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janet, pat and the death of the craft fair

updated sun 25 aug 02

 

kruzewski on thu 22 aug 02


This is a subject close to my heart at the moment as I am in the middle of
our local (Porthmadog) craft fair. It's a long - ten day - fair which used
to be so busy that, as a visitor, I knew I would have to fight to get to any
stand I wanted to visit. That and the fact it is my local fair got me to
participate three years ago - this being my third year. This is the only
craft fair I do, having realised early in my "career" that they were not for
me. If this fair is anything to go by I would certainly agree that craft
fairs ARE dying. The number of craftspeople attending has shrunk year on
year . The venue looks embarrasingly sparse now. The public attendance has
also dropped to an all time low, and so many of them look so miserable as
they walk in, and fairly quickly walk out again, that I wonder why they
came.
Unless things improve dramatically this year I don't expect to be doing the
Porthmadog fair again.

I have also stopped visiting craft fairs as generally they are so
dissapointing, mostly because of the type and the quality of crafts
displayed. I am sure there are good ones but they are getting scarcer. So
many stalls sell "bought in" items rather than crafts the stallholders have
made themselves and the same stalls seem to be at so many fairs that there
is
very little variety.

The fair I'm attending charges the public an entrance fee. I was talking to
a customer today who thought that this fee came to the stallholders, and was
surprised this was not so and that we paid to be there. If this is the
general perception, no wonder the public expect to be entertained and are
dissapointed that they are not. In my experience demonstrations and throw a
pot activities for the public don't increase sales or general appreciation.

I would agree that a lot of the fair participants are retired and selling
the items they make as a hobby for just enough money to cover expenses, and
also they like the social aspect. This means their prices are very low,
fostering an expectation with the public that prices for crafts generally
should be rock bottom, and that anyone selling at a realistic price, like
me, is overly expensive.

Many of you know that I live very close to Janet and that she and Eckhart
sell my pots in their gallery, just a couple of miles down the road. When I
first started selling pots my pricing system was a bit chaotic, following
the example of other potters I knew, who had different pricing systems for
different locations. Yes, there are still lots of potters that are not very
business like. Now my selling prices are always consistent, for the reasons
that Janet states, and for pure simplicity. Only my seconds and end of lines
are cheeper, and they are popular items at this fair. So far the most
expensive single item I've sold was 10, people are just not buying anything
but the cheeper items from any of us at the fair.

In UK Potters Fairs are becoming more and more popular and are great events
both to take part in and to visit. They are great for meeting with the
ceramics buying public and increasing your profile, as well as socialising
with fellow potters but, when I add up the stall fees, petrol, accommodation
(camping), food etc. I find it costs me far more than 30% of my takings to
attend. That puts gallery commissions into context I think.

I would agree with Pat that there is an element of buying from the person
who made the pot, forming a relationship even. This year I am sharing a
stall with two other craftspersons (a beadworker and a silk painter). None
of us would have done the fair this year if we'd have had to be there the
whole ten days. All of us have found it very hard to juggle the fair, other
commitments and making over the period. However I have found that I just
have to be there most of the time because if I'm not my pots don't sell. I
do not find that my pots "sit around" in the Chapel of Art either, although
they do in some other galleries, and I wonder if it's the enthusiasm of the
person selling the pots that makes the difference to whether they sell or
not.

Lastly, I very much sympathise with your frustration at your perennial
students, Pat, who are abusing the adult education system and blocking
places to those who would like to learn from scratch. I found it impossible
to get into classes at a local adult education centre in the midlands
because of this sort of thing. Maybe you should raise the idea of a cut off
period for these perennial students with your administration, possibly
suggesting they be able to rent studio time instead, when classes are not
taking place - and at a more realistic rate. Just a thought.

Jacqui

North Wales

Richard Jeffery on fri 23 aug 02


From South coast of UK, exactly the same...

in fact this is almost the same post i started to write then gave up, so
thanks....

there are one or two good shows, usually at regional or national level, but
you need to very confident about sales in volume before you part with a
sizeable stall fee.....

planning to do them next year, i'll let you know.....

-----Original Message-----
From: Ceramic Arts Discussion List [mailto:CLAYART@LSV.CERAMICS.ORG]On
Behalf Of kruzewski
Sent: 22 August 2002 23:57
To: CLAYART@LSV.CERAMICS.ORG
Subject: Janet, Pat and the death of the craft fair


This is a subject close to my heart at the moment as I am in the middle of
our local (Porthmadog) craft fair. It's a long - ten day - fair which used
to be so busy that, as a visitor, I knew I would have to fight to get to any
stand I wanted to visit. That and the fact it is my local fair got me to
participate three years ago - this being my third year. This is the only
craft fair I do, having realised early in my "career" that they were not for
me. If this fair is anything to go by I would certainly agree that craft
fairs ARE dying. The number of craftspeople attending has shrunk year on
year . The venue looks embarrasingly sparse now. The public attendance has
also dropped to an all time low, and so many of them look so miserable as
they walk in, and fairly quickly walk out again, that I wonder why they
came.
Unless things improve dramatically this year I don't expect to be doing the
Porthmadog fair again.

I have also stopped visiting craft fairs as generally they are so
dissapointing, mostly because of the type and the quality of crafts
displayed. I am sure there are good ones but they are getting scarcer. So
many stalls sell "bought in" items rather than crafts the stallholders have
made themselves and the same stalls seem to be at so many fairs that there
is
very little variety.

The fair I'm attending charges the public an entrance fee. I was talking to
a customer today who thought that this fee came to the stallholders, and was
surprised this was not so and that we paid to be there. If this is the
general perception, no wonder the public expect to be entertained and are
dissapointed that they are not. In my experience demonstrations and throw a
pot activities for the public don't increase sales or general appreciation.

I would agree that a lot of the fair participants are retired and selling
the items they make as a hobby for just enough money to cover expenses, and
also they like the social aspect. This means their prices are very low,
fostering an expectation with the public that prices for crafts generally
should be rock bottom, and that anyone selling at a realistic price, like
me, is overly expensive.

Many of you know that I live very close to Janet and that she and Eckhart
sell my pots in their gallery, just a couple of miles down the road. When I
first started selling pots my pricing system was a bit chaotic, following
the example of other potters I knew, who had different pricing systems for
different locations. Yes, there are still lots of potters that are not very
business like. Now my selling prices are always consistent, for the reasons
that Janet states, and for pure simplicity. Only my seconds and end of lines
are cheeper, and they are popular items at this fair. So far the most
expensive single item I've sold was 10, people are just not buying anything
but the cheeper items from any of us at the fair.

In UK Potters Fairs are becoming more and more popular and are great events
both to take part in and to visit. They are great for meeting with the
ceramics buying public and increasing your profile, as well as socialising
with fellow potters but, when I add up the stall fees, petrol, accommodation
(camping), food etc. I find it costs me far more than 30% of my takings to
attend. That puts gallery commissions into context I think.

I would agree with Pat that there is an element of buying from the person
who made the pot, forming a relationship even. This year I am sharing a
stall with two other craftspersons (a beadworker and a silk painter). None
of us would have done the fair this year if we'd have had to be there the
whole ten days. All of us have found it very hard to juggle the fair, other
commitments and making over the period. However I have found that I just
have to be there most of the time because if I'm not my pots don't sell. I
do not find that my pots "sit around" in the Chapel of Art either, although
they do in some other galleries, and I wonder if it's the enthusiasm of the
person selling the pots that makes the difference to whether they sell or
not.

Lastly, I very much sympathise with your frustration at your perennial
students, Pat, who are abusing the adult education system and blocking
places to those who would like to learn from scratch. I found it impossible
to get into classes at a local adult education centre in the midlands
because of this sort of thing. Maybe you should raise the idea of a cut off
period for these perennial students with your administration, possibly
suggesting they be able to rent studio time instead, when classes are not
taking place - and at a more realistic rate. Just a thought.

Jacqui

North Wales

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Janet Kaiser on fri 23 aug 02


This is a bit of deja vu, isn't it Jacqui? But not to worry, Pat and I are
fast becoming friends too! We Brits know how to take it on the chin without
hurt feelings, ne c'est pas? :-) big grin

Sorry to hear that things are slow in Porthmadog. Port Meirion is
apparently 30% down on visitor numbers, so it is endemic in this part of
the country. Our -10% (visitors/sales) over the last foot-and-mouth
depressed year therefore seems not so bad. Again, we will just have to take
it on the chin. However, let's see what the Bank Holiday weekend brings...
An odd shower or two may do visitor numbers some good. Let's hope so!

I do sincerely wonder if "event fatigue" by all involved (=3D makers,
promoters, visitors) does not mean that visitors are fewer with sales
ditto? Although we are just 5 miles or so away, no one approached us about
displaying a poster, nor have I seen any local advertising. How are the
local and visiting public supposed to know this event is taking place? It
is really not good enough to say "we always have a fair this time of year".
But not to worry, I am sending folk over! :-) If there are few booths and
the place is empty... Well, it also lacks a certain buzz... We find that
the busier they day (visitor numbers) the better the sales proportionately
speaking. By that I mean, if 20 people are all in at the same time, 3, 4 or
more will buy, creating a little mini rush. However, if 20 people visit in
singly or in pairs, only 1 or 2 will buy. It is as if buying is contagious!

As for the perceptions of the general public as to how events function:
Funnily enough, I overheard someone (admittedly a very young woman) today
"think" that we (a gallery) would pay artists to exhibit and therefore the
prices should be lower. Which makes me wonder how many pre and/or
misconceptions are "out there". I would always presume whoever takes the
money, pockets the proceeds, whether it be the venue at the entrance or the
maker I pay for work. Unless they happen to be one and the same.

Certainly the verbosity of the "marketing sizzle" makes a huge
difference... The more outrageous the story I can relate about a
maker/artist, their work or the techniques they use, the more likely
anything from mug to high-end sculpture will sell. As you know yourself! It
is not a contrived or insincere sales pitch... Just a genuine gung-ho
mixture of sharing knowledge, education and plain gossip. At craft fairs,
you "sell yourself" and a good gallery will do the same on your behalf.
People love to be able to "connect" with the work, beyond liking it and the
easiest way to to that, is to give them insight into who or how it was
created. Yes, it helps to be the talkative type. The days I cower behind a
counter being anti-social are guaranteed to be poor, both in terms of sales
and money in the honesty box at the entrance.

I genuinely think that the "feel good factor" must also be present. If a
holiday is proving miserable and factious (combination of accommodation,
weather and bored children) it does not matter what is on offer... It
remains a case of casting pearls before swine. "Retail therapy" only
applies so far. If, on the other hand, people are feeling expansive and
happy, they are much more likely to take on board what is on offer and
respond in kind.

Pat's perennial students, is really one of those administrative problems
which should be addressed by the authorities in charge. They are probably
too interested in keeping numbers up and fees rolling to take much notice
of the ethics or (un)fairness of the situation. In Germany, the
Volkshochschulen solved the problem by having the usual beginner's,
intermediate and advanced classes... You could only attend in that sequence
and had to give way to following students UNLESS you were so cack-handed
you could not possibly progress to the next class. The waiting lists were
phenomenal and it often took years to get a place on the course of choice,
but at least there was a guaranteed progression once you did. After four
years waiting, I managed a photography course which took me through from
beginners holding a camera and inserting a film (duh!) to advanced
techniques of development over the next three years. Thereafter I was,
however, on my own... Hence a whacking great box under the bed!!! :-)

Must go... It is 03:30 a.m. and I feel pumpkin-like...

Cheers


Janet Kaiser

The Chapel of Art =95 Capel Celfyddyd
8 Marine Crescent, Criccieth LL52 0EA, Wales, UK
Tel: 01766-523570 URL: http://www.the-coa.org.uk

kruzewski on sat 24 aug 02


Well Janet, I have to say I agree with everything you say. You, of =
course,
are way ahead of me regarding marketing and the vagaries of the public.

On this thread Judi Buchanan said that to be successful
at these fairs you must enjoy yourself and this will transmit to the =
public.
I would agree to a point. As I said, I only do one craft fair and, from
my position this year I have a good view of the public as they walk in. =
Many
of them look downright miserable, and truly I wonder why they came. I am =
a
talkative soul as Janet and poor Eckhart - who has to put up with my 2 =
hour
chats with Janet (at least)- would attest. I LIKE talking about =
ceramics, I
am enthusiastic - not to make a sale but because I love what I do and =
like
to meet and chat to people who at least have an interest. Many of the =
people
who come up to, or pass by, my stall won't even look at me as they give =
my
pots a cursory and disaproving glance. That's OK, 99% of the population =
have
no interest in pottery above getting the cheepest tableware from the =
local
store or market - free promotional stuff is even better. I stand and =
smile,
and I smile at people who catch my eye. The most disheartening thing is =
that
most of them scowl back, or pretend they haven't seen and give a blank =
look.
But some people smile, others stop and chat. If they go away and don't =
buy,
well that's OK, it's better than standing there all day not speaking to =
a
sea of faces.

One of the other potters at the fair sits on his chair all day looking
fairly miserable (I never sit). He was saying to me that he found "the =
hard
sell you have to do" a real pain - meaning himself, not me. I would hate =
to
think that anyone thought that I did a hard sell. Maybe, if someone =
likes my
pottery they may buy some more because I talked about how I made it, the
serendipity of the way the glazes work or whatever, but that is never my
intention. At the same time I know that if I'm not there I get very few
sales. People will buy jewelery, silk scarves, jams and all sorts of =
crafts
whether the maker is present or not, but not pottery - and maybe not
paintings. Yes, you will get some sales but not nearly as many. I am not =
at
the fair on Monday and I bet my sales will be flat.The exception is a
gallery where someone like Janet takes the trouble to get to know and, I
think, like their "artists" and is so enthusiastic about their work that =
the
buyer gets a personal connection that way. I'm sure that Mel would not
agree with this, as most of his sales seem to be made without his =
presence -
maybe that is the mark of really good pottery.

Today has been a truly awful day at the fair, so lots of time to people
watch. At one time I suggested to a fellow stallholder that we hire
rent-a-mob. Certainly if there is a gathering of a few people round one
stall more will join in to see what the fuss is about - lots of people
there, they must have something good! This does, as Janet says, create a
buzz.

The organisers of the Porthmadog Fair use the same old signs year on =
year to
promote the fair and there is a lot more they could do. I think, from =
what I have observed,=20
that this is similar to many craft fairs.By contrast the Potters Fairs =
I've taken part in as well as=20
those I've visited promote themselves almost lavishly - and it shows. =
These fairs attract=20
that 1% of people who are interested in pottery and want to buy - even =
if they don't
have much to spend they will find they must have something. They expect =
to
see good work and they enter full of anticipation. These Potters fairs =
are events!=20
They are not something to fill in an odd half hour before or after goint =
to the beach or until=20
the next Ffestiniog train leaves. Yes, Potters fairs are more expensive =
to
attend than some craft fairs and probably represent a poorer return over
costs than a gallery, but I always get a buzz from them and will do more =
in
future if I can. Knowing the potter-promoters of two of the fairs in =
Wales I
know that they have made no profit from the fairs they organised, but =
that
was not their intention. Their aim was to promote ceramics and I think =
they
have done that very well. This has a ripple effect as the public often =
ask where=20
else our work is sold. I tell them all about the Chapel of Art and the =
North Wales=20
Potters Shop in Conwy (sadly still waiting to re-open thanks to the =
hopeless National Trust).=20
Slowly but surely the interested public get to know where they can find, =
and hopefully buy, good art.=20

Lets hope that by the time the Craft Fair is dead and gone we will have =
found better and more lucrative=20
alternatives so that only the naff end of the market and the promoters =
will mourn their passing.

Jacqui
North Wales