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I received word this week that one of my winter markets has been cancelled. Organizers are looking into holding a virtual market. They, like many other organizers I'm assuming, have never done this before. They are reaching out to vendors for thoughts and ideas. At this point they are refunding our entry fees, no word yet on what cost would be for a virtual market. Anyone participated in a virtual market have any suggestions or experience with one, either positive or negative? 

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The Royal Bison out of Edmonton took their spring show online to some excellent success according to a couple of friends who worked it, and Market Collective is opening an online storefront here shortly. That one might bear watching as well. 
 

For context for the non-Canadians, Royal Bison is a very small Indie market that has deliberately kept their size under 100 vendors in a small venue so they can keep their table fees to a song. It’s curated, with an eye to eclectic, and they do pick quality vendors. They have a young, dedicated, tech savvy audience with a taste for handmade, and their marketing methods has always been heavily focused online. So they already had a lot of things in place to make an online market work. 
 

I can reach out to a friend and get more information on how it operated, if you like. 

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I think that whether or not an online show will be successful depends entirely on how email focused the show is. If they maintain a large email list of show attendees, then they can maybe get the word out to enough people to make it worthwhile. But I think that for most shows, the artists probably have better email lists than the show itself does. If the artists all pool their email lists and get the word out, it could be decent because you could benefit from the other artists' lists. However it's difficult to sell pots to people that haven't touched your work in real life, so the benefit may not be great. I think that by and large you would probably do just as well having your own personal online sale, especially if the show is wanting to charge the regular booth fee that they would for an outdoor show. I have said no to most shows this year that were offering on online fair, because they wanted me to pay the regular $350ish booth fee. For one, their costs for running an online show wouldn't be anywhere near as much as holding the actual outdoor show, so it's greedy. Second, I doubt that that 10,000+ people are going to attend the online sale like they would the outdoor show.

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Will be interesting to hear how it turns out. I am skeptical since as the OP said, they dont have any experience. Just seems like a completly different business model and no reason to believe they will be able to just dial it in. Even if a hundred booths roll a couple hundred of the booth fees into this thats may 10-12k for advertising. Not much fot internet marketing.

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The few I know have not been good from the start

1st they have next to Xero experience  doing this in most cases

2nd then hey wanted to much $$ as Neil pointed out to play-the fees where near a booth fee-Most feel its a way to keep your fees and offer you some small token in return

3rd they wanted to much % as you did all the work shipping and photographing work

Most  folks who just said No so I do not have any feedback on how successful it was or will be. Most potters I know get that it's a bad idea from the start and never sign up

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Thanks for the comments, good to hear everyones opinions. At this point I don't have enough information to make a decision, just trying to figure the ins and outs of it all.

@Callie Beller Diesel, the organizer is open to ideas so if you can get more info on the Royal Bison from a vendors perspective that would be great! I had a look through their website, it looks like everyone needed to go through Shopify and have free shipping, done from their studios. (I really wish we had the same inexpensive shipping as the US!)

I believe the winter gallery show I do is also looking into a virtual market, no firm word on this yet, this sale usually goes for a month so I'll put up with a certain amount of hassle to have the sales.  This gallery normally takes 30% which I'm totally okay with. Even though we are now in phase 3 of covid reopening all my summer markets are cancelled so I'm going to need to be flexible, probably have a studio sale or two also.

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@Min Gimme a day. I’ll try and talk to Caleb and Jess, see what they say. 

Bison and MC can probably pull it off, because they’re fairly skilled on the email and social media front already, and again they’ve got a clientele that habitually shops online and uses social media a lot. I’d say I’d personally only sign up for a virtual market if the organizer’s online marketing abilities were markedly better than my own. Otherwise you might just be better off organizing a small online show with a few friends to spread the word. And no, I would not pay full (medium to large show) a booth fee to participate. 

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The only issue I have with the online fairs is that these places don't advertise online, they market on tv, newspaper and local publications (at least here).  You're going to have a hard time switching to online, I know if I saw an ad for the Edmonds waterfront festival and art fair on the internet I would probably not click on it.  For me and I think most people the best part is being around so many people all surrounded everywhere with their common love.

Just don't get the same experience browsing a catalogue.  I hate to admit this, but I would never buy pottery online.  Too many people I know have been burned, even by well-known "famous" potters, so there's absolutely no desire from me unless I can see and touch what I'm buying exactly.

Watercolors and screen prints I'll buy online, wysiwyg, but pottery no.

 

 

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one thing they may tap into though is the community aspect of it, particularily if the money is going toward something local, if they just do what they know and keep the pitch local and not try to reach a huge audience that does'nt care if they are sucessful or not.

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Only one of my summer shows offered a virtual market option. They only asked for $25, and in return you got a link to your existing online store. I thought it was a reasonable price, but still chose not to do it. I agree with @neilestrick that the quality of your own mailing list is the deciding factor. If you have not yet established your own direct marketing channel, then it might be worth signing on to use a show’s collective marketing. If you have a killer mailing list, then you can probably do better on your own. 

I agree with @liambesaw about buying pottery online that you’ve never seen in person. From the seller point of view, I feel uneasy knowing that expectations from an online photo can be all over the place. I’d rather sell to people who can see it before buying, or who already know my work. 

Edited by GEP
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22 hours ago, liambesaw said:

I hate to admit this, but I would never buy pottery online.  Too many people I know have been burned, even by well-known "famous" potters, so there's absolutely no desire from me unless I can see and touch what I'm buying exactly.

 

14 hours ago, GEP said:

I agree with @liambesaw about buying pottery online that you’ve never seen in person. From the seller point of view, I feel uneasy knowing that expectations from an online photo can be all over the place. I’d rather sell to people who can see it before buying, or who already know my work. 

Valid point for sure. I have a lot of repeat customers from this market so hopefully they would be customers with a virtual sale too. It's in a well to do area that's a bit of a drive from where I live so probably not the same customer group as what I could attract to a home or studio tour.

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Tinsel & Treasures, Lafayette LA Junior League show just announced going virtual.  Virtual  fee is $250.   Booth fee (10x10)  there would be around 1K.   Baton Rouge Jr League also virtual, with a fee of $250.  Booths there about $1500.

I've seen other market shows going virtual.   I would expect all the Junior League shows to go virtual this year.

 

Edited by DirtRoads
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  • 4 weeks later...

There was a thread in a facebook group about this topic. I found this to be the most relevant answer. This is an artist whom I’ve met. She makes excellent work (jewelry) and is a well-developed businessperson. 

“I was signed up for 2-3 shows per weekend every single weekend (hadn't decided which yet) so have been in a ton of virtual shows. I've sold one piece so far from these events.”

There were over 50 comments in the thread, most of the rest of them amounted to “total waste of time.” There was only one virtual show mentioned by two artists (State College, PA) where they reported sales between $500-$1000. This is nothing close to what artists can make when that show is live and in person. I follow this show on social media and they were promoting it like crazy! And their local audience is very dedicated to the show’s success. So they were able to make some lemonade, but apparently most shows have not managed to do so. 

I think the type of person who likes to shop at shows does not overlap much with people who like to shop online. The type of work is also different. If you want sales from both audiences, you need to cultivate them separately.

Edited by GEP
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Incoming Novel: tl;dr, it's possible to make some money at them, but only under certain conditions that need to be in place first, and no, they won't be the same return as the big US shows.  They will be frustrating for those used to a certain level of income.

 

I spoke to a friend yesterday who had just completed round two of an in-person show that seems to have pivoted their audience online successfully. She was gracious enough to describe their process without financial numbers which she wasn't comfortable disclosing. We chatted about some of the pros and cons, and with her permission I'll share some of our analysis here.

Some of the things we felt worked in the show's favour were that the organization has been established in the handmade community for a few years, and has always had a substantial and effective niche social media marketing component to their advertising. Their shoppers are a younger (30 something) crowd that does tend to have some disposable income, are social media users, are in the "nesting" phase of life and are inclined to shop online in the first place. Also, the show's application process requests your social media handles so that they can see your work development, check your audience compatibility, etc. (I don't get the impression this is common practice in the US, but it has become standard here in western Canada at least over the last 5 years.)  I think it's important to note that while there can be some overlap, online audiences DO differ from the live ones. Online audiences take time to build, just the same as in-person ones. I believe that an online show without a solid virtual presence to start with would not be as successful in the first years as the same live show would be.  A show that has focused the bulk of their efforts on more traditional marketing methods to get the word out will be essentially starting out as a beginner show if they attempt to pivot to an online platform in order to stay afloat or to try and support their artist stable. So I would say that if you're looking at a virtual show, check out their online assets before making a decision. Some things to ask would include:

  • social media engagement numbers, which are a better indication of an enthusiastic audience than straight follower numbers. Followers can be purchased, engagement, notsomuch.
  • ask if their email list was built virtually or from in person signups from previous years. 
  • ask whether your own digital assets and that of other artists are a factor in their selection process. While the organizers should be doing the bulk of the marketing for you, they should also be providing you with materials to help promote yourselves as a group. Building efforts and community are necessary all the time, but more so this year.

The structure of this show we're using as an example was experimenting a bit this last spring. This second round of the show this summer wasn't the usual juried format, and was instead an invitational, drawn from previous participants. I believe they wanted to offer shoppers a lineup of familiar favourites to set everyone up for success, as this is after all an experiment. The show organizers provided the online platform for centralized shopping, marketing efforts, and resources for the vendors. They charged a show fee which was lower than the usual booth, but they added a small commission on each sale, I assume to cover web fees and online processing.  They also were donating a portion of the sales to local charities, which came out of the show's portion of the comission.

Pros of this show overall included:

  • a group of solid, quality artists 
  • Existing supportive audience
  • Community effort in promotion lead by the organizer, leading to wider collective reach for all show participants
  • Neat appearance of user friendly shopping platform so shoppers could purchase from multiple vendors in one transaction
  • Short duration  of the sale (one weekend and it's gone) leading to a sense of urgency for the shoppers, similar to a flash sale or Instagram shop drop
  • Less physical labour!!! No setup or tear down!
  • Watching sales come in all weekend in your pjs with a hot drink is pretty satisfying.

 

Cons Included:

  • There was a lot of building online assets (product listings, photos, etc) that were temporary: once the show was finished, listings were removed. This is a significant consideration IMO. 
  • The ability to invite new customers to your own website/newsletter signup/social media were limited
  • My friend's analysis showed that after all shipping costs, "booth" fees and commissions were accounted for, she received approx. 50% split. I suspect this number will vary from artist to artist. Results on this may be affected by item price point, number of sales, and whether or not shipping costs are appropriately accounted for in your pricing. The number of items one lists and sells may also be a factor. I don't have a wide enough sample to be able to tell though.
  • Software apparently glitchy from the artist end, although things did get sorted out.
  • You do need an ability to at least learn software reasonably quickly in order to make this work, or be able to borrow from your own existing digital infrastructure (product descriptions and web suitable photos) to do this efficiently.

My friend, who did not previously have a sales portal, has concluded that while it was a profitable show and that it's important to support folks who have supported your own career, she might have kept more money had she just done things from her own website and promoted with a group of show friends with a compatible aesthetic in order to share reach.

My thoughts are that digital shows may be a possible stop gap or secondary income stream, but some problems need to be worked out if they're to be a  more permanent thing.

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On 7/31/2020 at 2:22 PM, Callie Beller Diesel said:

describe their process without financial numbers which she wasn't comfortable disclosing.

wonderful write up, thanks! Its unfortunate she won't tell us 50% of what as it still leaves me no feeling of whether its worth even trying one or not. I wonder why giving a net number felt wrong to her? 

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2 hours ago, Stephen said:

I wonder why giving a net number felt wrong to her? 

She didn’t feel her personal finances needed to be on the internet: not everyone is comfortable sharing specific numbers. If they were mine, you’d have them. She’s a very private, introverted person however, and I do want to respect that. 

Edited to add:

Keep in mind I’m in Canada. While there are some parallels, our economies and cultures differ in some pretty significant places. If I did give you exact numbers, they’d be out of context. We don’t do art festivals and fairs on the same level you guys do, and consequently  the monetary expectations are different. I wanted to give information that would let anyone apply the risk/reward evaluation to their own circumstances. 

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understood. Yeah I get that and of course respect someone not wanting their numbers out there. She's anon but maybe she thinks someone will figure it out. Do appreciate the rest of the write up. We are spending our covid down time trying to add some new products and re-launch our website with actual marketing this time :-) 

Even ball park numbers would help in deciding on some of these virtual pop-ups. Most just sound like a $200-400 (fees I've seen) shot in the dark. I worry that you could sign up for 2 or three and just end up being negative as well as out the time. I know GEP is having luck working her email list and I have seen a couple of post like this (also with no $$) and I guess I get the impression that folks are at best making a few hundred bucks after fees, if anything and of course even that is prob not even min wage after you account for the effort unless you already have an organized way to do these quickly. I think for now will just keep them in mind. We are lucky in that I work full time so we can survive this year without show income.

I do wish we had worked harder in the past on having a strong digital presence but we will get there. Thanks!

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  • 3 months later...

I just finished doing a virtual show this past weekend. This event has a lot in common with the event I mentioned above, in that it has been around for over 40 years, and has a large and very loyal following. They are already good at social media. 

I handled my deliveries using the "free home delivery" model, rather than shipping. Once again, the customers who I saw along the way were very appreciative of this. 

I had 20 addresses to visit, so I took the time to cross check them with my existing mailing list. 8 were on my mailing list before. 10 were not on my mailing list, so they found my store because of the virtual show. 2 were on my mailing list, but they had signed up at last year's in-person version of the same show, so the credit goes to both sides. 

This was not a cheap virtual show. The fee was $500. The normal booth fee is $1250, and last year my total expenses for the show were $2200. This year I needed one night in a hotel ($80) and one tank of gas ($30). So my expenses were only 28% of last year. My sales were 44% of last year's show. So overall I would call it worthwhile. I'm glad I paid the booth fee and got access to the show's audience, rather than just using my own mailing list. This is a city where I have built up a decent mailing list, but it's not nearly as good as my hometown list. 

The show that I mentioned earlier in the thread had a $25 booth fee. So I don't think it matters whether a show has a low or high booth fee. What matters is how long has the show been around? Do they have their own following and how loyal are they? Are they good at social media? 

I haven't heard of any shows planning to be virtual in 2021. So far I'm only hearing of shows that will plow forward with social distancing measures, and those that are being cancelled.

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