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~ Survival of the Fittest ~

by Betty Chypre

    Now in the midst of the so-called New Economy, I see an interesting phenomenon: many 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 on?”

Right or wrong, I have come to these conclusions: The shows have changed , 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 can’t.

Craftsmen are Procrastinators! 

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 visibility.

 Same Old, - Same Old

It’s 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 suffer. 

‘Masqueraders’ who 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 college.” Right!

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."

At 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.

After 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 tell her friends and family?


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Original, High-End And One-of-A-Kind Work

Guess 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.

This is Like a Who-Dunnit!

We 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 craft fair.

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. If 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.

If 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.

So 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 know thatadvertising for a show is contracted at least a month in advance?

 It comes down to this, Virginia;there is no Santa Claus.

  Non-profit 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.

Juried 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 possible.

Upgrade your skills and create new designs as an ongoing project so that every year you will have several new products to present to your customers.

If 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. 

The 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 you.

Revolutions start with just a few loud voices; let your voice be heard, - and let your actions speak louder.


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