the spotlight on the pieces you want your clients to see. A distracting display or a booth or table that is too busy will turn people away before they even get to your booth. Sometimes too much is, well, too much. And you can always keep overflow inventory in the back or under a table (longer tablecloths are great for this) so you can rotate pieces out or refresh inventory that is selling out. And remember that wind and rain is the bane of our existence when attending a show, so make sure everything is secure, covered and weighted down in appropriate and discreet areas.
Running a booth by yourself is daunting so it helps to have someone else on hand to handle the sales while you manage the demonstrations or keep your inventory in stock. This is good to have anyways on the off-chance you need a bathroom break or would like to get something to eat. Also, try to refrain from eating meals that have robust flavors that can flood your area. It is a major turn-off to potential clients - not just the smell, but who wants to bother someone while they're eating? So keep your meals away from your booth and snacks hidden so no one feels the need to bother you. And PLEASE hydrate! Even vending at a small venue can be exhausting and you will find yourself drained at the end of the day.
Many artists like to do demonstrations while they work, but this can be a little hard to pull off if you're running a booth by yourself. However, demos are a great way to draw people in - but the space it requires can sometimes be a bit more than you have to work with (most booths in my experience are a 10'x10' area) so just keep your demonstrations small and easy to do. Cold connections and a little hammer work usually suffices. I used to do chainmaille and wire wrapping at my booths to show myself making pieces, because it doesn't require a lot of space and prevents me from having to bring in torches or other heavy equipment that needs more room or time to operate. It also makes it easy to stop what I'm doing to talk to clients or describe what I'm doing. People love that! As an added plus, it will give you something to do during the quiet hours when there is a lower flow of traffic.
So now that you have everything set up and running, lets say things are still a bit slow profit-wise. A lot of times you will have competition from other vendors offering pre-made pieces or work that costs less. It can be frustrating when you put all this effort into attending a show that isn't giving you the turn out it should be, especially if you're offering a better quality product and you know it. Sometimes it helps to offer a discount or a free service to draw people in. Offering a free cleaning service (Ultrasonics or steam cleaners and polishing cloths are relatively easy to keep on hand) and it will give people a chance to look around and ask questions while they wait. This can help draw in sales, and spread the word of mouth that you're there bringing more people to your booth. Discounts - even a small discount - won't hurt your sales much at all. in fact, this will usually bring in more sales as people tend to buy more when the cost is even a little less. I would even keep some blank ring bands on hand and offer a free inside-engraving with a$20 purchase of one of the bands. Rings are tough because your clients come in all shapes and sizes, especially in their hands. Simple, plain bands in a variety of sizes with a meaningful message on the inside is a great way to make quick and easy sales.
Your appearance can also make a huge difference in drawing people in to your area. Suits and ties are traditionally not required, but keeping yourself clean and wearing appropriate attire will give the signal to your potential clients that you are as warm and inviting as your booth is! And don't be afraid to display some of your own wares on yourself: Many times people will buy your earrings, rings, pendants or bracelets right off of you when they get the chance to see what they look like in use. And if your clients are anything like me... oh dear goodness... AVOID WEARING PERFUMES! Sometimes deodorant and fresh clothes and washed hair are enough. Like many people, overpowering perfumes give me a headache. My opinion is that perfume is worn for the sake of the person wearing it, but it will make many people want to get as far away from you as quickly as possible, just so they don't have to smell it anymore. But I am biased to my own personal beliefs.
Remember also that it is a great idea to accept as many forms of payment as possible when you're doing shows. I know that the ATM fees at our local fair are extraordinarily high, and many people don't like to carry cash or have to walk very far to get it. So only accepting cash as a form of payment can actually hurt your sales a lot. Using a POS such as Square or PayPal  is a great help in making transactions easy!
Lastly, when you're vending at a show its a great idea to do one simple thing: MAKE FRIENDS! Don't be afraid to chat with neighboring vendors and even purchase some of their products to support them. We humans are social creatures, and showing support to someone who supports you will help both your business and theirs. Plus, many times, you will find that they will be willing to cover down for you if you need to walk away for a minute and keep an eye on things if you are willing to do the same for them. I've made some amazing life-long friends vending shows, so don't be afraid to get to know your neighbors!
Vending at local shows is a great way to spread word of mouth, so cdon't forget: having a social media presence will give people a chance to share where to find you and see what you do. Avoiding politics and keeping drama off your social media pages will show people that you are a great person to do business with. You will note that on both my personal social media page as well as my business pages, I stick to bright, happy, appropriately funny and easy to relate to topics. But I still give people a sense of who I am and - I HOPE - make them comfortable to approach me. 
Now, go out there and enjoy yourself! Make some sales, meet some new people, and make you and your business' presence known! 


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