Last weekend was the quarterly, local Holistic Festival. Though I hadn’t attended in years, not since renting my last table, it somehow still holds me in its warm grip. The people are kind, the energy inviting and the creativity easily contagious. Unable to attend, the notice I received about the event managed to stir up in me a few memories of the bygone days of craft shows, both as a vendor and consumer. And, as is always the case when one of these festival dates arrive around the calendar bend, I’m reminded of a particular instance when my wire wrapping was still a budding possibility and hadn’t yet rolled around in the soft sounds of its own voice, and another vendor (who I imagine felt he was doing myself, himself and the crafting community as a whole a great service) approached me and my work with criticism.
“Your prices are undercutting mine.”
“You should be wrapping in sterling silver or gold. Everything else is substandard.”
“Copper makes your work look cheap.”
Mild discouragement with the first comment. Then, with his second, doubt began to tip-toe towards the gods of good reason and push them over the edge of my own self-consciousness, one by one, each screaming an echoing, sad refrain. But the third…. the third made me angry. And with that anger, I smiled sweetly at him, thanked him for his advice and continued to work. Because the only ways to silence the criticisms of others is to either shut your ears to them, or (in cases in which they are intended with a good heart) take them and endeavor to learn from them. In this case, I endeavored to learn. And I learned sometimes people have opinions founded in nothing but their own prejudice and selfishness. Sometimes, they’re rude, and push beyond the boundaries of polite conversation. Sometimes, despite my lack of experience, I do know better.
That day, I found a voice, and my work listened to it and flung open its petals at the sound.
Thanks random rude craft show guy! Your criticism was worth something after all, and I’m glad I was strong enough to find that worth. But, finding the worth in words such as those is of secondary concern to having them even been uttered at all. So, with that in mind, here is my list of things, as a vendor or consumer, you just don’t say or do at a craft show or creative event, and still remain in the company of polite and pleasant individuals.
- Don’t say “I can probably make that.” I’m still reminded of an instance during which my husband and I attended an event, and a vendor asked if I would be interested in viewing his wire work. My husband says “Oh, no thanks, she makes her own,” and, though I understand his sentiment was derived from pride in my work, I wanted to crawl into the deep abyss of embarrassment and cover the hole with a really big rock. It’s important to understand that each artist is unique, and the work he or she produces is an extension of that individualism. To suggest you can or may or will reproduce their creations, with no consideration for their time, experience or skill, is… well… not to put too fine a point on it… plagiarism.
- Do ask permission to touch merchandise. Artists lose work at craft shows often, simply by a mishandling of the product, though not necessarily with any intention to steal or damage. Accidents happen. And the best way to prevent this is, as my mother used to say, “touch with your eyes”! Most artists are more than happy to have their work handled, but it’s hard to track with heavy foot traffic. This small consideration goes a long way towards establishing a relationship with any artist.
- Don’t ask the artist to show you how to make it, where to purchase materials or otherwise assume the design is for sale, especially without any intention to purchase the product. Most artists will make it abundantly clear if their designs or techniques are for sale, or classes are available. Though artists are often willing to discuss their trade, always assume you should reciprocate any lesson or instruction with monetary compensation.
- Do compliment what you like. Keep what you don’t like to yourself. Art is subjective, and to each their own tastes. Respect that your tastes may not mirror those of others. While opinions are valued in any artistic community, a craft show, while vendors are hoping their time and efforts will be adequately rewarded, is not an inappropriate time.
- Don’t loiter in front of booths, tables, or block foot traffic unless actively shopping. Vendors pay for their space and are not guaranteed to cover these costs. Please respect the business of others and carry personal conversations, reunions, phone calls or parenting out of aisles and busy walk ways. I promise, they will appreciate the gesture and will reciprocate with amazing customer service.
- Don’t refer to the work of any artist as a quaint or cute “hobby”. It’s always safe to assume the artist has spent years perfecting his or her craft, and this dedication deserves the same respect any professional receives for the work they present to others.
- Don’t haggle. Craft shows are not flea markets. The work is not mass or reproduced product, is locally made, and demands a higher price. Allow the artist to offer a discount if he or she is so inclined, but do not ask for one.
- Don’t openly comment on, or criticize, the work of other vendors unless such advice or opinion is invited. Creative individuals love opportunities to learn, but encroaching on their business will not endear one artist (or their opinions) to another. This includes commenting on price, materials or skill. Just don’t do it. It’s so tacky. Really.
- Do prepare to set up on time and stay the duration of the event. Empty tables hurt everyone, and customers hardly feel inclined to return when the venue proves itself unexciting.
- Do present your best work. Always. This is not limited to the product, but includes merchandising and marketing materials. Quality merchandise will further the reputation of the venue, perpetuating a great turnout in subsequent years, which benefits all vendors invited to return.
- Do act involved. Reading a book, texting or passionately playing Candy Crush will not invite conversation with your customers. Always be engaged, smiling, offering assistance and discussing your craft with the same energy it is executed.
- Do investigate the venue before committing. Vendors and customers do not want to hear how disappointed you are with the turn-out. This breeds an atmosphere of discontent and often discourages attendance at later events.
- Do package your items with care. Placing open-spiral wire work in mesh drawstring bag is just inviting disaster. Wrap chains separately. Offer boxes and bags suitable for gift-giving. Customers will appreciate the effort.
- Do offer at least two popular payment options. The goal of any professional is to make the purchasing process as easy and convenient for the customer as possible.
This list is certainly not all-inclusive, and if you have any suggestions for those looking to attend a craft show, please feel free to add them in the comments below!