Into the Unknown

I’ll be attending my first furniture show (The 15th Annual Providence, Rhode Island Fine Furnishings Show) as an exhibitor this coming weekend, October 22nd~24th, and am doing my best to prepare at this time. Having spoken with quite a few other craftspeople about furniture and craft shows, and have heard less than positive comments about taking work to shows, so I am going in without too many expectations. Well, I do have one expectation: that I will be about $2000 poorer for trying, and I do hope, therefore, that I manage to sell something. It would be great to at least break even.

Call it ‘adventures in marketing’ – it seems akin to a crap shoot, ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances. Of course, even if the show doesn’t result in an immediate sale for me, I will have had the opportunity to meet many potential clients and gain some valuable public exposure. Who knows what may eventuate down the line a few months?

For sure, many more potential buyers and clients will be walking by my booth and having a chance to see my work than in any previous place or circumstance, so that does seem to improve the odds somewhat. But like a lot of ventures into marketing, at the minor-league level in which I approach it at least, you can have no real way of knowing if it was worth it – whether the approach you took actually pays, or will pay, dividends on the investment. I could for example, run an advert in a newspaper for 10 weeks, get no responses, and decide to cancel, concluding that it was an ineffective sales tool. But you never know if it might have been the 11th or 12th insertion in the paper that might have lead to some work, or the 240th for that matter. I could hear from a new client three years afterward who saw that ad and kept the clipping. Other woodworkers in recent days have related tales to me of dropping $3500~4000 on a magazine advertisement and not getting a single phone call. It’s the great unknown to me this marketing stuff, and definitely not my forte. It feel like simply burning money. What ever happened to, “if you build it they will come?” Hah!

I’m not the glad-handing chatty sort of salesperson who would be right in their element in a three day show like this, so it will be a big challenge for me to retain energy and enthusiasm for the meet and greet over three long days. My wife will be coming along and helping me, which is a major godsend, and will allow me to take short breaks once in a while to re-charge, and she is definitely better at the socializing than I am.

Of course, wouldn’t you know it, right before a big event like this, I have come down with a cold. Hopefully it will improve in short order. Meanwhile I am driving back and forth to the shop and getting things set up for my display booth. I’ve also been ordering up new business cards, color postcards, and even a banner. Look for my ad in the next Superbowl. Not exactly.

I’m feeling a bit self-conscious about all my work and worrying about all the imperfections in it that I am aware of, and how by showing the pieces in public I am, in my mind, thereby showing my personal imperfections as well. It’s kinda like you’re standing there naked and people are walking by, looking at you, commenting, maybe smiling, maybe grimacing, or simply oblivious, as the case may be. I’m also worried that everyone else will have more nicely decorated and set up display booths and savvier sales materials and presentations than I will muster. Hopefully I won’t come across as too shabby.

It promises to be an intense and exhausting experience and I am both hopeful and nervous, excited and terrified all at the same time.

There will be no posts from me until early next week, and I will return with an account of how it all went, possibly with some photos as well. I hope your weekend is a good one, and if you are in the Providence area and interested in furniture, I hope you’ll swing by and say hello.

Wish me luck. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

4 Replies to “Into the Unknown”

  1. Hi Chris
    Relax and enjoy it! You will probably connect with a great group of fellow craftsmen and come away with more ideas than you can digest in a short time.

  2. Hi Chris

    I wish you the best of luck at the show. While at the Milwaukee show I came down with a cold that I caught from my wife, it did make the days a little tiresome. I am happy to say that thanks to the show I received a commission yesterday for a ladies vanity table. The deposit will be here the first week of November. Even if a sale does not happen at the show for you, I'm sure it will lead to something in the future. This show will also give you a chance to talk to other exhibitors that have been attending this and the Milwaukee show for years. There is a lot to learn from them to help you with marketing and future shows if you decide to make this a yearly thing for you.
    Another thing you will be able to see is booth layouts, sizes etc. Find what will work best for you. I agree, it is a crap shoot but dollar for dollar compared to other ways of marketing it's really money well spent because sale or no sale you are walking away with experience, new contacts and friends and memories.
    I look forward to the Milwaukee show every year because the other exhibitors have become great friends of mine, I think of them as family and this is our yearly reunion.

    Have Fun!

  3. Look at it this way. There is a 100% garantee that you wont get business your way if no one knows about you.
    My feeling is you will come away with what this avenue of marketing can or can not do for you.
    I do know (from experience) that broad spectrum advertising only attracts tire kickers. I think you'll find more educated, serious and deserving clients at a show like the one you are at than say an ad. It seems like an ad would reach more people and be more bang for your buck, but in the end it is emotionally draining as you end up fielding alot of feeler calls.

    Ian “The” Lawford

  4. Chris

    I imagine people will be bowled over by your work. I know I am.

    All it takes is one sensitive person, even if they know nothing of woodworking, to sense the quality you put into your pieces. Hopefully, that person will have deep pockets.

    Best of luck!


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