My next four “Business Know-How” posts will be dedicated to successful exhibiting at either wholesale or retail jewelry shows. Today’s post will address the reasons to exhibit at a show and the application process. Next time, I’ll follow up with a post about how to prepare for your show. After that, I’ll discuss the most important parts of participating in the actual show. And finally, the last post will cover how to make the most of a show and a little post-show savvy.
Why Should You Do a Show?
The reasons for doing a retail craft or wholesale industry show are numerous. Here are just a few:
- Obviously, to make money.
- To take your business to the next logical step along the road to success.
- To promote, advertise, and market your product, brand, and company.
- To get invaluable direct public and/or industry response and input about your product. A show offers a great opportunity to discover what is working well and what could be improved.
- To network and establish relationships with other artists, makers, and industry professionals. Personally, I met most of my best friends at shows.
- To see what is happening in the world outside your studio.
- To get first-hand experience at improving your sales skills.
- To grow your mailing list.
- To expand your business acumen: Are your prices appropriate? What polices should you institute? What marketing materials do you need?
- To learn more about your industry or corner of the art and crafts world.
- To improve your displays, booth, and marketing materials. What is working and what is a waste of time and money?
- To learn, from fellow exhibitors, which other shows are strong and worthwhile participating in.
- To discover new suppliers and contractors who might benefit you and your production.
- And…maybe to grow your own art collection by trading and bartering work with other artists (this is the really fun part).
Before you begin to consider exhibiting in an event, you should know that it’s probably one of the most frightening things you will do. You will put your work and reputation out for the public to judge as either worthy of a purchase or a quick rebuff without so much as a nod or glance. This is scary stuff. I assure you that the first show is nerve-wracking, no matter how big or small the event.
I know from experience that most people don’t get a lot of sleep before their first show. Most novice exhibitors are emotional, feel inexperienced and naive, wonder if their work is good enough and if their prices are appropriate, feel concerned that they likely won’t know many other exhibitors and yes, most will cry at some point or other. It’s all part of doing a first show (or second, or third, etc.). When I was with William Richey Designs, Bill didn’t sleep the last week before our first big show in NYC. And I have a dear friend who always has a pre-show cold sore even though she is a veteran exhibitor.
Before you apply for a show, if you’re able, visit it and talk to other artists to see what they think about the show. When possible, start locally, then when you have some experience, you can participate in shows further from home. Read as much as you can about the show and if you have questions don’t hesitate to speak with the show management. They are there to help you.
And when you visit any show, take note of the booths that grab your attention and intrigue you. What about them makes you stop? The product? The booth? The artist and the staff? Is there a crowd around them? The rule of thumb is that an exhibitor has seven seconds to catch someone’s attention when they are walking by a booth. What did you see in those seven seconds that caught your attention? Give it serious thought and take notes for future reference.
The Application Process
When you apply for any show the most important thing to have is great photographs of your work. I tell the following story often because I learned this lesson the hard way. Years ago, I had been taking photos of our work myself and using them for show applications and for marketing purposes and I considered myself to be a decent photographer (after all, one of my photos had been chosen as “Best of the Semester” during college). One particular year we applied to a handful of shows which we had always gotten into in years past. However, this time we were declined by all of them. This was a huge emotional and financial blow. A member of management for one of the shows was gracious enough to call me to explain that she was familiar with our work and she felt that we should have absolutely been accepted. She said that our images were very poor and unprofessional, which was the reason we were not invited to exhibit. I was devastated and embarrassed. That very day I called a professional photographer and were accepted into all the shows the following year.
Please, please learn from my lesson and hire a professional photographer who is familiar with shooting small, shiny, reflective surfaces as well as understanding how to get gemstones to “pop.”
Make sure rings look like rings (and not bracelets), necklaces look like necklaces, and bracelets look like bracelets. And I highly recommend that if you’re going to be paying hard-earned money to have your work photographed, you do it on a white background, even if that’s not what you feel is the most artistic look. Doing this means that you can also use the images for marketing and for the press—stretching your investment. Anyone in the publishing world will want images on a white background so they can be easily dropped into their format.
All show applications are now completed online. Read the instructions carefully and follow the rules exactly. Zapplication and Juried Art Services are the two major application sites for craft shows. For industry trade shows you should contact the show management directly to learn about their application process. Develop a strong, well-written artist statement. And it never hurts to have someone you trust proofread your application for spelling and grammar errors before you finish.
Once you push the send button, it is now officially in the hands of the jury. So sit back and pat yourself on the back for going through the process. Now you get to wait to find out if you are accepted. And that’s when the fun really begins!