by Rebecca Ross Russell.
We all know how daunting those first craft shows can be!
Even the fabulously successful vendors you see at the biggest wholesale shows had to start somewhere. How can you make your first jewelry show experience relatively painless – emotionally and especially financially?
There are different types of shows, requiring drastically different financial investments. Here is a breakdown of a few of them.
Outdoor vs. Indoor Shows
Indoor retail shows are generally smaller than outdoor shows, but have several very real advantages for start-ups.
Most importantly, you don’t have to invest in a canopy or tent for weather protection, which can save you several hundred dollars. Tables are often provided at indoor shows, and weather is never an issue.
However, there is a definite audience size limit to indoor shows, so while these can be a good place to start, at a certain point you may find that you just aren’t getting the sales you need.
Juried vs. Non-Juried Shows
Non-juried shows can be a good option for beginning artists, but be aware that they are often awash in imported goods.
This can go either way – it brings down the quality of the show, and their goods are often cheap, but if you have a really spectacular handcrafted product, customers may be even more excited because of the difference.
Juried shows often require more elaborate display setups. And of course there is always the risk of not getting accepted to be in the show!
Time of Year
Most of the year, you want to be in a show where the audience’s expectations roughly match your product line. Even the most fabulous pieces won’t sell if the customers aren’t looking to spend that kind of money.
However, the holidays can be a good time to be a big fish in a small pond. People are far more likely to spend larger amounts of money on impulse buys for presents than at any other time, so participating in smaller shows or importer-heavy areas can actually be a good investment.
Craft Shows Run by Local Churches,
Community Centers, or Schools
These tend to be the cheapest options for new businesses, although the quality of goods and traffic are often correspondingly lower. Booth fees vary from under a hundred dollars, up to as much as two or three hundred (very rarely).
Be sure to get information about previous years’ attendance and talk to other vendors, if you can.
These shows often let in imported goods as well as handmade, which, as discussed above, brings its own set of issues.
Town, City, or County-Wide Shows
Do your homework! Find out about previous years’ attendance and average sales. These shows are likely to be significantly larger, more likely to be outdoors, and often have huge foot traffic.
However, the booth fees can also be correspondingly much larger – up to a thousand dollars for the best of the best. At a certain point it’s more than worth it, but don’t jump into the deep end until you’re sure you can recoup your costs.
Make sure your display reflects the style and attitude of your work. If you do whimsical, funky pieces, don’t stick them on a plain back and white display!
Generally, keep the busts and display pieces themselves in the black, white, and gray range, unless your work’s color is strong enough to really pop against something else.
Pearls and plain, shiny metals look great on black, anything with stones will likely do better on white.
Make sure you have a range of heights and sizes in your display pieces, to keep visual interest. I generally recommend using your display pieces, a table covering reflecting your style, and ONE other strong visual element.
If your work is very organic, consider natural materials like rocks and twigs. If your work is geometric, consider brightly colored blocks and balls as risers and decoration.
If you use seaglass, scatter shells and unset pieces of glass around. Use something that ties in clearly with your work and complements it, without taking away attention.
Also consider a distraction for children who accompany their parents to shows. Some people have baskets with interesting tumbled stones for kids to play with, or candy at their table, or cheap magnetic jewelry. Make sure you don’t put out choking hazards where you can’t see them, or anything valuable. Also make sure to ask parents if it’s alright before you hand anything to their kids!
Some cheap sources of display busts and other pieces include Nilecorp and Fetpack, both online. Try eBay or Michael’s for decorative elements – they often have random lots of interesting items.
For cheap and used canopies for outdoor shows, try eBay, but remember that you get what you pay for. Good luck and happy showing!
Author Rebecca Ross Russell of R-Cubed Jewelry produces completely individualized, handcrafted traditional and conceptual jewelry in sterling silver and gold with precious and semi-precious stones. Rebecca says, “We take great pride in creating truly unique pieces for each client. We strive to provide a balance between wearable and art jewelry, staples and splurges, the everyday and the extraordinary.”