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By Ron Kalmakoff
Reprinted from the Fall 1996 issue of West Coast CRAFTLINK.
You've rented table space at your local craft fairs. You've ventured out to other communities and tried their fairs. You've booked a kiosk at the quay. You've even set up your wares in the center of the mall. And yet your exposure and sales are not what you truly desire. You're confident of the uniqueness and quality of your product. What else can you try? Why not a private showing of your work and ONLY your work?
Private showings have been the most successful avenue for Thingz by Zim!, a company formed five years ago by the artist, Zim, and myself as marketing director.
Zim offers two lines of art creations; Christmas and non-seasonal. His Christmas line includes whimsical ornaments, a wide variety of richly decorated pillows, and elegant Angel Scrolls in a Renaissance style. In addition to his increasingly popular Father Christmas doll he has added other dolls, all with porcelain faces and bedecked in luxurious clothing.
His non-seasonal creations include wall hangings, fabric sculptures, decorator pillows, and unique dolls, many of which are in limited editions. His sensational Floozie Pillowz and the loveable Oydz are always popular.
Zim is noted for his use of lavish fabrics, unique designs, attention to detail, and an ever-present sense of humour.
Because Zim had had considerable training and experience in scenery and costume design, I suggested to him five years ago that he transfer that expertise in the creation of art that I could market, drawing upon my years in the gift industry both in sales and display.
In January of 1992 Zim and I began working on his first line of creations that we planned to show to our friends and associates in October. (We had not yet encountered the craft show circuit.) As fall approached we drew up a list of people to invite-friends, business associates, and acquaintances. We mailed 75 invitations. I displayed his works using theatre props and posters to create a theme and prepared simple refreshments. We were well organized and raring to go but we didn't know what to expect.
Approximately 50 people turned out for the four hour event. During the first hour people milled around looking and eating -- but no sales! Then suddenly a line began to form at the sales table and by the end of the afternoon we had sold $4,800.00 in art work. One of the secrets of this success was -- no competition.
The following year our guest list expanded to 150 and people were calling asking if they could bring more than one guest. We were fortunate in another overwhelming success and the sales increased in proportion with the number of guests. Now people were asking "Will you invite me again next year?" and some were beginning to collect Zim's Christmas dolls.
In year three we rented a large room in the Executive Inn in Vancouver and expanded our list to 300, with over 200 people attending.
The fourth year we used the same location but extended the showing to two days and our guest list to 500.
This year, in addition to two days at the Executive Inn we are adding an additional showing in Maple Ridge. Our invitational list has grown to 1,000 and we are opening the events to the general public through advertising in various media.
These showings have become an eagerly awaited event for many people. Throughout these years Zim has diversified and expanded his work, offering exciting new work each year. We have made many profitable contacts through these showings as is the case this year where Zim has been invited by the University Women's Club at Hycroft House to exhibit his work in their gallery for the month of October.
If the idea of a private showing of your creativity sounds like a possibility, I would like to offer the following suggestions:
1. Confidence: Have confidence in your work. Be enthusiastic about showing your creations.
2. Select a location: If your home is spacious enough -- display your work in various rooms, allowing your guests to tour through your home, avoiding congestion in a single room. Display items on table tops, fireplace mantels, beds, etc. If your home is not appropriate investigate larger areas in churches, schools, or local recreation centers. Many areas can be rented at a minimal cost.
3. Invitations: Whatever form you choose make sure all pertinent information is included, especially a telephone number for further information.
4. Mailing list: Send to everyone you've ever known. You will be surprised how many people will be interested in what youre doing. The personal invitation makes each person feel special to be included. This is also an excellent way to meet people you haven't seen in a long time.
5. Room set up: Try a theme to give unity and excitement to the display of your work. Use antiques or other interesting objects to highlight your work. Adequate lighting is a must and appropriate background music can enhance the overall ambience of your event.
6. Refreshments: Provide simple refreshments such as fresh veggies and dip, breads and cheeses, or for the more decadent -- nothing but desserts! Happy stomachs make happy shoppers.
7. Helpers: Ask a few of your more outgoing, organized friends to assist with your showing. Don't sell the items yourself. Have a friend work the sales table and possibly someone to package the sales. You will need a person to oversee the refreshment area. An additional person will be needed to supervise the room -- restocking items and tidying up displays. These volunteers will allow you, as the artist, to circulate and socialize with your guests and bask in their praise.
8. Guest book: Place a guest book and pen where your guest will be exiting. Have space for names, addresses, and comments. You will pick up new names for your future mailing list. Have your business cards in this locations as well.
Make this an annual event and people will anticipate your showings. Keep your work fresh and expand your ideas. Utilize different locations, displays, and refreshments so your repeat customers have something new to stimulate their shopping instincts.
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