Thursday, January 19, 2012

My First "Failed" Show

Well, it had to happen sometime. Let's hope it's just this once. This last weekend was a bust. I didn't even make back my booth fee, say nothing of the fuel and other expenses.

As always, the first day was slow. This is true at most shows. I take it as a "warm-up" day. There are few customers and the general consensus on the floor is that the next day will be better. And it usually is. Not this time. I sold a couple of small items on the first day and even less the second.

The venue was great, a large indoor hall with lots of light. It was mercury-vapor light which messes with colors, but at least the place didn't look gloomy.

The organizers were organized. They knew exactly where they stood with each vendor, which fees we had paid, and what our needs were. They had everything set up in plenty of time for us to load in and gave us the room we needed to get our work done. They were seen on the floor throughout the show, and never looked stressed or out-of-control.

The customer flow was OK. There weren't "giant crowds", but I don't do well in crowds anyhow. There seemed to be lots of media coverage and plenty of people came out.

But here's the problem - the people who came out were not MY customers. Since I've never done this type of show in this area before, I expected that "Wine Festival" would bring out wealthy connoisseurs who would spend good money on exquisite outerwear that's appropriate for outdoor events like wine tastings and gallery openings. (Remember, I lived for 15 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, where these things, and the patrons for them, are common.)

What I found instead were sports fans. I have learned that green and gold means "Ducks" and that orange and black means "Beavers", and that these are opposing teams. Most items at the show were priced way below my range, and most people were just there for the wine.

My style and price point are not conducive to "hawking" in the aisles. I wait for people to stop and look more closely at my cloth before I approach them. I invite them to touch it, feel it on their shoulders, and tell them a little more about its origins. But the first step is for them to show a little interest. And at this show it was not unusual for an hour or two to pass between people expressing even a passing interest. As they drank their interest seemed to become even more acutely focused on "more wine."

As they say, this show was DEAD - for me, that is. My customers just weren't there. If I was selling something glitzy and less expensive, I might have done better. $10 Swarovski crystal hair ties? Awesome! $20 wineglass holders that hang around your neck? Fantastic. $300 handwoven outerwear? Not at all.

And, on top of it, I became very sick during the first night. It dipped below freezing and I discovered that I had left a few blankets out of my van so I was COLD. I woke up with my head spinning from fever and congestion, but the show must go on! I ran to the grocery store and stocked up on OJ, Emergen-C, and DayQuil. By the end of 10 hours on my feet in this state, I decided that I would not pack up that night. I bundled up in bed, took NyQuil and tried my best to rest.

In the morning it was snowing, but the upside is that most folks had left so I could actually drive my van right up to the booth space and load it. This saved about an hour of schlepping heavy booth parts and got me on the road in the warmest part of the day.

It snowed most of the way home, but thankfully it wasn't sticking. It was a wet, sloppy snow, but it wasn't slippery. My van handles terribly if it's slippery and it would have taken me all day to get home to bed.

We don't keep our house very warm so I called ahead to ask someone to put a heater in my room. I crawled into bed and didn't really perk up for 4 days. Sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever - yep! That pretty much describes it.

Sooooo, I'm not taking it personally. I know that I'll probably need to do a few more duds before I have a clear way to find the shows that my customers frequent. But, yuck, what a terrible-feeling weekend!


Laura said...

Finding 'your' customer is one of the keys to the mystery - I've not found my textiles sell very well between January and September. I use those months to develop new products and get them made. In the early years I took part time jobs during the slack time to help me get through until the last quarter of the year...

Hope you are feeling better now.

Beth said...

I'm sorry this show didn't work out so well for you. I've been invited to show at a local wine festival and have had the same thoughts. Now, you've really got me thinking. I'm liking Laura's advice.

Blossom Merz said...

Laura, that's awesome advice. I'm sure that I'll find my "windows" in the year. Weather plays a big part in the popularity of my cloth. Nobody wants a heavy outer garment in California's central valley in August, for instance.

Beth, just because this wine show didn't work for me doesn't say anything about the potential success of wine shows. I think you need to look at what you have to offer and whether your customers are likely to be in that place at that time, and ready to buy your work.

One thing I would take as a "bad sign" is a show that's desperate enough to cold call potential vendors. If it's a good show, the vendors should be seeking *them* out.

Thanks to you both for following my blog and giving feedback.

Laura said...

What I've found is that if you do something line a wine festival you have to have products closely related to that theme - so for a wine festiva, wine bags, e.g.