Monday, May 18, 2009

Doing shows, events and festivals

I'm going to touch
ALL of your jewelry!

No, I'm just kidding.

(No, I'm not.)

Doing shows, events and festivals is fun and profitable for some people. It seems to work out well if you are selling items other than your own jewelry and/or can devote yourself to making jewelry and preparing for shows full-time. I've talked to several artists who say doing shows has helped them feel validated and confident about their creativity and talent. It can also be a great way to get your name out there, take customer orders, and meet potential clients.

I find it to be a much bigger pain than it's worth. I don't have a lot of spare time, and what little I have I'd rather be making something really creative, not churning out inventory to sell, setting up, sitting there through the event, packing up, and then cleaning all the displays and jewelry because they got smeary, dusty and spilled upon. If you work with sterling silver, you'll need to invest in lots of little polishing cloths.

The outdoor festivals were fun when it rained and everyone would run under my tent -- and then lean over to look at my jewelry and spill all the rain off their umbrellas all over my stuff. Or all the little kids who would touch and move everything around and get their cotton candy and ice cream and boogers all over it. These are the reasons I invested in glass cases.

There's also a challenge in my city, Raleigh, because there are about 15 million people who are all trying to sell handmade jewelry. And the total population is only about half a million, so you can see what a problem that is. I blame Ornamentea for being the most awesome and inspiring bead store ever.

I was making jewelry before I ever got here, so it's a cool sort of kismet that I'm surrounded by such mad jewelry love. But it also kind of sucks, because if I say, "I'm a professional jewelry designer," I get the eye-roll and a "Oh, YOU, too! So is my (sister, in-law, mother, dog, self, doctor's wife)."

I turned that potential "lemon" into lemonade by founding the Triangle Jewelry Makers in 2008. The group is devoted to supporting and educating jewelry artists by sharing knowledge and information. It's been a wonderful, inspiring experience and I've made lots of friends.

But the glut of jewelry makers means that many jewelry artists I know are turned away from shows and events. "We already have enough jewelry vendors." And if they do get in, they are competing with several others. So I don't usually sell locally. I sell through my website, which keeps me busy enough. Instead of spending time setting up, taking down, and cleaning, I spend time taking pictures and putting them on my website. But at least no one's around to spill anything on my computer but me.

How much jewelry will I need?

How much inventory you'll need before trying to do an event depends on where you want to sell, what you are selling, whether you are sharing the booth with others, and your profit margin. Don't necessarily think about it in terms of NUMBER of items, but as TOTAL RETAIL VALUE of the items.

For example, say you want to do a craft fair. Your actual cost to do the event is not just the vendor fee, but also gas for travel, shopping bags or gift boxes, food, cleaning products, maybe chairs and a tent, etc. Let's pretend that all comes out to $100. You spend $500 on materials to make a bunch of jewelry. You price your jewelry such that if you sold it ALL, you would get $2,000 (which is a very generous markup). But you only sell 30% of that at the craft fair (and based on my experience, that is typical), so you've had a total income of $600.

Congratulations, you've just broken even! And invested 50 hours doing it! Yay!

But if you're feeling adventurous, here are some things to take into consideration when selling at any event:

* Who is your audience? Who is attending this event? How much will they be willing to spend? What will they want? Mother's bracelets and inexpensive items might sell better at a family event. Celtic jewelry at an Irish festival. Expensive items at a high-end show. Renaissance-y items at a Ren Faire. Etc.

* Get out from behind the table and take a long, hard look at your booth. Does your booth look attractive, interesting, clean and pleasant? Is the jewelry sparkling? Or is it all laying flat, tossed in a basket, or sitting in the dark? Creative use of lighting and display can make or break you.

* Do you have items that are eye-grabbers to attract attention? A signature piece under lights, an unusual item up on a stand, a hanging display of jewelry that can be seen from afar, a bowl of free candy or a basket of cheap toys for kids are all tricks I've learned from veteran sellers, to draw people into a booth.

* You will need at least some or all of the following:

- Tent of some kind (if doing outdoor shows, and sometimes even for indoors)
- Lights
- Extension cords
- Sign(s)
- Price tags
- Business cards
- Displays (which might include glass cases, stands, bracelet bars, busts, baskets, shelves, earring cards, etc)
- Shopping bags
- Gift boxes
- Scissors
- Tape
- Paper towels
- Totes or storage containers
- Wagon, cart or dolly (I use Staples® Expanding Folding Crate on Wheels which is a combination tote/dolly, and I love it)
- Water and food
- Tables and chairs
- Space heater

Take some of your tools with you, in case you need to resize or repair something on the spot. If doing special events, you might need dressy clothes, a costume, or some other kind of personal presentation.

* Have fantastic jewelry. If it looks like something they can buy in a store, customers are not going to pay handmade prices for it. If it falls apart before they leave the event, they probably won't be telling their friends great things about you. Use quality ingredients, and make sure your customers know it!

Check out my guest interviews for more stories about event selling.

Jen Hilton makes one-of-a-kind jewelry sold through her website She is the founder of the Triangle Jewelry Makers and is featured in the books "Steampunk Style Jewelry: Victorian, Fantasy, and Mechanical Necklaces, Bracelets, and Earrings" and "1000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art" available at Amazon and other booksellers.

No comments:

Post a Comment