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.


Linda Starr said...

I could never afford to go to a show with those expenses, nor could I make the inventory needed. I've been doing my local farmer's market, two miles from my home so it is extremely convenient. The cost for a covered booth (10 x 18 with electricity) is about $250 for the season (June through October) Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. I have yet to go on Tuesdays. I just got a permanent spot about six weeks ago (there are 89 vendors both food and arts/crafts). My income is steadily increasing and I know I could double my income if I take credit cards, hope to invest in that soon. People are now asking "will you be here next Saturday"? Several local stores now want to carry my work and lots of folks are becoming repeat customers and others are referring folks to me. There is another potter at the market but he makes a completely different type of work than I do. A soap vendor started purchasing some of my mini ribbon vases and leaf plates to package with her soaps and wants more. We have a lot of tourists in this area so every Saturday different people show up to the market.

Do you have a farmer's market near you? The income isn't nearly as much as an art or craft show but slow and steady selling retail direct and building a local customer base, I am finding, is really worth my time.

Lori Watts said...

There is a farmer's market in Augusta but I find my prices, although modest for studio pottery, are too much for my impoverished city. The farmer's market in Portland might be able to support these price points, but it is 58 miles away: more costs, more time, and I can only bring so much ware, with display, in my Kia.
Still, might try it in the fall.

Tracey Broome said...

Hence the reason I quit and got a job at a garden shop! After I did my taxes last year, I felt like a dumbass for how hard I worked, how much spent and then to get so little in return. Now I go to work, love the guys I work with, love the beautiful plants, the farmers that shop with us, the gardeners. Mostly love the money that goes into my bank account every two weeks
I don't miss the "show business" one dang bit!

Michèle Hastings said...

Those are some interesting numbers on average sales at the top shows. Thank you for sharing that info.
My partner and I have considered doing more shows. We currently do 2-3 small shows a year and two larger ones. Only one of the larger shows involves a high booth fee and big travel expenses. We are doing ok with a combination of the shows, online sales, some consignment & wholesale, along with our own studio sales gallery... but we would like to do a little more than ok!

Linda Starr said...

Lori, I raised the prices of some of my work for the farmer's market; there are some who are drawn to the work but look at the prices and walk out but there are also some who snatch pieces up and don't bat an eyelash. Some have told me they've been looking for a special or unique piece for quite some time and I suspect they are splurging on a meager budget. Some potter's in this area have a more muted or earthy pallete and folks have remarked they like my brighter, variable glaze colors and contemporary style of pottery; you might find the same to be true in your area. I have a mid sized SUV so that helps, but packing and unpacking is a drag, we wish we could afford a small trailer so we can keep it all packed up but that's somewhere off in the distance.

Nancy Blokland said...

As I go into show season, this is my ongoing internal debate, shows or stores, or just hang it up. For this season I am doing shows, but trying to decrease costs by adding in stops along the way for other reasons, or hotel or gas sharing by carpooling, which is tough unless I carpool with a jeweller. It is not an easy road we have chosen, that is for sure!!!