The rabbit warren-like labyrinth of rooms leading off the main hallway and dining area of the church basement were filled with ten foot tables laden with cottage crafted wares. From cat toys to candles and Christmas décor to carefully framed photos, and carved wooden roses, the facility served as a microcosm of the mainstream business world. Citizens from varied backgrounds had set up shop, their mini stores stocked with custom-designed creations or offerings from Avon, Watkins or other major corporations they represented.
Held at churches, clubs, and schools across the country most often from October through Christmas but sometimes also in spring and summer, craft shows can be a fun way to spend a day, shopping for special items for ones-self or great gifts for friends.
The view from behind the table, just as in any retail store, is a bit different from the shopper’s experience—a study of human nature and the rules, or, rather, sometimes, random effect of merchandising.
Some general guidelines are important, like providing a neat display with prices clearly marked. Other than that, customer preferences can be difficult to predict. For example: scarves flew off my table at earlier shows this season, so I spent the past week making more. Today, they lay glued to their position, the only interest in them shown by a young girl, who waved a loop design, leopard patterned scarf, proclaiming how pretty it was and emphasizing it’s five dollar price tag. The girl’s mother was long gone, and was waving her to “come on”. The scarf was returned to it’s place on the table.
Comments from lookers can be entertaining over the long hours spent hoping for crowds of customers. The top one today was the lady who said she couldn’t purchase a catnip toy as a Christmas present for her cat, because, “Shakespeare would be jealous.” Upon inquiry it was determined that Shakespeare was a turtle—and after all, as the lady stated, “What can one get a turtle for Christmas?”
And there’s always one irresistible item that everyone who walks past picks up and examines in great detail, offering words of praise. Yet no one wants to own it, even if the price is miniscule. On this day, mine was a two dollar light bulb shaped bottle filled with baubles and embellished with the words, “You light up my life,”. I thought it was a unique gift idea, and indeed I did sell one at the last show, but apparently not too many people are enlightening the lives of others these days.
Many times a customer will mull over an item for some time, ask to know it’s entire life history, return repeatedly to admire it, then never purchase it.
But then there are customers at the opposite end of the spectrum. Free spirited impulse buyers, or those who see something they’ve been seeking, or simply must have. Two stood out today, renewing my spirits as I sat in the doldrums of a long sale-less spell.
First, from out of the blue, a customer shouted “I’ll take this picture!” She stood around the corner at the other end of my table, where I hadn’t even noticed her. She was requesting my largest framed photo and the one I was most proud of. I had given up hope of finding it a home. The lady told me of her plans to renovate her family room using a barn theme. She was delighted with the barn’s beautiful reflection in the water, and the lovely pond scene overall.
A few minutes later I heard, “There it is,” as a lady looked down lovingly at my table. “My daughter told me to look for one of these,” she said, as she touched a berry patterned pouch for holding plastic bags, and happily handed me a ten dollar bill.
There’s likely a buyer for nearly every offering, but the difficulty lies in luring a large enough crowd of serious shoppers to each venue.
Such is the life of a craft show exhibitor. Significant profits seem rare, in these days of cheap imported items, seeming lack of appreciation by the general public for unique, handmade goods, and the underemployment of many in today’s economy, leaving little disposable income. Then too, some shoppers focus on the internet.
Peddling crafts at community events today is quite unlike thirty years ago, according to veteran crafters who tell tales of having nothing left to pack up at the end of the day. Some shows do bring reasonable gains, unfortunately others fail to support the ever-increasing fees charged for table space.
But there’s always the camaraderie with other crafters and customers, the traditional lunches of shredded chicken, sloppy joes, or hot dogs, and most of all, the opportunity to showcase the results of one’s creative self-expression, and the ability to be a business owner without the cost of overhead on an ongoing basis.
That’s why we who are compelled to create stay up late painting , sewing, knitting, potting, or pasting, practicing our chosen craft, then rise at five on Saturdays to set up our space and await the day’s fate.