Monday, February 7, 2011

Tis the Season...

...for Home and Garden Shows! and I consider myself an expert.  I did these shows for 26 years, twice a year in my town and on a few occasions out of town shows too.  They are exhausting, like theater, like being "on stage" for hours at a time.  I do sell what I call my "little art", objects that you can pick up and feel and purchase on impulse, something you can do to support an artist.  Mostly, however, my art is huge, takes a truck to move it and sometimes two men a week to install it.  For those who could afford it I made my art "necessary": secure fencing and gates, security grids for your windows, railings for fancy staircases. And then all the accompanying features, garden art to match, benches, tables, other designs to go with the new entry.
Before I began this venture all that was available in my town (about 250,000 people if you include the surrounding area) were security features, gates and fencing with bars every four inches.  "Prison" iron and "car lot" fencing.  I brought "Ornamental Iron", art in steel to this community and I did it in a big way.
     Home Shows are busy places.  Ours would attract 50,000 people over the four days and evenings of the show.  Most will walk right by your booth and not give it a glance.  It is like fishing in a way.  You know they are out there but they are not biting!  If they stop and you can begin a conversation, you have fifteen seconds in which to interest them. For me I didn't have to make a sale on the spot.  I am selling services even more than a product.  I don't have a catalogue, fencing number A-14 out of a book or Entry Gates to choose from one through four.  Everything is "one of a kind" specifically built to be comfortable where it will end up. Not only will my customer like it but it will look like it has been there forever. It will be home. I have fifteen seconds to get this point across.  My goal for these Home Shows is for the client to call me and set up an appointment.  I know from experience if I can get there and have more than the 15 seconds allotted that I can make the sale.  I am selling art and I am selling me.
     The shows were always very successful for me and for a couple two or three weeks after every show I was always very busy bidding jobs, often getting $50,000 work from a single show.  Sometimes it is difficult to determine exactly how much work you will get from one show.  People save your cards and they remember and might call you back months or even years latter.  Advertising of any kind is building a reputation and creating an image.  "Branding".  Like the golden arch for McDonald's.
     There were other metal workers there.  I didn't have an exclusive. They had standard fencing with four inch spacing, gates that were unimaginative, arbors that wouldn't support themselves and "garden fairies".
Common stuff you see all the time.  I needed a trick piece in my booth.  I needed something magic. I needed a show stopper. Naked dancing girls!  Something unusual, not seen before.  I needed art.
     I have done well over 50 Home Shows and never ever have I brought the same thing back.  Every time was brand new.  I would start thinking about these shows months before they were to begin.  It became an obsession.  How can I out do the one before?  I remember the first Home Show with steel when I introduced an arbor for about $550.  This in a town when the local garden shops couldn't sell the $200 dollar imports!  People thought I was crazy!  I sold it twelve times on the opening night!  I learned that there was a hunger for something well made and strong and beautiful and unusual.  A hunger for something unseen and not thought of.  Every year I would make an arbor bigger and better than the one before and this would be my entry to my booth.  The last one I made was really crazy and really big and really expensive.  $3,500 and I sold it TWICE!
     Booths should be inviting, ideally with an entrance and an exit.  People don't want to feel trapped in your space and without a polite way to leave many will not enter at all.  I usually had an arbor or arch as an entrance but something demanding a closer look within the booth, something curious.  I would never put my best feature where in a quick glance you thought you had seen it all.  I always had something in my space that was tall.  I had the notion that I was renting cubic space.  I never sat down during the show.  If you look bored people will not share this boredom with you.
    The last six Home Shows I was in before I retired from them were the best.  I got someone else to pay for my booth.  I local recycling company wanted to know my secrets (the ones I am giving you free). How come people line up at my booth and walk right past theirs?  They offered too much to read.  Too many brochures,
too many wordy posters, too much empty space, nothing unusual to see.  And the worst thing possible: two big guys sitting at a table and mostly talking to themselves at that!  I offered to incorporate their space with mine.  We were not competitors at all, in fact I got a lot of my materials from them.  I offered to emphasize their business over mine, their sign bigger, but I got to design the space and what went in it.  I even guaranteed them that I would put them in the news!  But I needed a LOT more space.
     I was used to a 10' x 10' space for the Fall show and a 10' x 20' space for the Spring show. The Spring Show was the best but the booth cost me about $1,000.  I wanted 20' x 20' and they offered me 20' x 30'!
That is huge and cost thousands of dollars!  Being "on the news" was the easiest part of the whole thing. I created something never before seen and gave it away!  There are a lot of garden benches available for less than $200, the kind that are pretty standard every where.  I made a "really nice one", worth every penny of a thousand bucks and gave it away!  The radio talked about it and it was in the newspapers.  The show was a hit and I did these with the recycling company for the next three years!

You can see my Art HERE:


Barbra Joan said...

Its hard, hard work to do any kind of show like that.. I've never done one.. but I have a friend who does and its work .
Traveling , setting up ..staying there for 3 days, and as in this past weekend in Mount Dora Fl. there was rain.. another problem..

Clipped Wings said...

You're truly amazing, Jerry.

AutumnLeaves said...

Jerry, you obviously know what you are doing in the business world and you've kind of answered a question I'd been wondering about too. Your pieces are truly showstoppers in my opinion. I am not surprised you do well at the shows. You are a magnificent artist!

PAMO said...
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