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Why Art Fairs Are Important For Makers + Small Businesses, And Tips For Setting Up The Best Booth

It’s About More Than Just The Art!

By Anna Bailey

With our Birthday Month in full swing, I can’t help but take a trip down memory lane and think about how far we’ve come in the last seven years as a business. 

Seven years ago, I started dreaming up where my next career and calling would take me, and it all began in my backyard garage. I had left a job of over 13 years, with the deep desire to “do what I love to do.” This led me to building  things out of reclaimed wood.

If you’re just starting out as a maker, or you’ve never tried the Art Fair scene, I’d like to take this time to tell you why I think it’s such an important aspect of growing your business and presence as a maker.

Over the last seven years, I’ve gone from small, local fairs to our trip to the prestigious Silobration 2022 at Magnolia, just days away. We are thrilled to be heading to such an exclusive event, but this opportunity didn’t happen overnight. It has taken a lot of exposure, successes, and even failures to find ourselves with this great opportunity. I’m hoping just a bit of my story and simple tips can help you on your way to gaining more exposure as a maker, by investing some of your time in art fairs.

My business started out with broad ideas that had me building furniture of all sorts and even doing installs in peoples homes. I also started making wall art from the scraps left over. 

I remember that first local Arts and Crafts show I decided to sign up for, on a whim. It was a bit of a spontaneous leap of faith into seeing where my craft could take me. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or what the process looked like. All I knew was that an art fair was a great opportunity to get my talent seen. 

After making the commitment to try out my first arts and crafts show, I worked long hours creating art and furniture in my garage. I made a variety of items, because I had no idea what people would be drawn to.

Before the show, I realized that If I was going to create a presence, I had to look like a real business. I needed to come up with a logo and print some business cards so that people could reach out after the show. This leads me to a very practical tip when wanting to create a presence and gain exposure in the arts and crafts world. 

Make yourself some business cards. Make sure to include your website and any other social media outlets that people can visit to see your work.  There are many fair goers that like to look at what’s available and make the investment at a later time. You want to be sure you have this information available to them in an eye catching way that makes it easy for them to find you later.

I wouldn’t trade those first art festival experiences, because they taught me that, as a maker, they are a very important part of our success. Our participation in shows throughout the year has a direct impact on our sales and growth as a business. Investing my time in art shows in the beginning launched the business because it made me reputable, just by showing up. 

There is something special about art fairs that can not be obtained solely through an online presence. It is the best way to take a good look at what works and what doesn’t. When you meet your customers face to face, you get to see what they like, what they don’t like, and what they are drawn to. Art fairs and festivals are a great opportunity for live feedback from a variety of people, and they expand your audience by exposing you to customers that might not have otherwise found you.  

Art fairs are a quick and solid way to start discovering what your demographic is. 

You will get a good handle on who your people are. This is valuable information for the success and growth of a business, but it can take a lot of trial and error. Start applying for art fairs and just show up. Try different types of fairs in different cities and venues to discover where your sweet spot is. Do not get hung up on whether it’s the best of the best. We have learned, through experience, that some of the most highly rated art fairs in the country have ended up being our personal worst when it has come to sales. But this is all part of the process of honing in on your demographic.

Once you do that, try to strategically find the art fairs where those people are, in the cities and venues they are most likely to show up.

Trial and Error and many show experiences help you define who your crowd is and what type of fair environment is the right one for your craft.  Through those show experiences, you will also discover the best way to present your type of work. 

Throughout the last seven years of my business,  the way in which I display my work has evolved. At my very first show, I had a very simple display, with an open frame structure with simple planking to hang wall art from. The rest was open space where furniture was placed. Once the focus of my art centered around wall art, I began to slowly hone in on the best way to showcase my work. 

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase that “presentation is half the battle.” This is so true when it comes to displaying your work at art festivals. You want your space to be visually appealing, yet not take away from the art itself. You also want to display as much as you can, without it being too cluttered and busy. 

Lastly, you want to create a space that draws the customer in and leads them to take a trip though your booth, so they can see all you have to offer. And on a functional note, make sure your setup is something that is relatively easy for you to set up and take down in a timely manner.

Throughout my seven years of business as a maker and many Art Fairs in my repertoire, my team and I have been able to transform our vendor space to what we are getting prepared to bring to Silobration 2022 at Magnolia. What once was plain walls to hang art on has evolved into a back-lit display with raised panels to complement the debut of my latest collection for Silobration 2022 at Magnolia in Waco, Texas.

Art fairs continue to be a very important aspect of our business plan, because everytime we go somewhere and invest that time, we see residual sales for years. Getting involved in art festivals in your area might be the very thing to bring your maker business to the next level, too.

Art Fairs are a great way to make a name for yourself. Find out what opportunities are available near you, start somewhere, and work your way up. And remember, it doesn’t happen overnight. Trial and Error and many show experiences help you define who your crowd is and what type of fair environment is the right one for your craft.

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