Last year I wandered through the Rock Ledge Arts and Crafts show. When I typically go to an arts and crafts show, I have three main objectives.
- Looking for inspiration: I am hoping to find something cool that will inspire me to make something even cooler.
- Support other artists: If I find something cool that inspires me, I will often buy it to support the artist that made it.
- Try to determine if this art show is a viable show for me to sell my stuff.
The third objective was the main reason for this trip, as a friend recommended I go check out this particular show. I wandered around the show to see if I could find other woodworkers to interrogate… um, I mean, question, to see how their sales are doing and what product is the hot seller. This does require some tact, as not everyone wants to reveal his or her secret sauce. It’s a dance of showing interest in their work and making small talk to gleam the info you are after.
The first woodworker I came across had a nice array of party platters, you know, the kind with the bowl in the center to hold the dip, and then the rest of the pattern is routed out into dividers for chips and vegetables. He also had board games like Chinese Checkers and a few Lazy Susan. I asked him how long it took to drill all the holes for the marbles in the Chinese checkers game. He said his CNC machine could make one in about 20 minutes and alluded that they were not selling well.
The second woodworker had some very similar-looking platters and Chinese checkers game board; he did have some nicer woods, some with a Purple Heart inlay and the like. He had also spent more time with sandpaper as his wares were of better quality. He, too, alluded that he was not selling much.
By the time I got to the third woodworker, I was all, WTF, same shit for sale, but out of the three woodworkers’ his shit was shit. Sandpaper is like a cowbell; you need more of it. His stuff was rougher than the cheapest of cheap toilet paper. He said that he had not sold a thing, I didn’t want to be rude and dis his work, but at the same time, I wanted to ask if he had ever heard of sandpaper.
The fourth and final woodworker I came across I was not able to talk to. This guy was too busy selling stuff. He had made wooden swords, knives, wizard wands, dragon teeth, and all kinds of medieval things. He also used sandpaper and beautiful exotic woods to create his wares. Most importantly, he used his imagination.
At this point, I’m sure you have figured out where I’m going with this. All those CNC ads you see everywhere. They all claim it is a business in a box. Well, the first three woodworkers are probably out of business; you see, they lacked imagination and tried to take the easy way out. They went to the same website and downloaded the same Chinese Checkerboard pattern. They saturated the market with the same thing. It became a race to the bottom of who could sell them as cheaply as they could to outprice the guy three booths down.
There was no imagination involved to get people excited to spend time at their booths, no buzz, just another thing that had been done a million times over and could be bought on Amazon for less than it cost them to buy their raw materials.
So when you see the ads that say, buy our CNC machine, it’s a business in a box, keep in mind that imagination is not included, and if you want to be successful, don’t be a copycat, bring something unique. Your buyers know the difference, and they know what sandpaper is, or at least are aware of what a little care in craftsmanship feels like.
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You’re exactly right!
I love the idea behind your objectives for the show and building community without scaring other craftsmen off. I also love that sandpaper is like cowbell.
Thinking of your blog about trough tenons on a log from the same tree, what are your “go to” indicators that someone is a craftsman not just a mass production hack.
Keep crushing it!