Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Sociology of Craft Shows

I'm people watcher.  To keep from getting bored when traffic is slow at a craft show I often observe and wonder about certain behaviors.  I recently set up a tent at a very large 2-day show and here are some of my observations:

Even the most bold and self confident customer has a hard time walking away without buying. They don't want you to feel rejected, especially when they've spent 20 minutes trying on a dozen different pieces.  I know that even if they love my jewelry for its cleverness they may not want to actually wear it.  It's ok.  For me, appreciation is almost as good as a sale.  But they don't know that, so they:
   --ask you to hold a piece and never come back for it
   --tell you they'll be back when they decide which necklace they want
   --say they're just doing research today and will come back and buy tomorrow
   --pretend to take a phone call and leave the tent, never to return

You have to be aware of the shy customers who end up in your tent because they caught one of your necklaces in their peripheral vision so they stop and look.  Easing them into the tent is like getting a bird to eat out of your hand.  But once they're in, they often buy if the price is right.

I love women with big personalities.  They chat and joke with you and you can easily convince them to try something on that they would never think to wear.  They're fun and make the day pass more quickly, even if they don't actually buy.

At every show I run into someone who loves something of mine but doesn't want IT; they want something like IT.  I don't do custom because I have found people are too often disappointed in the finished product they themselves have designed.  Their vision and reality differ considerably.

Occasionally you run into a crafty octogenarian who used to make all kinds of things "back in the day."  He's lost his wife recently and is just looking to reconnect with artisans and tell someone about what he used to do.  He's cute and funny and I'm happy to make his craft show experience a pleasant one.

Then there's the patron who must be used to shopping in places where the price signs and sale signs are prominent.  So he walks into your tent and asks, "So what does everything in here cost?"

I'm particularly fond of the guys looking for just the right gift for their wife or girlfriend.  They really shop, look at everything, and usually buy jewelry.  Of course I really like them when they end up buying that gift from me.

You really have to watch the women who come in groups, try on a dozen different necklaces, pick things up and put them down in a different place, and just wreak havoc for 5-10 minutes.  They might actually walk off with one of your pieces in their pocket and you won't notice until after they're gone and you're putting your display back together.

The artisans I know and associate with are a proud group who appreciate and value anything handmade.  They don't haggle over prices.  We price fairly taking in the cost and time to create and factoring in what the market will bear.   So I was very disappointed  to observe the following behaviors as I walked around the show and chatted with other vendors:
     --the jeweler who adds up a purchase that comes to $76, tells the customer that $66 will do, and then      takes $65.
    --the jeweler loudly hawking his wares (questionably handmade by him personally), telling people that though the price is $175, he'll gladly take $150.   I figure he bought it from someone else for about $40.
    --the woodcarver who's only asking $38 for a piece but takes $35 when the customer asks if he'll accept less.

Is the economy so bad that higher end craft shows are turning into flea markets?
Is that what jewelry designers have to do as the competition gets larger every year?
I'm not even selling at full retail.  Should I double all my prices then give customers a 25% break when they buy?  This is marketing but it seems so dishonest to me.
Don't people realize that at $150 the $175 bracelet is probably still marked up 200%?
Am I giving consumers too much credit for knowing the true value of a handmade item?

Selling handmade is still about finding your customers; people who appreciate your work and are willing to pay for it.  But it gets harder all the time, especially if you're designing jewelery. And I find more women are satisfied with inexpensive strands of beads. You can buy several of them for the price of an artistic precious metal clay design.

All this is food for thought in this changing economy and  I'm interested in hearing from anyone who has marketing suggestions or any other kinds of suggestions for selling handmade.


  1. Yikes! I thought I was going to come here and hear about how wonderful the market in West Hartford was or something.. :-( Kinda disappointing to hear that things are getting worse out there and not better! {Not that I sell at craft shows anyway...but still!} And I'm afraid I'm going to be no help for your info either. I 'do' do custom orders, and frankly, I'm very thankful for them!! They're the only business I seem to be getting lately...and there's not much of that!...Oh Well. It's still not gonna slow me down!! :-)

  2. Not sure if you read the review I posted of the W.Hartford show, but it's in the pages on the left side. Times are changing for sure. Thanks for reading tho.