Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
Back in September, I was looking for anyone with experience at the Witan French Market show in Akron, OH. A representative from the Witan charity organization (Woman In Touch With Akron's Needs) had contacted me through my Etsy shop and asked me if I'd like to apply. It was a small show held in a church hall - something I've learned to run away from! But I had heard it was well run, and I thought maybe this would be different.
At the time, I couldn't find much recent information on it, so I thought I'd post my experience here. First, let me say that Witan has been doing this show for over 40 years, and they are very well organized. The show is in a very large, well lit church hall, with high ceilings. The Witan ladies have the booth spaces laid out, and have pipe and drape already installed to separate each artist's or vendor's stall space. Set up was from 9 am to 3 pm on Thursday; the show ran Friday 10 am to 7 pm, and Saturday 10 am to 3 pm. Booth sitters were provided, and they even had a lady with a hospitality cart - pastries, coffee, water, and tea - come around a couple times each morning. The church ran there own food service for lunches, and vendors could submit a slip with payment and have their lunches delivered to their booths. Wifi was provided and was stable. Traffic was relatively steady throughout both days, and the organizers sent out information afterwards that there were about 5500 in attendance. They even offered vendors the opportunity to purchase their attendance list for marketing purposes. So all in all a very professional looking and artist friendly venue.
I wanted so much to like this show because of all the above! But, alas, my sales were dismal. Booth fee was $ 250, and I didn't even make that. I had only three sales; two very small originals and one reproduction. I don't think prices were a factor, as I had a number of prints, reproductions, and small originals all priced under $ 40. I saw three other painters there, and in speaking with them, learned they had a very similar experience. There were also a couple of pottery artists, a few jewelry booths, a clothing and textile artist, and a lot of crafts and food vendors. My booth neighbors included a vendor who made Vera Bradley type handbags and clothes, and a very talented textile artist. Like me, both were doing this show for the first time, and both had miserable sales. The only booths I saw that were kicking it were a couple selling metal lawn art and a booth selling liquor flavored caramels. The caramel lady did real good - gave out free samples, and sold a ton! But I didn't see many in the crowd carrying bags of arts or crafts.
So I left the show kicking myself for doing another church show, as I never do well at those things and had promised myself I wouldn't do another. Ok, Sonja, you're going to stick to that now!
Oh, so sorry to hear this, Sonja. The only follow-up I can give is to try to visit one of these events before you sign up, maybe the year before. Another might be to see if you can view the previous year's exhibitors and make some contacts. Another telling sign is usually the booth fee. In this case, for $250 I'd expect this to be an event that can support higher sales. Alas. This time it wasn't. That is a high booth fee for this type of event. With all of that good support you'd think at least the show organizers would "shop the show." That would encourage exhibitors to maybe apply again next year. Whenever I ran shows I always did that and have cool goods to show for it.
I thank you for this review. It will be helpful to others.
You know, Connie, two of the three items I sold were purchased by one of the Witan woman working the show - so that was nice. And she was so surprised to learn my sales were bad. But I ran into some of the same comments I hear from old timers at the larger art fairs I do - how sales were down for everyone, and how the crowds are there but not buying art. I just started showing about three years ago, and I feel like I missed out on the "Golden Age" of art shows! I think art shows in general are becoming less about purchasing unique and fine art, and more of just an entertaining week-end stroll. When I set up at these events, I feel more like I'm running a free to the public viewing gallery than a business. Lots of enthusiastic comments and admirers, very few sales. Ah, but maybe that's just the sour grapes talking!
More and more shows I go to here in Australia have become entertainment rather than a shopping experience. Shows have always been different here though and more market like (and the vast majority are single day events, but their booth fee is cheaper too). But the visitors to them ALWAYS have $$ for food and coffee (but they won't spend their lunch money on something that they could enjoy for years or longer). I too would love to have been in the craft fair heyday!!
I will never go back either. I am in the red since I had a hotel bill also. I made my booth fee only because of selling to other artists. It was terrible! Many, many compliments on my work and a lot of cards given out, but that doesn't seem to mean anything.
I even paid for a corner and didn't get it, had to email them for a refund. They are sending it back but it doesn't make much of a dent. :(
Aw, so sad you had the same experience as me! Your clothes items were so unique and cool.
Sonja, this is a fair report on the WITAN show, but it looks like you were talking mostly to other first-timers. This show was my 3rd year there and I know some of the other regulars. Sales were indeed down, mine 50% from previous years; this show has been one of my two best for the season (I stick to the NE Ohio area). I'm pretty sure the reason was the stock market. Remember, the show's first day was the end of the week when the market crashed (is it over?), and the quite affluent crowd (paying $6 a head to attend) were quite aware of it. Still, I sold an expensive table, which does not always happen.
Like you, I did some church hall shows when I started, and swore them off for good. But WITAN is not a church hall show; they just rent St. George's hall, which is one of the most successful of the kind: last year, I did the show on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday my son's high school debate team held its end of season celebration in the same space!
So keep the show on your list; hopefully next year won't be a time of plague and recession!
Yes, Clayton, the WITAN fair is in a class above your average church hall show, but I still don't think it's the right venue for me, at least. Perhaps a decline in the stock market might dissuade some people from making a costly $ 100 plus art purchase, but you can't convince me someone wouldn't pop for a $ 20 - 30 art piece because their 401k was down a little. Especially when they were eating up those $ 24 a box caramel liquors (pun intended!)