In December I went to the National Crafts and Design Fair in the RDS for the first time, which gave rise to some unexpectedly insistent thoughts about sales and marketing. (Who am I, and what have I done with the real Léan?)
The show was a complete sensory overload, and it didn’t help that I had only a scant hour and a half to spend there.
Despite the overwhelm, though, it was great to see such beautiful work, such creative energy.
As someone who is going through a bone-level metamorphosis with relation to business, I found myself paying particular attention to the pricing and marketing strategies as I raced around.
I saw various models, ranging from “How do they even cover their costs?” to “Whoa – I am so not in their target market”. Intricate jewellery for a few euros. Wall hangings for four-figure sums. Every conceivable price in between.
The lowball prices started to worry me after a while. Take the pottery pieces above (photographed against the dramatic backdrop afforded by our recent freakish cold snap). They’re by Colm de Rís, and I love them: the subtleties of colour, the flowing shapes. He charged me €25 for these three, in total. How, I ask you, is that not a rip-off (of him by me)?
I also bought a lovely Christmas tree ornament from Little Red Woodworks, a new company that was exhibiting at the fair for the first time (and whose designer is a friend and sent me a free pass – thanks, Dee!). I haven’t had a chance to ask how the weekend went, business-wise, but I really hope they’ve put their prices up this year.
And then on the other hand, I wondered if the fabulously high-priced work was shifting at all, not least given the straitened economy. Perhaps selling at the show wasn’t those exhibitors’ first priority, of course – I suppose it could have been more of a visibility exercise.
I spoke to another friend who was exhibiting at the show – Peter Cox (hugely talented landscape photographer who sells prints and teaches classes; go and buy his stuff) – and asked him for his take on pricing. How do people make a living from handcrafts?
A lot of them don’t, he told me. Over the years he’s seen plenty of companies starting out all optimistic and industrious, and then disappearing after a year or two in business.
This scares me, both because of my ever-present perfectionist streak and fear of failure, and because it suggests that I may be dooming myself to a life of financial worry and miserable scraping-by if I try to do this thing.
(This thing is shorthand for whatever-I-end-up-doing. I don’t have a clear handle on it yet, but the outlines are beginning to take shape. Excitement!)
Ah, but hope is the thing with feathers, says Emily. As I wandered between the stands, I accumulated little shreds and wisps of it until I had quite the little hopeful fluffball nestling between my palms. (Not really. Is metaphor.)
You see, there was one style of presentation that to me stood out like a beacon. It’s the model I’d aim to use if I ever exhibited at such an event, and it is this:
- In the heaving sea of shape and colour, something catches your eye – something thrilling. A single, stunning centrepiece, or a few unique, beguiling items – either way, you just have to take a closer look.
- You reach the stand and discover that what drew you here is fantastically, majestically, uproariously expensive. Way beyond your budget. As you knew it would be.
- You sigh. You turn away. You look again. You want it. You want its beauty, its passion, its power. If you could hack a piece off and carry it home in your pocket, you totally would.
- And perhaps … perhaps you can, in a way. You scan the other merchandise, the flickering shadows of this Platonic ideal. Immediately, you see that there are several things you can afford – a range of items, in fact, at a range of prices.
- Sold! Done deal! It remains only to make your choice and complete the transaction.
You win, because you are acquiring a small piece of the magic that created the beautiful piece that drew you in.
The craftsperson wins, because they are one step closer to next month’s mortgage payment. All they had to do was ensure that there was (a) something striking to bring you closer, and (b) plenty of things you could buy when you got there.
I am, as you know, a total novice at this stuff. I’m also, to be honest, slightly taken aback at this post. (I mean, me? Writing about marketing? Watch out for amphibian precipitation.)
I assume, moreover, that what I’ve just described has some official title among people who routinely talk about pricing models and pain points (ugh, yes, they really do) and upselling. My take on it is no doubt risibly naive.
I don’t care, though. I prefer to talk about magic and mortgages, if it’s all the same to you.