Lessons in Audience, Booth Design, and Venue

The development of a brand requires that you know – that you decide – who you appeal to, and that you work to stay relatable to that audience. I’ve been struggling somewhat in the past few months to define who that is – which segment of the population likes what I do? Which segment do I want to like what I do? Are they the same? Am I in that segment? What else do they like – is there something I can do to provide things they want?

Every time my business plan came to the audience portion, I skipped it. I just didn’t know. So much of my work is sold either online or by a shop; I really didn’t know much about who buys my work.

But I had shows coming up and I needed product to sell there, whether or not I knew who’d like it…. so again, I put it aside. The biggest goal for after the biggest show was going to be “figure out audience”, while wishing for a time machine to be able to have completed that task BEFORE I spent time producing items. But you work with what you got! So, I produced items that had sold well in the past and hoped for the best.

Last week, I packed my mom and my show setup into my wee Mazda, and took a road trip to Halifax. It was the biggest show I’d ever done and I was confident it would go well for me. After all, if I can make X amount of money at a small show in Cape Breton, surely I can make X Times More money in a show that boasted 25,000 through the doors in three days, right? Seemed like simple math. I was trying to keep my expectations low, in the 3x the booth fee area, but I couldn’t help but imagine something much higher. Projecting to the end of the year, I had expected this to go great and was hoping to be able to put the “but what do I do in January” worry to rest.

Once we arrived and I sorted out the minor obstacle of not being able to find my booth (their draping / numbering wasn’t ready when I arrived), I went ahead and got the booth set up. I had nominally prepared myself, but did the classic Gayle thing of not going back and reviewing what I’d written down, so there were more decisions than I normally like on-site. My probable-ADHD didn’t really care for it, but I stomped on that and kept going. A few things went awry – I hadn’t brought the newer branded poster but an old one, by mistake. I forgot to pack the largest items as showpieces. I didn’t have a hammer so had to glue some hooks to a few of my stands.

It was a little stressful, but I really should have been okay. However, a feeling of anxiety – which I haven’t experienced since I left my job – was growing, and making me sort of… itchy.

Just as the setup was nearly complete, the show organizer came by and mentioned that the corner booth I thought I had was actually… not. The left side of my booth, on the corner block of an aisle, was to be blocked off to help direct traffic around and through the aisles, instead of straight through to the back of the room. Which made sense, but… my booth was not oriented for that. I had been at this for three hours and I was very tired and in a lot of pain. I decided to finish off what I’d started and just get home and sleep. Before I did, though, I posted this photo & caption:

Okay… All set up and feeling insecure! This show is so very big and I feel so very little. It feels like I’ve got far too much riding on this one show. Gotta dial back expectations and get a good rest.

The response to this was incredibly reassuring in a My-Fans-Love-Me sort of way:

Made me feel pretty good about my online presence; people really did like what I do – but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. Nevertheless, I pulled on my big girl panties and went in for Day One.

It turns out that the “wrong” feeling I had was completely correct.

Six thousand people walked past my booth on Day One… and I do mean Walked Past.

So… many… people… so far away..

I watched folks curve their way past me and not get close enough to see that I’m doing something unique over here. Anyone who did come closer was enchanted, but thousands of people just walked by. I had it set up as you see above, assuming people to be coming around the corner (at the right above) and leading them straight into my booth. But as promised, that corner was being blocked off to direct traffic. My booth was facing the on-ramp between buildings, and many many people would walk down facing me, and immediately curve left without ever coming far enough forward to see what I had for sale. I had a frustrating, depressing sort of 11-hour day, trying to smile but failing. The lady next to me with her earrings and pendants sporting licensed characters, exclaiming “everything for a dollar” at anyone who went by wasn’t really helping much, but that’s OK… not my audience. That much, I knew!

Day Two, I adjusted the layout so that the smaller table was near the front of the booth, right in the natural path of the crowd; the hope was that the colour would draw them in to see it all. This is what you’d see as you came down the ramp into the second room of the show:

And from the very beginning, it worked! Several vendors and many early participants were drawn to the front of my booth. I felt good. I knew I’d done well observing the previous day’s traffic and adjusting my wares to be more visible. You see, I have no problem with people looking at what I do and walking past. It’s not for everyone, and that’s OK! I’m fine being “differ’nt” – in fact it’s one of my core values, to stay unique and true to my own vision. But Day One was so disheartening because nobody came close enough to even look. So I fixed that problem, and it definitely worked – the general populace at least saw what I had. Sometimes, the crowd was so thick nobody could move, much less see, but that’s OK.

Let’s not discuss people who set up camp in front of me, m’kay??

My goal at the end of Day One was to increase eyeballs on my product, and in that I succeeded beautifully.

Actual people! Actually looking!
Even if they kept walking, they could at least glance.

However. Sales were…. not as expected. I did sell all of the books I’d brought, and I – eventually – covered the booth fee, and even gas to get to Hfx and back. Luckily, we were able to stay with family so I hadn’t got hotel fees to add to the mix. But even “making the table” is not quite accurate, because that income was Gross; it didn’t include the cost of the goods sold (nevermind the items I’d purchased so so the booth would look professional). If I were to have the ovaries to calculate that, I think I’d find that I actually lost money – but I feel pretty sad enough without doing that to myself! We’ll leave that to the accountant and let all the income/expenses even out over the year, yeah?

By lunchtime on Day Two, I had decided that this was going to have to be a lesson in people-watching. I didn’t know what my demographic was? Fine, here’s an enormous slice of the general populace; let’s see who looks, who stops, and who buys. Talk to who you can to find out what they’re into, why they buy or don’t; make superficial judgements of segment based on appearance/actions. Take notes.

Here’s some of what I learned/guessed!

  • Teenaged girls do not give a flying flap about what I’m making. Unless I can find the Queen Bee and make her make me popular, the typical teenager will not buy what I make – she needs to be the same as her friends. I get that. The need to fit in and hide, safety in numbers, etc, is strong.
  • College students? They’re also not really into it. They haven’t got time nor money to spend on jewellery that doesn’t come two-for-one and make them look shiny in the club, or whatever.
  • The General Populace is not my audience. Only a small percent of folks are OK with being different. Only a small percent of people have money for luxuries such as jewellery.

You know who does like what I do?

  • Women over 30 who:
    • have a job.
    • work to look good (but not too polished), with a bit of makeup but not the Youtube Makeup Tutorial Girl look.
    • carry big, colourful purses that aren’t branded by Italians, but more likely were handmade by an artist somewhere.
    • aren’t afraid to be different, buck trends, and stand out.
    • show a bold colour sense in their wardrobe.
    • often have tattoos and nose rings and brightly colored hair (although the bright hair thing is becoming trendy so it’s less of a marker).
    • probably(?) doesn’t have kids.
    • has short hair and likes big earrings.
    • think it’s cool to have non-matching earrings.
  • If they’re over 60, they’ve got:
    • handfuls of huge rings,
    • layers of huge, silver necklaces,
    • popped collars,
    • funky glasses, and
    • colourful capes instead of coats.

Obviously, this is a big pile of stereotypes. But that’s sort of the point, right? To find what binds your audience together. To my mind, my “ideal client” as they say, is probably a queer, squishy bellydancer. Or a stylish, slender grandma. Other artists who see my work as art, not something mass produced. Someone who works outside of the house and has plenty of social events requiring lots of sparkly pretties. A socialite? Is that still a thing? Someone who has their own theme song, nevermind marching to a different drumbeat. Someone who, like me, doesn’t need to see a piece of jewellery in a mirror in order to decide to buy it, because they’re less concerned about what others like and more concerned about what they like.

Or, put another way: my jewellery is not for muggles. (And if you don’t know what a muggle is, you are one!)

So what’s my point? I guess it’s just that everything has a lesson in it if you push hard enough. And I needed to learn who my audience was. If I had, I’d know that the bigger shows with general, non-juried admission for vendors, aren’t for me, and I could have stayed home connecting with them instead of travelling to a show that didn’t suit me. My audience is so small a percentage that even though there are lots of you out there, there won’t be many of you in large crowds! And as I learned last weekend, even if there are, the large, crowded shows make it harder to get noticed anyway.

I’m better off sticking to the smaller, curated, artisan markets such as Deck the Halls (next weekend btw), or finding my audience online and doing things like the Facebook sales that have been so successful recently (another one coming up soon). There’s no point showing what I do to people who are never going to care, after all! It’s better to spend my energies working with the people who are inclined to be interested to start with.

My audience, my tribe, is online. It’s you guys! And you are precious to me.

What do you think? Are you in the audience I describe above? Are you a muggle who DOES like my work? Am I missing something? Why do you follow what I do? Why do you buy my work – or, why don’t you?

Please comment! And if you do, include three words that describe you and/or your style. Or three words that describe me and/or my style! Tell me if I’m wildly off or if I’ve nailed it on the head. Tell me what you want to see and I’ll work with you to make it happen.

Let’s find our tribe together!

7 Comments

  1. Paula Galbraith

    I only have a few of your pieces and I am in that over 60 group. The reason I bought your pieces is that I – that’s right, me – loved the pieces I bought. I appreciate that I am not going to see the piece on every other person and I appreciate the time and effort it took to make the piece You are very smart to have studied the market the way you did. You have saved yourself time, money and a lot of frustration.

  2. Debbie

    Hi Gayle – Thank you for this great article. My work is totally different from yours, but I’m also involved in the same process. I thought I’d offer my reaction to your table in case it is of any help. And it may not be – but please let me know what you think. I think that there are probably so many people selling jewellery, that if people walk by and just see “pendants” – it’s too easy to keep walking. They’ve seen a thousand million pendants, earrings, whatever. You have a little poster off to one side, but nothing that screams – stop! This is really unique, professional stuff! Can you put something on your table that is big enough to make them stop, or can you tape a banner to the front of the table that helps brand you? Books stand out because they are unexpected on a jewellery table. You need to get them to stop so they can see that what you do is unique…. I know you know that, but you may not see your table as objectively as I do ;-)

  3. Carla aka Wheemzell

    I think you have hit it out of the park in finding who your “peeps” are. I agree with your final analysis. I love most all of what you create but my favorite is your free hand work in SS. I love the magicalness you bring to that style with the sparkle of crystals and beads that bounce the light off the silver. ( Im not a muggle if you can tell :) Your necklaces are brilliant and your pendants with the freehand silver with all the twists and curls you do are spectacular. As for your booth, I know it takes money to create the things to make you stand out so little as you go when you can, I think a big bold “Gayle Bird” banner is a must. Your “signature piece” that is on the front of your book, front and center with the books along side with 1 book in a “stand” so you can see it and the pendant in one glance. You have your lights and maybe a couple more if needed. You have this Gayle and we all out here have your back lol. (as best we can from virtual world) Good luck on the next show up, and sometimes “less is more” Less of a Huge Crowd but being seen More. <3 <3 from the U.S.A.

  4. Emily

    I check off a few of the items in your 30+ list. What attracts me to your jewellery is that your items are unique and gorgeous, you have a lot of blue items, and you have several different styles that I can see my friends and family members liking, so I can give them as gifts, as well as find something for myself.

  5. I think I’m in the audience you describe… although I don’t really wear jewelry! Or at least not this year or phase in my life. So I’ve got to admit that I haven’t actually bought any of your pieces. I follow you I think because I like your personality and find your insights into business and art interesting. (Like this post, for instance.) And I have taken a workshop from you, which was awesome, and bought your book. Also like Emily above, I feel like I could buy some of your pieces for family members and friends.

  6. Sheila Christie

    Well, I’m def in the over 30 group – though I do have kid, as you know, but also Job that lets me still have money to spend despite kid. (Young kids destroy delicate jewelry and incomes.) I like your pieces because I’m invested in my identity as an artist, but I prefer solid colour clothes, so the pieces provide a unique accent to each outfit.

Leave a Reply