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outdoor fairs and festivals 2021


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Hello all,

This is probably the worst time to ask such a question (with the virus situation), but bad timing has never stopped me before :) I'm trying to line up  participation in a few outdoor fairs/festival for the upcoming year, and I'm completely new to the process. I specify outdoor because I imagine they're not as "high brow" plus less likely to cancel due to covid.  My work has been juried into  an artisan group in WV, but that's my only outlet for sales...I'm planning to make it available on my website in the spring. Thing is, I'd much rather line up a few road trips and try my luck at that. The amount of shows will depend totally on how much work I can get finished in the next couple of months.  I've taken part in many juried exhibitions and shown my 2D and 3D work in many places, but this is all new to me.

Back to my questions...I'm currently living in southern OH and would like to take part in upcoming outdoor fairs/festivals in the eastern half of US. What/where are the best resources for finding upcoming shows? I've come across a few sites that are quite helpful, what would you recommend? Any specific shows worth mentioning?

I'm preparing images for jurying/application process, display/booth type material for the wares, packing and transport, etc. What are the obvious things I'm overlooking? I'm not looking to "make it rich", just want to familiarize myself with the process and see if I could possibly make it profitable in the future. I understand this is a very broad set of questions, but I'm trying get some direction. Any info, advice, sharing is greatly appreciated.

Many thanks and sorry for the marathon post,

Anthony

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Start with small/cheap/local shows. Get your bearings in terms of logistics before you invest in anything more expensive, money-wise or time-wise. A lot of people decide that art fairs are not for them during this phase, so figure that out for yourself before you go any further. 

During the early years, you will redesign and rebuild your display a few times. So don’t sink too much money on it at this stage.  

Here’s my blog series that will provide more detailed answers to your questions. It’s not really aimed for newcomers, but it can help a newcomer visualize what direction to go. 

https://www.goodelephant.com/blog/category/the-art-festival-plan

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Your "Festival Plan" series is comprehensive and  that's what I need right now. I'll definitely be referring to it over the coming months.

And yes, I'm not sure if this is a route I'll stick with, so I plan to keep my investments small to start off.  My goal (as most I'm sure) is to have a studio that can at least support itself for the first couple of years, so I feel obliged to give the festival scene a try.  

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+1 for taking it easy and staying close to home  in the first year or two, even in the absence of Covid or other weirdness. It takes a while to dial in your product, display and audience, and doing that on the road where you’re away from support networks if things go wrong is not the ideal place for trying to do all 3 at once.

I followed Mea’s advice in her blogs when I was beginning,  and it saved me a ton of time and heartache. Researching your shows the year before doing them is well worth the effort. I can’t claim to have been wildly profitable with every last show I’ve done, but with few exceptions, I’ve been able to pay myself from most of them.  There have only been 2 occasions in the last 5-6 years where I haven’t cleared all expenses (not just booth fee), and that’s not bad. The vendor friends you make at the smaller shows will help you level up to the somewhat larger ones, and you share valuable information amongst yourselves. The only thing that travels faster than gossip is gossip amongst vendors. You’ll get the best information from your ‘coworkers.’

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As for the mention of dialing in on the audience/shopper. This is something I've been trying to come to terms with recently. I prefer a minimal use of color and simple forms especially in functional ware. I've been told by some I should use more color. Selling your work inherently requires you satisfy a consumer...I guess. How do you guys approach this? Stick to your aesthetic/brand and be content or try to offer a variety of products for a consumer?

I'm hoping once I get a few small shows behind me thing will fall into place. At this point I'm not on social media, so the actual events will be crucial for learning about other opportunities. For now I'm combing the internet for jury applications.

 

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There will always be people who will try and tell you what you “should” be making. Your handles will always be wrong to someone, and your butter dishes aren’t the kind they want. I have been cussed out loudly in the middle of a show for having the audacity to charge $40 CAD for a coffee mug. There will also be people who love whatever it is you decide to make, and will hand it to you so you can wrap it up without even looking at the price. For some people, that thing over there in the corner of your booth is the perfect gift for that hard to buy for person, or your exact mug will be the one that helps them cope with the loss of a family member. The first group are not your people. The second group is. It just takes a little time to separate out those two groups from each other.

 

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There are two approaches to esthetics I feel for making a living with pots-make what you like or or something else.

For me in the 70s I like stoneware clay with earth tones.  So thats what I made.I struggled with selling this for about 10 years then started to offer bright shinny colors on porcelain and my stoneware-I had two racks

One for each clay. I soon realized the shiny bright colors outsold the earthy matts two to one or better. Soon I was making all porcelain. I wanted to make pots and sell pots and the money was part of that . No money no potting. I by the mid 80s switched to an all porcelain studio.I also made only the forms I liked to make and over time realized making forms that my customers liked worked way better. Now 40 years later I make 35 forms and lots of snappy colors-people flock to the selection -I even have some matts and satin matts.Variety is the spice of life for my customers.

 

In terms ofd show remember they will be at least 1/2 the sales as usual until folks feel covid is all behind them

Edited by Mark C.
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This will be sorted out as I get more experience I imagine. Up until now I've limited myself to a couple of clay bodies (stoneware and earthenware) and a few glazes...neutrals and a "floating blue".  My goal was to gain a good understanding of these materials before I expand...if I decide to expand into other clays/glazes . 

For now I may be getting ahead of myself. I'll start off with what I know and like and go from there. I do worry though (like you mentioned) turnout at these events is probably going to take a while to rebound. 

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10 hours ago, awaynestudio said:

This will be sorted out as I get more experience I imagine. Up until now I've limited myself to a couple of clay bodies (stoneware and earthenware) and a few glazes...neutrals and a "floating blue".  My goal was to gain a good understanding of these materials before I expand...if I decide to expand into other clays/glazes . 

For now I may be getting ahead of myself. I'll start off with what I know and like and go from there. I do worry though (like you mentioned) turnout at these events is probably going to take a while to rebound. 

@awaynestudio You sound like a grounded person.  And that is what it will take.  You will have wins and losses, but as long as you learn from both, you will be fine!  I echo what was said previously.  Start local.  Then branch out.  I have taken advice from this group many many times and never been sorry.  One of the best pieces of advice I used was @GEP telling us to check out shows before you apply. That takes planning, but it has paid off.  Because of where I live, shows are either 15 minutes away or 4 plus hours away.  I do have some local shows that are very important to me, but I have also taken road trips to check out other shows.  If I am going to invest in an show that is 200 plus miles away, gas, meals, hotel, etc, then I need to have a good understanding of the type of show it is and how well promoted it is and how many attendees  there will be and will I be next to a political fundraising booth.  If you are staying close to home and the show isn't all you were hoping for, it was a lesson learned and not as much time and money invested in the show.  Oh, and don't take the word of a friend who has only been a shopper at a show.  A shopper will gauge the success of a show with a completely different eye than a vendor. (I have made that mistake a couple of times) 

And yes, please continue to make what you like to make.  People really are looking for unique and handmade.  In my starting out years I would make things that people requested, not realizing they were in essence, wanting me to make a knockoff of someone elses work.  Or as I am swimming laps my swim buddy says "Oh you should make those butter bells! I would buy one, they would really sell!!"  It would take longer for me to figure out how to make the butter bell (that I don't want to make) and perhaps have 10 sitting on a shelf because I know my local customers.  Most of them will not use a butter bell.  So, yes, make what you make. Pay attention to what sells.  Get to know your booth neighbors at shows because like @Callie Beller Diesel said, they are a tremendous source of information and knowledge.  Write down the shows that they have told you about and check them out yourself.  This summer as things begin to open (fingers crossed) go to some shows and chat with the vendors.  Good Luck

Roberta

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Road shows really add up even if you are camping or staying with someone. If a show cost a couple hundred booth fee and then you spend even another $500-$600 doing it then the first $800 of pots is just to cover those cost. Now add in the materials and time you spend making and that number goes up and then add in the actual time of doing the show (easily 30 plus hours for a weekend show) and take that now 2-3 thousand dollar number and divide it by the average price of one of your pots. That's how many pots have to sell before it means anything at all to you financially.

You still have the time and material investment in the local shows but after the booth fee and materials you can at least convince yourself that the fun of doing it was worth working for low wages if sales are slow. Sow shows on the road mean that you actually cough up hundreds of dollars to do the show on top of low wages.

I would stay within driving distance of your home if at all possible until you really feel like you have it figured out. If you do have to go on the road try and make it as cheap as possible until you feel like you know how the numbers will turn out. Some of the guys here have done the same shows for years and years so they can budget based on what they usually do, be very careful until you can do the same. Two or three bad shows in a row can mean basically giving away hundreds and hundreds of pots and paying cash money out the door for the privilege of doing it.

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@Roberta12 Your butter bell story hits home...I had to laugh to myself. A customer recently bought a piece of mine from Tamarack in WV and emails me asking  if I have butter dishes in the same style. Needless to say I didn't, but now I have a variety waiting for a wood-firing this spring.  It's a little different being a customer request, but yes I get your point. For now I should be more concerned about building up a stock of product and not getting sidetracked by others' whims. @oldlady I agree it would be best to scope out the profitable shows. Hopefully there are a few available this spring. I don't want to go to all the trouble to "exhibit" my work. @StephenYes, seems most of the advice is to stay local to get some some experience and cut down on costs. I can see the travel expenses easily eating into any profits. Part of me wouldn't mind a road trip to a show that covered it's own expenses, but that couldn't be the norm. I still can't find out whether the local shows I'm aware of are "on" for this year or not.  

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Just to..not be contradictory, but maybe to add some qualifiers. I think that if you get enough requests for a particular item, it’s worth trying to make a few in your style. Don’t make something you wouldn’t want to make a lot of, but just because you might not use a thing doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be at least trying it. But only if you get asks from a few sources first, not just one person. 

And last year, I made about 1/3 of my income from online sales, and the online sales were more profitable due to lower overhead. That was with what I would describe as a mediocre effort at promoting things via my IG account, and 1-2 pushes to my email newsletter. Even before COVID, there was a trend toward increased online shopping. I think that if you’re in the early stages of your career, you can’t afford to ignore online. It’s a direction the world is going, whatever anyone thinks of the change. I don’t recommend trying to learn to do online and in-person shows at the same time unless you enjoy burnout. But if you aren’t able to do in-person shows, it could be the time to develop some sort of online strategy.

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@Callie Beller Diesel Fair enough, I agree to being open to expanding what I offer. My biggest regret concerning the butter dish is I need to wait until spring for a wood-firing to (try to) match the piece the customer already has. It's a "loose end " that keeps popping up when I run through that mental list of to-do's.

Yes, I need to develop an online strategy. I created a website a couple of years ago before attending a conference, but it's poorly designed. I hope to have it reworked and upgraded for sales this spring. Shipping is a concern of mine, and it has caused me to put off getting my work online. I definitely need to be a little more disciplined on that front. I plan to look through existing threads here on the topic. Anything you would recommend?

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If the butter dish strikes you as a one-off and more effort than it’s worth, it’s ok to tell a customer that you’re not able to provide that item for them. All I’m saying is if you get multiple requests for a thing, you might consider designing one that you feel comfortable producing and test the waters with 4-6 of them. 

Websites are always a work in progress, and done is better than perfect. Make some time to spiff it up on the regular. And put your name on it somewhere. It’s surprising the  number of people who forget to put their names somewhere on their first website, especially if they’re operating under a business name.

Start by making a list of things you need your website to do. Do you want to collect emails for a list? Do you want to sell things? Do you want to provide a show calendar or a stockist/gallery list? Have some kind of contact form? That kind of thing. And then start simply and slowly. Break the problem down into bite sized pieces so that none of it gets too overwhelming. Add those things one at a time, as you need them. Good pictures are a must. 

If you’re building a shop, I’d pick a small handful of items that you intend to list. Building listings from scratch is a lot of work but once they’re done, some sections of them can be copy/pasted and reused that way, especially things like shop policies. I’d recommend the items be of similar size to begin with, so that you aren’t having to store a wide variety of boxes. Mugs or similar items are usually best. Keep it simple, and add to it once you’re confident in your ability to deal with what you start with. Build and evolve it over time like you would a booth design. 

Warning: Free Internet Advice in the form of  a shipping price rant ahead! Note that this is one way to do it that happens to work for me, and that other people have different, equally valid approaches. Take one of the models that gets suggested here that works best for you and use that one. 

One of the things that I think we need to get used to is the idea that shipping costs need to be included in your COGS when you’re pricing your items online. There’s a lot of talk about “free” shipping, and the fact that a lot of web shops and marketplaces have it as a separate charge encourages people to think of it as distinct from your material costs and labour. It’s really not though, if you’re selling online. It’s part of what it costs to get your item to the end customer.  And with pottery, it’s an amount we can’t just absorb. At no point will I suggest to a potter or ceramic artist they offer free shipping. You have 2 options. Include it in the list price, or add it to the individual transaction. If you want it added to the individual transaction in real time, you usually need to pay for a certain  service level with your website builder, and link to a shipping account of some kind usually. Tech details will vary. It takes a bit more time to set up.

If you’re going to include it in the price, which is my preference, you need to figure out how much it costs to send your item to the farthest place from you in the US and add a few dollars to that amount for packing materials. Those aren’t free either. Then add that dollar amount to the base price of the item that you’ve been charging in person, and there’s your online price. Before you panic and think “people aren’t going to buy a $60 mug online when they know they can get it from me in person for $40!” Stop. They’re already buying a $40 mug. You don’t have to explain the value proposition of a handmade pottery mug to someone who is already willing to spend $40 for one. They’re not looking for something to drink out of. They can get that at the dollar store. They’re looking for something that makes them feel the way _your_ mug makes them feel. If it costs $60 including shipping, they think “great! No extra shipping!” Shipping isn’t being added to the price like some sort of (not so sneaky) sneak attack when they go to check out. It is a weird, weird thing that human minds seem to rationalize when they’re shopping online, but $60+ no shipping > $40+$20 shipping. I don’t get it, but it’s a real thing.

 I’ll say that I don’t have a real time shipping calculator on my website, although that option is available for a few extra dollars. The only reason I don’t use one is because the majority of my customers tend to buy single items at this point. If and when that changes, I may adjust my strategy. There’s more than one way to do it, like I sad. 

 

 

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Regarding the requests you get from customers and friends/family.... for me it’s not about how many times I hear a request, Because some of the worst ideas are the most common. I just filter based on whether I think it’s an actual good idea. Something that I would enjoy making. You know them when you hear them. 

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1 hour ago, GEP said:

Regarding the requests you get from customers and friends/family.... for me it’s not about how many times I hear a request, Because some of the worst ideas are the most common. I just filter based on whether I think it’s an actual good idea. Something that I would enjoy making. You know them when you hear them. 

I agree.  I just took on an order because it sounded like fun!  And so far, it is!

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10 hours ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

If the butter dish strikes you as a one-off and more effort than it’s worth, it’s ok to tell a customer that you’re not able to provide that item for them. All I’m saying is if you get multiple requests for a thing, you might consider designing one that you feel comfortable producing and test the waters with 4-6 of them. 

Websites are always a work in progress, and done is better than perfect. Make some time to spiff it up on the regular. And put your name on it somewhere. It’s surprising the  number of people who forget to put their names somewhere on their first website, especially if they’re operating under a business name.

Start by making a list of things you need your website to do. Do you want to collect emails for a list? Do you want to sell things? Do you want to provide a show calendar or a stockist/gallery list? Have some kind of contact form? That kind of thing. And then start simply and slowly. Break the problem down into bite sized pieces so that none of it gets too overwhelming. Add those things one at a time, as you need them. Good pictures are a must. 

If you’re building a shop, I’d pick a small handful of items that you intend to list. Building listings from scratch is a lot of work but once they’re done, some sections of them can be copy/pasted and reused that way, especially things like shop policies. I’d recommend the items be of similar size to begin with, so that you aren’t having to store a wide variety of boxes. Mugs or similar items are usually best. Keep it simple, and add to it once you’re confident in your ability to deal with what you start with. Build and evolve it over time like you would a booth design. 

Warning: Free Internet Advice in the form of  a shipping price rant ahead! Note that this is one way to do it that happens to work for me, and that other people have different, equally valid approaches. Take one of the models that gets suggested here that works best for you and use that one. 

One of the things that I think we need to get used to is the idea that shipping costs need to be included in your COGS when you’re pricing your items online. There’s a lot of talk about “free” shipping, and the fact that a lot of web shops and marketplaces have it as a separate charge encourages people to think of it as distinct from your material costs and labour. It’s really not though, if you’re selling online. It’s part of what it costs to get your item to the end customer.  And with pottery, it’s an amount we can’t just absorb. At no point will I suggest to a potter or ceramic artist they offer free shipping. You have 2 options. Include it in the list price, or add it to the individual transaction. If you want it added to the individual transaction in real time, you usually need to pay for a certain  service level with your website builder, and link to a shipping account of some kind usually. Tech details will vary. It takes a bit more time to set up.

If you’re going to include it in the price, which is my preference, you need to figure out how much it costs to send your item to the farthest place from you in the US and add a few dollars to that amount for packing materials. Those aren’t free either. Then add that dollar amount to the base price of the item that you’ve been charging in person, and there’s your online price. Before you panic and think “people aren’t going to buy a $60 mug online when they know they can get it from me in person for $40!” Stop. They’re already buying a $40 mug. You don’t have to explain the value proposition of a handmade pottery mug to someone who is already willing to spend $40 for one. They’re not looking for something to drink out of. They can get that at the dollar store. They’re looking for something that makes them feel the way _your_ mug makes them feel. If it costs $60 including shipping, they think “great! No extra shipping!” Shipping isn’t being added to the price like some sort of (not so sneaky) sneak attack when they go to check out. It is a weird, weird thing that human minds seem to rationalize when they’re shopping online, but $60+ no shipping > $40+$20 shipping. I don’t get it, but it’s a real thing.

 I’ll say that I don’t have a real time shipping calculator on my website, although that option is available for a few extra dollars. The only reason I don’t use one is because the majority of my customers tend to buy single items at this point. If and when that changes, I may adjust my strategy. There’s more than one way to do it, like I sad. 

 

 

Callie, you are spot on with the shipping discussion.  I am not going to belabor the cost of shipping items.  Who was it said "there is no free lunch" ?  Same with shipping.  It all costs.  I love how you pointed out that if a person wants something to drink out of, they will go to the dollar store.  I am at the crossroads right now of having to decide whether to include the shipping in the price or have a separate charge.  I will crunch numbers today to finalize my decision.    @GEP did you have a flat rate shipping on your online sales??  I have considered that as well.  And thank you also Callie for pointing out that our time, the materials, everything costs and should be part of COGS!  

And look!  We still haven't deterred @awaynestudio  Yay!

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In terms of shipping with my UPS discount I can ship one mug anywhere is USA (not Alaska) for flat rate 13$

Its about the same with USPS with a paypal account

The issue for me is multiple items and thats always for me a pack weigh and see deal what the price is. I always add a few dollars for my time as well. I never leave the property to ship as well.Print my own labels use all recycled materials.Keep the cost down.I have 16 shave cups to send out next month-I'll bet I can pack them in 5 -10minutes as they are all same size and I precut the cardboard and roll and tape that around them then stuff in inner or cardboard surround and then another box.

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I am using a 3-tier flat rate:

0 to $50 = $12 shipping

$51 to $100 = $18

$101 and above $24

With the way my pots are priced, this generally equates to:

1 pot = $12;

2 pots = $18 

3 or more pots = $24

This way, when somebody buys two pots that fit into one box, they don’t have to pay double the shipping. This works for me because all the pots I sell online are roughly the same size, so calculating costs in advance is predictable. I usually lose money on the larger orders of 3 or more pots, but overall I will just about break even on shipping costs. I build the cost of the supplies (boxes, cushioning) into the price of the pots. 

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MEA  Thats a pretty fair rate as well. Especially on the two lower tiers.

The 3rd tier I feel I could loose most of the time. But I do some wholesale orders like the shave cups (16) and I know the cost will be more than 24$

I like your system for the 1st two tiers-I may try that but My 1 pot will be 13$

second $18

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The costs for the $12 and $18 shipments cover me when I ship the box to the opposite coast. So when I lose money on the larger orders, I make up for it on the orders that get shipped within my region. 

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