artsandcrafsHow much do I hate selling my handmade goods at Art fairs?  Let me count the ways. When I began this adventure of starting my own business three or so years ago, I didn’t realize how all-encompassing it was going to be and by all-encompassing I mean in the amount of work and discipline it takes 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  My immediate goal was to make as many purses, pieces of jewelry and pillows as I could.  Marketing and building my customer base was the farthest thing from my mind until I did my first art fair during the holiday season in 2011.

Being self-employed in this economy is tough and starting a business might not be the best idea now.  But it’s also tough finding a good paying job that fits both your skill level and value system (believe me, I tried for a year right after after the economy tanked in 2008 which is why I had to leave NYC).  Hence, the decision to create Urban Rhythm Designs.

For the past few years I’ve had the attitude of *if you make it they will come but then I came to the realization that there were a lot of other people making things and hoping they will come to them too.  The homemade art business has flourished in the past several years. People are unemployed and doing anything they can to make a little extra money.  Etsy, which is a site that allows people to sell their handmade goods, has approximately 800,000 sellers.  It makes you wonder how, as an artist or designer, you stand out?

One way to get your business noticed is to participate in artisen fairs, holiday bazaars and farmers’ markets as much as you can.  I was very excited when I signed up for my first Farmers’ Market Craft Holiday Bazaar in 2011.  I thought I would sell out of all my items, obtain a solid customer base, people would fall over each other to own one of my pieces etc.  Well, I fell a little short of that goal.  I sold one purse and a couple pieces of jewelry total during the three different times I did the market.  I admit that part of this was my own fault in that I didn’t have enough product and my displays weren’t that exciting.   In fact, I probably wouldn’t have stopped by my table if I was a potential customer looking to buy some holiday gifts.

I can’t speak for all artists, designers, painters, writers but the items I make are very personal to me.  I pick the fabric for my purses.  I make the patterns.  I combine colors for my necklaces, bracelets and earrings.  I put a little of myself into every piece I make.  If I love the necklace I make than it would make sense that the whole world will love it with me. Not necessarily.  This realization hit me hard.

After this experience, I swore that I wouldn’t do any more fairs.  Ever!  But you want to make money, you want to be a success and if you don’t jump at every opportunity to get your name out there then you must not be giving 100%.  Right?  Also, I should point out that doing these fairs are a lot of work especially if you have to bring your own tables.  Packing up everything, hauling them in and out of your car-you are grateful when a friend can lend a hand.  During the holidays last year, I again signed up for two of the same farmers’ market but I knew this time around it would be different because I had more product, better displays (although still nothing appropriate to show off my purses) and a positive atitude!  I sold nothing at the first one and for the second market, I lowered prices, changed displays, made new signs and shared my winning smile with every person that passed by my table. But I’m definitely not a salesperson.  Although, when I was working for a nonprofit several years ago I had to do a lot of fundraising for my program.  One time I gave quite an awesome presentation to the board of a local well-known corporate business on why they should fund my program. And they did, to the tune of $10,000.  So I can sell stuff when I put my mind and heart into it.  During this time I also did a fair at my health club.  I made $150 during a six hour period selling handbags and jewelry.  I was happy.

We’re almost halfway through 2013.  I’ve done two fairs in the past couple of months. During the quilt show, I was put down a hallway at a senior living complex (to be fair to the organizers, I was late to the party) apart from the other sellers.  At the health club Spring Artisen Fair I was excited that I was table #1 right at the entrance.  However, I eventually realized that I was again apart from all the other sellers.  It didn’t even look like I was part of the group but I did sell some items at both events.  I had my handbags displayed on a tomato cage which I thought looked pretty neat and amazing but no one even glanced at them.  I should point out that at every fair I’ve done, people have admired my jewelry, owl pillows, art quilts and even my purses (if they look at them) but they never buy.

Should we use the art fair as a way to sell our products?  Definitely Yes!  However, I’m not sure if I will ever do another one again.  Ever!  But as you know, I’ve said this before and changed my mind.  Every holiday bazaar or market I participate in, I get a little stronger, a little tougher and a little bit more confident in myself and my business.  It’s still not easy when I don’t sell.  I’ve had to choke back tears while I was at a couple fairs until I packed up and got to my car where I cried my eyes out.

I often think of Vincent Van Gogh whenever I get discouraged with my art and my business (which is often).  I admire him so much.  He was never appreciated during his time.   And yet today, his paintings are worth millions.  What I’m trying to get across is that you never know when your product will sell or who will take to it.  We as artists, as creators, have a need to share our work with others whether it’s a painting, a short story or a handbag. Don’t give up!  Keep on knocking on doors and jump at every opportunity to get your business out there for the public.

*a twist on the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams