Goose Egg: When Shows Go Bad

So what happens when a show just tanks?
You pack, you go, you schlep, and you walk away with zip. Zero. Nada. Total loss. 
HOW in the world do you come out of one of these without banging your head on the nearest brick wall? I mean really… It’s just sad.
So first of all when you’re on the throes of a Bad Show, you need to figure out, as much as possible, why the shows is going south.
Is it You?
Or is it Them?
Time for the post-mortem.
Look around cupcake. Is the show in general busy? Are the aisles full? Are there lots of people – and are they actually BUYING? Is commerce happening? Stop weeping, we have to figure this out – this is all part of market research, and not everything you do is going to turn out, well…. well. 
If it’s not, it’s them. If the show floor is empty, or if the people walking around aren’t buying from anyone, it’s not you. In this instance something has gone fatally wrong somewhere in the promotion of the show, and that’s out of your hands. Either it wasn’t promoted to the right market, it wasn’t promoted through the right channels, it wasn’t promoted hard enough, or it wasn’t promoted at all. OR it’s up against a calendar issue – at the same time as another event to too close to another, similar event. The market may simply be tired.
There’s very little you can do about this kind of situation except talk to the promoter and see if there will be a change of course next time – or take the show off your list of venues. Yup, cut & run. You won’t be the only one either. No one is coming back to a show where only the corndog vendor is having a good day.
But what if there IS activity? 
What if the artist next to you is selling like mad and the one across from you is stacked up twelve deep, and the one on the other side keeps apologizing for the line of her customers that’s blocking your booth?
NOW, my darling…. now we have something we can work with. 
Get out your Sherlock Holmes hat and your magnifying glass, because we have to start tracking clues. If you’re able, get out from behind your own table and walk around. See what’s what, see what is actually selling. Be nosy. Poke around and get a good sense of what people are actually forking over their cards and cash for.
Look at price point. Is what’s moving higher or lower than where you are? Perhaps you’re too expensive or inexpensive for the show.
What about the vibe? Perhaps a lot of vintage-y boho chic is moving and you’re maybe more trendy-modern-architectural. Or it’s a classic fine jewelry crowd and you’re more RenFaire artisan? Are you in the wrong neighborhood?
If you’re selling $700 gold and diamond rings, but the crowd is buying $75 silver and malachite by the bucketful, the show may be buzzing but you’re likely dying – mismatch.
It’s probably you… but it’s kinda sorta also them.
Nothing you can do here except move on or find a way to play to this crowd within your own aesthetic (which isn’t necessarily bad… sometimes it’s a way of broadening your line and your market, as long as you do it the right way) The direction you want to take your business is your best guide here – along with the shows available to you. Larger urban areas will have more choice of venues. Those of us more out in the boonies, well… we have to learn to adapt.
So what if it’s a boho-chic crowd, and that’s your gig. Mid-range to high-priced all seems to be moving and you’re right in there… and you’re still not seeing any of the action? 
First of all, is this the first time you’ve done this particular show? In that case cut yourself some slack. You’ve heard the adage that people buy from people they know and trust – this plays out in person just as it does online, whether wholesale or retail. (FYI, wholesale shows are even worse in this regard – buyers are notoriously suspicious until they get to know and trust) You may have to work a given crowd for a season or two before you’re accepted. The marketplace is simply tougher to crack now than it used to be.
Looking at shows as part sales events, part marketing expense, part research will make this a little easier. Make your ultimate goal not just sales, but networking, list building, and getting your name out there in general. You never who you will meet or what that will lead to, so keep in mind that there is much more to be gained than just sales – although obviously those are nice too. There are, however, less expensive and less stressful ways to go about getting sales if that’s your sole aim. There is nothing though that will replace talking to people, watching them look at and try on your work, and getting their unfiltered feedback. That’s the ultimate value of a show, retail or wholesale.
But what if this isn’t your first show, it IS your crowd, and you’re still just dying?
Well sweetie, I hate to break it to you, but this means it’s YOU. The good news though is that it also means the power to fix the situation lies within you. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you smell bad or that you’re a terrible designer. Here’s just a few of the things that might be affecting you:
  • Your overall booth set-up
  • Your lighting
  • Your display
  • Organization
  • Are your prices clearly marked?
  • Your demeanor (yes, really)
  • Your clothing (nope, not kidding)
  • Pre-show marketing
I’m not going to give you a course here on booth set-up and display right here (keep an eye on EmpowerDesign for that!), but you want to step back on that booth and give it a serious skunk eye, relative to everyone else around you. 
Is your booth clean and well-lit? Is it open and inviting? Have you used different levels to create interest? Have you brought your work up closer to standing eye level as much as possible? (Table height is not great for a walking crowd.. think HEIGHT… use your airspace)
Is your merchandise organized, yet displayed in a way that invites exploration? If most of it needs to be under glass, do you have something that can be picked up and touched to involve the tactile senses? It’s a shorter leap from admiring and touching a countertop display piece to asking to try on the under-glass item than leaping in and asking to try on a piece cold. Small demonstrations are a great way to gather interest, if your craft allows portability – even the tiniest bit of assemblage will usually gather some nice little crowds of “oohs & ahs”. Draw people in slowly, get them “invested”.
Are your prices clearly marked in a way that people can understand? Most people won’t ask – they’ll think “If I have to ask it must be too expensive”. 
No prices is a serious psychological barrier. 
Are you dressed nicely in a way that works with your booth? You’re part of your display – think about how you look standing next to it. Make sure you’re neat and clean (and yes, smell nice) And keep that smile on your face even when you want to strangle the promoter (we know how hard THAT one is…)
Side note: If possible try not to eat in your booth, or if it can’t be helped, try to keep it down low and out of sight. Most of us have a natural inclination not to interrupt others, and that includes when eating. You sure don’t want to lose a potential sale because someone didn’t want to interrupt your lunch. This also means be careful about playing with your phone or computer when there’s no customers. You have to do something to stay sane… just be aware and don’t get too involved in that screen.
You may also want to avoid heavy scents, either perfume or cologne, even incense or oils in your booth (unless of course that’s what you’re selling!). While lots of people adore a fragrance, many people are also scent-averse, and it can even trigger migraines in many people. Don’t do anything that will make a potential buyer give you a wide berth. (I’m terribly sensitive to odors, and I’ll cross the aisle or not enter a showroom if there’s a strong scent of perfume, oils or anything similar coming from it – I know my body and I don’t want to risk the migraine. I can’t be the only one!)
Don’t do anything to alienate a potential buyer
Did you do your pre-show marketing? Even if the promoter didn’t, you need to do yours. Physical mailing, emails, social media… you should always let your tribe know what you’re doing, where they can find you. 
Your booth and display can always be better. It should always be evolving, always changing. You see what works, you get new ideas. As your line evolves, so should your booth and display. Always a work in progress. 
If ALL of this is in place… Every last bit… and you’re still having poor shows… At that point it’s time to re-visit your collection and your pricing. But that is only very, very rarely the case. 
Poor sales, whether at a show or in general, is a problem to be solved. Sometimes it is the designs, but more often than not it is somewhere in the marketing. Think about it – how many things do you see that sell like crazy that are only “meh.” on the design or quality scale? 
And one more thing…
I’ve found after many years that there is very nearly always a reason for every show. Even the Shows That Suck. Sometimes (usually) it takes a while for that reason to be fully revealed, but it’s always there. The person in the booth next to you… the almost-customer who leaves their contact info and takes your card… the sales rep that wanders by… the random person that turns out to be a magical connection you didn’t see coming… 
There’s a reason for every show.
Be patient and it will show up. It might take a year to come around, but it’s there. The connection may be convoluted, but it is there and it will find you. Be patient.
You’ll find your course, and your market. Make sure you give your market the time – and the means – to find you.


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