As we head into the trade show season, even if you aren’t selling your crafts wholesale , you should plan to walk at least one show. If you can only attend one, I wouldn’t recommend you make it a craft show. I know that sounds like a contradiction since you are in the business of crafts but there are a number of reasons to know what’s going on in the general gift wholesale trade. First of course is staying current with trends. Even if you do vintage crafts or very traditional work, it’s still important to keep up with the trends. You also need to know if someone is knocking off your work, having it produced overseas and selling it for a fraction of what you sell it for. The likelihood of of getting the copycat to cease making it is questionable and you obviously aren’t going to lower your prices to compete but you should know that customers are seeing similar work at import prices. You may be able to tweak your line just enough to make it obviously handmade and you definitely will want to have other additional lines that aren’t being seen in mainstream shops.
If you are considering wholesaling your work, visit several different trade shows and as you walk the aisles, notice which booths are busy, who is writing orders. What do the artists who are writing the most orders have in common? Do you see work similar to yours? Notice everything that is in the same category or medium as your work. Look for crafters whose work appeals to the same target market as yours but is complimentary. You may be able to learn a lot just from the way they are merchandising.
It would be beneficial to you to develop a relationship with some of the vendors. Veteran tradeshow exhibitors can teach you all the things they learned the hard way and save you from making costly mistakes. But be considerate of their space and time. Remember their purpose is to write orders and you need to not block the display or take up their time. Wait until a slow time when they have no one in the booth and even then, be sure to free them up the moment someone is approaching booth. New vendors are always surprised at how generous with tips and helpful the veteran exhibitors are to newbies.
Notice the merchandising. Not just the visual display but the price point variance. Do the most popular exhibitors have several different price points? What percentage of the line is in each price point?
As you’re viewing the merchandise, try to look at it from a retailer’s perspective. When buyers shop a trade show, even when they know the handmade market, they aren’t considering how much time it took to create. They are thinking “how much will I have to sell this for to get my markup and will my customers pay that much. To the buyer, it has nothing to do with what they think it’s worth or what you think it’s worth but what the customer is willing to pay-the perceived retail value.
The retail buyer is also thinking about how your line will fit into her physical space, what will be needed to display it best and what other lines of theirs it compliments. This is where connecting with exhibitors with complimentary pieces will benefit you both. You might even work out a trade. For example, you make wooden wall racks for children’s room, you might want to buddy up with someone who makes handcrafted children’ apparel . They can use your pieces to display their work and you can use theirs as props for yours. Of course you’ll have one another’s card and booth number to guide them and your buddy will do the same. carry a notepad and use it, or a tape recorder to note your impressions -you won’t be allowed to photograph anyone’ s craft. If camera’s were allowed, you’d see the same works knocked off and imported at the next show.I ‘ll be taking more about wholesale shows as we get into summer. What trade shows are you planning to attend this summer? Are you considering eventually selling wholesale? What questions do you have about wholesale that veteran wholesale crafters can answer for you? As always, you’re invited to share your comments and feedback.