Wednesday, 15 September 2010

We’ve Made it Through Our First Show!

Among other things, I am a member of a group called Parade Artists. And I am using that as an excuse to tell you all about our background and experiences at our first big retail show a fortnight ago. Parade Artists took a stand at Homes and Interiors 2010 to find new audiences and test the ability of a local collective of artists to show alongside commercial organisations.

Parade Artists is a collection of artists working in the Hanson Street, Glasgow WASPS building, and which was formed in 2007 as a development of some uncoordinated efforts in two previous years. It has a fluctuating number of members of about 15 - 20 people, but with a consistent core of 10. The members - unusually for creative collectives - work in a diversity of media which include painting, textiles, ceramics, glass, photography and mixed media.

The objective of Parade Artists is to find new avenues of marketing and selling that work for the group and the individuals within it. It is now directed by a steering group to keep continuity in decision making, after it was found that a completely democratic organisation took too long to come to consensus and frequently changed its collective mind depending on who was at the meeting. All members are entitled to attend the meetings and the minutes are public to the members.

The original objective was to hold two shows a year within the building. Parade Artists has achieved annual Christmas shows, some Spring and Summer shows which involve the community, although not every year. Experience of these shows led toward events on selling and marketing for the members, both in a self-help fashion and in formal sessions presented by outsiders. We have had help from East End Enterprise and Cultural Enterprise too. Less obvious achievements have been to bring a diverse group of artists – both in media and personality – together. It gives the ability to work to the strengths of individuals, so making the direct selling effect better for the less market oriented people, and for the less detail oriented to get help with organisation. The shows have changed from a market stall arrangement to exhibition oriented ones.

All this brought us to the decision to try presenting ourselves to a wider public - it is said that the Homes and Interiors has around 20,000 visitors over the three days of the show. This was the biggest investment decision for group ever - £1100 as a single speculative venture for a small non-profit organisation was difficult but the collective enthusiasm carried us forward. The participation fee was set at £100 and to every one's surprise eleven people signed up!

Having made this decision, we needed to make sure it worked. A number of things were set in place:
  • Developing clear areas of responsibility
  • Covering for absences
  • Developing a professional presentation - buying rather than making display
  • Keeping to budget – as predicted we spent as much on display and marketing materials as on the stand.
  • Setting deadlines and keeping to them – which we achieved.
  • Obtaining a mobile point of sale credit card machine especially for the Homes and Interiors show. One third of the sales were through credit and debit cards.
Among the decisions on areas of responsibility one was that the selection and setting up of the objects was to be done by only three people. Although this was not completely satisfactory to everyone, it was important to presenting the most work in a coherent manner and it proved to be an attraction to visitors rather than a jumble sale. Clear selling instructions with back ups were important to sorting the financial affairs, although there were still problems with recording the information. The best days for sales and contacts were Friday and Saturday. The decision to have two main sellers and another person floating about to help in busy times worked well. The collection of contact details was generally easy. We had two means of beginning the conversations – a card advertising the WASPS open studios (which ran out too quickly) and talking about the collective and the range of work on display and offering to keep people in contact with the activity of the individuals and of Parade Artists.

Set-up almost complete

Our experience at a big retail show left us with some lessons and other things to consider. Some of the elements to consider are:
  • Simple inventory lists and reference numbers with multiples having the same reference number.
  • Someone to concentrate on taking money and wrapping procedures both to relieve pressure on the sales people and to ensure consistency in recording sales.
  • Concentrate the people with greatest sales ability on the most productive days (not Sunday).
  • More awareness of the public should be engendered among all of us.
  • More training on selling from the front of rather than behind the stand is required as it really is different.
  • More careful consideration of the amount of stock taken to the show requires more focused decision-making at the selection stage.
  • A more seamless method of getting contact details is required
  • Affordable publicity material for all our activities needs to be developed and funded.
  • A higher profile for our website on the stand and in publicity materials is required.

Still Friends at the End of the Show
Our ambitions are to:
  • Continue to be presenting work directly to the buying public
  • Work toward a permanent shop
  • Begin representing artists other than members
  • Have an annual presence at a major trade show
  • Develop a robust business structure, e.g., a cooperative such as described by Creative Cooperatives -

The experiences at Homes and Interiors are a major step forward for Parade Artists. Although we have a way to go to match the display equipment standards of the commercial exhibitors, our stand attracted as much interest as the larger organisations. We need to build on the things learned and begin to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of organisational structure to continue to develop and grow.

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