2013 Buyers Market – American Made Show
Andrew and I were honored to be invited by Carolyn Edlund; Executive Director of the Arts Business Institute who frequently speaks to groups and individuals about building creative careers as well as marketing and selling their work, to attend the 2013 Buyers Market of America which turned out to be one of the most amazing handmade shows I have ever seen. Isle upon isle of handmade crafts from the United States and Canada showcased in all their glory for potential wholesale customers to order.
This event is not open to the public, but rather restricts its attendees to a few categories which include the artist and their helpers, buyers whom must meet strict standards of business, gallery owners and their buyers, as well as members of the press which was the capacity in which we were able to attend. Because of this process, you will not find crafty people wandering the isles looking for ideas or strolling groups looking to kill some time, instead you find artists that have taken their businesses to the next level and serious buyers looking to stock their stores with wonderful handmade goods bought directly from the artist.
After registering at the market, we were directed to the press table where we found row after row of press kits created by the artists to make the buyers experience easier. These kits contain artist bio as well as company information and purchasing information. Some included CD’s of their work and order forms and others contained glossy pictures of the products and wholesale catalogs. These kits proved to be very valuable since there was not enough time to get to each and every table of the market itself. These kits provide a clear picture of the work that was being shown as well as contact information if a buyer were to decide later to carry an artists’ work.
My first impression upon entering the room was the sheer size of the market itself. Held in the beautiful Philadelphia Convention Center, this massive room holds over 700 artists’ booths, each beautifully displayed and lit for maximum impact. The market is divided by media to make shopping easier for buyers to compare work side by side. These categories included glass, ceramics, mixed media, and jewelry which was then further divided into smaller, more specialized categories. The booths themselves are staffed, often times, by the artist themselves, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk to them about their craft, their business, and their goals as well as see the amazing work that comes from these talented artisans.
In addition to the buyer’s area itself, the Market hosts a number of seminars including information on how to get yourself and your work published, dynamic selling, and time management. These seminars are included in the registration fee and proved to be an invaluable resource taught by men and women in the industry so you were sure to get the real scoop from those that have been there. There was a runway show highlighting some amazing work by wearable artists and accessory designers as well as the Niche Awards which is given for innovative design in fine craft.
Andrew and I found ourselves in a very interesting room which was titled Emerging Artists Exhibition. This room is for artists of the ABI (Arts Business Institute) who are not yet selling at the market itself but are looking to the future. They each set up a small display with a sample of their work and visitors are given rating forms as they enter. As you walk the isle, you answer questions on a 1 to 10 scale such as “Product line: Is it coherent, original and distinctive?” and “Marketability of work.” Because the potential wholesale prices are listed, you are asked to assess whether these target prices are too high or low as well as recommend the potential market for the art such as gift shop, museum store, or resort shop. There is a blank space at the bottom of the questionnaire for comment and suggestions form the reviewer and then the form is placed in an envelope at the display. As an artist, we often tend to work and live in a bit of a bubble, so this type of feedback from impartial outsiders can prove amazingly useful to up and coming artists. It is up to them to decide if the feedback is worth considering and make changes or not. This type of anonymous feedback gives the artist a chance to put their work before the buying public and make any changes before diving headfirst into the world of wholesale.
There is so much more information that we gathered from the market itself such as booth displays (which were works of art in themselves!) and how to create a press kit which will be written up in future articles. Suffice it to say that we came away with an even greater appreciation of handmade art, if that was even possible and a wealth of information to share with up and coming artists whether or not your goal is to stay small or move into wholesale. If you yourself ever have the opportunity to attend this show, jump on it. There is no better place to really immerse yourself in the world of selling handmade than the Buyers Market.
If you are unable to attend a show such as this one, there is a variety of places online for you to check out which can give you a better idea of how to market your own work. The Buyers Market website includes a wealth of information under the Exhibitors tab and The Artsy Shark includes everything from featured artist interviews to articles on making your work stand out in a crowd. If you are serious about making your handmade art your business, the most important thing you can do is arm yourself with information and make a plan by listening to those in the business that understand your passion.