Bad Show!

 Craft shows in the day, for me the 1990s, could be an “interesting” way to turn up a few dollars. You had to be careful in selecting the dates, venue, and most especially the show producer. Too many shows in one compact area on the same weekend could kill sales as severely as a hurricane or unpredicted snowstorm. Once you paid your money for a ten by ten booth, it was gone unless the producer canceled the show.

Shows ranged ( back then) in cost, from a twenty-five dollar local church fair to mega-extravaganzas at a convention center or resort area for hundreds of dollars. I assume that fees have continued to inflate since then. 

 A good producer selected quality locations, juried applicants, and made sure that there was variety in vendors. As craftspeople and vendors, we were interested in making sure that if the application form stated that the crafter must make everything themselves that it was so. After you were in a cycle of shows, you got to know the other craftspeople. Through them, you heard about who to trust and who to avoid. 

After a while, the awful producers would get you on their mailing list, and flood you with unwanted applications to their substandard shows.

Many shows advertised handmade crafts, but the producer had stuffed the show with Made In China, Pakistan, and Indonesian knock offs. The five real craftspeople placed near the entrance lost sales to the cheap imported “crafts.”

I wish I could say that if you stuck with known producers, you were safe. But, as in the rest of life, safety is always a relative commodity. 

Here’s a case in point. Several of my peers and I had heard about a show happening on a summer weekend in a resort area north of Boston along the shore. The producer was a well-known craftsperson with an, especially good reputation. The fee was substantial, but we thought that this would prove to be a good show: a suitable venue, date, fair jury process, and well-known craftsperson as a producer. It was a bomb.

First, after we set up, we learned that the gate fee was high. In addition to the gate fee, there was an additional parking charge. One or the other was to be expected, but both were sure to dampen attendance, and so it did. As the first day wore on, craftspeople started talking, and it came out that little advertisement had preceded the show. By the end of the first-day, anger had begun to grow.

It was a lovely weekend, however, so there were hopes for Sunday’s attendance. Sunday morning can be slow due to church, and it can die early as people leave to go home. Most of your business comes in the time between eleven AM and three PM. Not at this show, people avoided it due to the double whammy fees.

Craftspeople are great at concealing how bad a show can be: ” Great show, I took in lots of deposits. didn’t sell much off the table, but lot’s of commissions.” Or “Tthe show’s real success will be in the next week when people start calling.” I know because I’ve used variations on all of these and more. But at this show, people were openly revealing that they had sold nothing at all. Things began to deteriorate when one by one, we all visited the producer’s tent to complain and demand our fees be returned. While she went to the bathroom, a floral artist created a wreath of thorny stems with the flowers cut off and left them on her seat. The note enclosed read, “leave while you can.”

Leave, she did. Her booth canopy was abandoned in place. She fled with only her paperwork. I presume she left with the meager proceeds from the gate and parking fees as well. It was the only time I’ve seen a producer exit the show before it closed. With the producer gone, we all rapidly packed and left as well.

It was the worst show I had ever done, and an excellent object lesson that bad things happen at events, even when all the signs for a great show seem to be there.

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