Renegade Craft Fair Recap - thoughts on exhibiting.

Renegade Craft Fair Recap - thoughts on exhibiting.

The Renegade craft fair is easily one of my favorite events of the year. It was my first big travel show that I went to in 2014. I have made it back every year except during the Covid lockdowns. This year I was accompanied by Billy Nelson of Eleven Knives and his girlfriend Amanda. They were great travel and booth partners. Also joining us in the tent was Andrea DeLeon with her knives and jewelry. I met Andrea years ago when she stopped by the tent at Renegade with Ed from Red Horse Knives while she was living in Chicago and I’ve been happy to be able to see both Ed and Andrea at Blade show and the Renegade shows through the years. Although she now lives in Austin Texas, she wanted to come up and exhibit at Renegade so Billy and I split the tent with her and it really worked out great. We had a nice pass through space with everyone’s style clearly separate but working well as a whole.

This year we decided to take an extra day in Chicago before the event and that allowed us to stop by Northside Cutlery to see the store and get to know Kevin, the owner. He was very welcoming and clearly knows his business. Billy already has knives with him and I will be sending some stock up his way very soon. His primary business is knife sharpening but the store has an excellent collection of handmade knives and goods. The extra day also afforded me the opportunity to spend time with some of my former friends and mentors at Jesus People USA (Jpusa). I lived in that intentional Christian community (church that lives together) for about 7 years. It’s where I got married and had our first son and really transitioned from a kid to a man. I made my first knives there and learned almost everything I know about the trades, working with and managing people and service. The Jpusa community in Uptown Chicago runs various homeless shelters and community outreaches. Being able to spend time with people who mentored and poured into me at a formative time in my life was much needed.

As always the Renegade show was well run, well attended and even the weather was perfect. People in the Wicker Park neighborhood seem to really value high end craftsmanship and don’t mind paying for the good stuff. Although these fairs are really about marketing and promoting the brand, having good sales is always nice. Especially for companies like ours who run razor thin margins. I talk to vendors all the time and there is a very typical mental mistake that most people make about show finances. Once a vendor makes the amount of money they spent on the booth fee and travel they say that they covered the show or made their money back. We really have to get away from this totally false narrative.

If you have to sell lets say 10 knives at $200 to cover your $2000 cost, then of course you have made enough money for that but then what about the time you have put into the knives? You have now just made 10 knives with no pay and in fact the material costs are out of pocket. The only way to cover the show cost is to make enough money on your margin to cover the show. So that would mean that if the knife cost you $150 to make (materials plus labor that you pay yourself) then you must sell 40 knives to cover the cost and still get paid for your work. If you only sell 10 knives in this scenario then that means that you have covered $500 of the show cost and $1500 is a marketing expense that you have decided to pay for the exposure. This thought process has helped me think more clearly about show decisions. Thinking of shows as a marketing expense helps me take opportunities that are the most valuable while excluding ones where the cost outweighs the benefits. The only way to find out is usually to just try the show.

Judging the downstream benefits of doing a show as a maker is difficult but I have noticed some concrete ways to recognize them. I find that when I do a show in a certain town, there tends to be orders from that place throughout the year. This effect does not last indefinitely and the orders tend to fall off after about a year. Networking with other makers is a positive that shouldn’t be ignored. Learning about techniques in crafts, business and even finding out about other good shows are all part of meeting other makers. Also, meeting new customers means possibly running into a serious patron or wholesale account. These relationships are the ones that continue to pay dividends year after year. Besides customers, you will often run into people in media and publishing that are looking for interesting makers to feature in magazines and social media accounts. Getting your stuff out there and being approachable and engaging will go farther than you expect.

In a nutshell, the show was great, we had fun eating great food and meeting great people and everyone had good sales. Who knows what good things will come from this trip? The trip back was smooth and we are already thinking about next year.


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