Attending the American Craft Council show in Baltimore this year was extremely beneficial to me, not only as an employee in the Gallery and Gallery Store here at the Worcester Center for Crafts, but on my career as an artist. One of the main benefits that I enjoyed was simply the fact that I had a chance to meet artists face to face. The inventory sheets, files, and pieces that arrive in the store hold great value, especially as part of a running business but they are much more than just pieces of paper or plates or mugs, putting the faces of the artists to the names printed on those sheets, and signatures on the bottom of ceramic pieces allows for that importance to really set in. It enables me to really know what is going on with orders every step of the way. By attending ACC Baltimore, I know what artists we conversed with, what orders we made and I can keep track of when they are supposed to arrive in the store.
I believe that being a Handmade American Craft Gallery Store really means putting an emphasis on the pieces we sell and the people that created them. Knowing the artists whose work we have, makes talking to them and the customers that later find interest in their pieces all the more pleasant and personal. When I have the chance to tell a customer where an artist is from, what they are like and how they came to make the piece in front of them, it makes a person’s visit to the store a much more memorable experience. The hard work that artists put in and the pride they take in their work is very evident in the way that they speak about their art, or craft and having the opportunity to talk to artists is the only way that you really get that behind the scenes commentary. For instance, we spoke to Jeremy Randall, someone that we have had in the store and has already had a professional relationship with others working here. However for myself, being the first time speaking to him face to face, I learned so much more about his process. We found out about new products he had, his coffee pour-overs, and the story of how he made one for himself one morning and posted it on social media. All of the positive responses that he got by friends and fans sparked the idea for him to make them part of his product line. These little tidbits make the experience of a trade show personal and allow for later conversations with customers to be much more interesting and really connect artists to the people that love their work.
The second tremendous benefit to attending ACC Baltimore was what I learned about the process of making orders. By observing Candace and how she made orders and spoke to vendors, Sarah Margolin and I were able to watch, learn and really come to understand the process. First you have to approach the artists and their work and then you have to decide what to order. Each body of work you approach, no matter how beautiful you think it is or what other opinions you have of it, raises questions. Some examples include: Is this artist new to you, or the store? Is it someone that we already have in the store? Do they have new work? Do we have something similar in the store? Do we need more? Will it blend well and compliment the items we already have? Will our customer/client base feel the same way that I do about the work? What are the price points? If we are ordering, which pieces and how many should we order? What time of year should we make the order for, would this sell better during the holiday season or in the spring? After many hours and conversations I was able to answer and consider some of those questions in my head in seconds however, some take a bit more time and practice. Other questions are necessary to ask the artist. For example, during ACC some artists displayed wholesale prices and others displayed retail; making assumptions on something as important as price could be very confusing and could have a negative impact on the conversation and leave a very bad impression from both standpoints. The importance of clear communication and asking questions became apparent almost immediately after entering the convention center. Whether you are ordering from an artist or not, it is important to keep in mind that developing a professional relationship could benefit both parties in the future. Speaking to the artists and being honest about what we were looking for, as well as explaining what our store is and what our clients look for is another thing that I learned to do throughout the show. It is important that the artists know whether you are interested enough to possibly make an order, or if you are just looking so that their time is not wasted on trying to sell you something that you know will not work for you. A good example of this is someone that may not consign or wholesale their work, but their work could be a great addition to our cup and bowl shows, or perhaps they would be a great candidate for the Pottery Invitational.
The third very important lesson that I learned was from the standpoint of an artist. Getting a chance to see ACC and how it works had a great impact on my opinion of trade shows. We spoke to artists that have been attending trade shows, specifically ACC Baltimore, for years as well as some that were just starting out. I was able to talk to them and hear about what they have learned, what they need for the next time around and whether or not they think they will attend the show again and of course, their reasoning behind it all. Hearing about their experience with lugging their products and booth set up around and on road trips, how well sales were going, what products sold better, if the show was going well in their opinion and so on, allowed for me to really think about the positives and negatives of trade shows as an artist. As a buyer I was also able to identify the things that made transactions flow smoothly and the details that made our experience better. Certain things such as booth presentation, the artist’s attitude and having a paper order form or e-mail system made working with artists and completing orders in the busy convention center much more pleasant. All of these discoveries helped to prepare me for the possibility of being a vendor at a show such as this one.
Overall, attending ACC Baltimore allowed for me to learn a very important part of the gallery store business that I had no concept of prior to attending. The trip taught me about being a buyer as well as being an artist or vendor at a trade show. The amazing opportunity that I had to be introduced to hundreds of artists and their work was undeniably beneficial. If I had not attended the show I may have never gotten the chance to discover some of the work that I saw. My fellow store employee, Sarah and I were also able to see Candace’s approach to buying and we were able to work hands on and actively participate and grow. We were put into a setting that raised the right questions, ones that we would have never thought to ask in another setting, and the three of us were really able to work as a team to make the decisions that needed to be made.