An illustrator friend re-posted this link on Facebook this week. I thought it might be a useful read since we are hoping to be accepted to vend at a big Bay Area convention in early 2015. While it is not a comic con, I imagine that the format is somewhat similar. There will be panels, rituals, and discussions going on that are the actual focus of the event – rather than an attitude of, “we specifically came here to shop.” As I was reading, it struck me that this article would be pretty useful to anyone who is directly selling their art at big multi-focus events – not just cons.
I thought I’d share it here, rather than just hit “like” on Facebook. She is so spot on with so much of what she says.
What does that mean at a Faire or festival? Well, I’ll tell you, I sell one of the most saturated products at any festival. You can’t shake a stick without hitting someone with jewelry on their table. It’s small, it’s portable, it’s light… heck, even the ladies who were selling bath products next to me at Twain Harte Art and Wine this summer had a little rack of cheapie $5 earrings for sale next to the handmade soaps. So how do you stand out?
Well for one thing – uncomfortable as it is – she has a good point – you can’t sit with your head down over your sketchbook or your knitting!
Here’s what’s true for me – I hate the cold sell. I am shy and somewhat introverted. As a result, I have always had a pretty low key selling approach in person. A hard sell at a craft show is, in my experience, kryptonite. But it is also true that, conventions, Renaissance Faires and music festivals aren’t traditional craft shows. There is a lot going on and people don’t come to these things just to shop. They came to dress up, eat, listen to music, see shows, drink wine with friends, or whatever… the shopping – while often quite epic – is a secondary activity. You don’t want chase them out with sales kryptonite, but you also don’t want to lose their attention.
Nothing says sensory overload like a Faire or music festival. Between street theatre, parades, music, cannons going off, the ale-stand around the corner, or what’s happening on main stage, there’s plenty of distraction. If you don’t get people to engage with you or your goods within the first ten seconds of entering the booth, something shinier will pull them right back out. So lately, as a result of that sensory competition, I find myself standing up more than I am sitting down. I am trying to be better at interacting at the street level to pull folks in. I talk to everyone who passes by. If there’s a crowd blocking my booth because of a street gig, I am learning to go out and engage them to come into the booth when the gig is over instead of getting pissed at the actors for being thoughtless about blocking my front door.
My challenge this year has been all about being more present with the audience. Even if my wristband says Vendor and not Actor, I’m just as much a part of the ensemble as any guild member. I am not just an island in the middle of it all. Being part of the show means having a great costume, greeting people in character and maintaining that for the duration. Even if they don’t buy, I try to give them a cheerful and positive interaction that makes them glad to be at Faire. If I wanted to speak mundane, I could go to the craft fair down the street. Heck, if our customers wanted mundane, they’d be at the craft fair down the street. Folks paid upwards of $20+ for their ticket to the Renaissance Faire or the music festival, so the least I can do to say “thanks” for that is to help perpetuate the magic they paid for. Yes, it’s exhausting, but if I wanted to sit on my ass and knit, I could just stay home.
This all goes for music festivals too, not just Ren Faires. Heck, this even applies at street fairs and “mundane” events. Whatever the show is, you’d better be putting it on just as hard as the performers and promoters. Even if I am still not doing the hard sell, even if I am still pretty low key and all about the friendly, no-pressure connection, I am finding sales are up as a result of that one simple adaptation.
Whether you’re at a Faire, a festival or a mundane craft fair, the world of handmade is changing. It’s crowded, in a way that it wasn’t ten or even five years ago. All you have to do is go look at Etsy to see how much. You don’t have to get louder, but you do have to stand out from the crowd and you have to find new ways to authentically engage with your market. Because, at least in my case, everyone is making jewelry now.
Adapt or die. It’s good advice. How are you adapting? How is your market changing? What do you think about the article?
UPCOMING SHOWS IN OCTOBER
Folsom Faire: October 18, 19th, Folsom Lions Lake Park, CA
All Hallows Faire: October 25, 26th Motherlode Fairgrounds, Sonora CA