The cream of craft shows are the long running circuits that offer TV commercials, heavy newspaper advertising and bring in the crowds because of their careful jurying process.
The Country Folk Art Shows (CFA) are a year round tour that mainly covers the east coast but has tried shows on the west coast as well.
The Harvest Festivals (THF) have been doing some of their locations in California for over 30 years and most for at least 25-they are primarily a California Tour but at times have tried shows in several western states and Texas.
These shows usually run 3 days Friday through Sunday and sell you nothing but floor space-everything else is extra and you must meet strict rules and levels of talent to get into the shows-CFA runs from $400.00 to $1,600.00 for a space depending on size-there is also a premium charge for a corner and a charge for electricity, your work must match their theme, you have to build a 3 walled booth and it also must be themed.
THF is about the same price but their corner premium is double CFA’s however THF has a wider range of artists and the work is more contemporary-many of the artists in THF shows are also in galleries and top juried art shows as well.
CFA has no food or entertainment THF has both-both have an entry fee for customers and actually use some of the same venues for their California shows from there however they are very different.
CFA can bring in the high end buyers and people are there to shop especially at shows like Edison, New Jersey.
It is not uncommon for the aisles to be so full that customers will step into your booth and shop just to get out of the crowds.
CFA also has an early buyer policy on Friday evenings-they charge a higher admission for the privilege of getting first shot at the merchandise but the crowds are there and so are the sales-some of the best shows I ever had money wise were at CFA shows-and comparing apples with apples CFA in Pleasanton, CA was worth more than triple what THF brought in.
In Los Angeles it's not uncommon to see well known celebrities shopping at THF.
That’s MY experience it doesn’t mean that other artists don’t do better than I did or worse at either show.
I have also sold to the walls-that means totally empty shelves-on both tours.
When you decide to go with this kind of show tour you really have to have your products and production methods solid and you have to be ready for the expense of doing 3 to 6 or more of these shows in order to cover the fall season leading up to Christmas-this also means having merchandise that includes fall and winter themes, gifts and home décor items that are still within the look and rules of the shows.
It is also not uncommon for artists and crafters to have other fall favorite shows and split their wares between a city sponsored show and a convention center show on the same weekend (Half Moon Bay used to be one of those split weekends with THF.
I always did the Vegas Christmas Spectacular show instead of the THF Pomona Fairground show strictly because I could make far more money in Vegas.
No one can teach you how to do these shows, each has its own feel and flow-and each city they are held in has a diverse group of buyers-you feel your way at first and after doing the shows for awhile your display techniques and product choices become almost automatic.
I found THF shows too constraining and had a better time at CFA where I could literally set up a gift shop with a widely diverse collection of products-also Rhonda and Keith Blakely the producers are personable and friendly and their dedicated regular exhibitors get good spaces and exposure because they are more hands on as producers than THF-this said I haven’t done THF since they changed management, my opinions are based on the days when they were also owned and run by two families of producers.
Many tours like Southern Lady and others seem to come and go so research your geographic area to decide whether or not there are enough shows for you to do and how expensive it will be to do them.
I have also included a few links at the end of this post with some regional listings I do not endorse any of these companies other than as information for you to peruse.
As I mentioned we drove across country and did shows in the North east and Florida as well as California and Colorado with CFA-you have to plan enough time to get across the country in order to arrive the day before set up in the first city-that means motels gas and food for several days-then you need to stay in the city where the show is over the weekend-CFA offers a host hotel generally with a discount rate for exhibitors many artists travel in RVs so they carry their accommodations with them.
We always planned for 3 or 4 shows on a trip so we might do Rochester, New York, Edison, New Jersey and a third city in New Jersey or Pennsylvania-the producers plan the tours so the shows are an easy day or so drive apart-in between you can do a little sightseeing or you can work on your products and get ready for the next show-we often did a combination of both.
You need to be ready for the huge onslaught of buyers, restocking the booth while it is full of people, long hours on your feet and weeks of travel away from home-many people have product shipped to them at the convention center where the show will be held so it’s there when they arrive-however this can be risky if the boxes go missing-you also have to be ready for dealing with unions, breakdowns (car, merchandise, mental) and how to do your banking on the road-We arranged with a bank manager to accept deposits by mail-we would go to the Auto Club and buy travelers Cheques with the cash we were sending for deposit and stamp all the checks and credit card slips then Fed Ex all that to the bank back in California-I also have been known to walk around with several thousand dollars in the toe of my boot or to have a money belt full of hundreds when we couldn’t find an Auto Club with enough Travelers Checks on hand.
Thankfully we were never robbed nor did we have any major problems with our vehicle or our bodies but we knew people who had their cars and vans stolen, were mugged and had major illnesses or injuries while far from home so you learn to be ready for anything.
I remember well a show where we took up a collection of cash so a couple from Arizona would have enough money to buy gas and eat on the way home-their shows were not good and they were, literally, broke and stuck in Upstate New York-not fun.
Artists are usually kind and generous people so they were taken care of although we never saw them again so I guess they changed their plans so far as the art business was concerned.
In my career I have been through rain, wind, thunder, wild fires, tornado warnings and electrical storms, empty shows when I had too much merchandise and packed shows when I was short of goods, I have watched while junk sold for big bucks but my better items sat there and had the thrill of selling something I was proud of for a price that it was worth to someone who really loved it---ART can take you everywhere.
During my career in Arts and Crafts Faires I visited 41 of the lower 48 states and parts of Canada.
It is a thrilling, infuriating, wonderful, horrible,exhillirating, exhausting and challenging business and I know several exhibitors that are still doing shows in the late 70’s/early 80’s-it can be a good retirement job.
Whether you do one show in your local park a year or you travel the country I hope you have even a fraction of the fun and rewards that I got from the Art business.
In the final installment I will sum up some of my experiences and add some tips for those who are leaning toward trying this as a profession.