Craft Fair Observations


I meandered through all of the booths at the 40th American Artisans Festival yesterday in Nashville’s Centennial Park…kind of a Father’s Day escape and market research expedition combination. In spite of the unseasonably hot and humid temperatures, the show was well attended.  An occasional breeze disturbed the overhanging oak boughs, making stops in the shade almost sufficient to dry my sweaty t-shirt. Long lines at the lemonade stand where workers were racing through a huge tub of lemons meant that visitors needed the relief but also that they weren’t automatically running off to air conditioned cocoons.

The show was an eclectic mix of fine arts and hand-made crafts, not surprisingly heavy on the crafts. Although I appreciate the painters whose work dotted the booths, I did not linger there but spent the majority of my time chatting with some of the exhibitors whose work I considered either exceptional or genuinely pushing-the-envelop unique. In broad strokes, here are my observations of the show:

  • Exhibitors who included demonstrations drew crowds and made sales. One perennial raku artist seemed to make a sale with each reveal of a hot pot from the smoldering sawdust…and I cannot image how hot/uncomfortable he was.
  • Shoppers seemed to be purchasing more small items, shoebox-sized and smaller…and under $50.
  • One booth with superbly crafted pocket knives and other cutlery specifically mentioned that his set up was focused on ‘gifts for dad’…and that was working well.
  • Almost every booth included an engaging person who seemed to be interested in talking and and answering questions about their wares…and the majority of the time that person was the artist.  I found this refreshing, particularly for the last day of a show…and did I mention that it was h.o.t.?
  • I collected business cards and information sheets at 10 booths where I had a conversation. Of the 10: 10 included complete mailing addresses and phone numbers; 8 identified the URL for a website, 7 included email addresses, and only 1 included either a reference to Twitter or to a Facebook fan page.

As I walked away from the show, dreading the oven-like cockpit of my un-air-conditioned minivan, that last bullet point raised some interesting questions and concerns. Is there a generational-like difference between exhibitors who are hanging on to the craft fair approach and those who have ventured into cyberspace to broaden their nets for customers via social media? And, how much better would the craft fair experience be if exhibitors made a conscious effort to stay connected by engaging via social media? My thinking is that these two worlds need to meet/converge quickly if the craft fair era is to live on.  On the other hand, attendees of the fair looked to be more in the ‘over 40’ crowd than in the plugged-in, younger generations…perhaps the non-social-media approach is more appropriate/applicable, at least for now. Now, however, may be a fleeting period of time.

2 Responses to “Craft Fair Observations”

  1. Paul,

    I’m doing my first such outdoor arts and craft show on July 10th. Yes, I expect it will be hot. I am happy to say that my brochures are covered with my online presence – website, facebook, blog and twitter. All this from an over (just barely) 40 gal.

    I have seen the same phenomenon at other craft and pottery venues. About 1% have an online presence. When I discuss this with the artists, the most common response is “I don’t have time” or “it seems too complicated.” Huh? Who doesn’t have time to market? Do you want to keep all those mugs and earrings at home?

    I’ve never understood this. Just like I don’t understand those that sit in their booth reading a book. When selling arts and crafts, you are selling more than mug or a change purse, you are selling a relationship and an experience.

    I’m not sure age has anything to do with these varying approaches. Most of my facebook friends are over 40, and 75% of my page fans are 35 or older. I think there are those that like to sell and those that don’t. The group will do whatever it takes – fire a raku kiln on a hot day, or post on facebook – to create that relationship.

    • Paul says:

      Laurie, great points…and I wish you the very best on your July show!

      I hear the same, “I don’t have time”, excuse as well…and not just within the arts’ community. Ultimately, many come to their senses and realize that creating and maintaining relationships is central to the way business works and that online tools make that much easier…even with a small time commitment.

      Thanks so much for adding your comments,