Friday, September 22, 2006

My fall & winter plan: make improvements

Not a lot has gone on recently. Since my last show, I have no more scheduled shows this year. I was planning on applying for some fall shows (and there are 1 or 2 shows for late November/early December that I may still apply for), but I think after doing 5 shows this first year, I'm going to call it a good first year and wrap it up until next spring, for a few reasons.

First, between working a full time job and doing everything for my shows, I haven't been able to get a whole lot else done. I've fallen behind on some things around the house, so I'm catching up on some of that.

Second, I've also been on 4 photo trips this summer (Hocking Hills, Ohio; Maine; Michigan's upper peninsula; lighthouse of western Lake Michigan). I'm also looking to take one more trip (a fall color tour). Yet I've only had the opportunity to pull a couple of good photos out of it. I've got a number of good shots in there, but I haven't had time to pick out the best ones, post-process, print, and mat them. So I'd really like to get caught up on that.

Also, I'm looking to work on my presentation during the fall and winter months. There are a few things about my booth I'd like to change. The primary 3 are larger prints, matting, and framing.

Larger Prints

On the larger print front, I'd like to do exactly that. My largest matted prints are 11x15 matted to 16x20, and then I have four framed 12x18s matted to 18x24 (but nothing in that size unframed). I have nothing at all bigger than that. I'd like to do a few photos printed at 16x24 or 20x30 and matted accordingly (maybe 4 or 5 inch borders). I'd also like to go though my archives and see if I can pull out some more panoramic shots and print up a few of those at a nice size.


As far as matting, I made a decision originally to buck the trend of plain white mats. I though I could do better with some colored matting which was chosen to match the photo. So far, my colored mats have outsold my white mats, so my approach would seem to be successful. However, I'm starting to think there is a problem with my logic, and that my conclusions are flawed. People that like colored mats are usually going to choose to buy colored mats instead of the white mats, so that explains why those sell. However, the people that do NOT like colored mats probably just walk right out without realizing that I also offer them in white. In addition, even if they do look through and see the white mats, the plain white, single layered mats aren't all that nice looking, so that might not agree with them either.

So I'm thinking about a few options here. The first option is to find a nice looking white or off white that has some type of a subtle texture or pattern to it, and offering all of my prints in that same color. The other option, is to pick out 4 to 8 nice looking neutral tones (whites, blacks, grays, and browns) and use that for my matting.

I'm not really sure what approach to take here, so it's going to take a bit of playing around to figure it out.


This is a biggie. So far most of my framed prints have been done with cheap & simple aluminum frames (black or silver) bought from Michael's for 40% off. When I started I was thinking simple was better, but now I really don't think it makes all that nice of a display.

I've started to think that the framing really needs to be complementary to the photo itself. Other than my plain, standard frames, I have a set of lighthouse collages that I have displayed in a nice frame that, to me and others I've asked, gives a beachy or nautical feeling that is complementary to the lighthouse subject. Indeed, I've been mildly successful at selling these photos framed.

In addition, I've been looking around at the shows I was in and a couple other shows. I found a few other artists doing VERY well, and the first thing I really noticed was how well their framing matched their subject matter. One artist was selling African wildlife photos, and had some interesting frames. Zebra photos were in frames that had a subtle, stripe-like texture to it. Elephant photos were framed with roughly textured frames, much like an elephant's skin. Iridescent blue birds were in frames that had a thin, iridescent blue stripe embedded in the wood. Most of the frames gave that feeling. Another artist I checked out recently was selling old world European photos in very luxurious looking frames. They were incredibly eye catching, yet not at all distracting from the photo. They looked like they'd be right at home in a million dollar house.

Another benefit to redoing my frames is that I can switch things up a bit. First, I've had several photos on display that have sold nothing (or maybe just 1 print). I'd like to switch up those photos, and maybe get a display of more cohesive photos. In addition, the majority of my framed photos are in a different size than the mat sizes I sell. My mat sizes are all 8x10, 11x14, and 16x20, but the majority of the framed sizes are 12x16 (with a couple of the other sizes thrown in). This creates a minor problem in that people usually see the 12x16 and 11x14 as being the same size, and pointing out the difference just seems to cause confusion.

So now, in the last week, I've started seriously looking around online at different frame vendors to see what they carry. By the end of the month, I plan to start ordering frame samples, and hopefully by the end of October I'll start the process of ordering larger prints and frames to match.

Other Improvements

There's a lot of other small details to work on over the fall and winter. I'd like new pricing cards for the framed prints, nicely printed and laminated, displaying photo title, a short description, and a list of sizes and prices.

I need to find a better way of doing the mailing list signup. Right now I just have a signup sheet on a clipboard, and if I don't ask people to signup (which I don't do very often) they don't even notice it.

I'd like to have a work desk for behind my booth so that I can do my work back there instead of the shelf at the front of the booth. This will give me a few advantages. First, removing the shelf from the booth will give me a little extra wall space. Second, I wont have to turn my back on the entire booth to write up a sale. Third, I can keep my sales slips, tools, accessories, bags, etc in there, and more organized, instead of having them all tucked away in a few Rubbermaid containers. Overall, it will hopefully make me more organized.

I might try to work on some new display bins that give me some additional room, are free standing (instead of sitting on a table), and can close up to double as the storage area for my matted prints. This will make it easier to quickly put the prints away each night and then pull them out each day without having to order and arrange them.


To sum it all up, I'm looking at undoing a lot of stuff I did this year and starting many things over with a fresh perspective. My hope is that, in the end, I'll have a fresh and much more professional looking display for next year. I have 12-14 decent shows I plan on applying to for 2007, and then I'll fill in whatever gaps are left with whatever smaller shows are available.

2006 gave me a lot of ideas and experience. Hopefully 2007 will bring me a bit of profit. here to read more!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

South Haven - a moderately successful show

This weekend we did our fifth show - the South Haven All Craft Fair. I've heard from a number of artists that this was a pretty good show in past years, so I gave it a shot. I may not have come away with a fortune, but I did make back all of my expenses + a hundred or 2 extra on top of that. As a side benefit, I also came away with a number of additional shots added to my portfolio, all rolled into the same costs.

Since Last Weekends Failure of a Show
As I reported, the previous weekend, I had a pretty miserable failure, walking away with a small net loss for the first time so far. I realized that my biggest failing point for that show was that the market for big ticket items just wasn't there. Even a $20 print was out of the price range of many, it seems. I noticed the same situation with the show before that (in Warren). In both shows, I honestly believe that if I had something to fall into the $5 price range, I could bring in a lot more sales. A few bucks here and a few there could add up to a decent amount, turning a bad show into an OK one.

Determined not to repeat this failure, I spent the week working out ideas for products in this range. The best option seemed to be photo gift cards. I went to a few different stores, picked up a few different options, and went with what I felt worked best. I then bought 200 of those blank cards. Next, I picked out about 130 of my best photos that spanned my entire work for the last 2.5 years but never made it into my official portfolio. I then added to that all of the photos in my official portfolio. The resulting 160 photos I then had printed up, one copy of each. I assembled the cards and stuffed each one into a quart size ziplock back.

I now needed someplace to display the photos. I searched online (using Google Local) to find "store fixtures" or "store display" businesses in my area. I called each one up and asked if they had any used spinning wire floor racks for holding 5x7 cards. I finally found one that had one in stock. On the upside, he wanted $20 for it, versus the $100+ they seem to cost brand new. On the downside, it was missing 1 of the 4 card holders, and the card holders were a little too small to hold 5x7 envelopes (which are actually 5.25x7.25). I thought it was a deal, so I bought it anyway. I took it home, tried bending each of the wire bins, and was able to fit 5 or 6 cards easily in a bin.

The last element was pricing. Each card cost me under $1 each in materials. I decided to try $5 each or 3 for $12.

Friday Night
Finally, onto the show. We left at close to 2PM to make the 3+hour drive across the state. With accidents and construction along the way, along with the heavier holiday weekend traffic, it took us a bit over 4 hours to get there. When we arrived, we quickly found our spot, pulled in, unloaded, and setup.

After we left there, I could see a beautiful golden peachy sunset just down the road. We headed down there but it was paid parking and private property. We decided to head for the lighthouse, but didn't realize at first that we were going the wrong way. The once we got straightened out, we didn't realize we were on the wrong side of the river, too. Finally, we worked our way around and down to the lighthouse pier beach. Unfortunately, by this time the sunset was all but gone.

My wife wanted to just sit in the car and wait while I take my couple of pictures and was done. However, just because the sunset was gone didn't mean I was done here anytime soon. I could see a sky full of clouds with a gap near the horizon. I knew this boded well for some spectacular afterglow. After convincing her to grab her camera and head down with me we waited. Before long, the clouds started to glow more and more. Before we knew it, they looked like they were on fire. We were there to capture what several locals told me was the best sunset of the summer, and we captured it behind the town's lighthouse.

I realized that what we captured would be sellable, however, I didn't realize just how golden it was. We stopped at Walgreens on the way to our hotel and ordered up a few prints to pick up the next day. I got a few 4x6's and an 8x10. Luckily, I had brought some extra white 8x10 and 11x14 mats and foamboards, along with all of my extra blank photo cards and ziplock bags, with me for just such an occasion.

After that, we headed to our hotel, which was 20 minutes to the south. Hotels in South haven were all considerably more expensive, so we opted for a considerably cheaper hotel with a short drive.

We picked up our prints and headed to our booth. The show was scheduled to start at 10AM, and after everything else, we got there about 9:30AM. Unfortunately, the show already started picking up a lot of customers. We had a hard time parking and had to walk quite a ways. When we got there, we discovered part of our awning had torn. One of the velcro straps had ripped right out of the stitching, another part had been cut/torn, and one of the support arms had bent a tiny bit. In addition, inside the booth, my print bin (which was luckily empty) had tipped over. What I still can't decide is, was this damaged caused by the wind, or did some other artist hit my awning with their vehicle or trailer after I left? As far as I knew, there was no significant wind overnight. For the future, I need to find a way to drop the awning at night (currently, dropping the awning interferes with zipping up the front wall).

After taking care of this small problem, we got on with the show. Saturday brought plenty of traffic but little sales. I sold a couple of my regular prints and a handful of gift cards. In addition, I sold out of my sunset photos and enlargement.

By the time day 1 was over, I was plenty disappointed with how things were progressing, but I wasn't the only one. Lots of artists found themselves doing much worse than they did in previous years. At one point, I was starting to believe my prices on prints were too high. However, after looking around the show, I found most other photographers had sold about the same number of prints as me. The only difference was that they made less off of each sale. I felt reassured that my prices were good. I left, hoping for a better day tomorrow. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Walgreens again and ordered some more sunset prints and enlargements (9 4x6s, 2 5x7s and 2 8x10s).

We picked up our latest batch of prints and got to the show early enough to not have to park far away. Upon opening our booth, we found that condensation on the roof had apparently seeped through to the underside. Any shaking of the booth resulted in a mini rain shower inside the booth. We ended up having to wipe of the underside of the roof to remove the water now before it became a problem later. I'll need to find something to do about this (waterproof spray, or something).

The show was off to a much better start. Almost right away, people started buying up cards of the sunset. Within a few hours, I was nearly sold out of sunset cards, so I sent my wife up to buy another batch of 4x6 prints. I ended up selling half of that batch. I also sold a variety of other cards and prints throughout the day.

When the show finished, I decided that as we tore things down, the last thing to be torn down would be the card rack. I wanted it to remain on the sidewalk to catch the stragglers as they left. That idea paid off, as I ended up making another $30 or so in card sales while we tore down.


When all was said and done, we had made back all of our expenses plus a few hundred in profit. While not enough to quit my day job, for my first year, I consider those type of shows to be a pretty good success. It was also a nice reversal on my trend of declining sales at each successive show.

The card sales made me almost twice what it cost to buy the rack, all the materials and prints for my entire card inventory, and the cost of replacing the inventory sold at this show. From here on out, keeping my card rack stocked up will be a minimal investment of time and money, but should hopefully net me a tidy profit each show.

Considering I didn't do too bad, and that many returning artists said the show often does much better than it did this time, I decided to pay for the show next year, guaranteeing me the right to return and have my booth in the same spot. I've already got a couple who told me they'll be back next year to see what new local shots I have.

Lessons Learned

1) Inexpensive product options can pay off. In fact, I think almost all of my profit from this show can be attributed to card sales. Without them, I think I would have only broke even on the show.

2) Local shots pay off. To reclassify things another way, I could also say that all of my profits were attributable to the sunset photos we took Friday night. Of course, it's difficult to say how many of those sales were due to it being local and how many were due to it being something people experienced firsthand and wanted to have a memory of. I guess I'll figure out the answer when I see how well the same print sells at the show next year.

3) Research the local area better to find out what items are big attractions and might sell better. I discovered that there is a very popular tall ship that has merchandise in all of the gift shops and sells pretty well. Had I known, I would have taken pictures of it ahead of time.

4) Related to the previous item, after you research the area, make plans to go there ahead of time and collect some local photos to sell at the show. I planned to do this around setting up the booth and at night after the show ended Saturday. With everything else going in, there wasn't time to do that outside of catching the sunset.

5) I'm getting a little better at being a salesman. In a few instances, I was able to talk people into buying a $5 card they seemed ready to walk away without. Not a major accomplishment, but it's definitely a start.

6) I need to fill out my card collection some more. I only picked what I felt were my best photos to turn into cards. However, on several occasions, I had someone ask me about a particular scene which I've photographed but not had in my card collection. The card collection is the perfect place for carrying all of those obscure shots that aren't worthwhile to carry in your enlarged print collection.

7) I need to find a better way to organize my cards. People look at them and assume each bin has all the same cards. Very few people look behind to see there is a variety of cards (3 to 6) in each bin. I partially resolved this on Sunday when I added little tags to each card bin saying "In this bin: location X, location Y, location Z". Adding those tags helped quite a bit, but it could still probably be made more obvious. here to read more!