Sunday, August 23, 2015

Making Art, and Making Money

Check out this list. I'll wait.

Top 25 Fine Craft Show ranked by average sales

These are the top craft shows in the nation. I am a little bit comforted in a misery-loves-company way, because I always thought my take, back when I did these sorts of events, was way below average. It was, but not ridiculously so. And I'm a potter, my raw number is always going to be lower than the jewelers or clothing folks.
But: think for a second how much it costs to do one of these shows, between booth fees, gas, hotels, and meals. Take, just for a ferinstance, the Smithsonian Show. The lowest booth fee is $1265. Might as well add in the application fee, that's a cost of doing the show, too. Now think about getting a hotel room for five nights - in or around Washington DC. Even the Super 8's and the Motel 6's are spendy; let's say $150 a night. You could maybe get a room for less but you can't write luck into the plan. And food: realistically, you aren't going to eat peanut butter sandwiches in your room every meal. And food vendors at the event are always overpriced. You could maybe - if you are super-frugal - get away with spending $25 a day on food & drink, but I think $30 is more realistic. I've got a travel day on either end so that's about $180 for six days of bad food. It's about 1200 miles, plus some noodling around town to go to Lowes and buy lights or duct tape or whatever, and back & forth from the show to the hotel every day - might be pretty far if you need a cheap hotel. I'd have to be driving a truck or van so let's say 18 MPG. So we've got about $250 in gas.
It looks like this:

  • Application fee $50
  • Booth fee $1265
  • Hotel $750 and you know there's gonna be some bullshit hotel tax in there, too.
  • Bad food $180
  • Gas $250
  • Probably some bullshit parking costs, too, let's say $40
 $2535. That's all money you have to spend whether you see a dollar from the show or not. Most of it you have to come up with well in advance. Now, the average take from the Smithsonian is $5983. (When I was your age, a show didn't even count as "good" unless we made ten times the booth fee. That's not even five times the booth fee! The fees have gone up a lot more than the sales. The venues, they still get their money. The organizers, even the non-profit ones, their share hasn't dropped. When shit falls, it always fall on the little guy.) It's important to remember, too, that half of the artists will come in below average - although that's not for sure, there may be someone pulling the average down with a ridiculously low number. More likely, though, is that there's someone pulling the average up with a ridiculously high number. We've all been at that art fair where the artist in the booth across the aisle makes $20,000, whereas the low can never be lower than zero.

But I digress. Let's pretend we went to this show and sold a little less than average, because we know the jewelers tend to make the most, and not by a little. Let's say $5000. Subtract $2535 and get $2500. (ish) Most sales are credit or debit cards now, so let's add in conservative processing fees of $100, or 2%, on our 5k in sales, leaving $2400.

Half of your retail will cover your making costs and overhead, so now we've got $1200. This is not a terrible number, if you think of it as pay for 5 days' work; but if you think of it as your paycheck for the six weeks leading up to the show - the time it took to make the work and prepare for the show - well, now it is less impressive. And that's not including opportunity costs: the work you could have made in the six days the show took up.

I guess my point is, this shit is hard. It's not just me. These numbers matter, because I am still weighing a transition to doing art fairs more than wholesale/ consignment, and I need to assess it in a hard-headed way. I haven't yet bought a van, and before I do I want to make sure I'm not following faerie lights.
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