Most seasoned craft show exhibitors know to avoid first-time craft shows and it is primarily those new to the scene that fall into the trap of signing up for shows that have no history.
First-time shows typically do not bring in the crowds, or the ideal buyers, simply because it takes time to build a strong following. Just as it takes time to build any business.
I would go as far to say that it is best to stay away from most craft shows within their first, second and, even, third year. That is not to say that a show cannot be successful enough for it's vendors within the first three years. With each year that passes the show's roots will be more firmly planted and the mere fact that they are still around says a lot.
This is just a general statement and, of course, not all shows are going to be bad in the first year, but it is important to be able to decipher between the good and not so good shows. There are ways that you can better estimate which first-time shows would be worth taking a chance on.
The deciding criteria for assessing whether a first-time venue will show some promise includes the show's industry experience, show sponsorship and the location of the venue.
The following are some tips for how to determine if a new show could be successful as well as when it may benefit you to try a brand new show.
Well Seasoned Promoter: When a show promoter already has several successful shows in neighboring cities and has just added a new show in a new location, it may be one worth looking at.
If the promoter has been in the business for a long time and has a good following, they likely have already established a winning formula for developing new shows.
In fact, most successful promoters, with multiple shows, do their due diligence prior to embarking on a new venture. It is not in their best interest to expand too soon. Having good knowledge about the promoter and their already existing shows will help you to decide whether investing in their new show is a risk worth taking.
Getting Your Foot in the Door: When you are not having any luck getting into shows that are run by the same promoter, applying to one of their new shows may be a great way to get into their family of shows. Once you have established yourself in one of their new shows, it can become that much easier to get into their more desirable shows.
In this case you have to look at the new venue as an investment in your business. It then becomes more about building your show repertoire and less about immediate sales. This is a great way to introduce your work to a successful show promoter.
Strong Backing: New shows that use big time sponsors are also ones worth considering. If you know that the event is being promoted heavily, the producers have good show experience and their venue is backed by some big names, then chances are the risks will be lower. Something important to consider is the booth fee and how difficult it may be to recover those costs as well as make a profit.
Built in Audience: Sometimes choosing to exhibit at a brand new show will be based solely on where and when the event will happen. For example, if there is a popular event happening in town that draws upon tourists and this new venue is right in the middle of all the action, then it could be well worth taking a chance.
Let's say you have an opportunity to set up right on a main street that will be situated where a popular music festival is taking place. The event may be run separately from the festival, but you know there will be lots of tourists hanging out on the main streets during the festival.
It goes without saying that you probably want to snap up that opportunity, first-time show or not.
Newbie Promoter: Lastly, are the first-time craft shows you definitely better not try and those are the little shows put together by someone with no experience in the industry.
Although you probably think you wouldn't invest your money in these types of shows, it can be difficult to see the writing on the wall unless you ask the right questions.
Unfortunately many new artists make assumptions that if a show organizer has already booked a location and planned the event, they must have some experience. You would be surprised how little experience some people have when they decide to put on an event. It pays to find out.
Whether you are selling handmade jewelry or clothing or ceramics, you want to pay special attention to category limits. There are some categories that are tough to get into at craft shows and top on that list is jewelry. Every show is inundated with applications from jewelers. That's just the way it is.
Your best bet is to apply to shows that are juried as well as those that keep a tight lid on their categories. Any show that will keep accepting jewelry applicants until the show is filled, is likely in some sort of trouble.
Although things may seem fine on the surface, these promoters are not working in the best interest of their exhibitors and, ultimately, the long term success of their show.
Shows accepting too many jewelry applicants are often having trouble getting returning vendors in other categories. This can be a warning sign that a show is on the downturn or that sabotage is right around the corner because the promoter is willing to sacrifice show quality for deposit fees.
Having said that, there are times that you might overlook the fact that a promoter is adding yet another jeweler. Sometimes, even good shows, feel that they have no option but to fill a spot with jewelry.
It could be because of a last minute cancellation or perhaps that vendors in other categories are not returning because they just cannot make a good profit due to an economic lull.
With not enough returning vendors in alternate categories, a good show may loosen their category limits a little until the economy picks up again.
In this case, it could be your opportunity to get into a better quality show when space opens up for jewelry. Here, you will want to take into account whether the show is successful enough to push the limits a little.
When you do your research it will become apparent when shows are modestly stretching that limit or when they are desperately filling their shows with jewelry.
I know that it can be exciting and validating to finally get accepted into a show with jewelry, but it is always better to scrutinize each show's acceptance criteria before applying.
If you are accepted into a show that has strong standards, is well attended and limits the amount of jewelry they take, that is the time to get really excited.
You are at a craft show and someone comes up to you with some literature letting you know about their fabulous craft show. Sounds great huh? You really have to ask yourself why they are approaching a jewelry vendor to be in their craft show.
Either you have the most remarkable jewelry in the world and they have never seen anything like it, or they need vendors and they don't care what you sell.
If alarm bells aren't going off in your head, they should be. While it is not completely a given that the show will be a dud, there is a strong indication that it could be.
You might argue that the top craft shows routinely visit other craft shows for new talent and this does happen. However, when the top promoters look for up-and-coming artists, they are typically not looking for jewelry.
Most sought after shows have more than enough fabulous jewelry applicants clamoring to get in. What these events are in need of are unique products in other categories, products that are not represented in their show and ideas that are on the cutting edge.
They want to keep their shows fresh and their product selection varied. Sometimes they just need something, anything... that is not jewelry.
It is not an impossibility that your jewelry might catch the attention of a top promoter if it is really different, but it is not a probability.
Promoters that approach you at other shows are, for the most part, in need of vendors... any vendors. I am not saying to never consider one of these venues. Just take the time to find out as much as you can before making any decisions.
You will also find that when you return from an exhibition, you'll suddenly see a few emails come in with invitations to participate in new shows. Then you'll come to understand that not everyone who says "Can I have a business card" is a potential buyer.
I often get emails after exhibiting at craft shows that are half way across the country. Usually they are promoting a one day show and would like to invite me to participate. They know nothing about my business or the fact that I am located a couple of thousand miles away.
They are just looking for vendors to fill booths. We can all appreciate that every show has to start somewhere, but you don't want to be the one taking risks on these unknown craft shows.
I hope these tips will help you in your journey selecting craft shows. Granted, it takes longer to build a successful lineup, but if you do take the time to choose your shows carefully, you will be grateful for the rewards it brings : )
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