Over the weekend I did my first arts & crafts fair ever. There are so many shows on the courthouse square, but I just never tried one. Finally I’ve gotten around to it and I’ve got some takeaways from it.
Friday afternoon I checked in with the Chamber of Commerce folks at 4 p.m. They have vendors check in then but you can’t setup yet. You have to wait for the last judge at the courthouse to leave. Basically you’re in a holding pattern til the courthouse is cleared out.
Once we had the signal to start trucks and trailers descended on all the parking spots. Pretty interesting to watch everyone rolling out their gear. My good friend Don Rantz loaned me his tent for the weekend, and he had a time trying to find a parking spot close by. So initially we were running back and forth to his vehicle for the tent, weights, walls, etc.
Fortunately someone pulled out of a space near where I was to setup half way through our work and we got Don’s van closer. That made things go a lot quicker.
A little after 6 p.m. we wrapped up with the tent setup. Pretty chilly Friday night so we called it and I left the remaining work for Saturday morning. That was quite a job alone all morning getting canvases and prints over early, and I literally found myself hanging pieces while people were already starting to look around. If I ever do one of these again I’ll set the alarm even earlier.
What worked for the weekend?
Saturday was pretty darned cool. Constant flow of traffic. People in and out of “the booth” all day with only a few short breathing spells. I talked to so many people on Saturday I’m surprised to still have my voice.
The fun thing to watch was folks hurrying by suddenly coming to a dead stop, and turn back to look at my images. Lots of oohs and ahhs. That’s always nice!
I spent the bulk of the day talking about locations, when things were shot, the process I use, and my printing. Many people were educated about archival canvases and inks, and about photography as well. Over the course of the day the booth fee was met, so that left me feeling a little better about trying the show.
Sunday was slower, but a pretty day all the same. A few sales here and there, and I met some really interesting people throughout the day. Nice.
In the end costs were covered for the weekend, but overall no real profit. Print costs, canvas costs, stretcher bars and the like all have to be considered. None of the large canvases sold, but they sure did pull people in. It almost seems like the large prints should be brought along to encourage sales of the small prints. So some good lessons on how these shows work.
What didn’t work
Honestly my canvas prices didn’t work at all. There were two other photo booths at the show, and my prices were way out of range with these folks. Of course there were some major differences.
One of the booths has been around for a while. And the photographer isn’t present. He usually shows at several locations each weekend, so has staffers at his booth. The images are mass produced and therefore are priced pretty low. Plastic frames and low quality papers / canvases.
Another photographer was manning his own booth and I’d seen his work before as well. In the case of his pieces I went into a little shock regarding the canvas prices. See, he was selling his canvases for prices at or below my costs for making my own canvases. Big pieces were literally cheaper than my small ones. And when I ran the numbers I found that he was selling stuff at a price that would have left me only covering my costs.
I’m well aware that my canvas prices are higher than let’s say Costco. But the materials I use are all Archival Certified, the inks are archival, and I use real wood stretcher bars not cardboard. So, there’s a quality factor that goes into the work I put out there. It’s not mass produced, I don’t cut corners on material, it’s put together start to finish by me, and there’s something to be said for that I believe.
So that part didn’t work so well. In speaking with friends and other folks in the industry I’ve gotten a split response. Some have told me that I shouldn’t compromise my quality, and others have thought that I should do some cheap mass reproductions to get low end sales. In the end, I’m all about a quality product designed to last. It’s like the whole issue with pricing portrait sessions as well. Don’t compete with Wal-Mart prices.
Lessons in hand
Overall I’d have to say doing the show on the square was a good experience that I learned a lot from. An “arts & crafts” fair is not the best venue for my work. Having my booth next to one that resells Thomas Kinkade calendars and prints on the super cheap just isn’t my venue. Nor is doing an event where the artist isn’t present because they’ve done bulk reproductions over seas and cover multiple fairs per weekend. So I definitely learned a lot from it.
And don’t get me wrong, it was learning lesson. It’s a continuation of what I’ve been struggling with for months. Price or product? In this economy it seems low price is king, even at the expense of quality. Personally it’s left me with more to think about when it comes to where my business is going.