Over the last dozen years, I’ve run across several lists of advice for crafters about what to do and not to do when vending at craft fairs. I’ve written several of these lists myself and find that they’re a useful reminder that it pays to be organized and professional when attending these events.
What I don’t see very often are guidelines for those who would organize and run a craft show. With small indie shows becoming more prominent over the last few years, it seems that there are more and more instances of poor organization, communication, and leadership every year. “Indie” in many cases has come to be synonymous with “amateur” and worse. Unfortunately, it is often the vendors who pay the price for badly run events, taking a hit in the wallet.
So here are the short list of suggestions for those who would run shows:
1. Be responsive to communications from potential vendors.
Ignoring written or verbal messages from vendors simply is not acceptable. Yes, occasionally a vendor will ask lots of annoying questions that you’ve already answered or that are irrelevant. However, the vast majority of vendors send communications for legitimate reasons. Ignoring those communications is incredibly disrespectful and unprofessional.
2. If you make promises to your vendor, follow up and make sure you provide what you have promised. If you aren’t able to keep your promises, be prepared to give a partial refund or find a way to make it up to the vendors.
If you tell your vendors that you will provide a table and two chairs, then be sure that’s what you give them. Many small vendors don’t have a lot of equipment or funds and rely on organizers to supply items that they’ve promised. Likewise, time is a precious commodity for many vendors. If you’ve stated that the space will be available for set-up at a specific time, make sure it actually is. When I found that the parking lot where a show was to be held was still full of cars at set-up time, one of the show organizers suggested that I call the city police to have the cars towed if they were “in the way.” I think not.
3. Have a plan B for every aspect of the show and do not demand assistance from the vendors if you’ve failed to cover something.
This is related to the last point. Mistakes do happen, and while most vendors are very friendly and helpful people, it’s unreasonable for an organizer to expect them to pick up the slack. This week, I received an email sent on behalf of a show organizer, saying that their deal for table rentals had fallen through and could someone please loan them tables. This email arrived at the end of the week for a show this weekend. The organizer has essentially announced that they’ve failed to provide what they promised and expect other people to be responsible for providing a solution to the problem. As I said, mistakes happen, but if you organize a show, don’t place the responsibility on others to provide something that you’ve promised. Have a plan B and if necessary, a plan C, D, etc.
4. Always check required permitting, insurance, etc before the show.
One show I vended at last year had all their signs taken down by the city, because the organizers failed to get permission from the city to post said signs. The city was ruthlessly efficient about it, removing all the signs before the show even started. Many of the show’s attendees complained that they had a hard time finding the show because of the promised signs weren’t in place. Filling out a simple form could have avoided this, but the organizers “didn’t think it’d be an issue.” The key part of that statement is that they didn’t think. Unfortunately, failure to plan by the organizers does constitute a crisis on the part of the vendors, whose cash registers take the hit.
5. Appreciate that not all vendors have unlimited resources. Do not hold checks hostage for extended time periods while making jurying decisions.
Vendors may have limited resources to use for show fees and count on organizers to be quick about accepting or rejecting their applications. If you are going to take more than a couple of weeks to make a decision on whether a vendor is accepted, then do not demand that payment in full be made up front. Offer to take a deposit or create an application fee instead.
6. If something goes wrong, take ownership of the problem and do not play the blame game. Do not engage in rumor-mongering or allow others to do so on your behalf.
One show I attended last year had very poor attendance. During the course of the day, several friends of the organizer came around to “chat” with the vendors. These chats consisted of sympathy pleas for the organizers and a long list of reasons for the poor attendance that were the fault of outside factors or agencies. There’s no reason for this kind of petty blame-placing, especially when it was clear that if the organizer had followed up with a phone call or two, the problems could have been avoided.
7. Show respect for the time, money, and energy that the vendors invest in the application process. Give your vendors the courtesy of telling them directly information that affects them before sharing this information with others.
I’m going to admit that I’m annoyed with a show organizer right now. We applied for a show earlier in the summer that required the full show fee be submitted with the application, with the promise that anyone who didn’t make the cut would have their fee “promptly returned.” We heard nothing from them for over a month, not even an acknowledgement that they’d received an application.
The day by which the notifications were to be made, I emailed the organizer to ask what was going on and got no response. That evening, I checked the website to see if perhaps something was posted there and found that this year’s vendor list had been posted to the site. Two hours after that, I received a form email that was essentially a rejection letter. I never did receive a response to the email I sent. As for the fee, it came back to me this week (a rather un-prompt six weeks after it had been submitted), shoved in an envelope on which my name was misspelled. There was no letter or note included, just my check, looking as if it had been mangled (the envelope was pristine, so I can’t blame the post office for that one). Needless to say that I’m not applying for this show again, nor will I support it in any way.
8. Do not publicly disparage vendors or their work… ever.
Just don’t do it. Period. End of sentence. ‘Nuff said. If I need to explain why you don’t do this, you really should not be running a show. In fact, you shouldn’t be dealing with people at all.
So there you have it, just a few ideas for organizers. In fairness, I have to say that the vast majority of show organizers I’ve worked with have been absolutely wonderful and responsive to the needs of both vendors and customers. However, the ones that were bad were really bad. I only can hope that my fellow vendors never have to deal with these problems.