Picking The Right Shows, Protecting Yourself and Minimizing Your Risk
When it comes to show promoters and producers, they cover the spectrum from those that are wonderful, concerned, honest, genuinely interested in your success to those down right scum bags that are out to cheat you out of your hard earned money. There are also people out there that will gladly take your money and not care one bit if you make money or lose money at the end of the show. They don't cheat you directly, but they don't care if you do well and come back to their event. They know there will be another unsuspecting hard working artist, musician, crafter, food vendor, commercial exhibitor... ready to give their event a try next year.
So how do you protect yourself and your hard earned money? How do you pick good shows? The short answer is you can't 100% of the time. It is the nature of the beast due to the transient nature of the festival business, including art and craft shows, music festivals, art shows, and home & garden show. There is always another vendor to fill your spot next year, but it works both ways, there is always another event for you to go to! I am not suggesting you simply roll the dice each time you try a new event, but don't let a bad show or even a few bad shows shut you down. And yes, take some steps to protect yourself, which I will outline later.
One of the first things I tell anyone who wants to get into this business is to give it 3 years. If you are still struggling, still not finding your way after 3 years, perhaps this business is not for you. But, do not give up after a year or two years, it takes at least 2 and usually 3-4 years to figure it out and find a handful of shows that work for you and your product or whatever it is you do. Each year you will do some shows that you will keep and some you will let go. If you only keep 5 of the 15 or 20 or 45+ (as I did one year) shows you do, after 3 years you should have 15 - 20 good events to build on. I also stress the importance of getting organized, which you can read about in a prior article I did a few years ago. OK, on to how to minimize the risk and not lose money when trying a new show or getting taken by a slacker or a con artist.
Avoid first time events and try to do shows other suggest.
One of the first rules I developed after a fews years of doing shows was to never do a first year show unless I knew the promoter or organization producing the event. This is an easy way to weed out risky events. First time events, no matter how good the promoter/organizer is, are high risk. A good promoter will tell you this. If it is being produced by a promoter or an organization that you know to be honest and do quality work and they have produced other successful events, you might give it a try. But still do your homework and verify everything! Which is rule number one below. The other thing I learned early on was to try to get a recommendation of a good show from a trusted friend you meet on the road, that is a great way to go. Some folks you meet out there will be willing to share and some will not, it never hurts to ask. Ask around about shows you are considering. Be ready to reciprocate and share info about a good show you know about. If they have done the show and they are going back, that is a good sign. Although, it does not mean it will be a success for you and your product just because it was for them. Remember every show you do for the first time is a risk, we are talking about minimizing that risk.
1) Check the Ratings
First check the show and promoter ratings at FestivalNet.com. You might want to also seek out other sites
that have ratings and see if the event (or promoter) in question has been rated elsewhere. Be sure to evaluate the rating numbers and comments in terms of who did the rating and what they did at the show. A show that was good or bad for one person and their product may not be the same for you, good or bad. Also check the 'S List' sponsored by FNO.
2) Verify Everything with Third Parties
Before you actually commit to a new event that you have not done before, which means sending them any money, including application fees, do your homework and verify everything. Call the facility or location where the event is taking place and verify with them that the event is contracted, which means the promoter has officially secured the facility or location and paid some money. Another good question to ask is if the promoter has provided their insurance. Most facilities will require liability insurance from the promoter before they can do the event, so this is an indication that the event is really happening. Ask if they know what the attendance has been in the past and how many years the event has taken place. How would they describe the event, does it match what you have been told? Call the local chamber or tourism office, ask if they know about the event, how long has it been going on, attendance, what kind of show is it? You get the picture. You could even call the police department, town hall, any local group or person that can give you input is useful.
3) Is This Show for You?
Try to determine if the show is right for you, look at the details of the event like exactly where it takes place, in a city park, a downtown street, an indoor convention center, a fair grounds, the grounds of a winery... Picture the location and the description of the event, does it fit. Did the promoter tell you it's a "fine art show" but the location is on the grounds of a former flea market? Look at things like; the other activities, the entertainment, all the fees (food, art/craft, musicians/performers) is there prize money, is it a juried event (even if you are not involved in the juried part of the event), how many years (verified years) has it been taking place. Try to paint a mental picture of the event with as much information as you can gather. Does it fit the profile of other events you have done well at? This is one of the reasons I say give it 3 years, it takes some time to learn this. But, the better you get at this the less you will end up at dud events. One other item to consider, ask the promoter how many other booths there will be with the same or similar products as what you have. Then look at the attendance from prior years for this event and decide if you feel the show can support this number of similar or directly competing products.
4) Get References
Before you ever try a new event always, always, always ask the promoter to give you the names and numbers of 2-3 exhibitors that have done the event before and are returning. Simply tell them you would like to check with some folks that have done the show before to get and idea of what to expect. If they refuse, you likely do not want to do the event.
5) Follow Your Gut Instincts
This is one of the most important factors to pay attention to. If you feel uncomfortable or uneasy about the promoter or the event in question, follow your gut and don't do the show. That does not mean you never take a risk on a show you know might not be a blockbuster, just don't go if you feel like it will be a total bust. I have done lots of shows I thought would be just an OK nice little show that turned out to be a surprise blockbuster! The longer you do shows and pay attention to your gut instincts, the better you will get at it.
Doing shows can be a wonderful experience. You can make good money, meet new people, travel to new places and see and experience things you may never have if you did not get out there and do the festival biz. Good luck and safe travels.
Kurt Irmiter: Co-owner of Festival Network Online.
He has 20+ years of experience in the festival/art & craft show and entertainment/music business.