Sugarloaf Crafts Festival 2017: A Marketing Perspective

So we attended the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival in Gaithersburg, MD yesterday. You can still head up there today (October 23, 2017) if you're available and have interest.

Probably my favorite thing about these types of events is actually talking to the artists. Like the one in the cover photo, who was selling mezuzot made of her mother's lace, rescued from the Holocaust.

I had the good fortune to meet Tracy Levesque, a self-taught artist whose work is simply stunning (see photos above and below).

What I appreciated about Tracy was that she made the effort to produce items an average person could buy, like the coasters, which were 4 for $35. As she helpfully explained, you could put them on the wall if you think they're too nice for drinks. Here's a link to her Etsy store. Based on quality alone, I love this art but the populist element adds to its appeal.

Someone was selling salad bowls and I stopped at the exhibit not only because they were beautiful, but also because there was a video running in front of them. I can't even recall what the video was about, only that the bowls were in them, and it was pretty cool. So that is a marketing tactic that worked, because here I am telling you about them.

A number of beautiful fashion exhibits were on display at the festival and I especially liked this dress. The problem however was that it -- like most of the items -- were priced beyond the reach of the average person. (Many of the prices ran into the hundreds of dollars.) 

The price of the food was exorbitant as well -- $5 for a single cup of strawberry lemonade, $10 for a plate of sliced potato fries.

From where I sit, if you're holding a community festival you should be sure that all the vendors are offering a reasonably priced set of alternatives to their higher-priced items. It didn't look to me like the crowd was buying such expensive stuff, anyway.

On the subject of money -- let's talk for a second about the entry fee. Especially considering the high prices that vendors were charging for their products, it seems they could have eliminated the minimal $8 (online)/$10 (in person) ticket cost and had the vendors make it up from their revenue.

The setting of the fair was the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. There were many references to animals and 4-H (even painted on the side of one building), but no explanation or integration into the fair. More than once I found myself staring at creepy-looking animal statues and empty horse stalls, wondering exactly what this place was and what had gone on there. Some effort to provide explanatory information for this implicit knowledge base would have been helpful, instead of off-putting.

Regarding artists marketing themselves:  Certainly a giveaway stack of postcards would have been great. But these were nowhere to be found. Additionally, On top of this, several exhibitors were visibly upset when we took photos of their beautiful work. Instead of saying: "excuse me!" or "ask permission!" they might have realized that such photos could lead directly to sales.

If you are an artist, encourage people to take a ton of photos, pose with prospective customers, give them your hashtag, and offer a reward for the best photos posted to Instagram!

Similarly, if prospective customers come up to talk to you, don't just stand their woodenly and answer their questions with a single word. You're at a fair -- you're there to be human!

Make the customer your partner in marketing. OBVIOUSLY.

Work with the flow of the river, never against it if you can.

The idea of the artist as an elite reclusive genius is old. And it doesn't apply to 99.99% of the people exhibiting at craft fairs.


Copyright 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photos by the author.