My take on Tucson – Part IV – Strategy

So, I’m reading on the forums about how people did at the various bead shows in Tucson and I’m feeling like I live in a bubble. I sometimes think about the online forums and do realize that they’re not an accurate read on what might really be going on…they’re just a sampling of the people out there. If you notice, you don’t really see a large group of well-known, successful beadmakers posting. (That doesn’t mean they’re not reading). And don’t get upset if you’re a well-known, successful beadmaker, I know some of you are out there participating. But think about the ‘big names’ that have been around for 15-20 years, and think how many of them participate in the online discussions. All of that to say, I wonder how many successful show sellers there really are. After all, the shows wouldn’t be full (new and old sellers) if people didn’t do well. And yes, the lanscape of show selling, bead selling for that matter, is changing…that’s a whole post in itself, and one I should probably address. Remind me.

So, today I write about how to be successful at a bead show. And, maybe you’ll call out beginners luck on me because I’ve only recently started doing the shows (I’ve done the fall and spring Tucson shows, once each). So, how can I tell you how to be successful? I can’t. But I can tell you what worked for me. I’ve done well at both. Now, well is relative but recently I heard you should make at least 8 times your booth fee to consider it successful. Achieved and then some…not to mention getting writing gigs and picking up store customers and a sales rep.

Anyway, the first thing I feel the need to tell you is that, it’s not only about the show. No matter how beautiful your work is, you can’t just show up and expect to be successful at selling it. (See my posts on Promoters). Over time you will build up a following and that will help repeat sales but just starting out especially, it is a good idea to have already ‘worked it’. It comes back to marketing.

1. Make sure your customers know where you’re going to be and when. Do a postcard mailing or keep your email newsletter current. Put an ad in the guide, whether it be for your individual show or for the big Tucson guide. One veteran told me that they did $1000 in advertising for the show. If you want to track how well your ads do, put some type of promotion in it so you can measure results. If you already run print ads (which is good for name recognition) make sure you plan ahead and put show information in your upcoming ads.

2. Preview a sampling of your new work at a show and let people know. Regular customers will know that they better come to you first when they get to the show! I previewed a series of brightly colored beads (a style that I don’t usually do) at this Tucson show and explained that as people admired them. The good stuff sold out the first day.

3. Have a cohesive body of work. (See my post on Presentation). While your work can sell with a haphazard approach (and maybe even well if you know how to market it as such), people’s brains perceive things in interesting ways. If you have a ‘line’ or a ‘style’ you look more professional and together. Don’t get me wrong…like I said above, your ‘line’ or ‘style’ might be eclectic but it needs to look purposeful instead of just experimental.  There are exceptions to every rule.  It’s overwhelming for people to look at a tray or display of pieces that are all significantly different. They are shopping for pieces that will go into one final piece that they design. At least group what you have by colors that blend well together if you can, or faces, or flowers. Even if they’re shopping for one focal, the average person can conceptualize a piece in their head better if there’s not a lot around it competing in the display.

4. Keep a mailing list and encourage people to sign up for it so they can ‘see what’s new’ on a regular basis. If you have truly unique work that they’re falling in love with, they’ll love to follow your styles. Tell them how frequently they can expect a newsletter. Now, that doesn’t do any good if you’re not going to be regular in your mailing list. Customers have commented that I’m good at that…keeping regular with my mailing list, and if they’re serious buyers/followers of your work, they appreciate that.

5. Write magazine articles. While this seems totally unrelated to selling at a show, it’s not. I’ve found that a big conversation starter and attention getter is the display of my magazine cover and issues I’ve been in. People will walk by and recognize the beads (not me or my name…yet) and they’ll stop. I guess that’s an instance of not getting much directly from writing the article out but for the fact that I’ve accomplished it, and here it is. It also helps to show you as established in the field. The book doesn’t do too bad either.

6. Work directly with the customer. If they are receptive, help be their personal shopper. This is a sticky point because some designers or store owners know what they want already and don’t want you to interfere, so play it cool. But if you see someone is interested in buying more than just a couple pieces, let them know that, ‘I have more of those if you’d like to see them.’ People love to see what’s not out and what other people might not have access to so many times they’ll say, ‘Yes’. This means that you need to have your under-the-counter inventory neat and organized so you can pull it out. You also need to be sure you have a place available in your space to transact like this. This has led to people meeting my wholesale discounts much quicker and easier.

7. Wholesale discounts and pricing. This one briefly touches on the changing landscape of glass bead selling. Basically, price your work so that it will sell but also make sure that you can give wholesale discounts. I am not telling you to undersell or price yourself low in order to sell. I’m saying to be realistic about what you should be making and keep your options open for different levels of buyers. My discount levels are 10% at $250 and 30% at $500. If someone ever balks (which is rare) at the $500 level I explain that I like to work with designers and stores so that they can buy and still resell and that my prices already reflect that. Most people, if they know what they’re looking at realize that I price very fairly.

I knew this was going to be a long post and I didn’t want to break it up so I’ll stop now with one more point. (I’ll add more in other posts if I think of anything else).

8. Be prepared. Perception. Of course you will want to be prepared with your display and inventory but I mean, be prepared in your sales areas. Know your discounts. Know your market. Know your product. While those might seem obvious, I still need to think a minute when people ask me about my pricing and I feel it doesn’t look as professional as it could. I’m getting better at it. A lot of being successful is perception. You will do better if you are confident and informed and the best way to acquire those skills is to practice. Fake it till you make it.

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