Monday, September 13, 2010

Renegade Recap!

There was a whirlwind of activity this weekend centered around a bachelorette party for a very dear friend!  Lucky for me, this friend is as crafty as I am, and the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago was right up her alley.  So, after an evening at The Second City Chicago Mainstage, a group of us girls hit the Renegade Craft Fair in Wicker Park.  This post is meant to be an overall review of the craft fair from a seller's and buyer's perspective- hope you enjoy!

First, it did take us about 20 minutes to find parking, but to be fair, the organizers of the Renegade Craft Fair (RCF) did warn us on their website to try to take mass transportation or bike in to the fair.  I was driving our large SUV since we had so many people with us, so I wasn't able to fit in some of the smaller spots that were available.  Still, we were only about a 5 minute walk from the start of the fair, which actually brings me to my next point.

There were two main starting points for the craft fair, which I think was fantastic!  The organizers of RCF had two booths, one at each end of the over 300 booths that were lining the street that was closed off.  At these booths, they had people manning the table for questions, to sell souvenir Renegade items, hand out a map/program of the event, and generally welcome people to the craft fair.  Having two official starting points for the fair definitely helped people spread out and have more parking options.

Set up of the event was great!  There were 1-2 vendors per tent, and the tents were set up back to back creating two long rows of shopping- very efficient, and it kept the foot traffic flowing.  It reminded me a lot of the french markets in Paris with a very casual atmosphere, people wandering through the streets as if they just happened upon the market.  It also was very young, very fresh feeling!  I've gone to countless craft shows, and I will say that this is the first that felt like it featured items that 100% fit my demographic- it was fun, funky, trendy and had none of the "country/home-y craft fair" feeling.  Score!

Now for the review of the vendors!  LOTS of people from Etsy were there!  LOTS of people that I actually recognized from Treasuries, Front Page features, and new listings!  There was a wide variety of shops- jewelry, pottery, soaps, paper mache, screen printed items (dishtowels, aprons, t-shirts, onesies, bibs, etc.), letter pressed items (business cards, stationery, etc.), clothing/accessory items (scarves, dresses, purses, etc.).  Not a lot on the home front, which was refreshing (no country craft fair items like I mentioned above), but also disappointing because the fair definitely attracted the type of crafts person from whom I would be interested in having home furnishings/accessories.

Of course I not only walked the craft fair as a potential buyer of all these awesome handmade items, but also as a shop owner myself (though not selling at the fair).  What made some of these booths successful versus others?  What made them stand out?  How did they interact with their customers?  These, of course, are just my personal observations about the fair and only over few hours, so please forgive me if your experience was dissimilar.

What made for a unsuccessful or successful booth?
Unsuccessful could be summed up by the one vendor I saw who had the whole tent to themselves, only one table in the center of the booth, she was sitting at the table with some of her shallow (a la Paloma's Nest) bowls on the table, and that was it- no decorations, nothing of interest in her booth, and consequently, no customers (not to say she didn't have any, but I didn't see a soul in the barren tent she had set up).  My recommendation here would have been for her to share her tent with someone else- at least then she could have had additional passers-by as customers were interacting with the other vendor's booth, and let's face it, she obviously didn't need all that space.  Talk about low Sales per Square Foot!

I measured a "successful booth" as a booth that had a number of people waiting for their turn to look at items in the booth, or a booth that had a crowd of people.

So, what made these booths successful?
These vendors had very interactive, colorful, fun tents.  Often they were shared tents- I definitely had the feeling that if there were a lot of people in the tent checking items out, that it was worth the wait, and I, too, decided to wait my turn.  Sometimes it was a valid assumption, sometimes I just made my little loop in their tent and continued on my way, but I always stopped.  I wanted to see what the "commotion" was all about! 

I also pointed out to a friend that I LOVED the shops that had created some kind of "floor" for their tent- whether an all-weather rug, an oriental rug, FLOR tiles, or sisal, it made their shop feel more like a boutique and not just a stand in the middle of the road.  Definitely a take-away for me should I do a craft fair in the future!  How the tents were themed, I feel, was also a big success factor for many shop owners.  I loved the shops that had decorations that really expressed what their shop was about.  The themes did not necessarily have to be complex and shops did not have to be "overdressed", but having some kind of decoration in the shop (again, being "interactive" for the customers) really seemed to draw the crowds.  Be different in your shop theme to set your shop apart from all the others (300+ to be precise!).

The corner tents had two "entrances" which made it MUCH easier to shop!  Their booths felt much more open, and I feel like people could really see what these vendors were selling.  You do lose a "wall" for displaying items that need to hang, but some crafty display creating would solve that problem, and you get that much more visibility.

BUSINESS CARDS, BUSINESS CARDS, BUSINESS CARDS!  There were actually some shops that didn't have business cards available for customers who didn't purchase (or those who wanted to share the shop with other people) to take away!  Also, some of the business cards that I did pick up, I actually went to the site to see what else they offered, and there was no way to purchase from the sites that they provided on the cards.  This is the INTERWEBS ERA!!  If you don't have an online shop, GO HOME!  That may sound harsh, but this isn't our grandparent's craft fair!

And, lastly for the Success Factors section, I have "common themes" issues...this kind of goes up with the "be different in your shop theme to set your shop apart from all the others" comment I made a couple of paragraphs ago...the one most common theme I saw at the RCF was fabric pennants.  The first couple of shops I saw with them, I was all, "oh, how cute! These are so trendy right now- everyone loves them!", but by the end, I was like, "Ugh! Be original!! Stop doing what everyone else does!".  I saw ONE shop that had a different take on the fabric pennant that was refreshing- it was a shop that sold knitted scarves, and they had knitted pennants instead.  FUNSIES!  Another shop had their shop banner made out of those paper interlocking chains, and when I saw that, I almost did a fist-pump! YES! Someone who did something original!!  That would be my last bit of advice that goes pretty much across all the topics - BE ORIGINAL!

How did the shop owners interact with their customers?
This is a HUGE pet-peeve of mine!  I am one of those self-sufficient customers who hates to be hassled when I go into a store by the associates- if I have a question, I'll find you.  But craft fairs are different!  To me, part of being at a craft fair is to TALK to the vendors!  Not to find out their secrets and rip off their items, but to show my appreciation to fellow crafters!  To connect!  To express my excitement when I see some of my favorite Etsy sellers there!  I was let down time after time by the shop owners.  Most were sitting behind their tables, hidden in the corner of their tents, not interacting with their customers at all.  I was looking at some necklaces, and the shop owner actually scared me- I didn't see him crouching in the corner, and when he sat up straight, he startled me!  So many people either ignored us completely, or they would awkwardly ask how we were doing.  I only saw ONE person who was actively talking to their customers- they were out in the middle of their tent, explaining their inspiration to people, talking through the features of their items, etc.  This is so important!  I fear that the reason this craft fair was so bad in particular is because these are younger people who have perhaps never worked retail or had any kind of customer-focused job, and they have no idea how to promote or sell themselves and their products.  That's very important, too- they are selling themselves (their image) just as much as they are selling the products in their store front.  Again, this is the interwebs age- if someone doesn't buy then, they could buy online!  If they DID buy then, they may want to buy online again!  Positive experiences with your customers will create a loyal customer.  If you are a shop owner contemplating doing an in-person event, please take heart!

Overall, I loved the Renegade Craft Fair, and I am so pumped for the next one!  I wish the occurred more than just once a year here in Chicago, but I'll take what I can get!  These types of events are the #1 reason I LOVE living so close to a big city!  Leave a note to let us know if you had a similar or different experience, or if you have any thoughts about craft fairs you've been to!

Now, I'd like to leave you with three photos that I took while at the Renegade Craft Fair!

This one is just a great "in the city" photo, I think:

I saw this mural on the wall of a Mexican restaurant on my way back to the car after the fair- GO HAWKS!

And, last but not least (it's my favorite!), I happened to glance over and see this pretty view of the city as I was crossing the street- I just had to make my way back to capture it in the setting sunlight!

And, that's my Renegade Recap!

1 comment:

  1. You summed up my experience precisely! Very well written! I will add two learnings, both of which we have already discussed in person. :-)

    1- Unless you have something really unique, think about the price points you offer. Some inexpensive impulse items will drive traffic and sales in your shop. The $5 hair clip I purchased, for example.
    2- This goes back to engaging your customers. The biggest problem I had with sellers was feeling like they were watching me shop. Do something! Tidy or make conversation. Having them just sit there was awkward and I left their booths quickly.