Sunday, August 19, 2012

Making sales at a sale

As I've been mentioning for a while, I had a show yesterday - the Donna Lexa Memorial Art Fair in Wales, Wisconsin.

Here's how my space looked after we finished setting up:

The table fee was larger than any art/craft show I've been to and it was juried (meaning your work has to be quality to get in). I had high hopes that I would sell a bunch and make a lot of money.  Friends on Facebook all said I'd do fine and that I have beautiful work.  I should relax and enjoy myself.

The one thing I was worried about was the weather - outdoor shows are very risky - but it was beautiful.  It wasn't too hot, it didn't rain, and it wasn't very windy.  The sun did cause a bit of a problem, even with the tent, but in general the day was beautiful.

So I started the show with a positive attitude.  However, the morning started off slowly with just a trickle of people walking through (or biking through - we were along the Glacial Drumlin bike trail).  Those that did come by either walked on past or just glanced in as they walked.

As time went on the traffic at my booth picked up.  A number of people looked very interested, touching things, playing with my rings and key/badge holder (from my Crystal clay adventures post a few days ago), but then they walked away, many telling me I had beautiful things.  A few took my card.

The first hour passed with no sales.  Then the second.  Then the third.  Then the fourth.

Suffice it to say that Steve and I got increasingly more worried and distressed.

Mom and John came around 1:00 (I'm not sure exactly when), and she bought my red and black RAW set (see it in my Red and Black post).  This was my first sale.

Fortunately, it got a little better after that.  The red crystal ring (from my Crystal clay adventures post a few days ago) sold while Mom and John were still there.  I made two other sales between 2:00 and 3:00.

I was lucky that I sold enough to cover the show's costs (table fee + administrative fee) plus some extra.  If Mom hadn't bought from me, I would have only gone over the show's costs by $10.  I know she thinks she should count, but she's my mother, and she nearly always buys from me at my sales.  If she doesn't, John does.  Not that I'm not grateful, but she loved that necklace and would have bought it from me whether at a sale or not.

Then there's lunch we had to buy plus the gas to get there, and the show was... I hate to say it... a bust.  That's not even counting our time yesterday - two of us for an entire day.

So we set to analyzing what could have gone wrong, but we couldn't come up with anything.  I was pleasant and greeted everyone who came to the table (and even a few people who just walked by).  I tried not to be overbearing but pointed out when something they were looking at had matching pieces.  I explained what the key/badge holder was at least 10 times (I understand that not selling - it's to meet a very specific need) and told everyone who was looking at the rings that they're adjustable.  Because of the large price tags, I explained what Precious Metal Clay is when someone was interested in the large PMC medallion necklace (you can see that here) and what the different components were to other pieces (primarily the gear necklace you can see here).  I handed out business cards and said the pieces would be on Etsy if they didn't sell in case they changed their minds - those two pieces are $100 each.

Steve even tried a hard sell approach a few times:  "This necklace would go great with your coloring" or something similar, and Mom pointed out things to people saying, "Isn't this pretty?"

I complimented jewelry that customers were wearing or their clothes or purse.  I petted dogs and talked with children.  But most of the time we were just approachable.

People looked and complimented and asked about items then just left.  Steve said that it seemed that there was some sort of signal that made everyone at the table turn away.  It happened with one person, two people, five people...  All of a sudden they just left.

Maybe it was because I had just one table instead of a huge U or other multi-table set up.  Was there not enough to choose from?  Here's a close-up of my table:

I know that next time I'll want to have sides that come down on the tent to help with the sun.  I don't want it too dark in there, though.  We did move the table at one point to be better under the shade.

What about my prices?  Because it was a juried art fair I left my cheapest items at home.  I don't think there was anything under $7 (maybe a few pairs of earrings that I brought to match necklaces).  My rings were almost all $7, but it went up from there to $135.  The more expensive necklaces get a lot of looks and interest, but maybe they cost too much.  Because of the material costs and the labor that goes into them, I can't lower the prices by much.

Was it the type of items?  I have a myriad of different techniques:  strung, stitched, polymer clay, PMC, crystal clay, and even a steel wire (that's the gear necklace I mentioned earlier).  Is it because I have so many different styles?

Was it the type of show?  Steve said that maybe we should have attended the show before applying for it.  We've done that before.  I said that we would have decided it was a lovely fair.  It truly was.  There was music, food, a nice long row of booths with interesting and quality merchandise, and we parked the car in our booth space.  Can't get any better than that.

Was it that we were next to the silent auction booth?  That should have increased traffic, I would think.

So while I'm grateful that I made enough to cover the day's costs, I need to figure out what I need to do differently so I can succeed.  If you have any ideas, please e-mail me ( and let me know, especially if you've been to one of my shows.  If you do shows, please let me know how you typically do at a show similar to this and if you have any tips for me.  How do you set up your booth (not in detail, of course) and how do you approach your customers?

Thanks for reading this and for any advice you can give me.


  1. My two cents (if they are even worth that much):

    Your table was fine and your work is always exquisite. I don't know enough about your market to comment on prices, so I won't. :)

    I will say that it is always good to have your low end stuff on hand, especially if it appeals to kids, tweens and such because they will pressure parents into buying things for them!

    My guess is that people who go to fairs in the country are there for the walking and are not shopping.

    Do you have your stuff in retail specialty shops? How do you choose where you sell. Do you sell where the money is? (Like the Labor Day weekend art fair in Lake Forest, for instance.)

    So my two cents come down to this:
    It's not the what
    It's not the price
    It's the where

    There is a lot of trial and error; much heart, soul and sweat; endless networking but most of all TENACITY that goes into entrepreneurial pursuits. Hang in there!

    Remember Colonel Sanders and just keep going... you'll make the right connection and it will take off!

    1. I'll take your two cents, Lori - I need them! :D Thanks for the advice!

      The kids tried to pressure their parents or grandparents into getting something for them, but they were always denied, or they said, "We'll walk around, and if you still want it we'll come back." That didn't work.

      The "where" is what I have been working on. I was hoping that this art fair was "where the money is", based on the space amount and the fact it was juried (and called an "art fair"). It wasn't a church or library sale, so I thought it would be better. That's why I'm asking for help - it seemed like it would be a higher quality venue than many I've done in the past.

      No, I don't have my stuff in retail shops. I've tried that in the past, and it hasn't worked out. Of course, that was in Illinois (and not in places like Lake Forest) - maybe it might be different up here.

      Tenacity might be what's needed. And maybe some fried chicken (you got me drooling with the Colonel Sanders comment).

  2. Traci, how many other jewelry people were in the show? Sometimes, that will affect your sales... and if there were other jewelry booths, were they near you? This also can affect your sales. Although, I was surprised with all us jewelers at The Domes, that everyone did very well. Your table looked great. I don't ''U Bang'' my tables either but it is a thought? I'm thinking in my head ''what else makes a good/bad show''. Did they advertise much? I usually am pretty good about feeling people out on who to talk to and the people that just want to look and wait for them to ask questions. I personally get uncomfortable when vendors start ''pitching'' their items to me. I'm glad it wasn't a total bust and that it was a great day.

    1. Thanks, Michelle! There were a fair amount of jewelry vendors, but none of them were right next to me. I don't know about advertising... I imagine they did to the Wales area.

      I was thinking that I need to showcase sets AS sets which will cut down some of the "pitching". And I think I need to make a LOT more stuff.