If I Sell out at this show, I won't have enough art for the next one... by M Theresa Brown

I chatted with a potter recently about entering an upcoming show that I thought would be good for her.  She surprised me when she laughingly confessed that the previous year she had skipped that opportunity because she was afraid that she would have no time to re-stock her pottery when she sold out at the show held two weeks earlier.

In my  twenty one years of selling my art for a living, I have stumbled near or into many pitfalls known to beginning businesses......and I have a seasoned amount of "Things Not To Do" stories. It doesn't stop at one thing of course. Rather it's more like a Folder on my computer with numerous categories  inside.

One of these Folders in my brain refers to the artist beginning to participate in art shows. I won't go into the little mistakes that I initially made with seemingly small things that became huge as the event wore on such as forgetting the sunscreen, weights for the tents, business cards or bottled water.  Those fall under the heading of "That won't happen again."
But I will focus on that Folder that I discovered every artist has when contemplating a series of shows regardless of what he creates. And that is the concern of "If I enter this show and sell out, I won't have enough for the show in 3 weeks" syndrome.

Looking back it's actually funny only in the context of how much angst and brain power it caused in looking at all the possibilities such an event would cause. But when an artist first comes across the need to make a plan of the upcoming show season, it wreaks havoc with one's logistical skills. And, as it always turns out, unnecessarily.  It is a rare artist or craftsman who is left with nothing to sell at the next show after hitting a bonanza at the current one. The typical range of emotions runs the whole gamut during the course of the show from mentally calculating the bank deposit  to the stark realization (or conclusion) that you may not make expenses. And somewhere in the back of this artist's mind are the words from a seasoned show artist to "Not worry about selling everything in your booth." Ouch.

 My potter friend was rueful about her beginning  naivety and now enters the shows that she can accommodate based strictly on business factors.  She learned that the old adage "Never count your chickens before they hatch" has nothing to do with lack of optimism, it has everything to do with  reality and missed opportunities while waiting for just one batch to hatch. The beginning artist often quits after just one or two shows because the expectations fell  short of the reality.  But there is NO golden rule for success at every art show or festival you enter. There are definite rules that will enhance your chances of success, but every show is a learning experience. And each time you participate and file away the experience, and learn positively from it, you enhance the chance that you might, indeed, sell all your art in your booth and not have enough for the next show!

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Comments (2) -


Sadly, this has happened to me. While I did juried craft shows, not fine art, I spent many a Saturday night staying up all night to scrape together barely enough work to be able to put together a decent display on Sunday. So while I get the idea that you are trying to get across, it's not completely insane to think that way. I quickly learned I had a popular product and it was far better to have triple the amount of inventory on hand that I thought I'd need, rather than have to stay up all night and have a weak looking display for day two!

Paul McGuire

Jenn W, you have the problem that is good to have, and I'm glad you figured out the solution. But for most of us, it really is more about getting past the "I love it, therefore everyone will love it" thinking, the over-optimism that transmutes to the sad realism of barely covering show expenses. I've kept my own overhead low by showing in free or low-cost venues, and running my own website (well, there it helps to be able to program, so I don't have to pay any more than the basic hosting fees). I make up some printed material (postcards are like a mini-gallery, vs. boring business cards - a slight tradeoff in convenience, but people will put a postcard on their refrigerator, a business card gets thrown in a drawer) and I focus on the *exposure* factor vs. the actual immediate sales. About 1 postcard in 100 converts into a sale, so I try to get those 100 out as many different ways that I can.  Of course, at some point, the expenses *do* have to get covered. But the author's point is, don't be shy about entering shows, for whatever reason, your stuff *must* get out in front of the public.  The risk of selling off everything is a problem only a lucky 0.1% of us ever have, and for a beginner, it should be the last reason to turn down a showing opportunity.

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