Megan Auman is a designer, maker, Etsy seller, and the founder of Crafting an MBA. She is currently working on her first ebook, a comprehensive guide to wholesaling and trade shows. Tara Gentile is a blogger, WordPress designer and mom. She shares her penchant for the handmade daily on Scoutie Girl and shares the behind-the-scenes gossip at Write Well, Create Often.
Tara: When I have the opportunity to attend a big show like the Buyers Market of American Craft, I’ve got my mind on two things: meeting my Etsy crushes and discovering new favorites.
I had the privilege of attending this prestigious show with Megan Auman. It’s not open to the public, but I was invited as “press” — what an ego trip — and Megan attended to scout out the show for her new blog, Crafting an MBA. The Buyers Market is a wholesale show connecting crafters with buyers from boutiques and galleries all around the country and has recently made a strong effort to attract the “indie craft” crowd. While we can certainly see value in great craft of all types, it’s important to exhibit your work in an environment that will attract people interested in buying your work. Keep reading for some tips that we’ve learned over the years.
In a show with over 900 booths and craftspeople from all over the country, knowing what you’re interested in and who you want to meet is a necessity as a buyer. Via her experience, Megan may have a more honed and critical eye — but I think we both attend shows with the ability to completely block out what doesn’t interest us, so the key is to stand out.
Megan: A professor once told me that at a show the size of the Buyer’s Market, the typical buyer will have about 30 seconds to spend in your booth. This means that if something doesn’t catch their eye in the five seconds they spend walking by, they probably won’t stop. I’ve found this to be true both as someone walking through a show and as an exhibitor. Fortunately there are some great ways to help draw traffic into your booth. As Tara talks about what grabbed our attention, my goal is to help you apply those concepts to your own booth. Of the booths that we stopped in, we decided to pick three that help demonstrate principles for getting seen by wholesale buyers and press at a show like this.
We began the show in the jewelry area — shows are broken down by discipline to give some semblance of order to the maze of booths — and after quickly passing through the first aisle, we made our first stop.
Tara: Lo and behold — my first Etsy crush of the day — Foundling! Betsy of Foundling couldn’t have been nicer and more open to chatting it up with a couple of like-minded gals. As far as I’m concerned, that’s lesson number one: If you can’t show interest in the people who are perusing your booth, you should reconsider doing shows.
Betsy had a simple setup. She utilized several hanging displays made from framed chicken wire and a simple table to show necklaces and rings. Her table stood confidently at the aisle, showcasing the smaller pieces for busy shoppers. Betsy also had large photographs of her work around the booth to catch a potential buyer’s eye from further away. Betsy was standing at the front of her booth, ready to welcome buyers with her professionally printed postcards and business cards.
The main reason we stopped at Foundling’s booth was because of her brand. Foundling can be found all over Etsy (she was a Featured Seller in January of 2009) and the blogosphere. Betsy’s done an excellent job of growing her web presence and I was excited to be able to meet her and see her work in person after seeing so many photos. Megan takes this example and answers the question: How do you work on building your brand with a wholesale show in mind?
Tip #1. Build your brand before you get to a show. Its not only important to get your work seen, but to get your work seen by potential buyers. Luckily many shoppers are visiting Etsy in pursuit of interesting work, so it certainly helps to build your profile here. The more places you can get your work displayed before doing a craft show, the better. I did retail craft shows for a few years before diving into wholesale and this really helped build my fan base. You may also see a boost in show traffic from a well-placed blog feature in the month or so leading up to the show. Tara has a great post on her blog about how to get “found” by blog editors.
Tara: Not only does Foundling have a great presence on Etsy, but she also has a great website, blog, and gallery on Flickr. Her brand can be found in all of the places where you’ll be looking for something awesome. Twitter and Facebook are also great opportunities to build your brand, promote an event you’ll be at and find press. Although I get many email submissions daily, I find most of my features via social networking and artists’ personal blogs. Connect with me and I’ll connect with you!
Another booth I was thrilled to see was Beehive Kitchenware. I remembered this awesome husband-and-wife home decor company from an interview that Amy (littlealouette) had done with them on Scoutie Girl.
What I really liked about this booth was how it felt like a little shop. Sandra and Jim used a variety of techniques to display their products: some appearing as they would on your kitchen counter, others as they would appear in your curio cabinet (do people still use those?), and still more staged neatly in retail-friendly arrangements. As an onlooker, the booth was incredibly interesting — as a buyer, I’m sure it allowed you to imagine the goods in your own store.
Tip #2. Utilize the “two-foot rule” to attract attention. All the booths included in this article were great examples of the “two-foot rule.” That is, they put their most interesting products within two feet of the aisle. While it may be tempting to make a beautiful focal point farther back, most buyers and press never notice the back wall as they rush by. If you don’t have something up front to grab their attention, they’ll probably keep on walkin’.
Tara: Of course, Megan and I both let our Etsy friends know we were going to be at Buyers Market — in fact, we asked who wanted us to stop by! A few people let us know exactly where to find them, supplying their section area and booth number. Lori Magno, a.k.a. modadimagno, asked us to visit and we were only too happy to comply. When we got to Lori’s booth we found a beautiful display of her precious metal clay jewelry. She shared a booth with Christine Street, a.k.a. chocolateandsteel. These ladies originally met through the Etsy Metal Clay Team, decided to exhibit as a duo at the summer Buyers Market, and ended up sharing a booth for this show.
But the beauty of Etsy is that these ladies, from opposite coasts, have both a friendly and professional relationship. They covered the booth deftly and promoted each other to press and buyers alike. It’s so wonderful to see the kind of relationships that we work hard to develop online displayed in “real life.”
Tip #3. Just ask. If you really want a member of the press or a buyer to stop by, then you should invite them to do so before the show. When we went to the show, I had a list of booth numbers that I had to visit because someone asked me to. Would I have stopped in that booth if it wasn’t on my list? I can’t say, but I made sure I stopped by everyone that asked me to. It’s a good idea to send information (usually in the form of a postcard) to all your current and prospective accounts and press contacts with the show name and booth number prior to the show. But don’t stop there — if you really want a store or member of the press to stop by, contact them personally. With buyers, you can even schedule an appointment for them to review your line at a set time during the day.
While these tips may be geared for a wholesale show, you can certainly draw lessons and ideas from them to apply to your retail craft markets this season and even to your online shops. Consider what building your brand, rearranging your booth, and inviting people to visit might do for your business! You can read more about our finds at the Buyers Market over on Tara’s blog, Scoutie Girl. If you’re looking for more useful tips for building your crafts business, be sure to check out Megan’s blog, Crafting an MBA.