One of an artist or crafter’s biggest decisions is what festivals or fairs they should participate in. There are a variety of aspects you should consider beyond just the cost of an event. You want to know who attends, what those attendees are looking for, hidden expenses associated with exhibiting, as well as added benefits the organizers provide. The more research you do into a show, the better decision you can make. The most obvious advice to offer someone struggling with this decision is to attend the event before you show. When you read the marketing for the events, every show is the greatest show on earth. No event organizer is going to say, “you know, we don’t get very many quality people coming to our event. Most attendees are just window shopping. No one is buying.”
Whenever possible, before investing in a recurring show, go check it out first. Observe the foot traffic at the event. Is it busy the entire day, or are there just a few peak periods? Take note of what is happening in the booths. Are people getting out their wallets, or just meandering down the aisles? Look at what items are on display. Are the vendors mostly crafters or fine artists? Is this a fair filled with expensive up-market furniture and jewelry, or lower-priced gift items and home decor? Ask the vendors if they think the event was worth their investment. If they have had a booth at the show for a few years, ask them if what you are observing is typical of the event or an anomaly.
As helpful as it is to scope an event out before participating, it’s not always possible. The last thing you want to do is show up as an attendee and realize you just missed the opportunity of the year. Fear not—there are five other effective ways to evaluate the investment without going. These five other ways are discussed below.
Be careful when evaluating an event based on price. You want to make sure you are evaluating the true cost of the craft fair or art show, so you don’t end up taking a hit on hidden fees. Make sure you are clear on what’s included in the price and what’s not. Some fairs may offer a table, chair, and table cover as part of the fee to exhibit. Others just provide the space and charge extra for those basics. Rarely does electricity come included in your booth fee, and costs for electric could run from $75 - $250+ depending on the venue, or even when you order it. Be sure to add in any transportation costs such as mileage and hotels if the show is far away. If the show in an urban area, do not forget to figure in your parking fees.
Also, consider how the show helps you stand out. Do they allow demonstrations? Can your purchase extra advertising? Is there a discount for repeat exhibitors? Can you contribute an item or coupon as a raffle prize? Do they provide links to your website or Etsy store on their website? Be realistic about how much product you will have to sell to make the show’s price worthwhile. If the median price of what you are offering is $10, you may have to sell 50 or more pieces just to break even.
Pro Tip: Most exhibit contracts have a Force Majeure clause, which means if the event is canceled due to an alien invasion, hurricane, or other forces outside of the organizer’s control, you will not get your money back. Consider that when weighing options between an outdoor festival in the Outer Banks during Hurricane season and one that takes place in a ballroom a few hundred miles inland.
Price is a good place to start your calculations, but do not stop there in your evaluation. A show that cost $500 per day and brings a significant number of attendees who tend to buy rather than look has a higher value than a show that only costs $100 but has very few buyers. You don’t have to rely on the event’s sales person for demographic information on attendees. Ask for a list of past year’s vendors and reach out to a few of them. Ask for their honest feedback on the event. Ask who attends, how much are they spending, and what items seem to be most popular.
Also, use common sense to figure out what kinds of people will be attending. If the fair is set up in a favorite community park, it is likely the people passing by are not there for the sole purpose of attending the show. Whereas a craft fair located at a private venue with an entrance fee, almost guarantees the people attending are there to buy. The wording an art show uses to market itself will also give you a clue to who might be attending. The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show and The Punk Rock Flea Market draw a very different crowd just based on the name alone. Often, good marketing will do much of the work to qualify attendees.
Pro Tip: Look through photos of previous events to get a feel for the audience demographic. Was the event packed with people? Do attendees and vendors appear to be happy or are the bored? Is it a family friendly event, or does it look like a high-end marketplace?
Many exhibitors get caught up in attendance numbers, but bigger isn’t always better. You may want to compare the pricing based on the cost per attendee. For example, a show with a total cost (including the hidden fees you uncovered) of $800 and an estimated 5000 attendees has a price point of $.16 per attendee. A show that cost $100 and will probably get about 100 people coming through costs $1 per attendee. So, the bigger more expensive show is the better value, right? Not so fast.
Out of those 5000 attendees how many will realistically be interested in what you have on display? Half? How many people can physically fit into your booth over a five-hour period? If you can squeeze just three people in there at a time and each person stays on average of four minutes, that is 45 people per hour max. Let’s say the show is two days long and open for eight hours each day. That means you can realistically get in front of 720 people. So now, your estimated cost is $800 divided by 720 people and you are looking at $1.11 per person. That makes the shows about even—or does it? Factor in the attendee demographics you got from doing the research above. If you sell nursery decor, and the smaller craft show is specifically targeting new families, then chances are you will do better than you would at the 5000 person show that does not have a particular focus.
Pro tip: If you are going to an event with a significant number of attendees, be sure to bring a knowledgeable and friendly helper. Not only do you need them to cover you for breaks, but you also need them to manage transactions while you schmooze with your buyers and check out the other artists.
In some cases is not where your business is right now, but where you want to take it that helps you select the right show. If you are satisfied maintaining a lifestyle business, meaning you want to earn just enough to pay your bills and have a bit of fun, then continuing to invest in public events may be perfect for you. If, however, you want to grow a more commercial business and expand your operations, then you may want to make a switch and invest in exhibiting at a trade fair that attracts retail buyers and distributors. You are looking at a minimum of a $5000 investment in this type of show, but just a few great contacts could make it all worthwhile.
Pro tip: When attending a trade fair don’t just focus on making the sale. Encourage and listen to buyer feedback on your work. The market research opportunity alone could make the investment worthwhile.
Finally, consider how much effort the organizer is putting into marketing their event. Go ahead and ask them for their marketing plan. If they do not have a marketing plan, you are dealing with an amateur event and may not want to make the investment if your evaluation has left you with other concerns. On the other hand, if social media promotions, billboards, advertisements, news stories, and signage around town are what drew your attention to the event in the first place, chances are it will have the same effect on attendees. Let’s face it; if you are willing to invest your hard-earned money on an event, it is only fair the festival organizers do the same.
Pro tip: Post a calendar of the events your will be participating in online (e.g. website, Facebook, Twitter, etc). This gives your fans an opportunity to come see you in person. Chances are they will be bringing friends with them. Friends you can turn into new customers.
Once you’ve completed your investigation of the five areas discussed above and decide to attend a show, be sure to keep track of your sales and expenses for that show, no matter how big or small the investment. That is the only way you will be able to make an informed decision when you’re trying to weigh one show against another next year. The craft fair that seemed so favorable in your memory may be due to the fact you were surrounding by your artist friends. When you look at the numbers on paper, it may turn out that other, boring show was the bigger moneymaker.
What are some of your tips for selecting a show?