Carolyn Nygren Curran on sun 15 oct 00
Didn't do too well at this year's shows.....WHY is the big question. Yes,
I had mostly bottle forms and non functional items, but I thought I'd
chosen the venues well. I am beginning to wonder if the internet is the
big competitor---or rip off cheap goods---or what. I know there are
more shows around than there used to be, and I know that the old mystique
about handcrafted items seems to have disappeared. A lot of people at
shows appear to walk around carrying few packages with the exception of
wrought iron shepherds' crooks for their garden, and they go to shows to be
entertained, not to collect objets d'art. Someone in the booth next to me
at the last show said that she thought that people who pay $5 or more to
get into a show feel that the entrance fee is all they want to spend on
the "entertainment" provided by the show. On the other hand, the shows
without admission are also considered as free family entertainment. Of
course, there's never any obligation to buy, but where are the buyers of
yesteryear? Are they on the internet, are they tired of the shows, do
they go to galleries or what? I'd be interested in hearing comments from
other potters.....TIA. cnc, wondering how many shows to gamble on next
Carolyn Nygren Curran on mon 16 oct 00
Thanks, John, for taking the time for that reply to my query. While I
don't do many shows each year, it is good to get out of the studio and
see the public, and I don't want to give them up entirely. I guess I'll
stick to doing shows in a new area we want to visit or else choose a show
close enough to home that the expenses aren't too high. Or maybe buy a
crystal ball... Thanks again for the input...food for thought for all
clayarters in the same boat. cnc
John Baymore on mon 16 oct 00
Didn't do too well at this year's shows.....WHY is the big question. Ye=
I had mostly bottle forms and non functional items, but I thought I'd
chosen the venues well. I am beginning to wonder if the internet is the
big competitor---or rip off cheap goods---or what. I know there are
more shows around than there used to be, and I know that the old mystiqu=
about handcrafted items seems to have disappeared. =
Maybe life is trying to tell you something . Branch out. Take mel's
"50 mile circle" recommendation to heart. Extend your creativity into
marketing ideas. Look at the outside of the box. Never put all your
options in one place. =
In my opinion, the retail craft fair as a really viable marketing tool is=
really great idea whose time came.......arrived.......... and went. In
fact .... "went" quite a few years ago. Like a decade or more. What is
left is a mere shadow of what it once was.
There are still some craft fairs that are lucrative enough to make the
investment of your time worth it.....but they are few and far between. F=
testing the public reaction to your work, or for doing some local "PR" th=
certainly can have some value. But as a major way to make a good portion=
of your income............. wow....... tough row to hoe.
TIME is the issue. Your time. How is it best spent? Making stuff....
wholesaling....... or retailing? Retailing where? Wholesaling where? =
That is not to mention little "incidentials" like ......time with your
family and friends .
The craft fair originated at a time when handcrafts were typically
unavailable in most places. Now most any town has at least one handcraft=
shop or gallery. Usually multiple ones. The basic NEED that craft fair=
once fulfilled is no longer there in most locations. Like any good idea=
for making a buck ........... it proliferated. Became commonplace instea=
of special. (BTW...... I think this is happening to "Empty Bowls" as a
fundraising event.) So you are "dead on" correct...... they have become
much more "entertainment" venues rather than buying venues. Look at the
wording that many promoters use in their public marketing....... it
certainly isn't telling the public that there is a good opportunity to BU=
good crafts.... (and often be CHARGED for the privledge ).
The reason the few "biggies" in the craft fair circuit are still quite
viable is that they bring in craft work to a town that is usually well
above the quality or "vision" routinely available from the local resource=
So the people who are looking for that type of work come out of the
woodwork and do buy....because they still can't easily get that type of
stuff locally. As the local craft retailers get more and more involved i=
national purchasing and international purchasing....the need for even the=
craft fairs will diminish.....and for a while they will still survive on
the "tradition" factor. Lots of effort is put into he really good
shows....... and they are worth the jury fees and the booth fees. The
people who run these fairs know the remaining buying market and what it
takes to sustain a reasonable craft fair in the 2000's. Yes..... they ar=
very competitive..... money talks. These few fairs still have the ROI (s=
When the public themselves looked at craft fairs as traveling stores and =
great opportunity to get something they couldn't get locally...... a
promoter simply needed to set up a bunch of tents and charge admission an=
the craftspeople were happy...... because people tended to buy stuff. No=
the promoter needs to get the right TYPE of people in the door (potential=
craft buyers) to keep the craftspeople selling. This market identificati=
and segmentation is much, much harder. Many promoters are not as good at=
this approach as they need to be...... so the attendance number might sti=
be there.... but the real potential craft buyers are not as high a
percentage of the total. The casual craft buyer can get his/her "fix" ma=
places. These promoters haven't changed with the changing
times......business as usual. So the craftspeople have to put more effor=
into "making" a sale happen than they used to.
Because the public can get handcrafts locally ........... simply "being
there" at a fair is no longer enough (if it ever really WAS). You have t=
make an active sales effort today, you can't just plop down your wares an=
wait for the handcraft starved buyers to just wander in. They've been
inundated with handmade pots in their lives. This is why Bruce Baker's
approach to the selling process and psychology for craftspeople is so
important nowadays. If you don't sell "the story" (also called "the
sizzle") at a craft fair...... you're work is just another commodity item=
that is readily available in the local town craft shop. Sales technique=
are now more critical to craft fair success than they ever were. If you
aren't well polished in this area...... or are terribly uncomfortable doi=
it...... you are at a disadvantage in the current reality of the
marketplace. ("Sell on quality....not on price." Tom Peters)
(BTW..... my apprentice could sell ice to an eskimo. I'd die for that
The big issue for me in doing craft fairs is the ROI (return on
investment). This is a basic business strategy question. If I have a
certain amount of resources and money to invest...... where will I get th=
biggest return at this point in time for that level of investment? =
(Resources in this context is mainly time for most craftspeople.) Is it a=
craft fair....or something else?
I, like mel-san, have decided that the best answer for me is "something
else". In 32 years.....did many fairs......watched trends come and
go....... come and go again........ watched the fair circuit dynamics
changing..... and decided to get out before it collapsed completely. =
Started diversifying. Simple economics clearly pointed that way.
When you do a retail craft fair, you are a retailer, not a potter. A
traveling salesperson hawking your wares. So you need to look at ALL the=
costs to do this retail event as a retailer would. Divorce the retailer
self from your potter self. Look at it as if you were selling "widgets".=
To a degree you can say that if it is a bad deal for selling widgets....i=
is a bad deal for selling pots.
(Aside...... You DO have the advantage over the retailer simply selling
widgets........ you ARE the sizzle....... and you are selling
yourself...... and who knows you better than you?)
The first cost you have as a retailer is the expense to purchase the ware=
you will sell at the fair. You, the retailer, have to buy the pots from
you, the potter. This sounds absurd....but it is simply good business
practice to look at it this way. These ARE two different activities. So=
you buy enough stock to do the fair. You now have this amount invested i=
the fair as part of the cost of doing the fair.
You, the POTTER, are already content with this situation, because you jus=
sold a good sized wholesale order ....and you have already calculated all=
of your labor, materials, overhead, and PROFIT MARGIN into the wholesale
prices you just got. (Don't forget the profit margin!!!!)
Then you have to figure your time. Not your time for making the pots....=
that was figured into calculating your wholesale prices (whole 'nother ca=
of worms ). Track your time for EVERY aspect of doing a particular
fair. Shooting slides if you do that yourself. Filling out application=
Packing the pots before the show and loading the truck. Setup time. =
Driving time. Being there selling. Breakdown and pack up. Driving home=
Unpacking. Ending paperwork. All of it, as best you can track. =
Remember...... six ten minute little jobs is an hour of labor!
Now multiply the time you just calculated by a reasonable hourly wage. =
Keep in mind what people like burger flippers typically make in your area=
And carpenters, and plumbers, and electricians, and so on. Around here i=
New England, if you are charging much less than a MINIMUM of $20.00 an ho=
for your time....you are WAY undercharging. You may be a fair to middlin=
"reatiler" at the craft fair.....but you COULD have been back in the stud=
working as a highly skilled craftsperson for the same time period. So yo=
have to use THAT figure as the VALUE of your time, even if retail seller'=
wages are typically lower in your localle.
(This simple analysis alone quickly says that you should hire a lower pai=
person to sell your stuff....... except that most fairs require the
craftsperson to be there . Some lie about this...... which is a whole=
different issue .)
Add to the above labor cost ALL the expenses of doing the show. =
Application/jury fees, the inventory purchased from yourself, cost of
slides, booth fee, gas/oil/depreciation or rental on vehicle, on-the-road=
food and lodging, cost of any promotional materials used, mailings, packi=
materials, an amortized cost factor for your booth display, and so on.
NOW...... add all that stuff together. That is your investment in dong
this fair. That is what it really costs you.
Now look at your gross receipts. Subtract all your costs and your labor
you came up with above from these receipts. That is your profit for doin=
the fair. Look closely.......... is it a reasonable return for the
investment of time and money you have made? =
Let's look at a hypothetical craft fair as an example. I'll try to stay
with what is pretty typical by way of examples. I would say that it is
reasonable to assume that a two day craft fair, three hours drive away fr=
your home, easily takes 40 hours of your time, all told. So at a low
$20.00 per hour, that comes to $800.00 in labor alone. Application fee i=
$20.00 and booth fee is $300.00. Gas for the loaded van was $30.00. Two=
nights lodging in the cheapie motel was $90.00. Food cost another $70.00=
Your printed bags and the packing materials you used cost $30.00. Lets
lump all other possible costs (booth depreciation, and so on) to total on=
$100.00. So the cost for your show expenses is $1440.00.
So we see a post here on CLAYART......." Wow ......great show....I made
$3000.00 this weekend". Or we find an ad from a promoter saying that
average sales per booth for this show is $3000.00. Ah..... sounds pretty=
good put that way doesn't it? But what is the reality? =
Potters often confuse cashflow with what they "made". What they generat=
is $3000.00 of cashflow in a weekend. Potters also often confuse the
cashflow at a fair with what they are paid to make the pots. In the case=
above, the potter probably made about $1500.00 to make the pots. =
If we use simple keystoning (100% markup) to calculate the cost of the
goods to you, the pottery retailer, you had $1500.00 invested in the
inventory you sold (bought from, you, the potter). So as the retailer,
that $3000.00 is really $1500.00 before all the other show expenses are
deducted. Take away the other $1440.00 in labor and expenses from the
$1500.00, and your pre-tax net was actually only $60.00. This was your
Don't confuse your wages with profit. Also don't confuse $20.00 per hour=
as a self employed person with $20.00 an hour as an employee. By the tim=
you get done with SE tax issues...... that $20.00 per hour gross wage
figure shrinks a lot .
So your profit was $60.00 on an investment of 40 hours of your valuable
time and $2140.00 of your money (show expenses plus cost of goods purchas=
for resale). This comes out to a 2.8% return on your investment, (and a
week of your life gone forever ).
Is there another possible way for you to invest a weeks work and two gran=
that would garner a better return? I think the answer to this is
............ most likely.
Two grand would buy a pretty nice little run of photos, or printed matter=
pay for a good deal of postage, and or pay a nice phone bill. Forty hour=
of labor would allow you to do a lot of research, letter writing, and pho=
calls. Maybe if you got one SINGLE good gallery with the same time effor=
and resources as the hypothetical craft fair above, it would have a large=
impact on the bottom line? From that effort, if you got a total of
$3000.00 in wholesale orders from that single gallery in a whole year....=
you'd still be at about the same point. (You probably wouldn't be as tir=
.) Two galleries at $1500.00? Four at $750.00? Yes...a little too
simplistic because the cost of goods for the wholesale order would be a
little factor....but close enough for the general idea.
There ARE other ways. Don't get trapped on the "craft fair" one way
expressway. The exits aren't well marked .
There is a little saying that crops up in business management seminars in=
most any industry.......... it goes ....... "What are the 9 words that do=
a XXXXXXXXX business?" (Insert any type of business for the X's.) =
The answer to this question is .............."But that's not the way we'v=
always done it."
The internet MAY be the next "craft fair" idea. Maybe not. Too soon to
tell. The Craft Report magazine is trying to gain a handle on the impact=
of this right now with aggressive surveys.
Hope all this verbage has at least started you thinking
. Bet others
will have lots of feedback also.
PS: Check the archives..... this has gone around before.
"Who now does only one major craft fair per year and demos at the hometow=
art and film festival. That's it for fairs."
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA
"Earth, Water, and Fire Noborigama Woodfiring Workshop August 18-27,
Tom Wirt/Betsy Price on tue 17 oct 00
Hi Carolyn...(Sorry, this is going to be long)
>Didn't do too well at this year's shows.....WHY is the big question.
I >had mostly bottle forms and non functional items, but I thought
>chosen the venues well. I am beginning to wonder if the internet is
>big competitor---or rip off cheap goods---or what.
Don't know how long you've been doing clay, or what your objectives in
doing shows are....so I hope I don't make any assumptions that will
put you off and I certainly don't want to sound patronizing. I WILL
assume that you are trying to make at least part of your income from
clay and that you want the clay part of your income to be
profitable....that you're serious about doing clay and making it work
for you...not a hobby. (Your very question implies that you are
If you are making work for sale, like it or not, the guy with the
money (the customer) determines (to a large extent) what you should
make. From our experience with bottle shapes (and I love to make
them) they don't sell well unless there is something very unique about
them like large size or incredible decor. People don't know how to
use them in their homes.
I don't think the internet is significantly bothering the handmade
market yet. People still want to see/touch/feel handmade work. We
have had mailing lists up to 3000 in a market, would get $5,000 of
sales in a long weekend from use of the list, have mailed all those
people about our website, and gotten very little in response. Now
either they don't have web access (many don't use the web even if they
use email), or they don't choose to use the web to buy handmade. I
know our site is a bit difficult to buy from but that's because we're
protecting the wholesale part of our business.
(snip)I know there are
>more shows around than there used to be, and I know that the old
>about hand-crafted items seems to have disappeared.
>, and they go to shows to be
entertained, not to collect objets d'art.
course, there's never any obligation to buy, but where are the buyers
This , in my opinion, is part of the problem. The shows HAVE become
entertainment because there are so many of them. That also takes the
pressure to buy off at any given show. "oh well, we can get it at the
XXXX show next week". There are some shows that have the reputation
as shows to buy at...and these aren't just the big name shows. Our
experience has been that the large sales are at the shows with
reputations as "buying" shows in the customers mind. Many of the
other shows are like spending an afternoon at a museum or art gallery
Customers in the old days were casual about buying handmade. Today,
they expect to be marketed to...courted. Did you have your mailing
list sign up sheet out? Did you take names and addresses off checks
you did get? What other marketing efforts are you taking to secure
sales? Did you have graphics in your booth showing you at work? Did
you have hang tags. Booth signage? Did you have your
Visa/MasterCard/AMEX sign prominently displayed. (Now don't get going
on that again, David....for most of us, making a living at this, it is
a necessary evil).
And finally....you generally don't get big sales the first time out at
a given show. If it is a good venue, and customers are buying from
others, it may take you 3 to 5 years to get that show up to potential.
Using John's economics, you must be prepared to LOSE money for 3 to 5
years, before you actually make a profit. The marketing rule of thumb
is that people have to be exposed to something a minimum of 3 times
before they will take action.
This is now a tough, competitive business to be in, unfortunately. As
was discussed some months ago, there are few of the good old time
>From: John Baymore
>Subject: Pondering next year's shows---are they worth it?
I have to agree with John's take on much of where the business is
going and how to get your piece of it. His analysis of how to look at
your business is right on. It's way too easy to get lulled into the
magic of all that cash flow at a show, forgetting the money that's
already gone out and the time that's gone in.
Over 5 years we had worked one show up to $11,000 in a 4 day weekend.
And dropped it the next year because it took too much time to produce
for, and go to, right at a peak wholesale shipping time
> In my opinion, the retail craft fair as a really viable marketing
tool is a
> really great idea whose time came.......arrived.......... and went.
> fact .... "went" quite a few years ago. Like a decade or more. What
> left is a mere shadow of what it once was.
The craft fair, in my mind, has two places in our marketing strategy.
One, as John and Mel note, to develop your local market. Two, to test
new ideas, pricing, products and to get feedback.
And early on in clay making/selling, you get to know who is buying
your work, how you fit into the market and other clues that will help
you in building that business plan (whoops, there's that nasty bugger
> There are still some craft fairs that are lucrative enough to make
> investment of your time worth it.....but they are few and far
> testing the public reaction to your work, or for doing some local
> certainly can have some value. But as a major way to make a good
> of your income............. wow....... tough row to hoe.
Tough not only for all the above, but then what happens when it rains?
YOu can't make those sales up....ever. It's like the airplane that
takes off with an empty seat.
Please read, reread...memorize John's rationale on the business of
craft....if you're planning on making a significant part of your
living from it.
I would posit that initially, you just about HAVE to do shows to break
into the business. But I would also make the same point as
John...you'll get out of the street as fast as you can. Besides all
the economics as he positioned them, think about that rained out day
or weekend. Think about the fact that you're in an impossible
situation...the only way to make more money is do more, or bigger
shows....which cuts into your production time, making more or bigger
shows harder to do. And around the wheel turns.
If you're strapped to it, the inevitable will happen. Also, John
understated the economic situation. In general, a gallery or shop can
sell your work for 25 or 35% more than you can on the street....better
display, better environment, different customer mindset. So you don't
have to sell your work wholesale for 50% off your street price. You
sell it for 50% off the gallery price.
One of the trends we think we're seeing is more people dealing direct
with the maker at their studio or home gallery. There may be a number
of reasons why, but we're sure seeing examples of that at the Rosen
show each year. One gallery has gone full circle...they were potters
in Upper Michigan, started a gift shop to increase their income,
ended up doing several hundred thousand a year, almost quit doing
pots, and are now looking at arranging their lives to get back into
So, it's not just an easy "hey I took my stuff and nobody
bought"...and I know that's not what you expected. But, again, for
good or bad, The business side has become as important as the making
side. Even for the Tejas junkyard dog. (Sorry David, but you do have
Clay Coyote Pottery
John Baymore on wed 18 oct 00
Also, John understated the economic situation. In general, a gallery or=
shop can sell your work for 25 or 35% more than you can on the
street....better display, better environment, different customer mindset.=
So you don't have to sell your work wholesale for 50% off your street
price. You sell it for 50% off the gallery price.
You caught me here in one of those "assumptions" that can get all of us
. I used the "keystone" example as "typical" in that financial exampl=
I used because my prices in my craft fair booth pretty much are the same =
my "gallery" prices....100 percent up from wholesale. Occasionally I wil=
lower some items that I want to "get rid of". Most of the time......
pretty close to the same. So I "assumed" that everyone does this. =
Bad assumption ....... that if I thought about it for a while........... =
would have realized that over the years I had seen many potters selling i=
craft fair situations at prices that were what I thought were closer to
wholesale. So........ you are 100 percent correct in your comments above=
Of course any gallery / shop that buys a piece at wholesale is ALWAYS fre=
to price the piece at any level they so chose. They own it. So a few
particular places DO tend to get a bit more than 100 percent markup off o=
my prices. So I guess that the best way to say it is that my craft fair
booth prices are about the same as the ....ahem......... "manufacturer's
suggested retail price" .
Boy...... THAT sure makes it sound like a business!
As to craft fair booth "sticker shock"............... I don't typically
bring my true "exhibition type" work to the craft fair shows...... I've
found it typically is the wrong market for the one fair I now do. The on=
time I bring those type pieces is on a specific day when I have made an
appointment with a client to come to the booth to peruse those types of
pieces. Those are priced pretty much the same as the "gallery price" too=
As I am sure you know from doing this business for a while...... those
situations are just about 100% guaranteed of a sale .
Those more high ticket pieces for client appointments remain in the rear
storage area....... I don't put them out in the general display. I have
found that they will quickly pull a person into the booth off the
isle...... right to those pieces before any others.......... but one look=
at the price on those will often send them right back out without even
looking at ANY of the other work in the booth. They make the instant
assumption that all of the work in the booth is way out of their price
range. Which probably isn't true.
I have always figured that with what it really costs me to do a fair.....=
I have just about the same expenses as any other retailer .....I just don=
have the year round venue there . If you think about it........ say
$300 bucks for two days of renting a retail location.....makes for a pret=
hefty "gallery rental". It'd come out to about $4500.00 a month if it we=
year round. Or maybe something like $45.00 per square foot per month. =
Youch! A bit more food for thought as you ponder the real "worth" of a
particular fair. Most craft fair booths are pretty "high rent" retail
spaces. So in looking at this stuff....... my booth prices tend to be
about the same. This also protects shops and galleries from direct
competition from me.
Important reference here .......my booth also is designed to look a lot
like a "gallery setting"..... to help with price positioning. =
OK......... non craft fair marketing idea feeding off of the above
Find a good retail location SMALL storefront in your area that has been
sitting unused for a while. Everyplace seems to have these. It has to b=
a clean space....... no construction mess or dirty space. Call the
landlord and check out the rent price. Let's say that it is $2000.00 a
month. Ouch..... sounds steep. That is only $67.00 per day. Beats the
heck out of what you are buying at many craft fairs. Get ahold of the
owner and see if they will rent it for ....say....... a five day period f=
$400.00. If it has been sitting empty...... bet they'll say yes. Then
look at this as your own mini "craft fair" that you control COMPLETELY. =
Two days of setup..... two days of sale....one day to break down and clea=
it up. Add another week of time to do the marketing effort. Plan your
advertising. Analize the potential costas and returns carefully to see i=
you think this is a good idea for YOU. Use your craft fair display
augmented with a little other stuff. If it is in a good traffic location=
you'll get a reasonable amount of business out of just "walk ins".....tha=
will probably easily pay the minimal $400.00 rent (roughly $800.00 in gro=
sales). Yes... you'll have to invest money and time in some
advertising..... but I bet this idea will reap more returns than many of
the current craft fairs, and won't cost any more in the "risk" department=
than some of the better outdoor fairs. And it won't be as affected by ra=
the way a fair can be.
The "rain day" thing that Tom brings up is SO true. It adds the plight o=
the farmer and the ski area operator into the already difficult business =
sales. Getting "rained out" on a really major fair can be the difference=
between having any profit at the end of the year and not.
Tom, thanks for the reinforcing comments on all this stuff. Your
observations on this whole subject are excellent, and anyone interested i=
this subject should carefully read yours too.
Cindy Strnad (sp? ) also had some great "must read" comments recently.=
PS: I think the most important thing I am trying to say is that if you a=
someone starting out and you kinda' have your "ducks in a row" as to the
aesthetic and technical issues of the craft...... and you are still not
having much success at the craft fair circuit...... don't let it totally
discourage you into a funk. There are other options........ explore the=
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA
"DATES SET: Earth, Water, and Fire Noborigama Woodfiring Workshop =
August 17-26, 2001"