Monday, June 26, 2006

Report on my 2nd show

My second show is over. I had a booth at the 3rd annual Lathrup Village Art in the Park show this past weekend. I made a few sales, got a small taste of defeat, made some friends, got some ideas for my booth, tested out some changes I've made, added a few images to my inventory, refined my salesmanship a little, and a bit more.

Again, like my last show report, this will be a bit long. I want to cover the feedback I received and share some of my sales tactics. However, I'll break it into sections for easy skimming, and I'll have a summary/conclusions/lessons learned at the end.

In the 2 weeks since the last show, I was too busy working on improving other aspects of my business to even get around to getting all of my sold inventory replaced. I did manage to get it all printed up, but matting didn't take place until Friday morning. It was a marathon of cutting until noon, and it wasn't even done by then.

I haven't had a chance to blog about it yet, but last Wednesday I bought a cargo trailer to make it easier to get back and forth to shows. I wasn't able to get it loaded before now, so I interrupted my mat cutting and started loading up the trailer. Getting that done, catching up on a few important things around the house, and then getting dinner ready kept me busy until 4:30PM, and then it was off for the show on the trailer's maiden voyage (well.....except that I bought the trailer used, but lets forget about that).

We (my wife and I) got to the show, got the registration info, and I learned that my booth had been moved. I was happy to learn that the new booth was in a more central location to the show. We setup and were delighted with the time saving gained, and more importantly, the reduced effort required due to the modifications I'd made to the grid walls. However, the back of the booth was right against a parking lot, so we had no back space to utilize, so we setup the grid walls in the standard arrangement. After getting the booth and walls setup, we started hanging pictures only to realize I had left half of my hooks at home. We ended up hanging as many pictures as we could and then headed home. Total setup time was 2 hours.

I went back home, sat down to watch TV and relax for 15 minutes, then it was back downstairs to finish cutting and matting. I wrapped up just before 2AM, but I had only been able to cut 1 of my time consuming collage mats.

I slept well that night and my wife ended up having to wake me at 6:30. I was feeling better than I had for the last show, plus I was able to keep my head away from the door frame this time. So far so good. I went downstairs to cut at least 2 more collage mats, got those put together, lugged all my prints up the stairs and into the truck, took a shower, and left. My wife wasn't feeling well, so it was to be a solo day for me.

After forgetting to take a more efficient route there, and then contending with a closed expressway ramp, I finally made it to the show. I learned that another artists had convinced the show coordinators that letting cars park directly behind our booth was a very bad idea (he's seen cars hit the booths before) so I now had backspace to utilize. I opened up one of the back panels, hung the remainder of the framed photos, placed all the matted prints in the bin, and then spent the first 1/2 hour of the show fine tuning the arrangement of photos.

I then took my seat in the back of the booth and waited...and waited....and waited some more. A few people came in, but the show was pretty dead. When people did come in, I felt like I was in the boonies sitting way back there. Greeting them from the back seemed very impersonal, but coming up front to greet them each time made me feel like I was acting desperate. I didn't like that, so I got started rearranging some more to try and clear the photos out of the back cove, and then I moved my chair there. Now I felt much better...I was tucked out of the way of customers browsing my booth, but still close enough to easily greet them.

Now it was back to waiting...and waiting. My sister came up to visit me, and although she bought something, I don't consider that a sale to credit to the show. Then I waited some more, got a visit from my mom, and then from my wife and mother-in-law, then waited some more, and then FINALLY it was time to close up day one with (for all practical purpose) not a single sale.

During the day, although I didn't have a sale, I did have a number of people tell me they would definitely be back the next day. Yeah, I know how that goes, and although I responded pleasantly, I wasn't holding my breath. I also had a few pleasant conversations with some people about photography and my work. One guy had seen one of the photos I had just worked on in the last week from Pictured Rocks:

"The Malachite Moat" (Miners Castle, Pictured Rocks)

He informed me that there had been a collapse a few months back, and one of the 2 rock pillars had fallen into the lake. Although I was disappointed to learn that, I quickly realized I had my first REAL collectible photo...something that captures a moment that will never come again. I realized I could use that as a selling point.

After closing up, I had debated whether or not to go to the artists reception. Last show I had been too shy to talk to anyone and had just ate my food and split. I decided I'd just run in for some food, so I went in grabbed a table by myself, went and got a plate of food, and then made the bold move of sitting down with someone else instead of by myself. Soon we were joined by 3 other artists (2 of them photographers). We had a good time, and what I intended to be a 10 minute event turned into 2 hours of conversation that only ended because we ran out of time.

I went home cheerful about the friends I had made, but bitter with the taste of defeat. I had 2 choices about how to spend that evening...relaxing and getting some much needed rest, or doing my best to try and improve the show for tomorrow. A less dedicated person might have chosen the rest and said "what's the point", but I looked for something to do.

At the previous show, customers had asked me if I had any Grand Haven or Holland lighthouse photos, and although I had both in my catalog of 13000 shots, I didn't have any ready and printed up. In the 2 weeks between shows, I had picked out this nice shot of the Holland lighthouse and got it ready for this show:

"A Beacon for the Bold" (Holland Harbor Lighthouse)

However, no one ended up buying that photo. Instead, I had more people this show asking me for Grand Haven photographs again. I realized I had missed an opportunity, but I wasn't going to miss it again. I pulled out my catalog of photos, picked out 2 nice grand haven sunset/twilight shots, and worked them into this:

Havenly Sunset

The Twilight Tower

I printed up 1 copy of each in both 5x7 (8x10 mat) and 7x10 (11x14 mat) sizes, and went to bed just before 1AM.


Sunday morning, I had a bit more time to sleep, so I didn't wake up until almost 7:30. My wife helped me pick out mat colors for the Grand Haven photos I had made, I cut the mats up, and then was ready to sign them. I needed to come up with names for them. My wife gave me an idea that helped me come up with the name of one ("The Twilight Tower"), and then she came up with the other ("Havenly Sunset", a playful mix of "Grand Haven" and "Heavenly Sunset").

My wife was feeling better today, so we had breakfast, hooked up the trailer, headed back to the show, grabbed some bagels and danishes, opened up, and were ready for a fresh start when the show began at 11am.

It was another slow morning. There were a few small bursts but it quickly died back down. For the first 45 minutes, nothing much had happened. I had a few customers I thought might have been interested, but I just couldn't get them to buy.

Then at 11:45 AM, a couple came in. I talked with them a bit, explaining where several of the photos had come from. The husband liked my photo of "The Malachite Moat", so I shared with him the story I had learned yesterday about the collapse of the tower and how it doesn't look like that anymore. Then the wife liked an 8x10 from Copper Harbor: "A Calm Morrow". I told her about the photo, and then used one of my new tactics by explaining how it was part of a set (one is sunset, the other is sunrise in the same spot the next morning) and how there was a discount on the second print. She seemed willing to buy the pair, but now her husband stepped in and said he really liked my photo of "The Malachite Moat" and that she should get the one she originally liked, and he should get his photo. Not to be too pushy, I let them debate it on their own for a few moments before stepping in and reminding them that a third print is an even bigger discount...just $10 for the third 8x10. They bought all first sale of the show.

Next, one of the volunteers from the show who had seen me at my last show in Livonia showed up to pick up a set of 4 small framed flowers she had her eye on a few weeks back. A short while later, a mother and daughter had shown up and had their eye on one of the new 11x14's I had just made last night. They seemed very interested but wanted to wander around the show some more first. Then another lady came in and bought both of the 8x10's I had just made up last night. After that, the mother and daughter had returned. Rather then picking up the Grand Haven pic, she went for an 11x14 of my squirrel instead. And then her daughter realized the squirrel was a very good match for a photograph she had just bought from one of the other photographers. It was my only copy of the 11x14, so she let the daughter have it and got herself the 16x20 instead. Then she debated some more and decided to also get the Grand Haven shot she had originally like. Another 3 photo sale. Working on those photos the night before had paid off.

Now a couple came in, looked at my lighthouse collages, thought about getting one for their dad, and then were just about on their way out. I wanted to keep them talking to me and in the booth so I asked if their dad was a really big fan of lighthouses. They stopped, told me a bit about his interest and how they thought about getting one, but then which one do they get, or do they get both, but that's too much money...etc etc. After discussing it for a few minutes, they finally bought both framed prints.

At some point during the later part of the day, another lady came in and loved the "Havenly Sunset" photo I had just made the night before. However, she wanted it in a larger size, but I hadn't had a chance yet to get it enlarged. Remembering my mistake from last show, where I failed to tell I couple I could have a larger print available by the next show, I told this lady I'd definitely have the photo ready by my next show in 2 weeks. Hopefully she'll show up. If she does, I'll be ready.

That was it for the end of the show. We packed up the trailer and headed home.

Thoughts and Conclusions

When it was all said and done, I had sold $405 worth of photos on a booth/jury fee of $145. After gas, materials, and other expenses, I probably cleared somewhere around $200. Not too great for a whole weekend of work, but at least I wasn't in the red. Most of the other artists I spoke with had had similar results.

There were definitely a few lessons this show.

1) Having the cargo trailer made this a heck of a lot easier. Packing up and getting home was virtually stress free.

2) As one of the artists had joked to me at the Saturday night reception, there was a reason we were there that day even if it was a dud. At the time, we both thought it had been for the food. But for me, I now know the reason I was there was to learn about the collapse at Miner's Castle. That gave me a great selling point for that photo.

3) You never give up. All day long, one of my neighbors kept saying you just have to stick it out, because you never know what will happen. At the end of the first day, my other neighbor had asked me if I would be returning the next day. It would never even occur to me to skip out a day early. I paid for the show, I'm going to get what I can out of it. Good thing I did come back, as I made some sales and got some good salesmanship practice.

4) Pay close attention to what your customers ask for. If you can get it, then do so. It paid off with the Grand Haven lighthouses. On Sunday, customers were asking for a few different lighthouses. By the next show, I'll see if I have any decent shots of those lighthouses I can add. A few customers also asked for various styles of landscapes. Over time, I'll build a large enough collection and be better able to have what customers are looking for.

5) Have a functional website ASAP. My website is up, but not yet ready to handle orders. I've had a few people come in and ask for a card because they like to order gifts for people every now and then and they liked my work. I gave them a card and explained ordering will be available in the next week or so.

6) I need to get a fan (although it wouldn't have helped for this show, since I had no electricity) and to make an awning for the back of my booth.

7) Keep a notebook that you write down thoughts and important details in during the show. I did this last time and it helped. I did it again this time, and it reminded me of something important that came up during the show which I had since forgotten about.

8) Perhaps its not a great idea to signup for shows that haven't been around a number of years. I won't let that stop me for the moment, but I'll see what other people say and I'll keep an eye on how other new shows do. If I see a pattern, then I'll stop applying to them.

9) Have postcards for your upcoming shows available in your booth. I had a number of people who seemed interested, including the lady who had the print in a size I didn't have. I gave each of them a business card and a postcard for my next show, so hopefully I'll see one or 2 of them there.

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