There are a lot of choices and dilemmas we face as artists and craftsmen… some are easy, some not so much! Choosing whether to participate in a first year event is one of those situations I’ll put in the “dilemma” category! Certainly every year brings plenty of these first year shows to the table and of course even the most established, profitable event out there was once a first year show. The real question for exhibitors is how do I decide whether these events are even worth considering even when the cost to participate is free!
Certainly I’ve participated in some of these events myself over the years with mixed results… and as the publisher of “Where The Shows Are!!!” we get several of them that would like to be listed every year too. I’ve had some exhibitors tell me to not even list the show until it’s a proven event with a few years under the belt. Of course that wouldn’t be fair… we do need to give events a chance to get started! In fact, it’s to everyone’s advantage to do just that because it continually provided new opportunity. Using that same line of thought, show sponsors would never give new exhibitors a chance either. But weighing the pros and cons of participation can help you make a good decision you can live with.
All first year shows are a risky proposition. Well if I had to create rule number one… this is it! The event has absolutely no track record so we’re going to have to start considering all the other factors that may influence it’s success. We have to start comparing it to some of the events where we’ve had good sales in the past to see if maybe this one stands any kind of a chance. Let’s take a look at what a few of those considerations might actually be.
1. Does the sponsor of the event have any experience? This is a very important consideration. Although it’s a rare occurrence when a first year show if a real “barn burner” of an event… but it does happen once in a while. Usually if it does happen the show sponsors have done this kind of thing before. So although there may be some mis-steps and odd moments, the vast majority of those will probably be minimized because an experienced sponsor can anticipate and alleviate these kind of situations. Advertising will most likely be placed in the right kind of media, spaces will be laid out correctly, security will be handled well, load in and load out will be orderly and smooth… these are the things we take for granted at most shows… but they take experience and planning along with a fair anticipation of potential pitfalls that may occur. So we have to ask ourselves, how many shows has this sponsor successfully promoted? What kind of locations did they have before? Have those events been successful? What are other exhibitors telling you about the skill of this show sponsor? And here it’s necessary to investigate thoroughly because some show sponsors lie about there things! Make sure to the best of your ability that what you are hearing is something you’re able to verify!
2. Has the location had successful events in the past? You may want to take a look through some of the past editions of our book to see if a particular location has had good shows recently. There are some locations that have had multiple show sponsors over the years. In Florida I can quickly think of several malls and places like Fisherman’s Village, the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. At these locations you as an exhibitor know who is promoting the show… but the public has no idea. All they know is that there is another event taking place and maybe it will be good to check it out. Another variable in the location consideration is the idea of a “spin-off” show. The most obvious of these I’ve seen is in Thurmont, MD at the Colors event. This show originally started off in a small park in the downtown area with a handful of exhibitors almost 40 years ago. Today there are at least six spin-off shows that we list in “Where The Shows Are!!!” and every year we find even more! It’s been a few years since I’ve been to the show, but the last time I was there almost 1400 exhibitors and the original event is just a small part of the show with maybe a 150 of those exhibitors. In fact, if you didn’t know it was actually the original show you may not even know it was there! People who attend today probably don’t even realize that the show actually started with this small group of exhibitors. Every year new show sponsors open up more space at the show and the customers quite frankly don’t know where one show starts and another stops. So if someone new opened up space at the Colors Festival in Thurmont, MD I’d definitely recommend grabbing a space because the success is not dependent upon the sponsor.
3. What else is going on at the same time as this first year event? Lets face it… if you can get into a well established event where you are pretty much assured of a good crowd, a reasonable entry fee and decent sales, why would you take a chance with a first year show? For that matter… even if they offered you the show for free it may not be the best deal. After all… the fee you pay isn’t nearly as important as the relationship that expense has to the amount of money you can make! A $5.00 show fee is expensive if you only have $10.00 in sales. A $500.00 show fee is cheap if you can gross $10,000.00. It’s all about risk vs. return. If on the other hand all that is available are mediocre shows anyway… or the closest decent show is 250 miles away, and the first year show has decent advertising promised… it’s convenient and the fee is low… then you may want to give it some thought. But quite frankly it’s not worth risking a known decent show for something that might work out.
4. How much does it cost? Well we kind of covered this in the last point… but the reality is that sometimes you don’t have the money to lay out for that big show even though it’s clearly a better deal. Your own current financial situation does have some bearing on your decision to try a less viable show because you can afford to participate. What must be avoided are brand new shows… with inexperienced sponsors… that cost a lot of money. That’s just plain crazy!
5. What kind of advertising is being done? Here is another area that can make a big difference as to the potential of the show. I’m not talking about what kind of advertising are they promising… talk is cheap! But the advertising they have actually spent cold hard money to obtain! A few public service spots on the local cable channel and a couple of recycled real estate signs with “Show Today” scribbled in permanent marker is not “extensive” advertising. Since it’s not usually necessary to apply even weeks in advance for first year shows then you can sit back and see just how much of the “promised” advertising is actually coming to fruition. I’ve heard sponsors talk about extensive newspaper, radio, TV and internet advertising millions of times. And how they are going to really hit those media hard! Most of the time they haven’t really priced it… or they are planning on using the money from entry fees to pay for it… the trouble is that the cart truly does have to come before the horse. A show sponsor has to be prepared to spend all this money out of pocket the first couple of years a show takes place because most of it has to be purchased long before the entry fees will every start coming into an account. And the established media have been burned by this kind of thinking many times before so they won’t issue any kind of credit!
6. Have you been rejected by the more established shows? It would be great if we were accepted into every big show we applied to… but of course that doesn’t happen to anyone! So here you are… you counted on that big event… it’s the one you do every year… but this year instead of your good old booth space and that acceptance letter you planned on the postman delivered your “dear John” letter from your favorite show! Now everyone else is full and you still need to make money. Well there is always that new show you heard about. Chances are you can get in last minute and heck it’s only a few miles away. Of course you have to be somewhat cautious but you wouldn’t be the first exhibitor to get a rejection letter nor would you be the first one to try a new show. So here you go! One thing is for sure… if you stay home you definitely will make nothing! You’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen this situation. Even the most established exhibitors you see at the best shows will get caught every once in a while and take their second or even third choice for a show. Who knows… it may just turn out great because you’ll probably have the best work in the whole event!
7. What other activities does the show have going on? Occasionally I’ve seen show sponsors jump off the deep end and try to have six million activities happening at an event in order to draw in warm bodies! They have a car show, a dog show, the local high school band, the karate club down the street, Indian dancers, the local hula group, a football team, the little league, the Boy Scouts, parachute jumping, a fishing contest… you name it! It’s a desperate attempt to get someone in the door!!! That doesn’t mean these types of things can’t help… but when a new show advertises every activity known to man it usually means they either can’t decide what they want to promote or they do everything half way and it all turns out to be a disaster! Furthermore from the standpoint of an exhibitor, your main goal is to sell your work. When there is so much distraction going on people tend to come for the free stuff and leave their money behind. Even if you’re lucky enough to get a good crowd of people they usually aren’t there to see you or spend anything with you. Fireworks at a Fourth of July show is a good example that can add deception to even an established show. The event will advertise attendance of 100,000 people. And they are correct! What they didn’t tell you is that the crowd doesn’t get there until 9pm… they go straight to where the fireworks are being displayed and then as soon as the show is over they go right back to their cars and go home. The rest of the day you could shoot a shotgun down the aisles between the booths and no one would ever get hurt!
The moral of this story is to make sure the activities taking place are conducive to sales of your work and that those activities will draw a crowd who might be interested in doing something other than watching flash powder explode or enjoying little “Bobby” play in the band!
8. Is this really an art or craft show? Sometimes I’ve seen events start an art or craft section in some sort of an event that is well established but has never had art or crafts at it before. Occasionally this works! A good example is the “Turkey Rod Run” in Daytona Beach over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Some years ago the wives of some of the hot rodders decided they needed something to do other than listen to the roar of engines so they started a crafts section in the “pits” area. Surprisingly it worked pretty well and although it’s not going to compete with a dedicated arts or crafts event, exhibitors have done fairly well there over the years with the right kind of work. On the other hand, you owe it to yourself to make sure that you aren’t just being suckered in to someone’s plan to grab your money and prostitute the hopes of exhibitors. In the same town as the “Turkey Rod Run” takes place you’ll also find Bike Week and the big NASCAR races! These events attract hundreds of thousands of people and those people spend millions of dollars while there are in Daytona. You’ll find lots and lots of people willing to rent you space but in reality… unless you happen to have a very specialized type of work along with a high tolerance for alcohol and cigarettes you probably will just come home exhausted and broke! There isn’t a lot of artwork changing hands unless it happens to be in the form or a tatoo!
Make sure that even if there are lots of people and it’s a well established event… it makes sense that the people attending will be interested in the type of thing you sell.
9. Do the event sponsors seem honest? It may come down to your “gut feeling” about the show sponsor. Some first time show sponsors have the honest intention of starting a great show… and if they are completely honest with you… don’t tend to overstate what they are doing and it seems that their outlook and expectation for the first year are in line with what you know first year events usually consist of then you may want to give them a try. This sometimes works out well because you get a foothold into an event that in a few years may be impossible to even get a space. If the sponsors are willing to recognize this is a kind of commitment on your part for a future commitment on their part then this could be the beginning of something beneficial for the both of you. Just as some show sponsors from established events “cut a break” to an artist or craftsman who seems extremely promising… you can “cut a break” to a show that seems to have a similar promise. Here at “Where The Shows Are!!!” we’ve tried to do the same thing for events that we believe have good promise too. Every year we get calls from new events and most of them have good intentions. But occasionally we get calls from people who just seem to be crooks wanting to enlist our good name so they can rob your of entry money. We aren’t perfect any more than you are and sometimes we get duped! But mostly just remember if the promises are too good and the “pitch” is just too strong to make sense… then it probably is just that and no matter how good it seems… do yourself a favor and walk away!
It doesn’t make sense to avoid all first year shows as some will doubtlessly turn into those fantastic shows that have a two year waiting list! But it also makes sense to be somewhat guarded and be as certain as you can that at least you won’t “lose your shirt” trying out something new. Make sure to check out the show sponsors, take a good look at the location, consider some of the points we made earlier in the article and then ultimately make your best decision. ALL first year event involve risk! To make themselves attractive to exhibitors they must offer things that more established events don’t have to offer. Whether that offer is price, flexibility with applications, last minute acceptance, prime booth spaces or whatever. It all becomes a balance or risk vs. reward. If you’re going to take that extra risk make sure you’re getting something extra from the sponsor in return!