I’ve recently become interested in displaying my handmade jewelry at arts and craft shows. Having never done this before, I’ve begun attending shows more often to prepare as much as I can.
I attended a small show recently featuring maybe ten artists, quite a few of them jewelers, hoping to get ideas about their setups. What I got instead was a valuable lesson in what not to do.
Most of these artists made a mistake so large it likely cost sales. A mistake I’m sure I could have and would have made myself. Beyond the setups—the amount of inventory, the lights, the print marketing materials, the signs, the quality of their work—what stood out most was how engaged the artists were with their audience.
Or how unengaged.
The majority of the artists showing their work were completely unengaged with potential buyers. When they could be bothered to look up from their phones or laptops or meals—two didn’t even look up at all—they might give a quick hello and return to their own devices. A couple of them let me know I could ask them questions, which was a great start. But then they proceeded to retreat back into their shells.
None of these unengaged artists were standing, not even leaning on a tall stool. Instead they were sitting in low chairs, slouching down behind their work, often tucked away into a corner.
Between sitting, not looking at people, staring at devices, eating brunch, or even staring off into the vastness of space, I had no desire to look at their work much less approach them to purchase anything. I couldn’t get away fast enough.
But there were three exceptions.
Two of the artists were standing or leaning on tall stools so I didn’t feel like I was interrupting their world in order to talk to them. The third was sitting and demonstrating her painting techniques but was always aware when someone came by, and she engaged with them when they did. There were no phones, laptops, or meals in sight. They looked at me as I passed by, they said hello, they asked about my day or where I was from, they talked about their work. And they weren’t pushy in any way.
These three were the ones who stood out, the ones I and most other people talked to. Perhaps not coincidentally, two of them had the prime spots on the floor.
I mean, I get it. I’m not what anyone could conceivably call an extrovert. I love retreating into my own little insular bubble. It’s so safe and cozy in here. But if I want people to shell out their hard-earned money, I need to put in the effort to come out of my shell, even though it removes me very far from my comfort zone.
If I had shown my work without paying attention to what other artists were and weren’t doing, I’ve no doubt I would have been just as introverted as the majority were at this show. It’s definitely something I’ll need to keep in mind and work on.
What do you think? Have you had similar experiences at craft shows, trade shows, or markets? What makes you stop and peruse an artist’s or maker’s booth?
Or do you show your own work? As an artist, what do you do that seems to be the biggest draw for customers? What have you found that turns customers away, whether you made the mistake or you saw someone else make it?
Comment below to let me and other makers know your experiences (or you can send me an email or reply to any I've sent). We’d all love to learn how to make shows like these more enjoyable!