Thoughts on My First Street Fair Experience

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wow.  What a day.  Now on the morning after, I am experiencing muscle fatigue that I have never had before...  My entire body hurts.  But my soul is happy.  And while I didn't make as much money as I had hoped, I learned a lot and it was a GREAT first time experience.  Let me share a bit of how things went and my take away from the event.  In theatre circles, we call this a "Post-Mortem".

Set up was, as I have been told, always a bit of a challenge.  Half our info said the check-in time was 7:00, half said 6:00.  So we got there at 6:00am, and we were lucky we did--the line to get onto the site was already incredibly long, and we would have ended up being quite late on our setup if we hadn't arrived an hour early.  We discovered our booth was to be on a sidewalk over a sewage outlet from the building behind us...  Which was a bit depressing, but what are you going to do?  We unloaded, parked in designated parking nearby, and returned to set up.

3 hours, and 4 people later, we were completely assembled.  It was a challenge setting up the booth with people who had never set it up before...  It took me a bit of time to figure out how to communicate everything to my partner and my co-exhibitor...  My zip ties didn't work as well as they had in my controlled, driveway environment, but they got the job done.  Lesson learned:  Never ever ever do anything for the first time at an actual show!!  I had neighbors that were setting up their tents for the first time, and it was horrible to not be able to help.  I had my hands full, and my partner was helping where he could, but I was surprised at how unprepared some of the exhibitors were.  Here I was completely new to this, but I learned there were people even greener than I was.  And it hurt a bit inside to hear their despair...  sigh...

The booth assembly was done (taking way too long, but rendering many many important details to remember for next time, and providing me a huge shot of bitter tasting Humility) and the people started coming in.  It was bright and sunny with a cool breeze--in short, perfect street fair weather.  The Ocean Beach Chili Cook-Off draws 70,000 people in, and it was a huge event.  I didn't get to see anything but half of Artist's Alley, where my booth was located.  I managed to get an $8 Gyro for lunch, but doing anything else was too problematic...  I was fortunate that some of my fellow exhibitors wandered over to my booth to check things out, and that I was able to meet them--I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

Because I was doing a demo most of the day in front of my booth on a card table.  My partner Jonathan (Thank Goodness for understanding, empathetic, and supportive loved ones) and my fellow booth partner, Christy Jones, were the salespeople--they seemed to have a way with interacting with the customers that I just couldn't manage that day.  I concentrated on painting a blank vest I'd made earlier, and it worked out quite well.  I had TONS of people watching.  I was out front in a prominent spot, and drew a LOT of people into my booth.  And it was fun!!!  I  got to stay busy with my hands and do something I love doing!!  Lesson learned:  Always do a demonstration when you can.

We used my Square on my iPad for the first time, and let me tell you it was a hit.  Most people had never interacted with one before, and they loved it.  I have an inventory of what I sold and it was fast and convenient.  I only made 1 cash sale--the rest were all through credit cards.  Completely worth it.

And speaking of sales...  I knew I wouldn't be selling a lot.  First off, most of my garments are winter coats--not good for a southern California summer festival.  Second, they're very expensive--again, not good for a southern California street fair in a town known for surfing and laid back partying.  Third, I gave my boothmate the prime spot on the outside of the front table.  Her stuff REALLY attracted attention (you can see it here on her Etsy shop) and was priced right for the crowd.  I think she puts a lot more effort into them than she's charging for, but I don't think they would have sold if they weren't priced as low as they were. She priced them right.

I sold some mobiles and some neck laces--which was what I expected--but not nearly as many as I had hoped.  Still, this was my first time and I think I would have been overwhelmed had I been too busy...  It was an overwhelming experience as it was...  Lesson learned:  It's okay to have high expectations, but temper them with realistic goals.  It isn't always about monetary "return on investment".  It's about having conversations, talking about commissions, and sharing your work.  I scored big time on all those counts.

At the end of the day, we packed up our stuff (completely and utterly exhausted and wiped out) and have yet to unload our car.  We are going to visit an entirely different venue today--the La Jolla Festival of the Arts, which is considered at Art Festival and not a Street Fair.  I am excited to experience the difference.

Many many comments floated my way:  we had the best booth at the fair (over and over again!!), we needed to be at a more upscale venue, people couldn't believe it was our first time ever, and we needed to price our display items for sale as well.  They were really curious about buying them for their own home display needs.

People didn't say my stuff was too expensive.  They understood why it was priced the way it was.  But the majority of attendees couldn't afford it at that particular venue. So I'll be exploring more summer attire and lower price points, making more mobiles and a wider variety of neck laces in different sizes if I can find the right laces.  And now I'm confident about applying to various juried art shows. It was a good learning experience.

I will be buying a small pull trailer or renting a van for the next time.  Enough said about that.

I have more to share, but I think I'll keep that for another time.  Wow, I'm glad it's done.  And I'm doubly glad I did it in the first place.  And next time will be even better!






4 comments:

Michelle Sholund said...

I loved this post/review of your first street fair experience. Might I add I LOVE your blog layout! OH!!! And your photos are wonderful. Sorry about the gushing, but there aren't many people who have all the elements like you do. You hit the nail on the head when it comes to learned lessons such as always demonstrate when possible as well as have realistic goals for a show. That is one thing I DO NOT see when talking with fellow artists at a show. Too many talk about unrealistic numbers like making thousands last year at the same show and this year only doing hundreds or some other mumbo jumbo.

I also think you did everything right especially taking credit card sales - and Square I hear is very easy to use and fast. I use Intuit's GoPay - which is virtually the same thing. I believe those apps have truly revolutionized mobile payment processing and I also find it amusing how customers laugh at the part where they get to sign their name (I use a stylus, but some use their fingers regardless).

Anyway, I just wanted to say I enjoyed this blog post, hope there are more to come. For me, I like both types of venues, but for I would do more art fairs if you can do it financially, but don't ignore street fairs, they can have some gems (great buying customers) too.

Michelle, www.bythebaybotanicals.com

Corey Johnston said...

Thanks, Michelle! I read your own blog and save the posts regularly for inspiration! Thanks for stopping by! The blog layout is a template, honestly, that I got at Nymphont.com called Ultime Notizie. I modified it a bit for my own needs (colors and such) but it's fully customizable so it was easy. Thanks for the compliments!

I learned a GREAT deal more than I posted here--and even more so now that I'm back from the La Jolla Art Festival!! Knowing now what a true Art Festival is, I can safely say I don't think I'd actually ever been to one before--only street fairs that aspired to be art festivals. I get the difference now. Wow. Night and day, I think... But you're right, Street Fairs just have a different flavor about them, and they're neither better nor worse just different. I will be applying for Art Festivals in the future, however because the atmosphere just seemed less frenetic to me. And I liked that. There's something about Eau de Budweiser and Johnny Cash cover bands that made me feel my pieces were a bit out of place... Haha!! Like I said, I learned a lot. ; ) But ultimately I'm really glad I went so it was all good. Very good!

Thanks for the encouragement!! I appreciate it!! : )

jane p said...

Corey, I finally get to read your first craft fair post-mortem. The setting up of the booth sounds so exhausting. I think if I have to take care of the tent I would never go out and sell my stuff. In Singapore, us craft sellers are really pampered. The event organisers take care of everything and they don't charge a lot of money for it. Your demo is such a great idea for drawing crowd. Yes, you have to price everything on display that are for sale! Sometimes customers don't want to have to ask about the price. Oh, I like the idea of sharing booths. For me, I like to pair up with costume jewellery.

Corey Johnston said...

Jane--in a nutshell, yes--the set up was completely draining... I learned that I have to be careful about how much I want to put into my display and still have the energy to actually be an entrepreneur as well. It won't do me any good to expend all my energy on the "packaging" if I can't follow through with being a vendor afterwards. And that's a big part of what will influence me on my next experience.

I saw some things at the La Jolla Festival of the Arts that I may incorporate into my own booth setup--ways of displaying clothing that don't involve heavy grid wall pieces--and stylish tricks that can dress up a tent without breaking my back.

I also learned that I have to be an artist first. I have to make beautiful, desireable pieces before I can expect anyone to pay what I feel they're worth. I am incredibly inspired to work even harder on my painted garments and make them even more original and unique without making them so costume-esque that they aren't "translateable" to normal everyday attire. I think I was just "over the line" and can explore pulling back a bit to make them just as dramatic without making them too bizarre.

I'm going to be making some smaller scale neck laces and more recycled tin can mobiles to start. I still have LOTS of tin cans I haven't done anything with, so I'm excited about that. And I have lots of left over smaller lace to play with, so we'll see that goes too! Onwards and upwards! : )

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