If you’re like most of us, you’ve put a lot of thought and probably a fair amount of resources both financially and spiritually into your work. Finally you’ve arrived at something you’re proud to create and something you think will be competitive in the market… but now what? How can I turn my idea into a steady stream of earnings? Here at “Where The Shows Are!!!” we don’t have all the answers, but we have seen quite a few people turn their dreams into reality and as the old proverbial saying goes… “there’s more than one way to skin a cat!”
The idea of “more than one way” is the key to success for most of us. Of course since you’re probably already participating in events, the first thing that comes to mind is selecting some shows and setting up your booth. That’s certainly one way to do it… and if you choose that route then you’ll want to do everything you can to make sure this part of your business is a success. Make certain you create an interesting display that shows off your work in the best possible light… make sure you tell customers exactly how they might use your work to their benefit… have a friendly atmosphere conducive to buying… the list goes on and on. In fact, if you want to get more details on this aspect of marketing your work then make sure to read the other article in this edition called “Pop the Top on Sales.” There are an incredible amount of things you can do to maximize your work.
One of the nice things about owning your own business is that you’re not limited to any one particular way of making sure to turn your creativity into income. Participating in shows is an important part of a marketing plan… but to create a solid base of income it shouldn’t be the ONLY part of your plan. The advantage you have by participating art or craft shows is that they allow you a place where you can come in contact with a great number of people… and to find those individuals who are interested in the work you do and the products you create. There are two ways you can look at these people… as either the end of the sale… or as the beginning. If you look at this relationship as the “end result” then of course you take your money and go home. Next week there will be more customers and more sales… hopefully. But if you look at the relationship you’ve created as the beginning of several sales then you’ll have a constant flow of prospects to continue to buy your work
There are some definite disadvantages of using shows as an exclusive way to sell your work, and exhibitors are always asking me how to smooth out the ups and downs of their business. Certainly they’ll still exist no matter what tact you take… it’s simply the nature of business and sales… but it’s not necessary to ride the wild roller coaster ride that shows alone can create. My opinion has always been to use art and craft shows as a springboard to additional sales rather than as an end in itself. Having a customer who has bought from you in the past is a very valuable commodity. It’s up to you to seize the opportunity presented to you and capitalize on it. Make sure to keep a list of past customers so you can invite them to future events, keep them posted on new work you’ve created, let them know about interesting things you’ve found at other shows or maybe even something exciting you’ve found in your travels to other shows. Creating an ongoing interest in you and your work will also create future sales.
In keeping with the “springboard” philosophy, take the time to use a bit of conversation to find out as much as you can about the people you’ve just sold to. Maybe they own a store where they’d be interested in displaying your work. Possibly they have a business or civic connection where you could exhibit. Or… if they really like your work, they may be interested in having a home party or a business luncheon where your work is featured. If you don’t like this kind of thing, fine that’s up to you… but there is a lot of money to be made using the home party/ luncheon idea, just ask Tupperware, Mary Kay, Christmas Around the World or hundreds of other companies that make millions a year using this simple idea. The nice thing is you can use this marketing technique to fill in a dead weekend or time during the week. If you’re looking for a way to structure the event, just get a Tupperware party manual or one of the other guides. These people are experts in the field and you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.
Galleries are another approach that can supplement sales. Don’t be discouraged if the first few you talk to don’t want to handle your work. Believe me, there are as many different types of galleries as there are different types of shows. In this category of retail outlets there is a range of venues all the way from little hand craft consignment shops to places that exhibit the fine art work of the great masters! Just as you’ll have to look to find a show that meets your needs, you can find a gallery that will do the same. The financial arrangements here are as vast as the variety of work represented. The main thing to look for is a place offering a fair deal for you. Certainly you need to part with enough of the profits to make the sale enticing for the gallery… but you don’t want to cut yourself short here either. If you can’t make a decent profit it’s not worth your while regardless of what you may be told. Additionally, it is worth your while to research the reputation of the place you intend to do business with. Make sure other artists or craftsmen are being paid promptly upon the sale of their work. Ask for references and make sure to check them out. See how the work is being displayed… will you be getting a prominent position in the building or will you be stuck in some out of the way corner? Can you temporarily remove the work to participate in a show? Are you obligated to pay a commission to the gallery even if you sell the work yourself? Make sure to read whatever contract you sign. If keeps your frustration under control and alleviates potential future disagreements.
An outside sales representative may be another idea that could make some money for you. Just like the galleries these come in all shapes and sizes! Usually these people will be representing a wide variety of products as they prospect for business. And sure you could make a bunch of sales calls yourself too… but the advantage here is that the cost of making those calls is divided among several different businesses rather an absorbed by one person. It may not be worth your while to drive from Ft. Myers, FL to Savannah to meet with a shop owner about handling your widget… but it’s well worth time for someone representing a couple of dozen people such as yourself. It can also be difficult for you to really promote your product yourself without sounding like a braggart. A third party can do this on a sales call and it sounds perfectly fine.
Like the galleries, you’ll want to find out all you can about any sales rep you may decide to partner with. You’ll want to have a trusting relationship with the rep and make certain he or she is looking out for your best interests as well as their own. You also want to make sure the rep is not over stating your production capability or your ability to produce the work at what would be slave wages. I know of a least two exhibitors who landed a big account with a national restaurant chain that features a craft area as you walk in the door. It sounded like a great deal at the onset… but after employing everyone they could think of to make the products and to deliver on time, and then dealing with delays in getting paid, the end result was a far cry from the initial concept of the plan. Don’t allow someone else to push you into a deal that doesn’t seem to be favorable and take the time to really figure out how you’ll produce enough product before you sign on the dotted line!
Trader type of radio and TV shows can be another source of income and an additional way to market your work. Although most radio and TV stations would much rather have you simply pay for advertising and sell your work… inevitably many stations wind up with time they can’t sell. At the cost of running a production facility these days no one can just let that time pass so to fill it they’ll occasionally take some things on concession. Unless your product is selling like hot cakes and the station is making money hand over fist… you’re probably not going to get exposure on the evening news or during radio drive time… but the possibility of making some sales is good for both you and the station. If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia or been up late driving to some show in the middle of nowhere I’m sure you’ve heard or seen some of these types of promotions.
Fund raisers can be another great way to make money. Civic organizations, schools, clubs, scouts, sports teams and many more type of organizations are constantly trying to figure out a way to make money. Why not consider making your product part of a solution for them and yourself at the same time. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Here again the formula for success has been laid out by plenty of people who came before you. If you spend some time doing a bit of research, chances are you can adapt many ideas to your products. It’s also possible to just simply call a company you’ve heard about that is doing fund raisers and ask them to send you information. You may also even want to consider going in on this with another exhibitor or two so you have a wider array of products you can offer. I was involved with an elementary school fund raiser when my kids were in school and I was just absolutely amazed how much money changed hands and the level of profit there is to be made!
Another thought for additional sales is to start a “club” of buyers. I’m sure you’ve been approached by Gevalia Coffee or BMG Music club or Book of the Month Club and others. This doesn’t work with all products we make, but it does lend itself to some. In this scenario you target people who want to automatically receive variations of your product on a regular basis. Certainly you’ll have to be imaginative to keep the interest going but that can be done with a bit of planning and of course by virtue of the fact you’ll doubtlessly have turnover in your customer base. Newer customers would be candidates for all your different products while those that have been with you for some time would be a bit more of a challenge. If however you produce a consumable then the problem is solved for repeat offers. This idea would work with something like “candle of the month”, “personal care items” (soaps, body oils etc.), pottery, some country crafts, hot sauces… even jewelry could be a possibility. So you don’t get stuck with a lot of deadbeat sales, make sure you let the customer know what is coming next and when it will be arriving. You’ll also want to have pre-authorization on a credit card so you can ensure payment. None of us are large enough to absorb thousands of dollars in losses by handling this any other way.
If you’re in the fine art business with something like painting or sculpture, you may want to consider renting your work to businesses or individuals. Although there are a few true collectors out there, the vast majority of people will be using your work as a decor accent or maybe even a focal piece to set a theme in their home or business. The reality is however that these tastes change over time. What appeals to someone this month may become old hat within a relatively short time. And in addition, businesses that have a regular clientele have to constantly keep a fresh look and so that mean having constant change to the decor. These are great candidates for art rental. After all… why pay full price for something you only plan on using for a few months? If it turns out the customer really likes the piece and wants to keep it permanently then fine… you can have a pre-arranged buy-out price. If on the other hand they’d just like to rotate the work that’s no problem either. Just remove the piece from business “A” and replace it with a piece you had in business “B”. “A” and “B” just simply switch out decor and you have a constant stream of income. You can even have various tiers of the service based on whether you’re using originals or prints. Everyone comes out a winner in this situation.
Keeping your cash flowing during tight economic times is a challenge for all businesses, but it’s especially challenging for businesses such as ours where all of us deal in the “wants” business instead of the “needs” business. Of course it’s great if you can make all the income you need by doing a couple of shows per month on the weekends… but right now that can be difficult for many of us. Unusual times such as those we’re currently experiencing requires unusual thinking in order to stay afloat. Think a bit outside the box, put those thoughts to work and we should all be around to share “business as usual” when it returns to the shows!