Friday, February 22, 2008

Part 2- You Be The Judge and Jury

In this series of blog posts, I’m offering my experience on trying to sell finished pieces at craft shows and other sales venues, so you can learn from my mistakes.

Research the craft shows, craft malls, community art shows, and open air or flea markets- BEFORE you pay rent; this means you should spend 1 entire year visiting every selling venue you would want to attend as a vendor, and visit them all at different times in the year.

As I said yesterday, When you visit these venues is important, too.

It’s been my experience that Craft Malls and Flea Markets do the majority of their business on the First Saturday of the month. That is when folks have the most money to spend, since they tend to run out of paycheck before the end of the month.

For Craft Shows, Saturday is usually the best shopping day. Friday afternoon shows, don’t get the professional folks who must work; Sunday afternoons between 2 and 4 have their own type of shopper that knows what they want-how much they can spend-and don’t waste time browsing.

When you visit a selling venue, you want to take note of:

  • How many folks are walking around with bags of merchandise they have purchased?
  • Did the majority of visitors leave their purses in the trunk of the car?
  • How many visitors are in small groups of ladies that are carefully studying merchandise, but not buying?
  • How many visitors have numerous children buzzing around them getting into trouble?
  • How many folks are aimlessly walking and carrying food?
  • What is the noise level?
  • Do the organizers make loud announcements every 10 minutes making it almost impossible to speak to customers?
  • Do they have a live band near by with amplifiers that, again, make it impossible to talk to customers?
For your own financial well being, and the safety of you and your product, you need to ascertain if this venue:

  • is truly a 'buying event' for the community
  • or a place for the Looky Lous to steal your ideas (Looky Lous are folks who look, but don’t buy)
  • or {shudder} is this a carnival type of event where parents drop kids off, while mom spends her time and money elsewhere.
Look at the attire of the customers:

  • Are they well dressed, or at the very least, neat and tidy?
  • Do they look interested in the products?
  • Or do their eyes look glassy and glazed over from boredom?
  • What age groups are represented?
  • Does it seem like one age group has more people than other age groups?
  • Does it seem like many of the customers all work in similar jobs?
If they are all retired folks, that could mean limited income. Older, limited income folks only purchase small ticket items, and more times than not, they are looking for things for their grandchildren.

Young professionals generally want more home decor type items OR very chic fashion items; but in my part of Texas, young professionals with money don’t shop at craft shows or open air markets or craft malls.

Teenagers usually want trendy fashion items, but don’t usually have the money to pay for things... so watch them carefully; they aren’t afraid to us a ‘five finger discount’ (shoplift).

A customer base of families will generally buy baby items or things for toddlers, and inexpensive kitchen items. Do you see see a lot of Dads and adolescent boys trudging around behind Excited Moms and Sisters? You can cash in on this market by having hats, neck warmers & wrist warmers/fingerless mittens, in these colors: camo- that is apporpriate for your areas, local schools, area colleges, and pro sports team. These will catch the eyes of dads and sons and possibly garner a few sales from them, as well as, causing the ladies in the party to stop and look at your merchandise.

Each Socio/Economic group will tend to have totally different wants in products and price ranges. This is true for the various geographic areas: in the north they want winter hats, mittens, ‘muffler’ scarves, sweaters, etc. Some places can sell trendy accessories ; some places can sell high fashion... you must research your area to see what customers want and how much they are willing to spend on those wants.

Oh, and if the customers don’t have money to invest in decent attire and personal hygiene, then they can’t afford the luxuries of your quality hand made products. Too many of these types of visitors to a sales event tells you that this venue doesn’t draw the type of customer you want: ones with money to spend.

I hear you...ARNie is telling us one of those Texas Tall Tales...

Believe me, I have paid booth rent at shows where the customers couldn’t afford a cup of coffee, but came to the craft show for cheap entertainment, and brought numerous children to play with toys they could not afford to pay for.

I’ve paid booth rent at shows where the majority of customers would stand in the door of my booth-preventing anyone else from getting in. They stand there counting stitches in a little crochet motif that had a pattern page - priced 25 cents... and they wouldn’t buy the pattern, nor the motif.

I’ve paid booth rent to shows where the vendors would come look at my jewelry designs and take notes on the type of gemstone beads I used and my bead counts, as well as pricing, but not pay for anything. I greeted this mother-daughter pair who where carefully studying my jewelry, but they were 'only looking.' When I began to identify each gemstone bead they were looking at, they replied, 'Oh, we know. We're jewelry designers, too.' After they made that announcement, they began to quietly discuss everything I had on display... I was so surprised and mortified at their gall, that I couldn't say anything... and I should have asked them to leave.

I’ve paid booth rent at shows where the only people in the building were Kids and Teenagers, because there were a few ‘carnival’ type things out front, so paying customers wouldn’t brave the chaos outside to come indoors to shop.

I’ve spent an entire day at ‘free outdoor markets’ where the only people there were vendors, because the organizers forgot to pay for ads, or only paid for a short line ad in the classifieds.

And I keep it a general rule of thumb: if you are afraid to leave your car in the parking lot of a venue, or are in fear of your life to walk to and from the selling area, or if everything that isn’t mobile is covered in gang graffiti.... I don’t care how cheap the booth rent is; it won’t draw the kinds of customers you need: those with money to spend.

It has been my experience that advertising is important to announce an event, but advertising does not guarantee a good turnout, nor paying customers.

I served as the advertising director for a local crafting group, and I carefully saturated a local network whose audience were 20-45 years old... instead of the retired crowd we normally had at our shows. I even invited our locally based 'Meals for the Elderly' group to join us at the show (which got me double the number of ads), and we did a raffle for them from merchadise donated by the crafters.

The end results were dismal, for everyone by the charity org. This crafting group had been around for so long, that everyone knew their shows and what merchandise would be there. Paying customers had stopped coming, because the show always had the same ol' stuff. Which proved to me that no amount of advertising can draw in paying crowds if the show/venue has a bad reputation in the community.

Save Your Money, invest a year in researching the various selling venues in your area, before you pay rent at one. One show may be the absolute best at selling holiday motifs and decorations. Another may sell only small ticket items. Another venue could have the dream customer for all crocheters: someone who knows how to crochet, but doesn’t have the time, and has the money to pay what a piece is worth. And all of these may sell absolutely nothing, at other times in the year.

Know the customer base of the venue, before you pay rent to sell your crochet.

Tomorrow’s Post: Cottage Industry Espionage


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