by Linda Katz
I've been making and selling beaded jewelry and clocks for about 20 years.
My clocks were a by-product of trying to make pins -- the pins were getting to be too large so I just made them into clocks. (You can make a clock out of anything you can put a hole in -- and I have with paper plates, gift bags, tin cans, paper mache masks, records, CDs, postcards, etc.)
I started selling jewelry to support my bead habit. I started with craft shows. I have done inside, outside, churches, schools, flea markets, day and nights. I've had great success selling to people I work with in offices; one-on-one works much better for me than trying to stand out in a crowd at a show. There is always so much beaded jewelry at shows these days.
I've started to use found objects and hardware in my clocks and jewelry. I think my pieces appeal to people with a sense of humor. That's one way to stand out.
Pricing is always hard and always an issue. You want to be sure to be paid for your materials, but getting paid for your time is hard. And I think people often forget to factor in the cost of traveling to and from shows (whether you're selling or buying supplies) and the materials you need for packing and displaying.
Because I often sell at lower level shows I don't have an expensive, formal display set-up. I vary it for the occasion.
Outdoor shows require materials that can be tied or weighted down to protect from wind, and tarps or tents to protect from rain, heat, and sun. I use odd items for displaying jewelry -- earrings hanging from wire objects, on cards pinned to cork boards, on little lucite stands. I look for interesting pieces at flea markets and junk stores.
I have found that it's harder to sell expensive pieces at casual shows. Sometimes you're competing with third-world imports that are very cheap. And since I don't take credit cards, I have to think about how much cash most people walk around in.
Also, I have found that women tend to buy jewelry to go with what they are currently wearing. And when I've done Christmas shows, they want to buy for themselves, but need to spend their money on gifts.
I favor the "less is more" approach to displaying jewelry. As a customer, I am turned off by too much merchandise. I think it is more interesting and easier to spot items when you have a few on your table, as opposed to piles that people have to paw through. I can always bring out more if they are interested in a specific color or style. Every red earring does not have to be on the table at one time.
While shows can be exhausting - packing, unpacking, shleping, etc. - it's interesting to see your competition up close, and to talk to customers. You need to be alert and attract customers to your booth by talking to them as they go by; comment on the color of their shirt, or the jewelry they are wearing.
My clocks have not sold as well as my jewelry. I am a clock collector myself so I make what I would buy and not too many people share my taste, I guess. But the clocks often attract people to my booth - they are larger and can be seen from a distance, and are unusual enough to start a conversation. If you can start a conversation, you can make a sale.
One last piece of advice: come to shows prepared to adjust jewelry. Bring tools and findings in case you need to change pierced earrings to clip earrings, or gold findings to silver findings. If you can't do it there, offer to get together with the customer at another time with an adjusted product. I've met more than one customer at a coffee shop with an adjusted item and others to give them a chance to buy something different.
Flexibility is important when you're selling at shows. You need to be prepared for weather, lighting issues, space adjustments, and boredom. Just because you're not having a good day, don't discourage potential customers by giving up; don't ignore, don't complain in front of them, and don't assume that a looker is not a buyer.