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I've been blogging about the seven Florida art fairs I participated in during February and March as part of a winter circuit by this artist from the Midwest. My goal was to establish a market for my art in Florida so I could count on some sales and profits during the winter months in the future. Unfortunately I was not able to reach that goal. I did some math and the numbers show that the only thing I accomplished was a pretty good tan. I would have been better off staying home.

Booth fees and application fees cost me $3600, Gas 1200, Booth improvements 350, Parking 150 and Hotels were 2500. Total expenses came to $7800 (not counting food and incidentals).

Total sales for the seven art fairs was $11,000 which gave me a gross profit of $3200. Not much for two months out of the studio, especially when the cost of materials and framing are taken into account.

Of the seven art fairs I participated in (Artfest Ft Myers, Naples National, Coconut Grove, Bonita Springs, Las Olas, Winter Park and Naples Downtown), the only one that was financially worthwhile for me was Winter Park where I grossed $4700 in sales. I averaged only about $1100 in sales at the other six events. Winter Park saved me from a total disaster.

Another thing that saved me was my sympathetic friends in Naples who put me up for much of the time I spent in Florida. Without them my hotel bills would have been much higher.

Many artists I ran into during my "circuit", did much better than I did. Many did about the same or worse. So, its hard for me to make a generalization, except to say that Florida is not my market. For others, that might not be the case. But some things are apparent to me. There are too many art fairs in Southern Florida. The market is saturated. there are not enough buyers for all the artists who naively flock to the sunshine state with dollar signs in their eyes (me included). And I can't blame the promoters and organizers. As long as the artists keep paying the application and booth fees, the promoters will keep launching new art fairs. After all, it's a business and its profitable for them.

For me, I'm still licking my wounds and trying to find the dollars in my dwindling bank account for Spring and Summer booth fees in the Midwest. As for my future in Florida? There's Winter Park, but it tough to travel all that way for one show. And there's no guarantee of getting into this worthwhile show two years in a row.

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Comment by Melanie Rolfes on April 2, 2012 at 1:10pm

Thanks John for documenting your Florida experience.  It has been helpful to us all.  I did 3 Florida shows last year and decided to go for it and do 7, all on the east coast of Florida, in 10 weeks this season.   There is a market for me, it is just in a very small part of Florida.  I will be back to Florida but only south of

West Palm for me. 

Comment by Geoff Coe on April 2, 2012 at 3:49pm

Great wrap-up, John.  I wish it had been more profitable for you. 
Melanie's comment was right on the money, too.  Even for a Floridian, different parts of Florida produce different results. 

I have one photographer friend (not a member of AFI) who is based in the Miami area and is as talented a landscape photographer as any working today.  He sells well on the East Coast of FL but can barely make the needle move in SW Florida. 

Although my sales are well up this year, my 2007-2011 trend holds true: I sell well within 75 miles of Fort Myers (Gulf coast); sell poorly in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale and Sarasota. The only east coast markets that have proven strong for me are Stuart/Jupiter/Hobe Sound.  Everything else is a crap shoot. 

It is absolutely nuts that I sell better in NJ and Delaware, on a per-show average, than in most of my native state.  But there you have it. 

Comment by Annette Piper on April 2, 2012 at 4:57pm

Thanks for documenting your travel to Florida John, although some of it, I'm sure, was painful for you, your experience has opened a few eyes to the saturation of the shows and the impact it has on artists.   It does take time to work out where your ideal customer is - I hope they're at your next batch of shows! 

Comment by John Leben on April 2, 2012 at 5:22pm

Where the customers are, may be about the character of the show as well as the geographic location. Geography plays a big part if the area is saturated with shows (like Naples), but character plays a part when the show becomes a "special" event. Some shows just seem to have that magic touch that brings out the buyers. Winter Park, Krasl in St. Joseph, Michigan, DesMoines, Iowa... and to a lesser extent, Columbus, Peoria, Omaha, Lake Forest, even Leeper Park in South Bend... all seem to be good for me. One common thread of my "good" shows is that they are organized and promoted by art groups and not promoters. As much as I respect the business acumen and organizational abilities of Howard Alan and Amy Amdur, I just don't do well at their shows. Not sure why that is. My next Howard Alan show will be in Grand haven, Michigan, July 23-24. I'm looking forward to it because its right down the road from me and I have a lot of lighthouse, sailboat and beach stairs pictures that should appeal to that audience. I'm not, however, looking forward to the early Saturday morning set-up (I hate that!). I've been accepted in a Hot Works show: Orchard Lake in West Bloomfield, Michigan, but haven't paid the booth fee yet. Not sure if I should do it or not (depressed E. Michigan economy and another show run by a promoter). Anyone out there have any experience with that show? 

Comment by John Leben on April 2, 2012 at 8:39pm
Thanks, Warren. Not good reviews for Grand Haven or that Orchard one near Detroit. But, who knows, Florida might be a winner for you. It's always a crap shoot.
Comment by Paul Flack on April 4, 2012 at 11:27am

Somebody need to develop an app that removes all Florida shows from Zapp

Comment by John Leben on April 4, 2012 at 11:28am

HA! Good idea!

Comment by Kate Hetzel on April 4, 2012 at 12:38pm
The only show I know of and do in Grand Rapids is one day, sat am setup. Reeds lake art festival, in E. Grand Rapids. I also found the the shows along Lake Mich are the ones to do in the state. I spend 4 months in MI and 8 in FL. Michigan shows are consistently better for me than the FL ones.
Comment by Virginia Dauth on April 4, 2012 at 2:15pm

John, Thanks for confirming what I already knew about Florida Shows. Too, Many. I did 3 with only one that was good. I even bailed out of Jacksonville Fine Art Show after paying my booth fee. (WOULD LIKE SOME FEED BACK FROM SOMEONE WHO DID THAT SHOW!!  Felt like it would be a waste of time. I feel that the northern shows along the east coast are so much better as the downturn economy has not affected states close to NYC. ie: Conn., Mass. NJ, PA. Virginia area good as all those government workers that have high paying jobs can well afford Fine Art. Keep the faith, I am trying to do the same, even though very hard at times. I am Teaching workshops more as at least I know what I am going to make. The same has happened in Georgia as well, too many, I have dropped a lot of local shows and have kept to only 2.

best of luck with future shows as we all need it.


Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on April 6, 2012 at 9:29am

We were all pulling for you, John.  Sorry about the results.  I might still do the Winter Park show if you could get in.  At least you would have some money and be able to enjoy some warm weather.  Think of it as a paid vacation.  I hope all your shows from here on in are good for you.

Thanks for sharing.


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