Frustrated with Jewelry Show Sales

by Jody Lanham.

question-mark-001I make jewelry too (surprise?) and I sell it (usually) at art festivals/craft shows and at some inside markets near where I live.

My observation has been that at some shows I notice artists/craftspersons who also make jewelry simply sit and construct all during the event, never get up and join the potential customer, never talk to them or engage with them until the time of sale.

Yet they are selling consistently and from what I can see it is a lot of the same thing, strings of this and of that, just different colors more or less. It’s all laid out in neat rows or hanging in neat displays, uncreative and uninspiring, and setup in less than 30 minutes.

Then there is me with my 2-hour setup, usually similar in design to the last time but never the same, unique and fetching, highlighting my most eye-catching pieces. I spend a good amount of time up and readjusting, straightening, a little rearranging, and engaging with customers when they venture “in” (depending on booth arrangement) to my “shop”.

Yet while they will say the pieces are very unique and very beautiful I often do not sell as much as I would hope to or believe that I “should”. Not as much as the vendor with the non-unique collection.

OK admittedly my prices may be higher but then there is a lot of work, time, and materials in most of my creations. While I try to price reasonably and probably less than the pieces are really worth, I am not going to “give” them away.

I try to rationalize that the show I am attending is not attracting the right kind of customer for my designs. But sometimes that isn’t a realistic observation. I often cannot see what the roadblock is to better sales.

I know that the “right” jewelry will sell itself and sometimes I engage less with that theory in mind, and I also know that sometimes a sale will be made BECAUSE I have engaged with the customer, who might otherwise have walked off with nothing.

What is happening? Have others of you experienced this confusion and frustration? If so any insights and suggestions?

I have vowed at some of these disappointing shows that I will never sell my jewelry again, never even make it again!

Jody Lanham

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  • Patti Panuccio says:

    Try offering something easily made that you can sell for a little mark up. I have a 5.99 or 2/$10.00 display of 5 minute rings or earrings that I might do to perfect a new technique. People will stay in my booth a little longer rummaging through the old jewelry chest I use for display. It ups my overall sales and sometimes I sell a high end piece too.

  • Creating your jewelry from your booth can be a powerful selling tool. It’s an attention grabber, and if someone stops to watch you work or even just out of curiosity to see what you’re doing, they are more likely to then turn that attention to your finished work and possibly make a purchase.

    Also, people are naturally curious so if they see two or three people standing around watching what you’re doing, it’s more likely others will stop to look and see what’s going on too.

    That being said, I usually prefer to stop at a booth where the seller is busy creating, or helping other people so that I don’t get immediately pounced with offers of help, or a hard sell.

    Or even more awkward; an artist anxiously hovering while I shop their booth. A glance in my direction with a simple “Hello” or “Let me know if you have any questions.”, acknowledging that they know I’m there and they’re available to help me if I need it is enough for me.

    Also, there is a market for handmade simple or trendy styles. If you can’t beat it, join it. It doesn’t mean it’s cheaply made or that the creators have no artistic talent, but part of having a business is having some “bread and butter” items and meeting the demands of the paying customers.

    Handmade variations of circles on a chain, infinity symbols, “open” hearts, and sideways crosses can be inexpensive moneymakers sold alongside your more artistic, one of a kind pieces.

    Finally, you mention the time it takes you to set up your display.

    Customers want to see a neat table and well made jewelry. If your display design is taking two hours to set up and there aren’t the sales to support that time investment, then consider streamlining that process to minimize the effort it takes to set up before each show.

    JMJ Content & Social Media

  • Random says:

    It is possible you are over engaging potential customers and talking and pushing yourself right out of a Sale. Be sure you are not over talking and try to come up with different ways to limit talking points, like signs, you do want to come off as a pre recorded robot sales person. Sometimes people want to browse quietly even at a show. If you catch them focusing or handling a particular piece more than once you can say, “I see that piece caught your eye, that’s one of my favorite creations, would you like to try it on?” Then you can get up and say “I love how this piece looks with a (particular color) blouse” or something like those suggestions, it’s about making the customer comfortable and happy about buying from you, not hey look what I made, it’s really fancy compared to those other makers, I used these fancy materials and techniques to make it, buy from me….. (In writing this to you I’m realizing my own shortcomings in customer service skills…..sometime writing things down make you realize things you could have done better)

  • Lisa says:

    Hi Jody. You say you “spend a good amount of time up and readjusting, straightening, a little rearranging….” Have you tried leaving your set-up a little bit ‘messy’? From past experience I’ve found that people don’t want to pick up and look at jewellery when the table looks too perfect – they feel that they will be spoiling all your hard work that has gone in to your perfect display. Customers almost always need to touch before they will buy, so this immediately puts a barrier in the way of sales. I also purposefully leave a gap or two in my earring display – this implies that you have sold to previous customers so your jewellery is selling well and they should join in! As Alicia says, I just like to be left to browse when shopping, a hard sell means that I try to escape as soon as possible! I’d be nice and friendly in your greeting, and then leave the customer to browse.

  • Tammie E says:

    I’ll assume your post was written recently, so I will say that in my experience spring shows are always MUCH slower than fall and pre Christmas shows. I too get annoyed with the volume sales made by folks making slapped together pieces, but I decided to say to myself “would I be happy cranking out the same old same old over and over?” No, I wouldn’t. I do have quite a few earrings that I try to keep in the $10-12 range and sometimes they are my ‘bread and butter’ to quote Alicia. I want my art to reflect me and sometimes the crowd just isn’t into it. That’s OK, just make an informed decision next year- when that application comes around, sometimes it’s just not worth it.
    As far as making during the show, I ALWAYS have something I’m working on. A. I don’t sit still too well B. It cuts down on the number of people who ask if ‘I make all this??’ C. It can draw a crowd and D. If it is a slow day, at least I accomplished something 🙂
    Lastly, Do try and find some ways to cut down that two hour set up. That used to be me too and it was so frustrating. I found some ways to cut that time with pre-loaded displays. I use several display boards, I have loaded, with my pieces on cards. I use nice picture frames, replaced the insert with foam core board that I covered with batting and natural burlap, added some drapery hooks and secured back in the frame. I have some table top easels I set up, pull those frames out of a big clear lawn/leaf bag and pop it onto the easel. If anything falls off, it’s in the bag- easy peasy! Good Luck and keep hanging in there.

  • YES!! YES!!! YES!! Jody it has happened to me also. I am like you I like to get up and greet the customer not say hello to her over my table while sitting down. Once i have spoken to the customer and told her about my items and telling her to by all means feel free to try on… then I will leave her alone. I have a wide variaty of prices in my booth i have found that by doing so my items appeal to all walks of life. My motto is ” I sell quality handcrafted jewelry that has style and fashion with prices to fit your lifestyle” I believe in customer service so dont give that up.Maybe find a hook, lure customers into your booth. Maybe a punch card, ( which I started ) very successful, offer monthly specials, offer a 2 for pricing on some items. Hey i am sure I am not telling you anything you dont know we have all been there.Lastly dont let your elaborate set up display take away from your beautiful jewelry, sometimes when people see something so extravagant they may just pass by thinking the items in the shop are way to expensive for them. I am not saying not to make a nice display but keep it simple and neat. Good Luck and Happy Selling.

  • Sally G says:

    Hi, Jody,
    I have experienced the same frustration and the suggestions above are really great — I will use them, too!

    At one show, I was placed across from a couple who set up a table, threw on a tableclothe, and simply dumped a boxful of stretchy tube bead/colored bead necklaces upon it. They proceeded to sell a ton of them for a ridiculously low price. I came away with two thoughts (pretty good for me!): 1) they were making the same thing over and over again, with small variations, which I think would be extremely boring and unfulfilling as an artist, and 2) I think people like “pawing” through things to get what they feel is a great deal. So, now I display my things a little differently. Right up front I have a hatbox full of inexpensive earrings (simple ones, using up odds and ends — small investment of time/materials for me), and a tray of bracelets– not all the same style, but touchable and try-on-able. I agree that a display that is too neat can be daunting to customers. Good luck!

  • Lynn L. says:

    I have a number of friends who hate selling their crafts in the city we live in because no one wants to spend their money. Two women who were from out of town, had a jewelry booth next to my jewelry booth, they were complaining ‘why is your jewelry selling and not ours’. I looked at their prices and they were a lot higher than mine, and my jewelry is not just strung-on beads like theirs’ was, I put a lot of work into my pieces. I find that people who come to craft shows, especially in my city, go by the price not the work that went into it, they are looking for deals.

  • It sounds like you are in the wrong shows. If you are with other people who sell low end jewelry, and things that are just strung, you may need to kick your shows up a notch. Try applying to more high end juried shows.
    I have also found that shows that charge a fee to get in, and where there are no other amusements (pony rides, music) attract a more sophisticated audience who are actually there to buy, not just spend the day amusing their kids.
    I also agree, fall is better than spring.

    Good luck!

  • marlene says:

    The last indoor show I did I had 2 -8foot tables, 3-3ft risers. After placing the covers on the tables and positioning the risers I put up some necklace busts and earring holders, then out comes my plastic trays that have the jewelry on. I can get 24 trays on a table plus the busts etc. Entire set up time 1 hour. Tear down is just the reverse. The trays go in their gray carrying cases that hold 12 trays. Not very fancy or artsy craftsy but it has worked for over 17 years. People can look, touch and pick up without having to worry about jewelry falling off of displays.
    I have some lower priced items for the budget minded customer and I work on creating as I talk to the people, some of whom have many pieces of my jewelry. It is fun to see old faces and to be told how they enjoy those pieces.

  • Susan says:

    Couple of thoughts. I put my tables on risers so people don’t have to bend over much to look at my things. I arrange by color, greens with greens, next to turquoise, next to blue, etc., etc. I have acrylic risers and glass shelves, and those awful black velvet busts. (hubby was supposed to make me those awesome wood ones but they haven’t materialized yet.) Takes me one hr to set up including tent and tables. I put necklaces towards the back, and like-colored bracelets, earrings and rings on the shelves in front. People seem to feel welcomed to touch and pick up items if they are not tied down to something. When they apologize for knocking thing over, I tell them I have three grandkids ages 2,4 & 6 living in my home and there is nothing on this table they can hurt. While I bring a chair, it is usually only used to stand on to hang my banner. I am making my 2/fer earrings all day when not helping a customer, replenishing and renewing my inventory. I try to engage my customers with bits of interesting information about the gemstones I use. They appreciate someone that has enough passion for their work to learn and share. I went to a local mine for an open “dig” and brought home lots of cool rough large enough to drape things over “artfully”. People love to hear the history of the mine and learn what is available locally and sometimes, I can show them what that finished gemstone looks like in my jewelry. It has taken me about a year to settle into this routine, but it works well for me. There are usually 5 or 6 other jewelry vendors at this market weekly, but I get more than my share of sales because I do price with the idea that times are hard, jewelry is a luxury, and what would I feel comfortable paying for this if I couldn’t make it myself? I have repeat customers and referrals, so I guess I am doing something right. Every market is different, and there are so many helpful folks on this site, just try some of the ideas they offer and go for it!

  • I hear and feel your pain! I agree with others who say you need a “hook” or lower priced items at the front of your booth to slow people down. I started creating those rubber band bracelets (yes, I made those bracelets, not my child, grandchild/niece/nephew) After all the Rainbow Loom box said “for ages 8 and up” and I certainly qualify for the “and up” category :). The kids love pawing through the bowls that I have on the front table and it slows down the adults accompanying them as well. I feature beaded Kumihimo jewelry which as some may be aware is quite lovely, but time consuming and I price accordingly. I am not willing to lower prices to satisfy some bargain hunter who thinks he/she can buy this at WalMart or some discount chain. Unfortunately, I have had people say to my face that they can buy this at WalMart for less. I have now steeled myself for this comment and will now say, “I doubt it, I don’t sell to WalMart and I don’t support child labor”. Maybe a bit nasty, but when that comment is said in a derogatory tone, my German temper rears up. Anyway, back to the question at hand. I agree that the time of the year makes a difference some time, but I don’t agree with the comment that if you pay a higher booth fee and are included in a juried show, you will have more sales. Been there, done that. Other than the juried part, which DOES seem to make a bit of a difference, the higher the fee does not guarantee higher sales. In fact, the highest fee I’ve paid so far for a 1-day show was a juried $125 booth fee at an “arts festival” with no face painting, etc. I sold exactly 2 pairs of $10 earrings. The show was well organized and ran smoothly, but the only one who did great business was the guy next to me who had copper tube sculptures that had water coming out of them. The fact that the day was in the 90s probably helped. Was he selling them cheap – nope. He was selling them for $150 – 180 and they were waiting in line to buy.

    I have seen suggestions regarding walking the show the year before to get a feel for the type of show it will be, but I haven’t taken my own advice in most cases. I rely on reviews/comments at the various show listings to base my decision on.

  • Wanda says:

    Jody,I hear you. I’ve experienced some of the same frustrations. A lot of people have given you a lot of good feedback,some of the same things I would tell you. I’m sure your booth is beautiful,but the two hour setup time sounds excessive, maybe you can make a display that’s just as eye catching,but less time consuming. As far as craft shows go,like some people said,try to avoid the ones with a lot of kid-oriented or family- oriented booths , face painting,balloon animal makers and all that. Kids are great,but at those shows the parents are busy dealing with them and won’t have time to really shop. Also,there are a lot of promoters that use the phrase “craft fair” when what they really mean is “flea market.” Real craft fairs don’t have people selling cookware,food storage containers,multi-level marketed candles,jewelry or make-up, or stuff that was in Grandma’s basement that might bring a dollar or two. Watch out for those, and Good Luck!

  • Dawn Hill says:

    Have a range of items at differing price points. I swear to you that I make more money selling $4 bracelets, $5 earrings and $6 wrap bracelets than anything else on most days. That is fine! It pays my table fees, etc and the bigger items I sell are all gravy that way.

    Do your thing while in your booth. Straightening and such should not be overly necessary unless wild monkey children come through and make a mess of course. Sit, make your jewelry or components for your designs.

    Go to shows that are aimed at real artists and not just “craft shows” which have become a mish-mash of party style sellers and more. I cannot and will not compete with what I call “flea market” sellers. It is a waste of my time. I go to shows that require that ALL the people involved make every item in their booth. They are often harder to get into because jewelry makers are many but it is worthwhile to wait to get into them rather than throw your time, effort and money into shows that leave you frustrated.

    Do shows that are established. I will not do a show that is not at least 3 yrs old unless I know the organizer and they have experience running other shows. If I decide to do a new show I do it figuring I will be lucky to break even and not anything more. If I am wrong then happy surprise but I find this to be true about 90% of the time.

    Just a note about “getting up” when a customer approaches-BIG mistake. Humans are animals and when they walk into “your space” (ie your cave) they are on alert whether they realize it or not. By jumping up you are actually threatening to that animal that lives in the back of the mind. This is the reason you should always be sitting in an chair at eye level, like a directors chair if you are sitting at all. This is non-threatening, you can still talk to the person without them looking down at you and it is far less threatening when you slide out of the chair that is up high rather than down low. I know this sounds NUTS but it is totally true. People leave booths or hover on the edge when the seller is bouncing up and down or otherwise moving around too much. I have watched it time and again.

    Good luck.

  • I WILL a get risers for my table! Great observation about human nature and giving customers their space. My Battenburg lace table cover draws many compliments and helps me strike up a conversation with a customer. I like to stand and fiddle with my display as if I’m restocking. It also looks like someone is checking out my booth and hopefully draws others to stop by. Complimenting a passerby on their outfit, haircut or children might elicit a connection too.

  • Jeanne Lyons says:

    If I didn’t know better your letter could have been written by me! I have tried all of the above mentioned things!!! My final conclusions: they all have some merit and are worth trying. The bottom line is keep trying shows, stick to the “art” and fine craft shows. Look for reviews of the shows on sites like Event Lister,… for just a couple. I’ve found them helpful to a certain extent… if the reviews are of the last few years. I have found that visiting the shows the year before didn’t really tell me anything to help my decision so I don’t bother anymore. I stay away from shows that have 200 or more vendors even if they pull in 10,000 visitors. There’s usually way too much going on, too many jewelry booths, and 10,000 people don’t make it into your booth. I stay away from juried shows that charge more than $30 just to jury. In general stay away from church shows, farmer markets, and craft shows. Don’t be afraid to ask other vendors to recommend shows or ask where they’re going next. Most love to share their experiences. Be willing to travel. I love shows that jury you in first and then ask for booth payment upon acceptance. I feel they value your time and money. You will find a few shows worth doing each year for a few years. Each year drop a couple of ones that didn’t meet your expectations or are slipping in some way and try a couple of new ones. Good Luck!

  • johanna mackenzie says:

    Wow me too ! Thank you all for your personal experiences here.Frustration ad disapointment at my first “makers market” where I sold 1pr of earrings all day. I did not even cover $110 booth costs and it seemed to me all the customers were on a mission as they totally ignored my goods. I checked out the market which was beautiful and all the stalls were of a high standard but honestly I didn’t see many people carrying goods they all seemed to be lookers. I just wanted to go home by 11-am! either that or get a large fish net and drag them in.
    Obviously not my market and I don’t know what is until I try another one,but not for a while. All the tips and suggestions are really helpful and I just love this site as usually creating is a solitary occupation for me it is comforting to know how other artists manage the ups ad downs of selling (or not) and even if I don’t sell I still have to create. Thank you again from “down under”

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