Five years at the American Craft Council show

This year was my fifth year exhibiting at the American Craft Council Show. If you don’t know about their shows, here’s a little nutshell. The American Craft Council is located in Minneapolis (formerly in NYC) and they are an organization that promotes fine craft. They put on a conference, host lots of talks and small events, and publish two magazines that “champion handmade”. Each year (for the past 30+ years) they put together a large craft show in four different locations: Atlanta, Baltimore, St Paul and San Francisco. Each is a juried show with 200+ artists working in fiber, metal, jewelry, wood, or glass.

I started with their Hip Pop emerging artists program. That’s an image of my 2017 booth in its cardboard glory. (I actually think the cardboard popups are awesome and I think my work really popped against that kraft paper color.) Hip Pop is also a juried program but allows artists to share a booth with other emerging artists. The booth fees are lower (because of the limited space) and some of the display/lighting is included, so it is a way for new artists to try out the show and see if the audience is a good fit for their work before investing in a full both space. Once you have juried in as a Hip Pop artist, you can return to the shared booth for 3 years and then “graduate” to a full sized booth for the next two. I just completed my fifth year, so next year I will need to re-jury into the regular artist pool.

This year’s show just finished on Sunday and I was talking to someone about how it went and did I make enough to cover my costs. This is something we talk about as artists a lot. Some rough math in my head said “yes! It was a great year” but then I got curious about what the numbers said. One of the cool things about Square (in addition to it making credit cards super easy to take at shows) is that there are all kinds of reports I can pull up from the last 5 years and I can look at all of my data.

Talking with my neighbors, we all felt like Friday was a little slower than normal this year. I felt like Friday was usually my best day of the show and I think that’s pretty true.

This shows the percentage of my sales for each day. Thursday night is basically a cocktail party for the Craft Council donors; it’s always a pretty slow night for the artists. For the last three years anyway, Friday sales have been over half of my total. I think this probably tells you something about the typical audience that comes to this show; I tend to see adults with more flexible time and perhaps more disposable income. Saturday is more families and friends coming in groups. Sunday this year was more when I saw kids and some more age and gender diversity coming through. I definitely sold different kinds of items on Friday vs on Sunday.

This shows my sales for each category of item. The big difference you see here is the jump between the Hip Pop booth (2015 – 2017) and the full sized booth (2018-19). My sales nearly doubled when I went to the larger booth size. I wasn’t sure that would happen and I was pretty nervous. But so far that has worked out for me.

Loop or infinity scarves are my signature piece and I have had those at every show of the five years. They are easily my bestseller. The rectangle scarves, larger wrap scarves and skirts I have had in various forms every year, but I haven’t always had space to display very many of them. You can see the skirts especially are really variable. I didn’t sell any in 2017 (even though I had them there) but lots more in 2015 and 2018.

Miscellaneous was my catch-all category for things that I didn’t have every year. It included bow ties in 2016-2018, neckties this year, and some dresses in 2017-2018. I tried out different things to see what would work. Ties are always pretty popular. I did new neckties for the first time this year, but decided not to bring the bow ties because I didn’t have very many and I just ran out of time to restock. Dresses are a challenge because there is no good way for people to try them on; my 10×10 booth just doesn’t have enough space for a changing area.

The size of the total bar represents my total income for the year. Last year was a pretty great one. This year felt like attendance was maybe a little low (I don’t yet have official numbers, so I am not sure.) and I was in a different part of the room than I have been before. I am not sure how much of a difference that makes.

Finally, I actually got to the question of: did I break even? did I make any profit? This chart represents my total income for the show year (blue) and then all of the expenses (other colors) for the show. Materials included everything I needed to make the things that I sold at each show, plus a little extra to cover things like business cards, tags, stickers etc. Show fees included the pipe and drape and electricity for my booth. Booth cost was the fee I paid to rent my booth. Card fees was for credit card processing. I should note that this is a pretty prestigious show and the booths are not inexpensive. It takes a lot up front to be able to even participate and I want to acknowledge that. I didn’t count materials for things I haven’t sold yet. I had a lot more inventory there than I sold; you need that. It’s a big leap of faith that you will even sell enough to cover any of that.

I am pretty happy to know that every year my income exceeded my expenses. Not by a *lot* but by enough; those blue bars are all more than half. That difference is the amount I can pay myself for my time. As we were packing up, my husband asked if I thought I had made enough this year to pay for my time and I wasn’t sure. Wait, I can hear someone say. Aren’t you a business person? Shouldn’t you know all of this? Doing shows like this is only one of my sources of income, so I don’t usually break it down show-by-show but I look for balance among all of the things that I do. Sometimes I make more, sometimes I make less. It all comes out in the wash, as they say. But I was curious about this show specifically.

So I did the math. I always time myself when I am making a thing that I intend to sell. I know that zipper bags take me 7 minutes from start to finish. That’s the way I calculate my prices and it lets me know for sure whether I can accept a large order of something. I know exactly how long it’s going to take me to make 5 or 50 of them. So I figured out how long it took me to make all of the inventory I sold, plus about 8 hours of prep time getting other things ready for the show (ironing, printing tags, social media, washing tablecloths, running to get change), plus all of the hours I worked the show from load in to tear down. And I made $10.95 per hour.

To be honest, that’s actually more than I thought it would be. I am pretty excited about that. No, I am not going to retire on that kind of income, but even a smallish success is success! I know it’s more than I made from my first summer job.

There’s also the potential things that always come out of spending a weekend surrounded by my work and talking to people about it. I was asked to teach at a new venue. I had a possible wholesale order. I gained a handful of social media followers. And when I say handful, I mean less than a dozen, seriously. For every 300 people you talk to, 3 will actually sign up for your stuff. (I get it. I don’t sign up for everyone’s mailing lists either.) But those were people who were interested enough to find me and follow. That might mean that I will see them again at the show next year.

It’s also fascinating to me to talk to people about my work. Last year I had a lot of less than encouraging comments about how I used computers and if that meant that my work “wasn’t real art” (an actual quote from a visitor) and some negative reactions to the fact that I print on a lot of polyester (for many reasons, but those are for another post). It was almost exactly the opposite this year. I had really positive comments about how I was using a computer in really cool ways and many people appreciated that poly was so much easier than silk to care for/wash/pack for travel.

I sold out of infinity scarves in this brand new “Fair Isle” design (it was a Spoonflower design challenge entry from 2018), and two perennial favorites (Waterlily Mosaic and Tweed). For the larger rectangle scarves, I sold out of “Decadent” (another recent design challenge entry), which I thought might be too bold, but it was a big hit and Tweed again in that larger size.

I was a mentor this year to a couple of Hip Pop (emerging) artists. I wanted to continue to share some of my experiences from the show by writing this post because I feel like when I was brand new and thinking about applying I had no really helpful information. I didn’t know that Thursdays were slow or that no one would sign up for my mailing list and I wasn’t sure if it was just me. I didn’t know if I could sell enough at my $40-$60 price points to even make up that booth fee. I only sold 31 items that first year. That’s not very many when you think about it, but it was enough for me.

Overall I love this show. I LOVE the artists involved. They are the most supportive, welcoming and generous group you could ever ask to be a part of. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I have had nothing but positive experiences. It is an honor to be among such talented and dedicated makers; their craftsmanship is phenomenal. It is inspiring to be in that room. I think the Hip Pop program is brilliant and I enjoyed being a part of its pilot years. I am nervous that I won’t get juried in next year. (Hip Pop graduates don’t have to re-jury their first 2 years in a full booth.) What if the jurors think that the computer makes my work “not real art”? I’ll be holding my breath waiting for that acceptance email.

2 Comments

  1. Theresa bernstein April 10, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    Interesting that people don’t think it’s “real”art, we just left a tour of uw- Milwaukee art school, digital art is a required first year class for a BFA

  2. beckarahn April 10, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    It makes me very happy to hear you say that! I always try to talk about the computer like a tool, just like my sewing machine. Both things take lots of work and practice to be able to learn to use them well. It frustrates me a lot when people ask if my work is “computer generated”. No, it’s artist generated.

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