Okay you guys, I wanted to share with you something that was kind of eye opening when I recently juried the SF Etsy Holiday Emporium. I know there are million articles about getting into shows and what they want, but actually being in the position to go through all of those applications gives a different perspective.
The show had about 350 applications and we were told to give a "yes", "no" or "maybe." The criteria of the show is much like any other: It's mostly handmade with a few exceptions for local designers. It's a holiday show so gifting items are important. And because it's by a cruise terminal there's a good mix of tourists, as well. Other than that, we were just looking to put together a show that had quality vendors that were selling a mix of items.
What You Make Should Be Really, Really Clear
Not until I started to get a bit deep into the jurying process did I realize that when I came to an Etsy shop or other product page and what the person made was all over the map, it was really hard to give them a "yes" even if the stuff looked quality. That's because a) I don't know which items you will bring and if the show might already have those, b) I don't know which items you'll bring and if they'll resonate with customers, and c) I would imagine if your Etsy shop were a booth, people walking by would find it hard to be drawn in the way I find it hard to be drawn into your shop to explore.
CHECK YOUR LINKS!!!!
It was kind of crazy to me how many broken links there were. I would guess like 10% of the applications. When you are filling out an application online this is like the #1 thing that has to work for people. That's because if a link is broken you just simply do not have the time to try to figure out where the person's shop is actually at. Also, don't send someone to a page where it's private and they actually need a password to access it. That also happened more times than you'd think!
Don't Make Things Hard for People
There are so many applications that if you make me guess what you mean and don't spell things out completely, then you are making it harder on the person jurying.
One thing that the application asked for was a link to their portfolio. Most people just gave a link to their Etsy or website. This really isn't a portfolio. I know that not all craft shows ask for this as explicitly, but I would HIGHLY encourage you have a Pinterest board with just the best of your product and/or Facebook album with it. This will allow you to have a very narrow showcase of your work that includes things that might not currently be in your shop because you are out. If a lot of your product is on the one-of-a-kind side, then this gives a better back catalog of your range.
Packaging Matters More for Some Items
So, for things like jewelry, art, stationery, or accessories you can tell by looking at (for the most part) if the item is good. But I have no idea if your candle smells good or your soaps feel nice. I can only guess by looking at it. So packaging becomes HUGE for these when judging.
Along with packaging, your photos matter a lot too. And I think that for these, not only seeing the end product, but the ingredients and process also helped me feel like "Oh, hey, this person is taking the time to make this stuff." I can't say if that's my bias or not, but it's something to think about.
Jewelry is Judged More Harshly (Sorry!)
I think you guys probably already know this, but because you see so much more jewelry, you have to judge it more harshly than you would other stuff. And so, I am not sure how much you can do about this in terms of product. Because maybe that product is really working for you somewhere else. I think it's silly to change it for a show because they don't need more of the same product there.
HOWEVER, I think this does mean if you do jewelry and you know that it's jewelry that a fair amount of other people do similarly (hey! that's totally okay and not diss... so be objective with yourself), you have to really bump up your photography, website, social and merchandising game. Those things will set you apart from the jewelry pack and will let the person running the show think "Oh, well, I trust this person will probably show up and be a professional more over this person who doesn't look like they are trying."
Along with jewelry, bath and body was the next category that probably had the most entries, so see above. :)
Sometimes Super Awesome and Unique Trumps It All
There was the occasional submission that included something poorly presented with a dark photo, but was SO COOL. And you knew that other people at the show would be all about it too.
But why be that business? Why hope you get lucky? Better to to do a really good job putting your best foot forward: nail your photography, nail your packaging, make your website amazing, follow directions and give the correct links.
If Your Stuff Doesn't Get In, That Doesn't Mean It's Crap
Think of it kind of like college applications. If you are applying to a very selective university and they deny you, that doesn't mean you're dumb or even have a poor portfolio. There were just stronger applications or people they thought would do better at the school or it could mean you didn't have have the grades or test scores. I think craft shows are kind of similar. There are so many reasons why you might not get in. And when you consider they have hundreds, if not thousands, of applications to wade through then you make decisions for them becomes REALLY hard.
Also, when you consider that shows that have been doing this awhile really have a good idea of who shops their shows and what does well there, it's easy to understand that they can spot a vendor who will have a hard time at their show. Honestly, this is kind of a gift to you because then you don't have to pay money to sit somewhere all day and not make any money.
That means, you probably should really be objective with the show and consider if it's a good fit for you too. Walk shows before you apply and see if your customer is there. If it's new, ask the producers who they are trying to target. If they either say people who you know aren't your target OR don't have good answers for you, then I think you should really think hard if it's good for you.
Sharon Fain is the director of Academy of Handmade (AHAS), a membership organization which supports, celebrates and connects makers. They have chapters in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, Austin, Seattle and San Diego. Membership opens four times a year and will open again April 28-May 11, 2016. Get more details here.
Photo credit: Sabrina Hill Photography
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