Freelance Chronicles 4- Improve your merch table

Freelance Chronicles 4- Improve your merch table

My merch table 2011 vs 2019
Recently, I’ve seen people post 10 year comparisons and it inspired me to post about my merch (merchandise)  table in the past 7-8 years. Ok so I have been selling artwork at events for well over 15 years. But it hasn’t been until the past five years that I really started to understand how to make money and make something I like. A few points of contrast below.

And while you’re here: Did you see the previous post about the tech I use? CLICK HERE

1. Original Art?
Ok so let’s talk about art collecting. If you are like most people you like art but you don’t typically buy a piece that is over $40-50 unless it is for a very special occasion like a commissioned portrait. The majority of my table 10 years ago was original artwork that would be considered too expensive for regular working class folks. For art collectors, it would appear too cheap. Point is, its been tough for me to sell original pieces. If you want to sell original artwork over $100 you should try presenting it in a gallery that regularly sells artwork. How do you know? Ask! Do your research. I’ll do a post about making your own gallery show one day.
Oh So Lovely Vintage
2. Focus
I really got into kids books because I was inspired by my son and I wanted to service the little child in me. Through that I found that I was providing a service to lots of other kids. So a lot more of my artwork has been literacy or narrative focused. I think its important to figure out how to make your set up cohesive. Make it look like it all belongs together. Like a collection, an album, or a curated wardrobe.
3. Presentation

Another important aspect of my merch table has been working on presentation. A flat table is boring to me. And I started to notice who was buying from me (women). What do they like? So I asked my wife and she gave some great advice about having varying levels on my table. Not all flat. It looks more interesting to me. And I started to look at craft people, jewelry artists, candle makers, etc to take notes on how they set up their tables. I make sure to have a nice large table cloth that is pleasing color wise, but also covers the majority of my table. And I try to make the display interesting. If it’s not working , I move things and experiment.

4. Salesperson
It is not too hard to sell when you really like what you do. But, one of the key things I’ve learned about selling is that if you work on your presentation people will come to you. They want to see what you got and they want to be engaged. So, I usually turn off my phone, make eye contact, smile, and I ask them about their day, complement their cool scarf, etc. 
I have found that going into a story about me, my prices, or what I make can turn people off. So I try to engage them in conversation about them. It doesn’t always lead to a sale, but it definitely helps me get to know more about the people who stop at my table. At some point, people intentionally started seeking my table out telling me they came to see me :). But I think making it about your customer or supporter is key at first. When they’re interested, they’ll ask you questions.
Hawaii record fair
5. The location
You might sell a bunch of wu-tang clan pins at a knitting conference or get a lot of signatures for the police academy at a Black Panther Party reunion. But, if you don’t do research about where an event takes place and who will be there you’re doing a disservice to your business. For me, this has meant going to that event to see how many attendees are there, if the crowd is diverse, if my stuff fits in, if there are 20 people selling there that do exactly what I do, etc before I sell there. This means really thinking intentionally about what you’re going to present that caters to that specific crowd. Location is also paying attention to the weather report, how far you have to lug your stuff, if you’ve over saturated that event (ie-they already bought all your stuff), or if this is a new event hungry for what you do. 
Melody Ehsani

6. Art that can be sold 1000x times
I have been making artwork for a very long time. I have sold tiny things, big framed pieces, books, all kinds of things. And if it was thing I’ve learned recently with having Furqan’s First, it is that you can make some really great artwork and also figure out how to reproduce it so you can sell it hundreds maybe even a thousand times. This can be a shirt, print, or piece of jewelry. The point is, make something you love, figure out how to serve your customer/supporters needs, make it affordable, quality, and make it easily accessible through in person events and online sales. 
Beat Junkies

7. Branding
Branding might sound corny or corporate. But to me it means making your stuff easy to find, readable, and consistent. There are certain items like soft drinks, bed’s, or tires that make you think about an image or story when you think about them. Why? They made sure their name was on it. and they told you their story many times. This does not require thousands of dollars. It just requires spreading the word about your stuff. For my art prints, book, business card, postcard, website, I use the same type, symbols, color, and illustrations. And through seeing this in different places people  say “you’re work is everywhere” when really I have just worked on trying to make it all feel consistent. And if I get tired of an image or style, I change it. And don’t worry, you’re not bragging. You’re taking pride in your appearance and letting people know you’re a working artist who is passionate about what they do.
Dance Africa at Bam

8. Capture Info / Stay in contact
Ok, you’ve finished an event, made a little bit of money and saw a bunch of cool people. Some of them are homies but many you just met. How do you keep in touch with them? Sure, social media is an option but most platforms now use algorithms. As a result, only 20-25% who follow you actually see your stuff. And there are homies that have left social media all together. Your friends would love to hear what’s new with you. The new folks definitely need to get to know you. Both might buy your new work IF they know about the new (insert merch). How? Good old addresses and email newsletters. I know, it sounds old school but everyone is posting on-line. Not everyone is using tools like Constant contact/Mailchimp or the good ole postcard. Get people’s info at your next event with a sign up sheet or your phone. Follow up with them in the new year and compare your sales and engagement with folks at the end of the year. Just a thought.

Busy Bee by Joe Conzo

9. Shout outs
I want to give a big a shout out to Nidhi Chanani who I learned so much from on how to make my work more presentable. Go check out her work here and follow her Instagram to see some of her past set ups at events.

Big shout out to the following events who helped shape who  I am as an artist and vendor: The Berkeley Flea Market, Malcom X Jazz Fest, Life is Living, Carnival in SF, Dia de los Muertos in the Fruitvale, SF Etsy, Renegade Craft Fair, Patchwork, Unique Markets, Zine Fests, Dance Africa at BAM, Afro Punk, and the Alternative Press Expo.

If you’ve read this far, thanks! I’m still learning and growing as an artist and business owner. I’m asking questions, reading this, listening to that, and failing a lot. Hopefully some of this will help you fail less. Leave a comment if this helped or if you have a tip to share.

Here’s the previous post about the tech that enables me to be a working artist and vendor!

No Comments

Post a Comment