Friday, February 20, 2009

Crunching the Numbers for the Spring Buyer's Market

Coffee in the New Orleans skyline mug, "Gone Daddy Gone" (Violent Femmes cover) by Gnarls Barkley (from Ren's Happy, Happy mix) streaming from the iMac in the office to the Apple TV and the main home AV receiver. Technology: I came, I saw, I opened a big can of whup booty and I am the Mistress of My Domain again. At some point I'll post on Stranded in the South about the technology shifts we are making in our continuing efforts to downsize the monthly subscription budget (the economy starts at home, after all), but today is for a recap of the Buyer's Market of American Craft.

First off, why is it taking longer and longer to recover from shows? It used to be that I was in the studio the day after I got home and operating at almost full power (or is that the golden glow of hindsight?). This year it took one full day off followed by one marginal day before I got back to full strength (today). But enough whining, o to the numbers.

Before the show opened there were already rumblings that attendance was going to be way down--both from artists and from buyers. But as the Rosen Group repeatedly said, the people who came came to buy not to browse. Anyone who put out the money for the trip did so not for a tax write-off but because they needed product. And far be it from me to toe the party line, but it does seem like the exhibitors who did well at the show were the ones who took to heart all the tips and advice the Rosen Group passed out before the show. These exhibitors did targeted, personal marketing--handwritten notes or phone calls to their galleries, etc., put out new lines of lower-priced work, and offered incentives for writing orders at the show like free shipping or a 10% show discount.

Personally, my show was not very good--but I only followed one of the above recommendations (new lines of lower-priced work). Had I not had all the new work with Todd (retail $12-$70) and the new stand pieces from Black Cat ArtWorks (retail $80), I would have died in the water. I only had *one* order for my traditional functional fused work--even though I have several older pieces retailing for under $100, and only a couple of orders for larger (more expensive) stand pieces--certainly not enough to cover meals for the trip, much less booth fee.

Crunching the numbers, I had 38 orders, 61% of which were from new customers. Of that 61%, only 18% were also new to Black Cat (the rest were their existing customers). I know that presentation of the figures looks a bit sloppy, but I can't reach my spouse to ask him what percentage of my new customers were piggy-backed from Black Cat--which is the point I am trying to make. For the first time we completely integrated our work in our slightly-larger-than 20 X 20 booth. As a result, many of their current customers took a closer look at our combined work and gave it a try. It's true they only ordered the new small stands, but I'm guessing these galleries are not ones that carry a lot of glass art anyway.

Galleries heavily weighted to glass work were scarce on the ground. I am now exhibiting in the Inspired Interiors section of the show--not the Glass section anymore--so I didn't see the glass traffic personally, but I did check in with many friends exhibiting in glass and the stories were not good. I only spoke to one person who had a really good show (congrats Dee!), and she has lower-priced glass jewelry (lower priced than, say, large blown-glass sculpture). From others I heard of no orders written by Monday afternoon. On Tuesday morning in the elevator at the hotel on the way to the airport I met a couple who have exhibited in glass for the past 23 years and they said it was their last show. I didn't think it was an appropriate time to ask what they had done to prepare for the show in the face of a very difficult economy.

Having 61% new orders seems like a really good thing--and it is, but it was off-set by significantly smaller sales numbers. My average sale at the February show was $450. By August it was $760. This February it was $191 and my total sales were 64% of what they were last February and 60% of what they were for last year's summer show. What do all these numbers mean? They mean if I want to get back up to where I was last year, I'm going to have to hit the phones and the mail.

Since I got back from the show I have heard from a couple of other longtime glass exhibitors and they are looking at their gallery lists and calling everyone they didn't see. In an admittedly small sample, one of my friends called 10 of her customers in one day and of them 30% are out of business, 30% ordered from the phone call, 20% recently ordered and are fine, and 20% said the pieces they previously ordered aren't moving. I wonder what I am going to find out when I start calling my customers. Better get to it.

I close with pics of the new small stand pieces. Tomorrow's post: When is it natural extension, when is it admiration, and when is it just copying? Welcome to the working Saturday...


Anonymous said...

That first item, the tree is really struttin' his/her stuff. Smart new work.

I picked up a cold at the show and today will start looking at who ordered what when integrated into the orders that came in just before/during/after.

Even well, I've never been able to jump into the studio after a show. Give me at least a day of staring into the void.

Nancy Goodenough

Bill said...

Getting all those new accounts is something, and if they started with small items, it gives you an in. If they move well, you might be able to persuade them to pick up larger ones later.

You will give them follow-up calls in a month or so, right?