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There’s almost nothing more satisfying than creating something beautiful…..and then selling it (at least in my book).

I wholesale my studio line to botanical gardens, museum gift shops, historic homes, indie book stores and the like, but I also like to do a handful of retail shows annually to test new products and to get direct feedback from retail clients.

Lucky Ginger Studio Paperweight

Testing out my new paperweights!

I usually do one large professionally-managed “bazaar-style” show each year, but I pepper my spring and winter show schedule with home shows, in which the other exhibitors are other creative friends and acquaintances.

While the turnout volume of a home show usually isn’t that of the larger art and craft shows, these events reward me on many levels:

  • Low or no booth fees – so great for minimizing overhead costs
  • Great way to network with artisan friends – we’re not separated by pipe and drape, so we can get caught up in and on each other’s business
  • Gain feedback from clients – often more in-depth because there’s not a huge crush of a crowd and we have time to talk
  • Cash flow! I adore going home with less inventory – and more money – than I had at the beginning of the day

My friend Zefy recently hosted a home show, which showcased her beautiful bottle crafts, her sister Anastasia’s mosaic mirrors, our friend Kristin’s jewelry and my photography.

Here are some shots from the event, and below are some tips for you to keep in mind for the next time you’re invited to exhibit at a home show:

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Tips for Exhibiting at a Home Show:

  • Plan ahead: there often isn’t any rhyme or reason to what sells – or how much you’ll sell – at a show (seriously. If I had show sales figured out, I’d be blogging this from my private island). That being said: show up with a decent-sized inventory to ensure you’ve got a well-stocked display. Allow yourself enough design time so you’re not making or packaging items the morning you’re loading up for the event. Like I did this past show. Trust me: it’s not fun.
  • Think about types of payment you will take. It’s never too early to consider the fiscal aspect of show transactions. I accept cash, checks (I am a trusting soul) and credit cards, which I run through PayPal’s Virtual Terminal. As I write this, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my “Square,” which will allow me to use my iPad (or you can use your iPhone with it) to swipe credit cards and have funds deposited into my bank account. If you’re new to the sales game, know this: clients like options, not only as they pertain to your product selection, but to your payment options. Not everyone carries cash these days. Educate and prepare yourself so you don’t miss out on any potential sales.
  • Spread the word! Yes: you have a responsibility to get attendees to the show. Invest some time and effort to get people there so they invest their $$$ in your hard work!  There are many ways for you to promote the event:
  • create a Facebook event
  • Post on your web site and/or blog
  • Tweet – and link back to your web site or blog
  • Send out an e-mail blast to your friends or use a service like MailChimp (which is free) or Constant Contact (which is pretty affordable)

New to the biz and don’t have a client list? No worries – you have friends, right? Let them know…and get them there!

  • Know how much display space you’ll have. Ask the show host to let you see where you’ll be setting up in the house. That way, during your “site inspection,” you’ll be able to think through the logistics behind your display. Find out if the furniture in the rooms is staying – or going. You just may have to work around a large sectional! Best to know ahead of time.
  • Ask the hostess if you may bring anything. For real. This lovely person is opening up their home to you and the masses. Offer to bring something, like a cheese tray or some wine.
  • Load your car with care. Yep. Nothing worse than getting onsite and realizing that you’ve left something critical – like part of your display, or your change box or some inventory behind. Why do I know this? Because I just did this myself. This is why God invented checklists. Ha! Such a shame I did not use mine. Things to remember:
  • Inventory
  • Displays and/or folding tables (I love the nice narrow ones: 48″x24″. Lightweight, and they work well in small spaces)
  • Change (I usually have $100 in loose change, $1s, $5s and a couple $10s)
  • Calculator (not enough fingers and toes for me to do math in my head!)
  • Bags or containers for your clients’ purchases
  • Business cards
  • Allow yourself time to get set up before guests arrive. Now, a little bit of busy work to do while the first wave of customers get there isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I like looking “busy” when the show is initially underway. Somehow, it seems to help built momentum. But, it’s a different story if you’re still trying to assemble a card rack when the house is filling up with paying clientele. No one wants to see a frazzled exhibitor. Know how much time you’ll need – and allow yourself an extra 15-30 minutes for wiggle room.
  • Pricing. We’ll save the “how do I set my prices?” discussion for another day. This is more about VISIBLE pricing. I know this much from years of retailing and talking with customers at shows: they want to know how much your creations cost. Have some sort of signage/tags/labels. Don’t make them guess.
  • Engage! Shoppers love a good story, so let them know what inspired you to knit/paint/weave/glue/photograph whatever it is you have. Ask them questions. Drill down and find out for whom they’re shopping, where they’ve been, what they like, etc. Some of the simplest conversations I’ve had have lead to some of the best suggestions or inspirations for my line. In fact, I keep a notebook with me at each show to write down things that I want to try or requests for images.
  • Engage with other exhibitors…in a nice way. It’s good to get to know your fellow exhibitors. In fact, many folks that I met years ago at a show are now on regular rotation with me at other events (yes, this biz is sort of like a traveling circus). Having show friends is great because they’ll help you out when you show up and discover you have forgotten your pens/tape/shopping bags/single dollar bills. They’re also great resources for discovering other shows that should be on your radar. That being said: be mindful of your interaction. You don’t want to neglect your clientele, and you ESPECIALLY do not want to interrupt your fellow-exhibitors if they are helping their clients. And NEVER lead  customer out of another exhibitor’s space into your own. That’s just poor form and BAD.
  • Remember to take some photos! Hey. You’re all set up, anyway. It’s a good time to get some lovely product shots – and a great way to get images of your display prowess. One day, you’ll find yourself applying to get into a juried show, and they’re going to want to see that you know what the heck you’re doing. Having a photographic record of your talent never hurts.
  • Properly thank the hostess. I either present the show host with a gift or let them pick out something of mine that they want. A follow-up thank you note is also a nice touch!
Part II will cover tips for HOSTING a great home show.
What suggestions for exhibitors do you have?