Getting Involved with Local Shows
I was going to simply write highlights of this weekend at the Halloween market I was involved in, but now I'm going to expand the topic a bit. I was sent an email from a fellow Halloween artist asking my opinion when it came to selling at events like this; is it worth it to sell at local events? I thought perhaps there's more of you out there that would also be interested in my response.
As many of you know, I've eased into the foreign world of selling some of my creations at local events. The first was Rue Morgue's Festival of Fear, Canada's largest Horror event and part of Hobby Star's Fan Expo - a huge event with thousands of people crammed into a convention centre. The second was The Bazaar of the Bizarre, a smaller Halloween Marketplace that fit nicely into a dance studio. Two very different venues, both with its own benefits.
The common thread between the two events was target audience: both would have people attending who would potentially like the sort of thing I make.
Choosing Your First Venue
There are loads of other events in and around the city, but that doesn't mean every one of them is the right fit. This weekend I heard a story from a vendor that talked of her experience at a farmer's market. She hardly sold anything, and people were trying to haggle her on prices (already LOW prices). It wasn't the right crowd for her and her wares.
When you're paying an average of $40 to $300 for a table at events (there are numerous events that are much more expensive, but lets focus on the average), you want to try and pick places where there's a good chance you'll at least make your money back. You figure out what these places are by a) attending the event first, then applying for a table the next year, or b) looking at who the venue is trying to attract (and what vendors they've had in the past).
If your items don't gel with the other vendors in ANY way, it may not be the right place for you. Don't misunderstand me: your items should be unique, but they should have the same undertones of the other vendors. The same appeal. Attracting the same customer base.
This is especially important for your first shows. They will act as your testing ground for price points and product ideas (what people will buy, and at what price).
Prepare to be surprised by what sells really well at one venue compared to another. You might have one big ticket item that's a constant favourite, but the other items can be a big hit one place and a big dud another.
Once you get a feel for this, you can experiment more and venture into shows that may be somewhat outside your target audience (if you think it would benefit you).
The Benefits of Selling Locally
Besides (hopefully) making some money, there are loads of benefits to getting involved with local shows.
While I do have a very supportive online circle of Halloween enthusiasts and haunters I interact with, it isn't the same as being surrounded by peers live and in person. Meeting other artists can give you a sense of community. You can chat about experiences, share tips, or simply enjoy being around like-minded souls.
You also make connections. Fellow vendors might give you new leads to other shows or opportunities. Or you might come up with a collaboration on a project.
These new opportunities come from attendees as well. Commission requests. Wholesale opportunities. Independent small store owners looking for items like yours.
Plus you meet people who would never find you online. And you get instant feedback on your work (both verbal and non-verbal reactions).
But the coolest part for me so far, hands down, happened this weekend. Whether it was because of promotions I'd done (2 people said "Hey, you're the person who talked about your book at the George Romero taping". To which I cringed and probably turned a shade of crimson), or my table at Festival of Fear, or this website, there were people who knew who I was. People in my city knew who I was.
People who saw me at Festival of Fear came to the Bazaar of the Bizarre. One person told me they recognized my pieces as soon as they came in. I had three people - people who had bought from me at FoF - make more purchases this weekend. I also met people who had questions about my tips on the website. And a visit from a lovely lady who reviewed my book. Sure, it was nice to make repeat sales, but that's not the point at all.
To these people I want to say thank you so much. As excited as you were to see me at the table, I was even more thrilled to talk to you.
I can't describe it properly, and while I can't skirt the ego boost part of it completely, it's more a sense of validation. People find my website useful and are inspired to create. And they know me for my creations. They know me as Ghoul Friday, the artist (or the author of a quirky book).
They know me as an artist.
The toughest thing a person who creates can do is to own the title of artist. You have to start applying the word to yourself. I wrestled with it. I felt awkward for years saying it aloud. I still have moments when I have to force myself to use the word.
I didn't have to battle the word this weekend. I didn't even have to use it. It was placed upon me. It was assumed. To the people who have seen my work before, it was obvious. What else was I but an artist?
And that is why I say to anyone who's thinking about doing their first show, go for it. Just do some research and choose your first venues wisely.