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When Craft Fairs Go Bad

For about five days, I’ve been sitting on uncomfortable feelings raised by the most recent craft fair I attended , which was last Saturday 12/10/11.  Usually the organizers will want you to become successful at their venue because that way we are happy and more willing to come back to support the fair next year, as well as recommending it to other artisans.  So, usually steps are taken to assure the success of the show, advertising, outreach, emails, and good signage and even how the artisans are placed.  This was a brand new fair in the city of Chicago’s north side at a place called Flourish Studios.  It was held in a spectacular store-like space that must have been 10,000 square foot on each floor.  The huge problems for the artisans is that customers would have to walk through a full store of other artists and artisans work on that first floor, find the stairs, walk up the stairs and then come into one of the two small rooms to see what we were offering for sale.  Who would want to go through so much trouble? When they are probably overwhelmed with shopping as it is?  Adventurers, I imagine; those few intrepid souls not put off by the bazaar set up.  Most of us exhibiters were unhappy to varying degrees and we complained to one another all day.  Why had this happened?  We were set up for failure or was it just an accident, the way we were placed? The people organizing the show seem pretty good hearted so I’d have to lean towards the later.  The first hour…no sales.  As the day dragged on ever so slowly gradually a few more people came dribbling by and some did purchase our wares but it was overall an abysmal day.  I learned a few things about craft fairs that day.  1.  Be leery of newly developed craft shows without a track record of any kind. 2.  Placement of the artists and artisans is critical to their success at a venue.  Try to find out where you will be placed in the fair before agreeing to be in it.  Ask for a map. 3.  Try to avoid competing with pre-existing products and books that are not a part of the art fair.  Ask if the customers will see these items first or if they will be introduced to the crafters items directly. 4.  Just ask as many questions as possible in advance.  What type of advertising is being done; what numbers of people are expected to visit, etc., these small steps would have probably convinced me to stay home and not participate in that particular fair.  I wonder how many of you reading this have also had nightmare scenarios present themselves in the form of an art fair or craft show?  Would love to hear from you.  Maybe together we can sort some things out on how to prepare for selecting these shows. I give you the floor…

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