Egyptian Licorice tea in the Denver skyline mug, robust feline snores emanating from Ernie next to me on the couch for music. Time to get back in the saddle after weeks and weeks of schedulelessness. I got an email from another glass artist/show circuit friend this morning asking me about the tone (for want of a better word) of my last post on doing shows. She wanted to know if I was just tired from the drive or if I was really contemplating quitting the show circuit. What can I say? I am a woman of extremes. Last year I thought the answer would be to add more wholesale shows. By the end of the year (and continuing on into 2010) I was thinking no shows at all--and the recent Buyer's Market did nothing to change my mind.
Yes, attendance by both exhibitors and buyers was drastically down due to the double whammy of the economy and the weather (I got an order in email from a west coast client after the show who had canceled her hotel reservations when her flight was canceled). But even without the weather and the struggling economy, I do not see a sustainable future in doing shows. The costs of doing them increase yearly--and I'm not talking about booth fees though those don't lessen either. The other costs--freight, drayage, hotel, parking, and exhibition services can eat you alive. Sure you can economize on food, but my parking and cab fares cost me more than my hotel did this time at the BMAC! And for what? Not one new buyer for my work. If I want repeat orders, I can get them with nice mailings, targeted ads, glossy brochures, catalogs, color samples, and personal calls--all of which cost a lot less in both money and energy than shows do.
Show producers are are also contributing to my disillusion with their dilution of the few American-handmade-only shows we have. What is really going to be the outcome of two simultaneous handcrafted shows in Vegas this spring? Are we going to get buyers (most of the buyers, all of the buyers, not SOME of the buyers) at both shows? Really? So why are we being encouraged to do both shows? Why on earth would I want double the set-up and breakdown, double the exhibition fees, double the freight (shipping double the work for two shows) and double the booth fees so that I'm sure to see every buyer? All a second show is doing for me is potentially reducing the number of buyers I see. Do I really think people who don't currently come to Vegas for ACRE are going to be lured there by NICHE? Sure I do. But do I see the numbers doubling to justify the double expense and work required to do both shows? No. Simple math, it's a lose-lose situation for artists.
Now some might disagree with me and say that the winter BMAC was such a great show in years past because of the timing of the Baltimore ACC show right after it, and I know many artists who participated in the insanity of doing both (I heard nothing but horror stories and am glad I was spared). Now we're being presented with a new show in Orlando and it seems like it will stretch the buyers even thinner. When I mentioned the argument that we should see a lot of crossover buyers from the Orlando Gift Show to one of my Florida gallery owners at the BMAC, she laughed so hard I thought she'd have a heart attack. Her analysis of the Orlando gift show was that it was cheap beach towels, souvenir trinkets and suntan lotion. Are their buyers going to want to add handcrafted American work? Takes me back to my experience doing the Dallas show last year in the temps when I was down the aisle from the people selling Poo-Pourri and little cloisonne balls holding lip gloss that were made in China--I still feel soiled.
Which is not to say that Dallas was a totally bad show. My experience last year was that it was more about no one great show than about poor shows vs. great shows. Something good came out of every show I did last year, and total revenue from the shows would indicate that doing all of them is the way to go. But when total expenses were balanced against total revenue, there just wasn't enough "good" to continue carrying the horrendous costs.
So I have my fingers crossed for Vegas. The show date was changed so that I'll be spending my birthday there this year. Maybe 49 is a good year to celebrate in Vegas with friends.