Dear Design Doctor
I have just done another craft show. I thought it was one of the best shows around, but I was shocked how few people came through the door. Sales were beyond low, almost non-existent. I spent time talking to the others about the show and many were extremely discouraged to say the least. What can we do?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine July/August 2014 (page 26) where it was titled ‘Why the show must go on’:
‘Thank you for raising this issue, as I too have noticed a drop in visitor attendance and sales at craft shows and trade fairs in the last couple of years. It’s a shame, as it’s such a waste of time, energy and money for everybody involved.
Choosing the right exhibition to suit your work can be a tricky business, and there are no guarantees of instant return.
I think there is a couple of reasons for the lack of visitors and buyers:
Obviously, we are still in a recession (although economic optimism is on the up apparently).
In fact ‘crafts’ and ‘handmade’ are increasingly popular, with many more people starting a craft career or just generally interested. As a result there are more makers, but also more people who are interested in purchasing crafts.
And of course there has been a major increase in selling and buying at online platforms such as Etsy.
Also a lot more craft shows have been launched. Some of these are very good; they select the best exhibitors and spend a lot of time promoting the show and organising additional events to attract visitors, buyers and collectors. It’s crucial that you research any shows very well before you apply.
Who are the organisers and who else will be exhibiting?
What’s the visitor profile?
What kind of press did they get last time?
What were last year’s visitor numbers and average sales?
Don’t be afraid to ask some probing questions of the organisers and past exhibitors. A show that’s good for one maker, might be a disaster for another.
A couple of years ago I was able to more or less predict how a designer maker would do at a certain show. That’s much harder now.
When I speak to established makers they tell me they do a small group of shows to spread the risk, as they themselves can’t predict the outcome any more. They often need to work harder to get sales, and have to follow up after a show more as people delay their purchase decisions.
Timing of shows is also essential. I have seen craft and design shows emerging throughout the year, but the main season is still obviously towards Christmas. Especially trade buyers do purchase at very specific times in the year, and will not be very tempted outside of this key period.
Shows in the summer are often influenced by weather conditions (either a lovely, sunny or a very rainy day can turn visitors away!).
On the other hand there are so many craft events and Open Studios on in the last 3 months of the year that I think a little bit of craft-fair-fatigue is settling in too. I love these shows, but even I can’t attend them all!
I believe that the nature of selling events, especially trade shows, has changed.
Buyers don’t just go to a show to buy, but more often to network, find out what’s going on.
Trade buyers have become more careful in their buying, and will purchase from those they already successfully work with. They work within a budget, and often make purchase decisions after a show, together when they are back in the office.
If you haven’t had a great show there is a couple of things you can do.
What did you learn?
Was it the show right for you?
What feedback did you get?
What could YOU do better next time in terms of products, collections, pricing or doing a different show at a different time in the year?
Did YOU do enough promotion to your contacts? Did you invite (potential) clients? Did you create a special newsletter, blog posts or use twitter before, during and after the event?
Did you provide relevant information and images to the organisers in time? Were they proactive with marketing and creating the right buzz for the event?
It’s too easy to blame the organisers. Organisers and exhibitors really need to work together to get people through the door.
Did you collect cards and names?
Selling events aren’t there just for the money, but also to stay in touch with potential clients, to increase your profile, and to get new contact details for your database. Start a database and stay in touch.
Did you follow up with the people who visited? And (trade) clients who didn’t?
Can you give constructive feedback to the organisers and make some suggestions how you can help them to organise and market the event?
Craft shows are crucial for a thriving craft sector, both for makers, buyers and organisers. To connect and engage with each other, to touch the real thing, to be inspired.
The way we buy, sell and market contemporary craft is changing.
Especially now in the run up to the busy Christmas season, let’s keep working together creatively to show and sell the best of crafts.’