Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Things I learned from my first outdoor craft show.

This past weekend, I vended at an outdoor show for the first time. I've done craft fairs before, but setting up in a field presents many challenges that I didn't have to deal with in an art gallery or indoor communal space. As I suspected, I learned a lot about what works, what doesn't, and what's just plain out of your control when you're showing your work outside!

Your displays probably aren't secure enough. Most outdoor vendors know the importance of staking and weighting down tents so that they don't become airborne in a strong wind (and if you didn't know that -- yes, it really is THAT important.) I'd heard horror stories about flying tents taking out a fellow crafter's entire stock, so was extra paranoid about securing mine, and the tent did just fine. The added bonus of a good secure tent is, you can tie things like easels and table legs to the tent's supports for extra stability.

It was the other parts of my display, which I really wasn't worried about, that succumbed to Mother Nature. (more on that in a bit.) Free hint: If the back supports of your necklace busts are cardboard, they will turn to mush if heavily rained upon. Duh. That didn't even occur to me, and those are now in the trash and will need to be replaced with something more impervious. If you can easily knock a display over with your hand, the wind can knock it over too. Are you planning on reusing your empty boxes by draping them in some nice fabric and placing them on your table to create height? Don't leave them empty -- a bad wind will send them flying even if they're duct taped to your table. I stuck a couple of hardcover books in each one and that helped weigh them down against wind.

These necklace busts are now in the trash -- their cardboard back supports were no match for heavy rain.

Next time I'm going to vend outdoors, I'll take my displays outside on a windy day, throw some earrings or necklaces on them, and see how they behave. I don't want any more surprises!

But even if you do everything right, the weather may still defeat you. As the show was opening Sunday, a freak storm with strong winds blew up out of nowhere. I was horrified when I actually saw one of my weights -- a big bin full of kitty litter -- become airborne. I'm sorry, but if the wind is strong enough to take out something that heavy, nothing short of Super Glue is going to hold down little sparkly pieces of jewelry! The most terrifying moment came when we were struggling to take down the tent walls -- yes, they kept out the rain, but made the wind worse -- and an entire folding table upended, spewing earrings and bracelets all over the ground.

I'm still working on solutions for serious storms going forward -- if you've got a great tip for windproof jewelry displays that also create height and visual interest, I'd love to hear it! At this point, the best advice I can offer is to have a well-staffed table. I had a friend helping me but we needed more than two people to hold everything down during the worst of the storm. I really regretted sending my boyfriend home after he was finished helping me haul everything -- a third pair of hands probably would've saved the table when my friend and I were racing to get the walls down.

Be flexible regarding your setup. I did a test run, in my living room, of my tent's layout, finally settling on an L-shaped configuration of tables and easels with the entrance at the front and me at the back. When I arrived at the park at oh-my-god-o'clock Saturday morning to set up, I was shown to my spot and the person in charge casually mentioned, "oh, and people will be coming into your tent from both sides so you'll want people to be able to pass through the tent." Uh, OK then! So, on the fly I rearranged my setup so that the tables were on either side of the tent, and people could walk right through. It worked out OK, but next time I'll arrive armed with a few different setup ideas just in case of unexpected layout requirements.

Yep, there's the kitty litter bin that went airborne. Also, midway through Saturday I realized that everyone was entering only on one side of the tent and no one really had felt the need to pass through. So I moved my sign to where people could actually see it.

If the weather turns really bad, you also may need to redefine your idea of a functional display. I finally committed the cardinal sin of laying some necklaces flat on the table, and just dealt with it. Did it look bad? Kind of.... but not as bad as having broken necklaces because the easel they're hanging on keeps blowing over despite being pounded into the ground and tied down in three places.

My lovely necklace display, which had to be scrapped when the rain and wind hit Sunday.

Bring more rope, tape, and tools than you think you'll need. At the last minute, I ran out and grabbed a roll of duct tape and some of those big black plastic binder clips like they have at the office. I wasn't sure if I'd need them, but decided to have them on hand just in case. And I wouldn't have made it through the weekend without those two items. The binder clips were great for attaching displays to my table and clipping down my blowing tablecloths... and, well, duct tape solves everything, right?

Sunblock, sunblock, sunblock. As a pale-faced goth who truly prefers to stay pasty white, I am religious about slathering myself with SPF 1,000,000 whenever outside. But it's funny how quickly thoughts of protecting one's skin go out the window when one is more concerned about holding up one's displays and accounting for all the jewelry that just spewed onto the ground in a big old tangle. Yeah, I'm rocking an awesome sunburn on my back right now, since the sun came out and I apparently was sweating off my sunblock faster than I could reapply it.

You can't control some things. The weather, for example. Or, whether other sellers don't weight and stake their tents, which keep falling over into your space. (though, there was one crafter who brought extra weights for those who needed them -- not a bad idea if you happen to have extras lying around!) Or, whether almost every other vendor at the show elects not to ride out the storm, packs up, and leaves. I chose to stay, and I'm glad I did. The day turned sunny, and shoppers started trickling in. But they were expecting a lot more vendors than the six of us who decided to stick it out until the end, and every one of them told me, "I thought this show would be bigger." That's out of my control, though, and all I can do is hope that, next year, Mother Nature is a little kinder to us.

Got a great craft show horror story or lesson learned? I'd love to hear it!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Just a quick note for the Chicagoans...

I'm excited to announce that I'll be doing my first outdoor craft show this coming weekend -- the Crafters Round-up! The show runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7 and Sunday, Aug. 8 in Chase Park, Ashland and Leland (a block or so south of Lawrence) on Chicago's north side. If you're in the area, stop by and check out the work of lots of talented local crafters!

It's been.... an "adventure" getting ready for this show. I've done shows before, but small indoor ones where you get one table, not anything where you need to fill a 10 x 10 tent attractively. I took all of last week off from the Day Job and got to work tackling my HUGE to-do list -- which, I'm proud to say, did actually get done!

Also, I had to finally break down and buy a tent (which is a good thing -- I've skipped applying for other summertime shows because I didn't have a tent yet). My ever-supportive boyfriend and I discovered, during our trial run setting it up, that "EZ-Up" is definitely a misnomer! hahahaha. Living in a small condo, we had no space to set it up, so we hauled the thing to the elementary school parking lot across the street from us and set the thing up there, amid much cursing and squinting at directions. We got some VERY strange looks from the neighborhood dog walkers!

I thought about adding some of my best craft show success tips here, but as of today, I don't know that I've got anything new to say. Stand up and smile in your booth -- check! Create levels with your merch instead of laying it all flat on your table -- check! Weigh down your tent -- check! So, instead of rehashing all of that, I'm going to tell you all, after I've survived this show, what I learned and what I'd do differently next time. I have a feeling I'm going to learn a LOT. And, yes, there will be pictures!

Just keep your fingers crossed for me that we don't have another one of our violent storms with sideways downpours and 80-mph winds, yes?