The American Made Show - Washington DC

Exhibiting at a trade show was high on my list of goals for 2016. In fact, I spent a great deal of 2015 preparing for it. The American Made Show at the convention center in Washington, DC was my first trade show experience, and now that I've had time to process everything, I thought I'd share some personal insights. 

First thing's first: a trade show is NOT a craft show. I have done many a craft show in the last few years, which was valuable experience, but the trade show was a whole new ball game. Each exhibitor is essentially setting up a temporary store, and the attendees are not looking for fun little Christmas gifts for their friends - they're buyers for boutiques, or sourcing products for a catalog. 

I have been wholesaling for a few years, but never in person. I already felt confident in my jewelry line, it's a great product that does well in the stores that carry it, so I felt it was time to get out there and be proactive. A trade show is a great place to be found!


Taking on the tradeshow challenge, I started designing my booth (and budgeting for it) nine months before the event. My background in commercial interior design came in handy - I used a drafting program to draw everything to scale because I knew I wouldn't be able to do a full mock up (the booth was 10' x 10', and my foyer just isn't big enough for that). My booth color palette reflected my branding, and the materials were all thought out in great detail. 

I decided not to rent anything from the show other than lighting, because I intend to exhibit at future tradeshows so it made sense to invest in my own furnishings and displays. The shelving I chose was purchased at Ikea, and it easily comes apart for transportation purposes. The velvet drapes in the background were also from Ikea, and had to be treated with fire retardant to meet code. The carpet tile was donated by Milliken (it's the same carpet that's in my studio), and got a lot compliments throughout the show. 

My favorite element is the plywood displays. I designed & dimensioned drawings for each one, then my handy husband fabricated all of the 20 panels from Baltic birch plywood. Each panel is perfectly suited to display the various jewelry items (pendants, rings, earrings, etc.).


In addition to planning the booth months ahead of time, I also began the very tedious process of creating my very first catalog. I'm a DIY kinda gal, I enjoy photography, graphic design, organizing things, and so forth, but this catalog kicked my butt.  Developing the SKU's REALLY kicked my butt. Even though I limited the catalog to my popular Curious Cameos line, it was still a massive amount of inventory to make, photograph, layout, and assign SKU's in a system that would make some sort of sense. With the help of my handy husband once again, the catalog looks amazing, and I really felt proud to hand them out to potential buyers at the show.

Although I had nothing to compare this tradeshow to, since it was my first rodeo, so to speak, I was very pleased with the orders I took, the contacts I made, and everything I learned during the process. Now that I've gotten my feet wet, I'm itching to do this again. Good thing the American Made show is coming to Greenville this summer. You know I'll be there!

If you've been keeping up with my blog, you know I'm very open about my business, and it's all because I want to help others. If you're considering trying a tradeshow, and have questions, shoot me an email and I'll be happy to share what I learned and talk specifics. 

Oh! I almost forgot - what's the one thing at the end of the day that can make you forget all about your sore feet and a sore smile? Good food (and drink), of course! We ate some AMAZING meals in and around Chinatown. If you're ever visiting, I highly recommend these restaurants. In fact, make sure you're visit is long enough that you can try them all! 

Cuba Libre (Cuban): try the classic caipirinha, malanga fritters, papas rellenas, lechon asado, arroz con pollo. This place was so good, we ate there twice during our 5 day visit.

Nando's Peri Peri (Portuguese): start with a glass of sangria, then go for some hummus, grilled chicken, mashed peas with chili and mint, and red potatoes. 

Acadiana (Contemporary Louisiana): definitely order a mint julep, BBQ shrimp with bread, and friend green tomatoes. 

Silo (New American): cider, butternut squash soup, grilled brussels sprouts, roasted chicken with snow peas. 






Behind the Scenes: Artisphere 2015

Greenville, SC is home to one of the top ranked fine art festivals in the nation, drawing a crowd of over 75,000 people every year. This event showcases top notch art, craftsman demonstrations, and a wide range of performances. Artisphere is a big deal all around. To be a part of it as an artist...well, that’s a HUGE deal.

Nearly 1000 artists applied for 121 spots this year, so it was an honor to be selected. Being my first time exhibiting at Artisphere, I was certain it would be a great opportunity, if only for the exposure, but I truly underestimated things. It was a record breaking show as far as sales go, and to top that off, I won the People’s Choice Award. Thanks again to everyone who voted for me!

Preparing for Artisphere took months of hard work, and by the first week of May, I had more inventory than ever before. Although I’d originally applied for both jewelry and fiber art, I was only accepted for jewelry this time, but it ended up being a good thing. Focusing on jewelry alone stretched me to learn new techniques and expand my collection. I was also secretly glad to get a break from felting - it’s one of those things that’s enjoyable to do, but for the prices I’m able to charge vs. time involved, it’s barely worthwhile. Felting is fun for me, but bad for business.

As with every show, there’s highs and lows. This time, there were extremes of both.

High: winning the People’s Choice Award. It was an unexpected surprise, and we’ll be using the prize money for a nice weekend away for our 10th anniversary in June. I can’t remember the last time I had a day off and I’m really looking forward to it!

Low: pulling up Friday morning and realizing I forgot to rent a tent. I’m an over planner, an over packer, and generally lose sleep over the possibility of forgetting things, so to discover I omitted something pretty darn important, just hours before the festival opened, was a humbling & stressful experience that left me with a 14 hour migraine. Special thanks to the rental place that raced over within the hour and set up a tent, and to Carrie Braun, one of the organizers, for keeping me from bursting into an ugly cry.

As with past shows, I geeked out on stats. Here’s a breakdown of the successful weekend in numbers:

Curious what happens behind the scenes, before the festival officially begins? It goes something like this...

Being a part of a show like Artisphere is an incredible opportunity to meet customers in person and earn a nice lump sum paycheck, but it's also a chance to invest in some pretty amazing original art. At every show we participate in, we allow ourselves to spend up to 10% of sales supporting other artists. It's easy to do, there's so much talent out there! Whether we're from different states or the same town, we're all a part of this creative community. I want to contribute to this very special economy, not just profit from it. If I'm going to be posting #buyhandmade or #shoplocal, I need to put my money where my mouth is, especially in my own community. But really, all of that aside, it's a total delight to buy original art right from the source. I know I'll treasure each and every one of these pieces, not just because they're beautiful, but because I met the person who created it. 

Full list of artists below:

1. Tiny vase by Tara Underwood

2. Original painting by Janina Tukarski Ellis

3. “Joyce” Sculpted donkey head by Julie Kradel

4. Pair of green pots by John Herbon 

5. Fox & Rabbit reproduction on canvas by Phillip Singer

6. Bunny tile by Julie Kradel

7. Original painting by Joseph Bradley

8. Bowl by Amelia Stamps

9. 2 Mixed media pieces by Michelle Prahler

10. Original woodblock print "Night on the Island" by Kent Ambler

11. Sterling silver necklace by Leandra Hill

12. Original woodblock print "Psalm 108" by Kreg Yingst