I did it! I can now say I'm a professional!
I had my first show this weekend: Livonia Michigan Art from the Heart. I was pretty happy with how things turned out, attendance seemed pretty good, and the show appeared well run. My goal for the first show was to break even on the jury/booth fee ($270). Counting just sales to strangers, I sold about 2.5x my booth fee, plus another $300 to friends/family (and no, they didn't get a discount). I was more than happy with my results. I heard some artists vowing to never return while others proclaimed it their best show ever. I'll be going back next year.
I sold a variety of photos, but I had one that was a runaway success. It sold 8 copies (five 8x10, three 11x14), was commented on by about 90% of my booth visitors, and was pointed out by countless people who walked by my booth without ever walking in. It was a 12x16 matted, framed print of this squirrel:
Leading Up to the Show
In the last 3 weeks before the show, it was apparent I needed to size up my inventory. I took most of those 30 or so photos and printed up 2 copies each of 5x7 (8x10 matted), 7x10 (11x14 matted), and 11x15 (16x20 matted). The first copy was double matted in a color combination that was picked by myself and my wife to accent the photograph. The second copy was single matted in plain white, as I've heard a number of reports here that white sells better than colors. I should add that all of my framed pieces were done with the colored mats.
A few weeks before, I decided I really did need a good cart to haul these in. Several months back, someone had suggested Rock N Roller carts, and they seemed very interesting to me. I debated over and over whether to save money with a smaller R8 or R10, but eventually I decided the extra $60 or $80 was worth it, so I went for an R12. I also knew I needed some bags for sold items. I bought some 18"x28" clear bags from veripack. I bought 100 packs of clear sleeves from Frame Destination in each of the 3 sizes. I built a nice wooden display box (2'x4') to hold all 3 sizes of prints.
In the last couple days, I decided I needed some business cards. Since I needed an address, I went and picked up a PO box for $25/6 months. For the business cards, I bought the avery clean edge cards ($16 or $18 for 200). Those things are brilliantly designed. Very easy to split apart and very professional looking. I decided to make a variety of cards. Each card had a photo on it. I set up a template in MS Publisher, made 25 copies of the template, and in each one I put a different photo (and put the "title" in tiny print just under it). I put a copy of the corresponding business card in the sleeve with each photo. I did a similar thing with MS publisher for the certificates...making 1 template then replicating it for each photo. The certificates were a complicated affair...doing a "Mail Merge" against a MS Access database of inventory (I'll write more about that in the coming week or 2).
The Day Before
I had already printed all my prints and cut all my mats, but I hadn't yet signed, assembled, and bagged most of them. The day before I spent the morning designing, printing and signing those certificates of authenticity. That took entirely too long(but now that it's done, I'm more than happy with the results). I finished up at about 3PM, got to work signing prints (I put the print #, photo title, date photographed, and signature on the back), and almost had that finished by 5PM. But now I had to stop.
Setup was allowed the evening before from 5-9PM, and I figured that was a better option than trying to rush in the morning, so I was now focusing on that. I had to carry everything upstairs (just the tent, gridwalls, cart, and ladder...everything else went the next morning), and load up the car. It took both my Blazer and the bed of my wife's pickup to get everything there.
My wife helped me setup the tent and grid walls. I wanted to do a practice run with her, but time didn't permit. However, she figured it out on the spot and managed just fine. Took us about 1.5-2 hours to get that all unloaded, carted to our spot, and setup. I was so glad I bought the R12 cart...it hauled like a charm, rolling over grass like nothing.
After that, I was exhausted, but had to go back home and get right to work on the prints. I was up until 1:30 AM putting them all together. Then I still had to come up with pricing and print up signs. I decided on the following price:
8x10 mat: 1st=$20, 2nd=$15, 3rd+=$10
11x14 mat: 1st=$40, 2nd=$30, 3rd+=$20
16x20 mat: 1st=$60, 2nd=$40, 3rd+=$25
For framed photos, I did
18x24 = $130
16x20 = $100
12x16 = $75
and then I had some other various sized frames.
I printed up the signs, started gathering supplies to bring, did my normal bedtime preparations, and got to bed about 2AM. For the next 30 minutes, I kept thinking of additional things I wanted to bring, so I'd get out of bed and make a note. By the time I actually fell asleep, it was about 2:30AM
Stupid chirping birds woke me up at 5AM, and I couldn't go back to sleep, so with only 2.5 hours of sleep, I got up at 5:30 and started off the day with a good solid whack of my head into a door frame (left a nice mark in the center of my forehead). I made up some name/price tags for my framed work, packed up, carted the rest of my stuff upstairs, loaded the vehicles, took a shower, and left for the show at about 7AM. Got there, carted everything to the booth (again, the R12 cart performed excellently), hung all my framed work, setup my table and print bin, got out my sales kit (receipts, knucklebuster, cell phone for authorizations, etc). My wife showed up at 9, and I finished up setup about 9:30 (show starts at 10)
They always say your first sale will be your most memorable. Not only was it the most memorable, but it had the most memorable story. 9:45 (before the show officially opens) this lady walks in, spots this photo
and walks straight up to it without even looking at the rest of my booth. She tells my she loves pink, usually wears pink, she lives on flamingo street, and she just painted her bathroom hot pink and was looking for a photograph to match. She looks at the 3 different sizes and picks out the 11x14. SOLD!
I had 7 more sales that day (2 to friends and family).
I screwed up on one thing. I left my wife in charge while I took a break to walk around the show (no that wasn't the mistake...keep reading). I told her to call me if anyone had questions or for a sale. Someone came in with questions about my framed collage of 7 Michigan lighthouses. My wife called me, but my phone ringer was on quiet and I didn't hear or feel it ring. He said he would come back. After quite a while, he never showed up. My wife wanted to buy something from another booth but had trouble deciding. I told her I would take a look with her. I left my mother in law watching the booth, and we left for 2 minutes. In that time, he came back with his wife, they discussed it, she told him "whatever you want", and they left without saying a word. They never did come back. I was kicking myself until someone else bought it 30 minutes later.
My business cards with the pictures seemed to work. Whenever someone clearly liked a photo but couldn't be persuaded to buy it, before they left I gave them a card with that photo. One girl was clearly in LOVE with the squirrel. I gave her the card and she left. My mother in law saw her walking in the next row or booths, clutching the card in both hands, holding it up to her face, staring at it longingly. About an hour later, she came back and bought it. Another lady came back to buy the squirrel the next day.
Other notable point of the day...one of the readers of this blog stopped by my booth (if you are reading this...say hi) to tell me she was interested in attending fairs and had read my blog for ideas. Sometimes I almost wonder if I'm writing to myself here, so it's always great to be reminded that people DO read what I write.
After the show, we stopped at the store to pick up a couple of frames (to replace the collage I sold), I went home and printed up 16 more photos (including 8 of the squirrel). I cut up the matboards, and let it all sit overnight to dry.
I actually got 7 hours sleep. I woke up, signed and framed my prints, bagged them up, made a few more business cards, got back to the show, and opened up. Sunday morning was slow....didn't get a sale until almost noon. Then it started picking up. I made 11 sales that day (2 to friends/family). My last sale of the day was a nice one too. I had some pictures of Washington state. Some lady came in, spotted my photo of Diablo Lake, and proceeded to tell me she was from Seattle (grew up there for about 20 years) and was upset that she didn't take any photos while she was there, so she had been looking for some nice photos of the area. After looking at my framed photos, she didn't seem quite convinced. Then I remembered I had one more photo unframed in each size. Using my best salesman technique (which is generally pretty poor) I proceeded to show her only the 16x20 version. She liked it, pulled out a crumpled wad of bills, and just barely had enough. SOLD!!!
My stupid mistake of the day....Some couple liked one of my 18x24 framed photos, said it would be great for their living room, but that it wasn't big enough. Stupid me let them get away, and only minutes later I thought "IDIOT!!!!! You should have told them you can have one made for them and have it ready by the next show"
After the show, my wife and mother in law helped tear down, load up 3 vehicles and cart it back home.
Thoughts and Conclusions
1) Most importantly, I need to get this down to a 1 vehicle job. Best bet is probably to go with a 4x8 trailer. I think that's where all my money for this show is going.
2) I need to rearrange my booth. I don't like where we are sitting. We were sitting in front of the booth for a few hours until one of the other artists spotted us, came over, pointed out where everyone else sits, and suggested we need to move to the back to invite people into the booth more. We rearranged and got us sitting in back of the booth.
I went over to thank him, and he started showing me all the other ways I could setup my booth better. I absolutely love the spirit of the people who do these shows. I did my best to return the favor by helping one neighbor open her booth when she showed up late 30 minutes after open, and I helped another neighbor with info on printing and my booth setup (she normally sells ceramics, but is getting ready for a photography show this summer and doesn't have the display yet)
3)My colored mats far outsold my white mats. I generally only sold white after the colored one was gone. I did have a few people prefer the white mats, and I had one person who upgraded from an 8x10 to an 11x14 because the 8x10 colored had already sold.
4)I need to make my booth quicker to setup. Connecting the panels together each show is too much of a pain. I need to find a better way to do the detachable legs. The most irritating part is that, the whole reason I went with the current scheme of detachable legs and bolt together segments (rather than Larry's zip-tie together grids) was because I couldn't fit the whole panel + legs into my car. If I go with a 4x8 trailer, that whole obstacle has been removed, and everything was made more complicated for no good reason.
5)EARLY PREPARATION IS KEY. I can't stress this enough. By the end of the first day, I went home and thought "I can't possibly see myself doing this any more than a couple times a year". I was happy with my sales but discouraged with the effort involved. After a good night rest, I was feeling much better, and at the end of day 2 I was looking forward to my next show. Being tired and rushed made the whole thing seem 10 times worse than it was.
6)MINIMIZING EFFORT IS ALSO KEY. Its worthwhile to invest money into well designed equipment. I was dreading hauling everything back and forth, but the Rock N Roller R12 made it a piece of cake. It was more effort getting everything there than it was hauling it. I'm excited about the idea of a cargo trailer (so I don't have to load/unload before/after each show, or fight packing it in the vehicle). I'm considering putting the profits from upcoming shows towards a better canopy, and then maybe towards better (professional) display walls. At this point, I'm not the slightest bit interested in recovering my last 2 years of expenses. I want to put everything towards making future shows easier...which will hopefully make me more inclined to apply to more shows.
7)Things I liked about the Livonia show and how it was run (not sure how much of it is run of the mill for shows):
- They did a LOT of advertising in the week before the show. I saw TV ads running during the evening news. Lots of other artists were commenting about how many ads they saw/heard for the show
- Day before setup...I think it's a great idea to be able to setup the night before, then rest overnight before beginning the show the next day (but morning-of setup was still an option if you wanted)
- Likewise, to make setup and teardown convenient, they had the police block off 1 lane of traffic (2 lanes for teardown) so that you could park right in front of the area to load up.
- They had food for artists each morning, and a very nice picnic for us Saturday night.
- They had workers come around to offer to watch your booth while you took a break.
- They had a package pickup area. When you make a sale, you give the customer 1 half of the ticket, attach the other half to the bag, place a flag out in front of your booth, and workers would pickup the package and hold it for the customer at the pickup area. Although I didn't end up having to use it, I thought it was a great idea none the less.
- They had a nice variety of artists/vendors...not too many of any one medium.
8) I was very pleased with the number of positive comments I received. Lots of comments on how my photos were by far the nicest/cleanest looking of the photographers at the show.
9) Surely, theres a bunch of other things I want to add but can't think of.
I'm looking forward to my next show (less than 2 weeks away)