The Festival of Crafts is a large, four-day, juried artisan show located in the BMO in Calgary. I was lucky enough to get into the show and I’m happy to report that I ended the year on the high note – best sales of the year!
This is a next-level show. I’ve had my eye on it for about a year and a half. I remember last December, Sam and I sitting in my home in Nova Scotia, she was finishing edits on her book and I was pouring over the convention schedule. As soon as the application went up, I applied.
The booth was expensive (Calgary Expo prices for the same size–around $800) and there were no smaller spaces to inhabit unless I was classified as an “emerging artist” (less than five years experience in your field). With my application, I had to send high quality images of all my products (thank goodness for Dave and his fancy camera!) as well as a personal letter about my artistic process and my past achievements in my field. I had to send those in the MAIL on a CD to Ottawa with a $200 deposit on the space. I was so thrilled when I was accepted…but then also very stressed!
They sent me multiple documents filled with regulations and rules–so much more than a comic convention–that I had to read over. I had to get exhibitor insurance, but that’s good for the year, and I’m probably at that point where it’s a responsible idea. I had to submit the names of the people working my booth so they could print them on the badges. No names, no badges. I also had a heavy workload in the days leading up to the show–after all, I was losing Thursday and Friday to the booth, not just a weekend or a Friday evening. I ended doing most of my display arranging on Thursday morning before opening.
Compared to all the other vendors, my display wasn’t super great. But it also allowed me to see what it could be, and where I still have to innovate. I was looking for a kick in the butt in this department and I’m glad I got it.
I don’t have enough product to effectively use a 10 x 10 space. Honestly, I don’t need one, though as I approach 10-20 books, that will change. Plus, with books, being front-facing is extremely important to catch those introvert sales.
I will have to re-think my display for 10 x 10, and that means having more shelving, flooring, and lighting. That’s a fairly large investment – and a pain to transport and keep. Essentially I’d be building an entire mini store. If I were to do all this, I’d also like to have a stool, not a chair, so I can actually sit down at times and still be seen!
Walking around on Friday morning gave me some perspective on my own product as well. The covers are visually attractive–they draw the eye and often suck people into a vortex, even if they’re not book people. I think I can afford to have more “white space” in my display to allow the books to breathe.
So, all in all, I have a lot to think about for 2018! Which is exciting. I’m ready to take this to the next level. Display 2.0 that Jessie made for me will also play into that (as soon as we figure out how to get it here–it is HUGE!).
The traffic pattern was similar to the Expo Holiday Market: droves of people in the morning, then trickles in the afternoon. Most of the attendees were elderly women and mothers with young children. By the end of the day, be it 9pm or 6pm, it was mostly vendercon.
I had people recognize me from various conventions and events! I hit and exceeded my minimum sales goal, but I also expected more. If I’d had a middle grade series or a picture book, I probably would have made double. I’ve been thinking about doing a middle grade series for a long time now, so I may have to slot that in within the next two years. I also had a lot of people asking about Within (it’s on the eBook sign and my postcards). If I’d had that book, I probably would’ve made extra bank as well.
I sold way more individual copies of Stars In Her Eyes than The Violet Fox, however, I sold far, far more Violet Fox sets than Sparkstone Sagas. Since I have the reprints for The Violet Fox now, I’ve dropped the price, since they are non-French-Flap versions now! Still, the bundle price for The Violet Fox and The Silver Spear is $30. Next year that’ll raise to $45 when I have The Emerald Cloth out. I also have less than twenty copies of The Silver Spear print run left – so I’ll have to reprint in the new year. My storage situation is pretty limited so my print runs have been tame (around 300-500), but if I continue doing a lot of larger shows, I’ll have to increase the size of my runs. That means a bigger upfront cost, but a lower unit price.
A little more than half of my customers used credit and debit. I actually had some trouble with my Moneris at this show, but I think it was because I hadn’t restarted my phone in a while, and the bluetooth “forgot” it was connecting to the machine. Once I rebooted everything, it was fine, but it was a terrifying moment! I heard some other people having trouble with the new Square tap device–apparently you really have to make sure it’s properly tethered to your phone! All in all, I’m happy with my Moneris machine–it takes literally every form of payment (including American Express and Apple Pay)–and other than the small technical hiccups I’ve had, I’m satisfied with their service. It is still $20.95 a month, regardless if I’m doing a show. But since I only have two months (January and February) where I’m not doing shows, that’s not really a huge cost to pay for a lot of convenience the rest of the year.
Fewer than normal people returned after a sales conversation–this could be due to the fact that it’s not the kind of show you’d necessarily be spending a ton of time at, like a comic con, where you want to get your $25 worth of simply getting in the door.
Overall, this convention beat out Calgary Expo’s numbers for first place in 2017 show sales!
The weekday hours were extremely long: 10am – 9pm. I understand why: they want to catch the morning crowd, but allow families and working people to come in the evening. It just makes for a very long day when you’re all by yourself! Not to mention, many of these vendors are regulars, meaning they do every single Signatures Christmas show–and Festival of Crafts is the last show for many of them. Imagine being on the road for two months doing Christmas shows! Apparently one of the attendees complained to the show runner that she was tired of hearing all the vendors say how tired they were. SIGH! I can see how that would be annoying, but the days are LONG!
As many of you regular readers know, I love talking to other creative entrepreneurs! It was so inspiring to see so many creative entrepreneurs not just selling their wares, but showing up with beautiful displays and products I’ve never seen or heard of before. Every single vendor was so nice and welcoming to little ol me!
I was across from Moose Creek, a family business that hand-makes and sells wraps and ponchos. They’ve been in business for at least twenty years, doing shows across the country, and they also do well in the wholesale market as well. I had many chats with Carol and her son Mike throughout the weekend. They’ve just finished up eight weeks of shows!
I also got to know Hayley from Zig Zag Creations, Bonnie from Rayna Dog Collars (Carrie Fisher purchased from her last year!) and Leonie from Maple & Oak Designs. Leonie had the CUTEST display, complete with dresser, clothing rack, draping, and flooring, it was like stepping into a little bedroom! Bonnie was so nice – I loved the clean look of her collars on her shelves. Hayley was really fun; there was so much to look at in her booth with her lip-chap holders, her cute little slip-on ties, and so many other useful little products for parents with elementary school children.
Thanks to all my friends who came and visited me in my booth!!! 🙂
Mostly from the elderly people, I got an earful of high quality Overheards.
1. An older woman and her friends were looking at my books. She said, “Oh well, I’m not a reader, I’m a TV-er! Hehe, it rhymes!” She then had to repeat her joke, louder, to her friends because they were all hard of hearing.
2. An older man did a double take on the Stars In Her Eyes cover, frowned, and said, “Hey, how do we know that she’s got stars in her eyes if she’s got her eyes closed?” I guess…that’s a good point? Dave and I laughed so hard at that later–I’ve never even thought about that before.
3. I had a lot of “kids don’t read anymore” comments from the older folks (which I promptly informed them, that’s just not true, else I would not be making a living selling my books and helping others make books). One man, however, had an entire theory on the matter that he decided I would love to hear: “Kids these days, they don’t read. They’re always on the computer. Computers should be regulated. You should have to put in your name, your country, and your city when you’re on there. Also, the service should be the same across the province, no matter where you are, it should cost the same.”
SO MUCH TO UNPACK THERE GOOD SIR.
Also, multiple people asked me if I was psychic, out of the blue. I have a complicated relationship with this question. I still don’t know how to answer it without alienating the customer. I think it’s the “faery” spelling that triggers it. It’s one thing if we’re having a conversation about the supernatural. It comes up. I’m happy to talk about spirits, ghosts, divination, and otherworldly things in a positive, accepting way–because I was raised to be a tolerant person and it’s important to keep an open mind. But I also have a healthy dose of scepticism. There are those that take advantage of desperate people and I don’t support that. Ultimately, I’m selling novels, and only novels–not wellness or new age products. I guess I need a big red sign that says “BOOKS”?
I was hungry and by myself, but I didn’t want to leave the booth. I thought, there’s a candy apple stall around the corner, maybe I could run and get one. I had seen them during set up, and I promised myself I would get one as a treat.
So I ran and after some humming and hawing, picked one out. Only after I was paying for it did I realize it was $14! I don’t think I’ve EVER paid that much for an apple. Granted, it was good. Caramel, chocolate, Rice Krispies, and a drizzle of white chocolate. Yummmmm.
Will I Go Back Next Year?
I’d LOVE to! Subject to another successful application, of course. In 2018, I have a list of Christmas shows I want to hit up to get those sweet, sweet holiday dollars.
Another full year of conventions and events! I did thirteen shows this year (including the Banff Farmers Market days).
I didn’t quite hit my ambitious sales goal, but I’m not dissatisfied. I added some really great shows to my roaster (Ottawa and Otafest) while maintaining a strong presence at the now-regulars (Calgary, Edmonton, and Hal-Con). I experimented with non-comic-con shows with varying levels of success, but overall mostly positive!
Here are all the shows I did, ranked from highest revenue to lowest.
1. Festival of Crafts
2. Calgary Expo
3. Edmonton Expo
4. Ottawa Comiccon
8. Expo Holiday Market
9. Fan Expo Regina
10. Banff Farmers Market
11. When Words Collide
And here’s the rank by per-day average sales, highest to lowest:
1. Festival of Crafts
2. Calgary Expo
3. Edmonton Expo
5. Ottawa Comiccon
6. Expo Holiday Market
8. Fan Expo Regina
10. Banff Farmers Market
11. Drumheller Comic & Entertainment Expo
12. When Words Collide
1. The per-day average sales is probably the more important and telling of the two lists, as it evens the playing field somewhat. When Words Collide was three days, but the average per-day earning was lower than my one day at Drumheller. Squeezing dollars out of hours is hard, so obviously I want to prioritize shows where my per-day dollar value is high. Ultimately I use this list to determine what shows I do in the next year.
2. I counted my three days doing the Banff Farmers Market as one event for the purpose of these lists. I had a great day, a mediocre day, and a bad day. If I had had three great days, Banff would rank higher than Hal-Con on both lists.
3. Only $2 separates Otafest and Ottawa in the per-day average list.
4. My cut-off between “good” and “mediocre/not great” lies between Hal-Con and C4 in the pure revenue list. Nearly $250 separates the two.
The biggest question I’ve had over the last year and a half was, is there a ceiling to my sales? The answer is yes–but I think it can be broken with more product, not necessarily bigger spaces and bigger shows. Otafest, despite its smaller size (around 8,000 people in 2017) was in my top five in terms of highest revenue. Granted, that show is based on a lottery system, and there’s no guarantee I can get in each year. Hal-Con is only 10,000 people and is number six, beating out larger shows by hundreds and hundreds of dollars of revenue. Again, I’m from Nova Scotia, which proves a working theory I have about selling in known communities versus unknown communities. It takes time and money to convert a new community into a regular community, however.
I learned a lot this year! In summary:
• I need to produce more, faster. Probably to the tune of 2-3 new books a year, at least, to satisfy my hungry readers and grow my sales.
• I can successfully have a proxy without seeing a significant decrease to sales.
• Fewer small shows. No more new, untested waters.
• I don’t need a huge booth to see huge sales: my covers do a lot of the heavy lifting.
I already have about five shows confirmed for next year and I can’t wait to get my new books (The Emerald Cloth and Darkness In Her Reach, especially) out into the world. Plus SO MANY other projects that I can’t wait to share!!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all, see you in the new year!!!!!!!!!!!