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Downtown Naples New Year's Art Fair (Jan. 4-5, 2014)

The first cold of the new year, symptoms of which I'd been pounding with Zicam since Christmas Day, finally took root on New Year's Eve and made the first two days of 2014 pretty miserable.  But one of the advantages of age is that you know pretty much how well you are going to throw off illnesses, and I knew I'd be OK to participate in the Naples New Year show.

Which was a good thing.  I hadn't done the show since 2010, and lots had changed with my work since then.  Plus, I'd seen declining sales at the competing show at Miromar Outlets run by HotWorks/Patty Narozny over the last two years, so it was time to roll the dice 20 miles further south.  

It turned out to be a decent, if not spectacular, show, despite being much soggier than forecast on Saturday, with precipitation that progressed from a brief sprinkle during setup to intermittent showers around noon, to steady rain after about 2 PM.  And there were some good lessons learned from that:

* Never, never, bring work in cardboard boxes to shows in Florida.  I had received a large shipment of new, larger canvases on Friday.  And given how I was feeling and the partly cloudy forecast,  I was tempted to just load them into the van in their original shipping containers.  But instead, I forced myself to spend two hours cutting custom containers out of aluminum insulation and bubble wrap. When the rains hit unexpectedly at 7:30 AM Saturday morning, I was glad that I did. The work was safe and dry in its custom bags; some would have been damaged in soggy cardboard.

* Don't leave your booth because of lack of customers, rain brings out serious buyers.  This advice was echoed in Melanie Rolfe's post on Las Olas.  Folks on a mission for new art won't let a litle rain stop them.  You may find, as I did, that these buyers are there despite the rain because they've got flights out on Sunday, and they want to get their place ready for the season before they leave. 

Case in point:  Among my new, larger pieces was a 45x30 canvas of a shot I'd been selling successfully at 30x20 for several years.  I had it hung on my back wall, and it was attracting lots of attention from folks sitting at the outdoor seats at the Starbucks directly across from me. (So much so, that I joked about calling it my "Venti" sized canvas.  I didn't, for fear of arousing the ire of Starbucks' lawyers, who are demonstrably serious about  protecting their trademarks.)

But I digress.  About two hours into the show, a very nice lady strolled over, clutching her latte, and expressed interest in this $795 piece. The only sticking points seemed to be: Would it fit in her SUV(!), and how would it stay dry during the ride home?  She went off to measure her cargo space; I fetched the custom bag I'd spent a half hour making only the night before.  She returned in ten minutes, reporting that she just had room.  I took the work off the wall, slipped it in the bag, and happily took her check.  For a sale like that, I'll cut custom bags every day, and twice on Sunday. 

So the new, larger work would sell. . .that was a relief.  And an hour later, I sold a custom order for a smaller version (16x20 of another large piece on display.  And because I'd priced up the large piece, the price I put on the small piece looked like a bargain in the customer's eyes--even though said price was nearly double what I charged in 2013. 

Those were the only two customers I had on Saturday, but I had over $1000 in the till.  Pretty good first day return on my "go big or go home" initiative.  When Sunday dawned to sunny skies and warmer temps, I was expecting a gangbusters day-- but it didn't materialize.  Crowds were moderate, but nothing approaching wall-to-wall, and the buying energy wasn't there.  For most of the day, I saw more pocket pooches being carried than fine art purchases.  Some late-day buyers boosted the day's totals into respectability, but overall, the results were another decent paycheck--much like last week's show at Coconut Point. 

Many of the artists in my area of the show reported decent sales; few folks zeroed; others did pretty well. It was tough to draw conclusions from what I heard, but if I had to take a stab, I'd say that sales were slightly down from, or even with, 2013. 

A couple of other nuggets worth knowing about this show:
* Set-up is Saturday morning only (no Friday), beginning at 3 AM.  I drove down from Ft. Myers and arrived a little after six.  Check-in a few blocks away in a large, dark vacant lot lit only by a blinding floodlight, get your packet and parking pass, then drive as directed by the volunteer and von Liebig museum staff to your spot.  Well controlled but not overly so. 

* The show is laid out along Naples' swank Fifth Avenue shops and eateries in a single line; booths are back-to-back, with enough storage space behind to make things workable.  The show sets up the booths so that everyone can have an outside side wall for display, weather permitting.  I think it's safe to say that there isn't a bad booth location in the show, and even though the visitors definitely skew toward the cane-and-walker side of the demographic profile, most navigate the entire show.  Devoted. 

*Show quality is uniformly high: about 225 artists, and a wide variety of categories: painting the largest (20% of show); jewelry was about 11%; photography and sculpture, about 10%; closely followed by glass and mixed media.  You can also find a decent representation of furniture and woodworking.

* It's a conservative crowd.  Abstract art doesn't sell well here; never has.  They loves their birds and Florida beach scenes,  but there were a lot of artists, including myself, chasing that particular buying niche.

*It's also a cash crowd.  There are lots of Europeans (not just Germans and British, but eastern Europeans as well).  They pay cash; they write checks; they haggle (a little, but nothing like you'd find over in Boca Raton).  I did very little business in credit cards.  If you ship to Europe (I don't), you definitely want to advertise that in your booth.

So, I'm but one artist out of many AFI'ers that did this show.  Jump in with your experiences.  And if you opted for HotWorks' show in Estero this weekend (a half hour drive on Rt. 41 North),  how about letting us know how things went there this weekend?  The next three months will bring us lots of opportunities for same-weekend competing shows; it will be helpful for future generations to know what's what. 

Views: 798

Comment by Connie Mettler on January 6, 2014 at 9:53pm

Love this analysis, Geoff, and as usual you give real value here and a person knows what to expect. So what do you think about two sales that totaled over $1000? Did you ever dream that would happen when you started in this business? Is this the beginning of your "go big or go home?" 

I totally agree on these two things:

  1. A rainy day, especially one in your neck of the woods, means that whoever is there is definitely interested in being a buyer. This is such an affluent area, why would any of these folks even be there when they could be anywhere if they weren't interested in taking something home.
  2. Hope everyone is listening here - cardboard boxes are always a risk -- make boxes, buy boxes or have some custom made to fit your work.

This used to be on of the HA shows, right? and the art association took it over (?) from (?) him.

I'm surprised at the European buyers. I thought they were exclusive to the East Coast of Florida. They bring some sophistication to this part of Florida. For us, Gulf Coasters were always looking to match the couch. We never did well there.

I'm with you Geoff. What show would have provided the best returns this year: Hot Works in Estero, Naples or Las Olas. Who will tell us?

Comment by Geoff Coe on January 6, 2014 at 10:18pm

Connie: Yes, going big or going home.  The homes in SW Florida have huge ceilings.  Mine does, too--but I like to hang art so that it's just above eye level when seated, and I've never been really comfortable with buying ultra-large work, so, frankly, I was late in realizing that not every homeowners feels like I do.  I'll write more about this after I have sales data from a half-dozen or so winter shows.

Howard Alan put on this show for years.  I did this show once before, in 2010, but the von Liebig had taken it over by then.  My understanding is that the museum persuaded the City Council that they should be running the all of the city's signature downtown art events, and took it over in 2008 or 2009.  It is a matter of some controversy among veteran artists as to whether the show is better now or not, but there is general agreement that there are too many shows in SW Florida. 

Comment by geri a. wegner on January 6, 2014 at 11:55pm

One of the things I enjoyed the most about Naples was hearing German, Italian and French accents.  It was such a nice change from Spanish in Miami.

Comment by Connie Mettler on January 7, 2014 at 10:20am

You know that may be another reason for you to go big. We live in a large house in Michigan, but it was built around 1860. Big art just doesn't work, the ceilings are not that high and there are lots of small walls where smaller works of art look great. But that is an old house. In your neck of the woods (were there even people in 1860?) with all that new housing and cathedral ceilings and long interior walls who wants "bathroom-sized" art? As I think about it I'd think the large work would sell better in Florida's new housing market than in the East Coast that you spend time in in the summer where the housing stock is older. 

Now I'm remembering about the transition of this show. Howard Alan started the Naples 5th Avenue show some years ago and you are right the Art Assn. went to the City and asked for the streets. He has run into this problem a few other places where the art associations, museum sponsored shows wanted pre-eminence in their towns and rallied their cities and their buyers to stay away from the HA events. Luckily for Howard he is on his toes and always on the lookout for new opportunities and finds them, mostly in areas where there are not already established events.

Geri, I didn't know you went to the Gulf Coast.

Comment by Geoff Coe on January 7, 2014 at 10:59am

Connie: Right you are about the will cause a little bit of an inventory carrying cost issue for me: If I go there again, I'll need to have my older, smaller sizes.

Comment by Jason Grauberger on January 8, 2014 at 6:52am

Thank you, Geoff for the well informed critique on the new years art festival.  I originally intended to head down there and say Hi, but I just had too many things going on last weekend.  After reading about your experiences I think I may try to apply to this show next year.  

Comment by Annette Piper on January 8, 2014 at 2:51pm

I like you "go big" outlook... look how it paid off on day 1.   I think opposite Starbucks on a rainy day sounds like a prime position .... a captive audience looking at your work :)

Comment by Kathleen J. Clausen on January 8, 2014 at 4:46pm

Way to go, Jeff!  Glad that you had a good beginning for 2014.  Looking forward to saying "Hi" down the road.

Comment by Christina L. Towell on January 9, 2014 at 8:38am

Great review, as always, Geoff!  I really enjoy reading about your successes, your advice to others, the pros and cons of the venue and the take this case, "go big or go home".  It seems as though you've hit on a winning combination, rainy days, coffee and large art.  Wishing you continued success in the new year.


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