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~ Survival of the Fittest ~
by Betty Chypre
in the midst of the so-called New Economy, I see an interesting
craftsmen are retiring, and shows are canceling in the last minute
because they don’t have enough applicants. It makes you
wonder, “What is going
or wrong, I have come to these conclusions: The shows have
and it’s harder to
make low and middle-range products yield a profit.
Blame the ease of
imports, (China, our most favored trade partner) and the fact that some
hand-crafted work can be duplicated by manufacturing processes. These
facts actually make handcrafted work more valuable, but the work must
be different from anything offered in the marketplace that is imported
or manufactured. You can’t compete with Third
World economies. They can feed a family of four for a week on $10. You
If we have a few open
dates, we think about it, and think about it, - and hope something
better (nearer to home, less expensive, a longer show history, etc.)
comes along - or we simply forget until about 2 or 3 weeks
before the show. There may be room for us, but the show won’t
have the same great advertising the promoter wants to buy,
because we signed up late .
With many spaces unpaid, no
promoter will contract for as much advertising as a show that is almost
full. Ads are planned and contracts signed at least a month prior to
the event; - sign up early for the best
Same Old, - Same Old
easy to make the same old thing which has always sold,
so crafters don’t take time to design new products, - or they
make the same thing everyone else is making, and wonder why their sales
take a made-in-Poland wooden toy truck and
sell it as their own work, - and who take a made-in-China bear, pop a
beret on his head or a scarf around his neck, and call it
‘hand-crafted.’ I confronted one crafter
about her Chinese bears, “Well I have a kid in
Clever assembly of
manufactured or imported
products makes a product which is still only manufactured or imported.
Maybe you’re making money, short term, but you are killing
the market in every community you show this type of work as "hand-crafted."
Dutchess Community College Craft Fair in Poughkeepsie, NY a few weeks
ago, a woman bought something that the vendor claimed was her own work.
In fact, this same vendor went to great pains to point out things in
other booths that she claimed were either imported or manufactured.
the show, the customer contacted the show committee when she saw
exactly the same thing on sale at K Mart, - with ‘imported
from China” stickers on the bottom, at half the price, in
exactly the same colors, etc.. What
do you think this customer’s attitude will be about going to
future craft shows? What do you think she will
her friends and family?
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High-End And One-of-A-Kind Work
whose sales have not changed, except perhaps for the better? Craftsmen
with upscale work: meaningoriginal designs you don’t
see anywhere else,and which, because they are truly
one-of-a-kind, sell well at high prices, - I
mean $100 and up. Work
which may not be unique
high-end designer pieces, but are so well-executed, that they can
command higher than normal prices also sells very well. It can compete
in any market and outshine the competition.
When was the
last time you took a course to upgrade your skills in your chosen
medium? Have you taken a course in something else with the intention of
bringing new insight and processes to your work? --or do you plan on
the same old thing, the same old way, until you are too old to
do craft shows, or until they peter out, - which may be sooner than
when you want to retire.
is Like a Who-Dunnit!
see the effect and everyone is looking for the cause. It’s
a combination of things: mechanization, abuse of copyrights, (as in the
lawsuit against Target Stores who allegedly took a handcrafted clay
lamp to be copied and imported from China, - sold them at about 1/3rd
the price of the handcrafted one.) It’s also caused by
exhibitors who are too flipping lazy to make their own
product. They buy imports and resell it as their own
product. Stick a Chinese bear on a rocker,
pull the sticker off the wooden train set, and make lots of money at a
The market is sick, - maybe
it’s not dying yet,but it is in
pretty bad shape. Your future as a craftsman depends on good
shows; even one person can help the arts economy.
Honor the contract.
the contract says, “Handcrafted by exhibitor only”
that’s what you should sell: handcrafted work by your own
hands. Save your ‘blended
products’ and imports, etc. for open
shows: shows that accept new merchandise.
Sign up for shows early.
A month before the event, promoters expect to
have most of the spaces filled, -or they may cancel the event.
That’s what happened to the Autumn Leaf Craft Fair at
Catamount in Hillsdale, NY, the SPCA Show in Stone Ridge, NY, and other
shows with long histories.
most of the spaces haven’t been filled (and paid for) a month
before the event, how can a promoter commit
hundreds/thousands of dollars to advertising for the show? After
all, the promoter gets what’s left of the money after he pays
rent for the building/grounds, insurance, mailing, printing, postage, and
advertising. The only thing that can be cut is the
advertising budget, because everything else has
been already paid for.
then who will be whining about poor attendance? Why, the
same crafters who were the last to sign up, of course. Unfortunately,
the early-birds will also be affected. Didn’t you
for a show is contracted at least a month in advance?
It comes down to this, Virginia;there is
no Santa Claus.
corporations raise money for a cause, and professional promoters are
earning a living. When
shows go down, they will be cancelled if they are not profitable.
craft shows are an American tradition, and should have hand-crafted
work displayed proudly and professionally.
Unless we consider the future, there
won’t be a future for American handcrafts. Preserve
the concept .
Sign up for shows as early as
your skills and create new designs as an ongoing project so
that every year you will have several new products to present to your
you have a line of product that is profitable, but is not
your work, -look for appropriate shows in which to sell it.
Make money, but not at the cost of bringing down a
hand-crafted-work-only show. There are markets for imports and
manufactured products, -but it’s not
at a juried craft show.
Do these things and your sales will
go up, your carefully-chosen shows will prosper, especially if there
are more craftsmen like you. Spread
the word: The shows are evolving, -it
will be survival of the fittest.
best juried shows
will have honest-to-goodness craftsmen who sign up early, and
show promoters who are (therefore) willing to spend lots of
money on advertising to let the public know that something
special is happening. It’s up to
start with just a few loud voices; let your voice be heard, - and let
your actions speak louder.
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