Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Selling at large shows and events

I've known Christi Cramer, aka the "Gem Gypsy," owner of Earth Traditions, for 10 years. She was my first jewelry selling mentor. Christi is also a licensed gemologist and consultant. Find her on Facebook or email

Q: How long have you been selling jewelry? What was your first event?

Earth Traditions has been in business since July 1999. Our first festival was "The Brightleaf Festival" the first Saturday of October 1999 in Wendell. My first official Celtic Festival was the Savannah Irish Festival in February 2001.

Q: How many shows/events do you do a year?

This year is the first I have done them full time. I have done seven so far and expect to do six or seven more before the end of this year. I would like to average two per month next year.

Q: What's the largest show/event you've ever done?

Attendance-wise, about 35,000 people. This would include some of the larger Highland Games/Celtic Festivals -- generally 2-day events, generally 10x20 foot booth, almost always outdoors.

Q: What's your basic set up when you do a show/event?

A 10x10 booth is: One easy-up tent, four tables, table coverings, two signs, two chairs, mats if necessary, weights for tents if necessary, five glass cases for the jewelry, two spinners (one for jewelry, one for window clings) and, of course, the merchandise.

A 10x20 is: Two tents, six tables, sometimes a TV table, table coverings, two signs, two chairs, mats, weights, usually six glass cases, three spinners and lots more merchandise!

Q: I've met a lot of jewelry makers who are intimidated by the thought of selling at a big venue. Do you have any tips for them?

EVERYONE is intimidated -- ESPECIALLY if you've never done any festivals or if you're doing a particular festival for the first time. One thing to remember is everyone is in the same boat and in it together. Here's a few more suggestions:

* Be nice to your neighbors, be nice to your potential customers, which is pretty much everyone who comes to the festival, including your fellow vendors & festival staff.

* Keep in mind that the festival staff is usually made up of volunteers who don't get paid to do this -- be PATIENT.

* Make notes for the next time around on things like display tactics, merchandise, what you forgot, etc.

* Get out of your booth if you can during the festival and talk to fellow vendors, look at displays, observe the crowd, observe the layout of the festival. You may want a different spot if you do that festival again. Sometimes, even when the sales aren't good, the info and contacts I've gleaned from an event may be worth it!

Q: In your case, not everything you sell is handmade, or handmade by you yourself. Do you think it helps to have "retail" merchandise as well as handmade items, when selling at a large festival or event?

Technically, I am a commercial vendor, but 90% of the items I carry are either handmade by myself or other artists because I admire creativity and the unique, and I like variety.  And I really don't think I have enough of my own items to fill a booth, but I'm getting there. Most artists don't want to carry anything except what they make, and I don't blame them. You're there to do what YOU want to do. Commercial vendors also generally pay higher booth rental.

Q: I've heard the phrase, "The more you have, the more you sell." Do you think this is true?

Absolutely. People like a variety of items to pick from, even if the items are all similar, having different sizes, colors, and slightly different styles and a range of prices are a distinct advantage. In my experience customers do like CHOICE. When selling handmade pieces, they do like the idea that pieces are "one of a kind" especially, if they are buying from the artist who made it.

Q: How much jewelry inventory would a person need in order to fill a 10x10 booth for a one-day festival? A weekend festival?

As much as you can possible have.  If you feel like you don't have much, fill in with really nice displays, information about the pieces, pictures ... and sell, sell, sell! 

How much you have for sale needs to be in direct correlation to your expenses: Cost of goods sold, booth rental, food, travel (gas & hotel stay). My general rule of thumb is to have for sale, at least three times (retail) what my booth rental, food and travel costs are. In other words, if your booth costs you $100, your food $50, your gas $25 and your hotel stay $125 ($300 total)  you need to have at least $900 for sale in your booth (based on a 2X+ mark-up on your costs). This gives the customers choice, and if you have more items than this, then YOU have a chance at higher profits. So, yes, as much merchandise as you possibly can display!

Q: Some jewelry makers balk at the idea of spending $200-$600 for a booth space at a show or festival. Is there any way to know, ahead of time, if it's worth paying that much? How will they know they're prepared for an event that size?

We have a saying in the event business: "You pays your money, you takes your chances." You just never know for sure. You are at the mercy of Mother Nature (since most festivals are outdoors) and the advertising of the event committee. The absolute best thing is to be able to talk to other vendors that have done an event before, and talk to more than one, better to get a consensus of three or four if you can. Visiting or helping a fellow vendor at a festival before you choose to do it is another good way. There are also a lot of Festival Networks that help with statistics such as attendance, number of vendors, juried events, etc. Sometimes, unfortunately, you just have to take the plunge and hold your breath. Studying the demographics of the area the festival is taking place is also not a bad idea. For example, a festival in or near a larger city is usually better than one held out in the middle of nowhere.

Q: Any other topics or suggestions about doing large event, that were not covered above?

Event selling is one topic that needs it's own blog. There is so much information on marketing your business that the very fundamental skill of actual selling is almost forgotten. Here are some tips:

* Be on your feet. Greet people. Be engaged with your potentials.

* Be yourself, be genuine, be a person first.

* Talk passionately about your craft.

* Get items in peoples hands to try things on.

* Make yourself and the visit to your booth something people will remember.

* Give out business cards, websites, other tangible info.

* Follow-up! Send thank-you emails or notes.

* Sell yourself! You'll find your profits and friends more numerous!

Also make every festival a LEARNING experience for yourself. Write down the good and bad. Learn, learn, learn! Business owners who don't learn, don't grow. Those who do learn, move ahead!

Thanks, Christi! 
~ Jen

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.

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