What I’m Learning {Trade Shows} part 1

Back in September, at the ever-awesome Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago, a young woman asked me if I ever sold wholesale, to which I responded a resounding, “Yes!” and then she handed me her business card for Beckman’s Handcrafted. I was intrigued, but didn’t quite understand what it was she even meant, or who it was she worked for. Was it a store? A show? A catalog? I studied the card for a wee bit in the little down time we had at the show, but otherwise, I shoved it to the back of my head in order to ready myself, and my business, for the upcoming holiday season.

Once home from Chicago I promptly forgot all about Beckman’s and went on about daily life, until I received an email from a coworker of the young lady who gave me the card, following up to see if I would be interested in the show. At the time, I was VERY interested. I knew this could be the next step for Conduit Press, but I also knew I couldn’t do it until some things fell into place here at home. So, I crossed my fingers and closed my eyes, and waited for things to happen. And they did, miraculously happen, and I was able to say yes, albeit a little late. I just jumped right in.

Before jumping, I did try and figure out some logistics about the show. How much was it going to cost? Where would I stay? Did I need to invest in more display items? Walls? Lighting? Flooring? So, I reached out to my fellow artists . . . and I’ll say, I didn’t get much in return. A perfect stranger did give me some tips on her work in the wholesale market from years back, but otherwise, lips were sealed tight. And still are. And that’s exactly why I’m writing this.

We’re not in this alone. We are not each other’s competition. We are a community. We can help each other, if we only try. That’s exactly why I write these pieces, it’s why I created the Collective, it’s why I do craft shows to meet other artists. It’s part of the reason I do this. No man is an island, and no artist is either.

So – onto the preparation. And what I’ve learned thus far in the process. See, I haven’t attended my trade show yet – we leave for Chicago in 10 days for a 4 day show at the Merchandise Mart. The show I’m a part of is Beckman’s Handcrafted and I am part of the Emerging Artist’s section (new this year I believe) along with my dear friend Megan Martin Artisan who I somehow talked into doing the show as my neighbor. I’ve (clearly) not been preparing for the show for long as I just learned about it in Sept and didn’t sign on the dotted line until late November! But, somehow, in some ways, I feel like I’ve been preparing for it my whole life. So, here is my initial checklist for preparation:

  • catalog | look book
  • separate price sheet (in case prices change and i don’t want to pay for a new look book just yet)
  • separate order sheet (in 3-part carbonless – I’d Love to save on paper, but without taking a printer to the show, I just don’t see how)
  • business cards
  • rack cards (my business cards are TEENY TINY so rack cards provide a better marketing tool for those that are interested, but not interested enough to give a $3 catalog to)
  • postcards (i paid extra for a marketing package to have access to a mailing list – after the show I will likely pay for a direct mailing client through a third party to mail postcards out to potential buyers)
  • signage (I’ve always wanted to use large lifestyle photos at a show but with a tent and waning walls it’s never been a possibility – this show i have one wall to utilize and so i will be using a 1’x9′ logo banner along with a 2’x2′ poster/photo frame lifestyle photo that will tie in all of my marketing to my set-up)

So, that’s all marketing stuff . . .I’ll go into more detail about why I chose the marketing items I did over other choices and how much I ordered of each in a later pot. ┬áNow, onto set-up. Initially we were to receive a much smaller space (basically for a table) but as things turned out, Emerging Artists are lucky this year to get a 10×10 space with one back wall. Since I don’t do jewelry or other small items, I opted out of additional lighting (we get a 1’x4′ flourescent) as well as additional help (contractor) or renting shelving, flooring, etc. Basically, I’m working with what I have. And this is what I have:

  • wall covering (since I have one gray wall behind me I wanted to cover it to a) set me apart b) not have a gray wall that is drab and boring – so I went from having a brown craft wall (paper drop cloth $4) to an off-white canvas wall (canvas drop cloth with grommets $15 that I will (I think) attach via small hooks in the wall)
  • figuring out furniture and display pieces (I want my space to look like a den or a living room (i sell books) so I used my already created display pieces that fit in with my aesthetic, and then supplemented the rest with antique furniture I found locally) While I think tables and coverings are good for a craft show, or an indie art show, I think you grow past the 6 ft table with cloth at a certain point . . .
  • accessories (i needed to find wooden bowls that would match my other furniture to place smaller items in)
  • back wall (not only did I want to cover that back wall with fabric, and then my printed signage, I also wanted to utilize the wall for product – I have a LOT of product – so, I’m hanging various items from the wall as well)

And then . . . there are the things I still need to do/figure out:

  • shipping charges – while my items may not be large, some of them are quite heavy and a pain in the rear to ship. Lamps for example. I shipped ONE lamp the other day, a custom one, to TX, and it cost me $20 (to ship media mail no less, which is THE cheapest option). What are the odds anyone is going to buy a lamp and spend an addtl $20 to ship each one? So, clearly I have to figure that one out.
  • turn-around time – this one should be fun! While I’m not going to get ahead of myself and say I’ll get hundreds (or even a dozen) orders AT the show, I need to be prepared. I can’t tell each one it will take 4-6 wks . . .

I’m sure there’s more. Lot’s more. But, that’s what I have for now. I’ll return after the show (in 10 days!!!) and let you know what was necessary and what wasn’t. Maybe a few things I likely forgot as well. It’s a learning experience for all of us;)

t-minus 10 days and counting!!!

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