It seems like every few weeks I see variations on that question raised in some forum or another. Which is better: online, craft shows, bricks and mortar stores? Where are the best sites? Etsy used to be so good for me; where did all my customers go? Why are craft show sales so dismal?
Here are some of my musings on this. I don't know that one is better over another. From looking around and being a customer myself, I think that being more focused and targeted online seems to result in better sales (and that can mean selling a limited range of items and/or spending all your time and effort servicing that one outlet), whereas being a little more of a generalist, at least in the beginning, seems to work better when selling in person -- but a targeted generalist nonetheless.
Then you get into the question of where the best places to sell are and the best price points for a given venue. Over the years I've learned what it is I prefer to do and where my particular strengths lie.
All in all, I still prefer selling in person. Particularly at the Antique Mall, sales seem to happen when vendors are at their showcases or booths, especially on the weekends. Part of it is because, if we're not there, then the potential customer has to go all the way back to the front of the building to the cash desk, ask for someone to come with a key, then walk all the way back (this place is HUGE) and when it's busy, you could wait a long time to be able to take a closer look at a specific item. Quite frankly, most people won't bother.
It just happened that yesterday I was at the Antique Mall rearranging my showcase with Nancy (who I share a booth with, as well) and while at my showcase we ended up having great conversations with all kinds of people coming by -- and sales!
Sold on Sunday, amethyst, turquoise and Bali silver necklace:
The other half of selling in person anywhere is the potential for additional sales. Because I happened to be there, my customer was able to ask if, A, I had any earrings to go with the necklace; and, B, would it be possible to make some, and, C, I could determine exactly what style she specifically would prefer: short, long, dangly. Now, I normally do make several pairs of earrings loosely designed around certain necklaces, but amethyst earrings in particular tend to sell quite quickly. My mistake has been never to seriously track the styles that sell well and then stay on top of making more.
Another consideration about selling at markets and an Antique Mall type of situation versus a one or two-day craft show is having the luxury of time. Weekly venues typically have a limit on the number of any type of vendor (jewellery, soap, pottery, knitting), whereas at craft shows you could be competing with any number of jewellery vendors, as many as 50% or more these days. Weekly markets are not a one-shot deal where you're only there for a few short hours once a year and the customer has a lot of booths to look at and mere seconds as they walk by to decide if he or she spots something compelling enough to stop -- not to mention limited funds. How many times have you heard (or said to yourself), "I'll come back. I want to look at everything first before I buy anything," and they/you never ever do. With steady venues, it's easy to build up a rapport with potential customers. There's no pressure on them and they get to know and trust you. Having said that, the huge downside to weekly markets is exactly that familiarity. It tends to be the same people coming back week after week and no matter how much people love your jewellery and buy from you, and no matter how you evolve and come up with new and creative pieces, eventually they just... stop... buying.
One exception to "craft" shows that I make is The Gem Expo. Because it's held three times a year over three days, vendors can expect to build up a repeat customer base. This I was told is the only way to succeed in this business; some vendors get emailed orders ready before the show, and within minutes of the doors opening on the first day the orders have been picked up and paid for and for the vendors the rest of their show sales are gravy. Slowly, slowly I am building up repeat customers. I'm getting to know what people are looking for and I'm better targetting my own buying. I've evolved from being a jewellery-maker into being a bead seller. But because I offer a few pieces of jewellery made with the beads I sell, I am now building up a secondary clientele at this show for finished jewellery.
I also have the luxury of my friend Ruth helping me out with sales at this show so that I can spend longer chatting with people when it's required. My first time at the show last July, when I was by myself for the first two days, it was crazy busy for me. I felt like I was short-changing so many people by simply not having an extra minute to talk to them or answer their questions more fully. Ruth was a customer I'd given an impromptu wire-wrapping demo to during a lull on the Friday afternoon, ended up coming back on Sunday (with food, no less! in thanks for the demo), stayed to help me out, and in the interim has become a great friend. Ruth has been helping me at each Gem Expo since.
What works for you?
Thanks for looking!