I had a first time customer in the shop a couple weeks ago. She asked me how I sold my work apart from having my Home Sale and I gave her the list, mentioning craft shows. I told her I wasn't doing as many shows as I once did because it was pretty hard work. She said something along the lines of, "sitting there all day long." I think this is a pretty common notion that visitors to craft shows have. That we exhibitors just sit there in our booths all day. Most of us know there's much more to it than that: set up, break down, packing up again, stress over weather, getting there w/o the piece of crap van breaking down, answering the same questions over and over, smiling, engaging w. people, being 'on', being tired from getting up to unload those last pots at 4 am. Any how I was nice and mentioned a few things and she seemed to understand that there was more to it than 'sitting in the booth all day'.
As a matter of fact, I make it a point to rarely sit down at a show. I move around the booth, shuffle pots, say hello to people, look busy. Sitting down, or sitting down reading (big no-no) pretty much sends a negative message to customers.
It's hard at first to find shows that may be profitable. And sometimes it takes doing a show several times for it to begin to pay off. I have found that pottery only shows have been the best for me. I belong to a pottery guild that holds two shows a year. It's well attended and folks have gotten used to seeing me there. There are several pottery only shows in NC, we are a big pottery state with lots of potters so there is a good market for this kind of show. People usually come ready to buy.
I did a medium sized, regional show for 4 or 5 years before I got it through my head that it just wasn't working for me. Sometimes hoping that something will come about clouds my judgment. Better to see it for what it is and find another show.
I've also exhibited in the American Craft Council show in Charlotte a few times. This is a big indoor, juried venue with all mediums and exhibitors from around the country. ACC holds shows across the US. In Charlotte the booth fee with electricity runs about $900 and up. It's a three day show. That show never really brought in lots of money for me, it did give me good exposure and a sense of pride to be showing there. Eventually the ACC Charlotte show folded, which wasn't a big surprise. Charlotte just didn't support that show.
That's the only show of that caliber that I've done. There are many out there and I know some are very good.
The bottom line is that you have to find what works for you. There is a lot involved including building up a display that is nice looking but easy to transport, set up and tear down.
Over the years I've learned to put out less work at once to give the pots space and allow customer's eyes to rest. I have some friends who take the big box store approach, stacking bowls and plates and getting as much as possible out on a table. They claim this is something most customers are use to. Maybe so, it doesn't work for me as all my pots are decorated differently and they need to see each one.
I also know a potter who loves to put some pots down on the floor, out of the way, but not out of sight. Folks see these and just have to know 'what those pots down there are', 'are they sold?'. I think it's something about finding a 'treasure' or something special. (which really isn't). Funny.
What else to say about craft shows? Maybe some one else will add something. Or feel free to ask questions.