The four-day marathon horse show is over, I’m exhausted, and quite a bit wiser for the experience. In fact, I view it now, with the hindsight of only one day, as a purely learning experience. It certainly was not economically profitable. And it may not have been possible to be profitable no matter how I had approached it. Of the other vendors there, only one seemed to be reluctantly satisfied with their sales volume. And that one was a saddlery company.
So, let me explain. This was a very high level, intensely competitive show. The highest level in eventing is the CIC****. This show had a CIC***, along with many lower levels. One of the three star riders has participated in the Rolex CIC****, which is one of the three “grand slam” competitions of eventing. People who win at Rolex often go on to the Olympics. This is background, just to give you an idea.
So here I am in my little booth for four days, three of which had very little foot traffic and one of which lost four hours due to heavy rain. I made several discoveries chatting with the other vendors, and am planning to make some changes accordingly. One thing I have to learn to do, and practice relentlessly, is chatting people up so they want to stick around and actually take a look at what I’m selling. Some people come by this talent naturally, but I’m nowhere near that yet. By the time people made it down the row to my booth, most of them had been “how are you today” -ed to death, and some weren’t reluctant to show their annoyance.
Another thing I will do is change the arrangement of the display in the booth, and add some signage. I got the feeling from the way people tended to skitter away quickly that they were afraid of being cornered or trapped by a sales pitch if they actually entered the booth to take a look around. I think they also didn’t want to stop in front to read the signage for the same reason. And if they didn’t read it, they wouldn’t know whether I was selling pictures of horses or custom portraits. A clear, to-the-point sign, facing people as they walked down the vendors row would probably help. I had a little better luck talking with people after I moved some of the paintings off the back wall and onto the side wall so people could see them as they approached from a couple of booths away. I could also talk to them about the specific painting they were standing closest to because they were on the “boundary” of the booth at the front, and could flee if they wanted to without having to make an exit around my table. Some of my most conversational browsers were kids, which brings me back to the point about this being a high-level, competitive show. The kids had nothing going on at the show except enthusiasm, while the competitors and their hangers-on were deeply concerned about only one thing–winning their division. Which is also probably why the saddler had a decent amount of business. I remember overhearing one conversation from a rider telling the saddle people that her saddle had just split, and if she couldn’t find another suitable one she would have to ride in duct tape. Horrors!
So to sum up my experience, I have come to the conclusion that a smaller show with much lower-level riders might be a better fit for what I’m trying to sell. I need people who really love their horses and ponies, not people who view them as simply a tool to win a trophy. People who commission portraits are people who really love their animals. Kids especially. Even though kids don’t have money, they can do what TV commercials always urge them to do–go bug Mom and Dad to buy them something. A couple of the other vendors who were not too enthusiastic about this show (and this venue) recommended a smaller, friendlier one just over the Illinois border in Wisconsin. Those shows usually are two-day weekend affairs, and that would be doable for me. So I think I’m headed to cheese country next. And when the outdoor show season is over, putting up a little display with business cards in stables and horse tack stores might also be a good idea. Maybe in time for Christmas gifts?