Wish I had paid more attention to this show sooner. This was the 25th Annual Columbia Festival of the Arts, and I just discovered what a nice show it is! The art festival portion of the event was small and cozy, about 40 exhibitors with good quality art. The setting was lovely, the entertainment was lively, and the food vendors were a cut above most festival foods. I partook of a little too much, but how can you say no to a "crabby melt" which is a gooey, crab-filled, grilled cheese on sourdough sandwich? But what impressed me most was the corp of volunteers. This is one of those shows where you can't drive your car to your space. Which is not that unusual, that's why we artists come armed with dollies. However, I barely had to lift a finger to transport my display, because the volunteers did it for me! Throughout the show, the volunteers asked me at least once an hour if I needed to take a break. I felt pampered. And of course, I would not be praising a show if the sales had only been ok. This was a pottery-liking crowd and sales were very good! Here's a photo of the festival grounds along Lake Kittamaqundi, on Sunday morning before the show opened, when the first band is warming up and the crowd is starting to arrive.
I actually thought for a long time whether I should write about this on my blog. I consider this such a powerful tool for selling my pottery, I almost didn't want to share it. I know it works because I started doing this in 2009, and while the economy was sucker-punching so many other arts businesses, my business was growing like crazy, rapidly overtaking my design business. Funny I should mention design, because this is about design. My secret is ...
At my first BMAC in 2009, which was possibly the worst BMAC of the recession, gallery buyers were also dealing with struggling sales. They were looking for something new, and my work was new to them. It's possible that buyers didn't even notice the hangtags at first. Their presence is very subtle. But when I would make a point to mention "all of the pots will ship with these hangtags," buyers responded "nice." Some even commented that they really appreciated my sense of presentation, they needed more of that in their stores. At the end of that show, while all the other artists were feeling glum, I was feeling good and thinking I'm going to quit my design job soon.
2009 was my first BMAC, but it was not my first wholesale trade show. I spent 2007 and 2008 at the ACC Wholesale show. I did ok there, my business was still developing so I made some rookie mistakes. After shipping my work to these galleries, it felt like I would never hear from them again. My work must be dying out there. I knew I was good at selling my own pots when I was standing right next to them. If only I could travel with them to these galleries to be their salesperson! This is where the idea of hangtags began. Now I send the pots out into the world with a little salesperson attached. All of my pottery designs contain a great deal of thought, but most of that is invisible to a customer. The hangtags help to reveal my thoughts. They tell you that the pot has a name, and sometimes a sentence or two about them. But overall, I think the most important thing that a hangtag says is "the person who made this pot is really proud of it."
Again, I know it works because after I started using hangtags in 2009, not only did my wholesale sales grow by a lot, that was also when galleries began re-ordering from me. I also began doing this for my pots at art festivals, and while all the other artists were moaning about poor sales, all of my show sales remained steady or improved during the worst of the recession.
So I decided there was no danger in revealing my secret weapon, because every artist who wants to take advantage of this idea still needs to execute the idea well. A hangtag that is clumsy or amateurish won't improve anyone's sales. Might even hurt sales. Just because someone is a good potter, doesn't mean they can handle typography. Or non-verbally project a mood or attitude. Just another reason to be glad I studied design in college.
Also, not every artist will want to make the effort. Hangtags are a little bit time-consuming. Earlier this year I tried to figure out which hangtags I need, and how many, for an entire year. Then I spent about 3 hours designing, printing, and painstakingly cutting them. I predict I'll need to do this again in the fall, in a smaller quantity.
It also takes some time to attach them to each pot, which I do with wire or glue dots.
By the way, when I wrote The Hourly Earnings Project, I did not include the hours spent to produce the hangtags, because I couldn't logically divide the time spent per wholesale order or art festival. However, I did include the time I spent attaching the hangtags to the pots for each of the Hourly Earnings calculations.
To all the working potters who want to challenge yourselves to grow your business this year, get thee to an art supply store and buy a paper cutter!
Mea Rhee (mee-uh ree),
American Craft Council
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