THE MAKEOLOGY BLOG

17 Aug 2016

An open letter from the organizers

Written by the organizers behind Makeology and Cheerfully Made Markets.

One of the toughest parts of planning a craft fair is the fact that you basically have to decide which one of your friends gets to be a part of it.

Through organizing these shows many of us have become more than just acquaintances, friends, online friends at the very least. How do you tell someone that you LIKE and often see over at other events that they can’t sell their goods at your show? 

It’s tough.

What’s even tougher is knowing that people will be upset and there’s a distinct possibility you will lose some friends. If for whatever reason you don’t get into a show it’s not because we don’t think you’re good enough. It’s most likely because there are so many excellent vendors all fighting for the same spot. It comes down to many factors and it’s never personal. (Emily side note: Unless it IS personal because you were crazy mean to me at the last show, in which case, you brought this on yourself lady. I mean really.)

We learn a great deal about our “friends” through the application process. A lot. Loads of emails pour into our inboxes after an application period closes. Some kindly requesting feedback, some just downright awful, rude, aggressive, or mean; demanding to know why they weren’t accepted, or arguing that they are more deserving than another.

Here’s the thing. We aren’t claiming to be experts in every category nor do we feel we are all powerful over your success. We’re simply the ones making the tough decisions. Because when it comes down to making sure our shows are well curated and exhibit the best (in our opinion) variety to our shoppers, decisions need to be made. And it sucks. It’s really, really stressful and we lose sleep over it, none of us enjoy that part of the process.

What’s really important to know is that making these brutally difficult decisions is what makes the show successful. We could have 57 of the world’s finest, funkiest, most fabulous potters apply to the same show. Can they all participate? Heck no. If we accepted ALL of the potters, everyone would suffer. The maker by the door? He might do ok. The seller tucked at the back of the show? Well, yes, hers is certainly unique, but we just don’t need any more pottery now do we?

Truly, we thought a lot about whether or not to publish this post. But when we found ourselves coming to each other over the same issues, just so thankful to have met someone who shared our frustration and heartache, we decided that in the interest of free therapy, we had to do it. At first we cowered behind our laptops feeling like maybe it’s not worth sharing our feelings for fear of the backlash (oh there WILL be backlash), but then we realized that no one else seemed to have any issue sharing their feelings about the issue with us while we cried into our ice cream and spilled tears on our keyboards. Maybe it is our turn after all.

Bottom line, we are people. Good people who started this craft show organizing thing because we wanted to create opportunities for ourselves and others to make a living doing what they love. (Melissa side note: We’re makers too! We get rejected as much as anyone else! We know how it feels and it definitely doesn’t make things any easier.)

So there. We said it. Maybe we can move forward now.

In the interest of that, we thought it might be helpful if we elaborated on a few reasons some makers might be chosen over others. Here are some of the things we believe make for a better application.

 

YOUR APPLICATION IS COMPLETE

We know it’s a pain to read all the nitty gritty details of an application, but it’s really important that you send us your submission complete so that our jury has everything they need to make their decisions. Let’s face it, people don’t like to/want to read. Although it may seem like no biggie that your photos are mislabeled, when we’re dealing with hundreds of images, sometimes we just can’t find the time to figure out what’s what and who’s who.

YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY IS GOOD

This is probably the most important portion of your application. Since we don’t have your items to touch/hold/smell, photos are all we can go by to judge. Photography makes you and your brand. You want your photos to be well lit, stylized and clear. Your photos are a reflection of you and what you do. An important point to make here is that we use these photos to promote you. We are looking for quality photos that we can use in our marketing. The visuals are everything! The media also picks up on this and frequently choose the best to promote (very important!).

YOUR WEBLINKS WORK

This is your chance to show us what you do in a broader scale. If it’s not up to date or not working don’t submit it. Stick to sharing your Instagram or Facebook page.

YOUR PRICING IS ON THE MONEY (pun!)

This is so important! If we find that the norm is to charge, say, an average of $16 for a baby bib and we get an applicant that charges only $8, our eyebrows go up. We have to be cautious of vendors undercutting each other, but we also want to be sure you’re paying yourself in a way that makes you sustainable!

YOU’RE A GOOD FIT, AESTHETICALLY SPEAKING

This is the whole package. What your product looks like, what your brand looks like, what your display looks like. Everything. When people wonder where they could shop for quality products we want them to think of you.

YOU HAVE A GOOD TRACK RECORD

If you’ve participated in a previous show, was it a good experience? Did you make sure you had no other conflicting events that day? Did you wait to decline your acceptance until the last possible second? Did you arrive on time? Did you freak out on one of our volunteers because you didn’t get the electrical outlet you wanted (but were never promised)? Did you follow instructions? We realize life happens (to us too) but lets try to remember that this is supposed to be fun. It’s not likely that you’ll be invited back if you ruffled a few too many feathers when last we met. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Ok so you’ve done all the above and you still didn’t make it. A lot of factors go into the decision making process such as the originality of your work, the variety (and cohesiveness) within your brand, your online presence. Sometimes we have excess applicants within one category, the most popular being jewelry. It is then we have to get down to the nitty-gritty. Did they solder or make each glass piece individually? Are they doing something we’ve never seen before? (Note that these aren’t requirements but they become important details when jurying an over saturated category.) Sometimes it takes going the extra mile to stand out.

Sooooooo you’ve done all the above correctly and you think you go the extra mile making your product stand out and you still didn’t get in. Bottom line, not everyone can have a spot. It’s crap luck, but it’s just how it is.

To address a few of the comments we receive after applications close

“You always choose the same vendors.”
This is probably asking for it, but frankly, it’s our show. The vendors who get chosen are always the candidates we feel best represent the event. Sometimes a lot of amazing candidates apply and it’s tough to chose. Careful consideration is given to previous vs. new vendors in order to keep the show balanced and varied. It’s important to make room for new vendors to keep the markets fresh and interesting (keep in mind this also varies within categories). 

“I didn’t even hear about the applications being open…and now they’re closed. WTF?”

Time to pull up the big girl/boy pantaloons and take a little responsibility for yourself. If you are unaware of a show it probably means you’re not on our mailing list, or following us on social media or, in the case of Etsy Made in Canada, not signed up for Etsy Newsletters. Surely you realize it would be impossible for us to reach out to every individual we know to be a maker. Surely ye jest.

“So and so got In, and I didn’t, and my stuff is way better”
Really? Like…really?

“What could I have done differently?”

Good for you advocating for yourself! We admire that and are taking a mental note to give you special consideration for the next show. We would LOVE to reply promptly and give you the attention this question deserves (and sometimes we can!), but it’s just not always possible. We suggest creating a focus group of your best friends and family – the ones who will cut it to you straight and provide you with constructive criticism and feedback. Show them your submission as well as the application and go over it with them. Perhaps there’s something you’re missing. Maybe your fabric choices are a little more outdated than you thought. Maybe your images are kinda low res and not a great representation of your stuff. As you can imagine, it is difficult to go into great detail for each individual applicant because the feedback is spread across all the different people who judged the work. We also suggest using your online resources. There are many useful groups online (such as the Makeology group) where fellow artisans would be more than willing to help you out. Don’t be shy! Use your own network to improve if you don’t hear back from us. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. It just means we’re too busy (and feeling terribly guilty about it). 

“I’ve never been rejected before, your loss!”

As vendors ourselves we must admit we are pretty jealous of someone who’s never been rejected. But we’ve definitely grown from those experiences and we hope you will take the opportunity to do the same. It may well truly be our loss, but we’re not exactly sure how saying that will revert our decision. Having a diverse market also means that we look for vendors who are new to the scene in our cities. Vendors that can’t be found everywhere. Sometimes that means (as we’ve stated previously) that perfectly great (if not just ever-so-slightly rude and entitled) makers won’t make it this time. That is part of what makes a good show.

Don’t be discouraged.

It’s not personal. Honestly. If repeat vendors are being chosen it’s because they did all the above, or perhaps they are in a smaller category, or they just got lucky. Maybe we just love their work so much we couldn’t imagine the show without them. It happens. But rest assured that the decision to accept them is because of the work, not the individual. Relationships and friendships are formed over time and are inevitable. A good jury wouldn’t or shouldn’t let that be the reason for accepting someone.

We appreciate you and how hard you work and we want you to be successful. Truthfully. We rise by lifting others as they say. 

A few notes from the organizers.

I’m a newbie—it’s true! I’m learning everyday and I’m not perfect. This community is my passion and I put 110% percent of my energy into making each show as good as it can be. I want each show to raise the bar to be even better than the last. It’s all or nothing for me, and thats what makes it so difficult accepting that I won’t be able to completely satisfy everyone that wants to be a part of it (which I am truly grateful for).  I often receive questions directly and indirectly about the way I do (or don’t do) things as well as my authority in judging artisans that have been doing this longer than I have. I ask and learn from all feedback, but there’s a line that unfortunately sometimes get crossed when people deviate from being professional. There’s a lot of sweat and tears that goes on behind the scenes. On the days when you get that one crappy email it has the potential to bring you down and make you want to give up. Fortunately for every negative comment, there are also words encouragement that remind me why I am doing this. Makeology is and always will be about the vendors. Making sure vendors are satisfied is my number one priority. From the application process, to the marketing of the show, to the set up and tear down experience and all the details in between. Should the day come when Makeology is not the show I want it to be or meet the standards I’ve set for myself, it will be the day I know to throw in the towel. It’s not always going to be flawless, but I am sure as hell going to try my hardest.
Melissa Lowry – Founder and Director of Makeology
If you are interested in knowing more about Makeology fairs subscribe to Melissa’s newsletter.

I just want to have fun. I started hosting craft shows in 2010 because I wanted to create a place where makers could make a little money doing what they love. It thrills me how much my little show has grown, but that growth and exposure has meant becoming so much more vulnerable to criticism and, what I’m pretty sure Dr. Phil would categorize as, cyber bullying. I will continue to build on the maker community I’ve been nurturing, however I am truly tired of having to field aggressive (some passive, others not) emails and comments from those who I can only assume have never considered what it might be like to be in the organizer’s shoes. As a maker myself I think we all need to be responsible for what we’re putting out into the universe. Let’s keep it cheerful people. I know it’s not easy, but together we can do it. Gah. I said it.
Emily Arbour – Cheerfully Made Markets Organizer
If you are interested in knowing more about Cheerfully Made Markets subscribe to Emily’s newsletter.

It’s been 8 years since I started putting together small scale craft shows in heritage buildings in both Toronto and Hamilton, and for the most part it’s been a joy to celebrate the diverse mix of talent in this region. I like to remind people that our choices are based upon the best fit for both the artisan and the show. While I might really love someone’s work, we don’t always program them because we know that it might not be a good fit for the community that supports the show. Remember that show organizers are people, just like you. We take this work seriously and put many hours into these shows to make them successful for all involved. It’s important to remember that we are not only show organizers, but that we are also creators and people with feelings. Treat us the same way you would like to be treated. We can agree to disagree of course, but please be kind and generous in communication. It can go a long way. 
Lisa Pijuan-Nomura – Founder and Curator of Handmade Hamilton
If you are interested in knowing more about Handmade Hamilton visit her website.

melissalowry

Melissa is a graphic designer, needle felter, mom of identical twin boys and a lover of all things handmade.

  • Stephanie Ko

    I just want to say that you ladies are doing a phenomenal job! It is not easy to be in your shoes, but you do it with lots of courage and grace. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes that we don’t normally witness, so thank you for being honest and vulnerable and sharing the tough bits with us!

    • Hi Stephanie,
      Thanks so much for your encouragement! It wasn’t easy to but it had to be said!

    • Emily Arbour

      You’re always such a sweetheart Stephanie. Thanks for the note.

  • Robin Whitford

    I honour your ability to speak about your struggles and successes (you do put in awesome shows!). I think anytime we work with large groups of people/businesses with various interests, people are bound to get upset about something. But I think you’ve handled it with grace and respect for all involved. How people take it is their issue. Keep up the good work and I hope you get more time for some TLC in your lives ❤️

  • Melissa Heinrichs

    On one hand I am sad for you that you had to write this (because you received hate mail) but on the other hand as a newbie wannabe artisan vendor I am grateful for the insight you have provided. I was one of those who wrote back saying “what could I do differently?” only half expecting an answer, I was impressed that you took the time to write back and provide helpful insight – thank you for that! You run a great show!

    Melissa
    http://www.facebook.com/theredbowtie
    http://www.instagram.com/shop.theredbowtie

    • Hey Melissa, there is nothing wrong with asking for feedback! I think it’s something we should all do in order to grow as small businesses but sadly we can’t always provide the most helpful answer to everyone. Thanks for your support!

  • Glad you stellar professionals took the time to get this off your collective chests. I’ve been a part of all of your shows and am HUGELY impressed with all of you and you won’t get no lip from me if you don’t chose me next time. I get it. Onward ladies, and thanks for creating and producing the best shows in Ontario. (Lisa- we miss Movies and Makers in Toronto!).

  • Jennifer Kuyek

    I loved this post. Especially that bit about “soldering every piece” when it comes to jewelery – oh how I wish that shows that proudly wave the handmade banner actually had ONLY handmade jewelry. So many times handmade shows that proudly wave the handmade banner define handmade jewelry as “pre made silver colored metal charm attached BY HAND to a base metal chain”. This makes it hard for makers making each piece to compete in the same marketplace, and also gives customers trying to support handmade the notion that a handmade sterling silver necklace rightly costs $20…In the worst cases, the deceived buyer can end up thinking handmade jewelry has a quality problem because what they believed was silver was just plated base metal that loses its shine. So refreshing to see the organizers of great shows thinking of this! Keep up the great work!

  • Julie Johnson

    Very nicely written ladies! It was a pleasure to read your views and experiences. People often forget how difficult it is to please everyone. Inevitably, someone will be unhappy with whatever reasonable explanation they are given. Lisa Pijuan-Nomura of Handmade Hamilton sent me the sweetest rejection letter! Keep your heads held high!

  • Line Labrecque

    I’d like to thank you guys for organizing all you do and for the way you do it. You stay positive in the firing line and still give helpful advice to those doing the firing. That is professional, guys. Thanks again.

  • Bella McBride

    Really well written ladies! This is the first year for me organizing the Etsy: Made in Canada event in NB and had the arduous task of having to decide who was in and who didn’t make it. It was truly a heartbreaking experience to have to send those letters out to those of them that didn’t. I was extremely lucky, however, and had an amazing group of vendors that understood that not everybody could make it. And a note to vendors…. just because you didn’t make the first cut, doesn’t mean you aren’t on the waiting list if someone cancels. We had three cancellations and very happily passed on the good news to the luckily ones on the waiting list! Moral of the story? Always be nice… not only does it make it easier for others, it makes life easier for you!

  • Lisa Spinella

    I just want to hug you guys.. this is really a great post. having just juried a show recently it really helps to hear others who experienced the weird ugly crafty backlash.. it really broke my heart to vote against people who I know and respect… Super frustrating too to get so many broken links in an application.. if its worth doing – its worth doing right…

    • it’s horrib;e isn’t it? thanks for your words!

  • Maureen Peets

    This letter is really clear about your process which is great and helpful. It is too bad that you received backlash and that it upset you. Now that your show is such a success, I would say that it is good for you to be clearer up front with the criteria. I think this will be a great show and I will be attending to check out all of the beautiful things as I did not get chosen this time.

  • thank you for all your hard work, and time and tears
    if you see my booth, please come over , i’ll give you a hug
    Fighting !! girls!

  • Meeka

    Emily you always do a great show! I like to think that I am one of your biggest crafty fans – does it hurt when you don’t get into a show – of course – do I relish and get giddy with excitement (with a slight moment of “will I have enough done in time??!!” panic) when I do get in! Naturally! From my perspective I have had nothing but smooth sailing with your shows. You are always pleasent and if you are stressed out beyond belief (which I am sure you have been) I don’t see it on your face. You make sure to stop at my table every show, even if it is for a quick moment to say hi. I have loved dealing with you as an organizer, a fellow crafter, a shop owner and a friend. Keep on being awesome.

  • Aimee Sullivan Schiewe

    Thank you for putting this out there. As a relatively new vendor applying for juried shows, I had no idea what the process was after I submitted an application. I now have a better understanding. With that being said, if I was rejected, I would never dream of sending it back to question why you didn’t agree with the fact I was the best, that is just wrong.

    • Sad in the Country

      Hello all. Who I am is not important, but I feel what I have to say is. While I do realize it can be stressful to organize craft fairs (yes, I have done it), I am pretty disgusted that you go on about the personal tolls it has taken on you and how you are so hard done by. Anyone with a brain and calculator can figure out that you, the organizers have chosen to make this your jobs and make tens of thousands of dollars off of the hard work of local crafters. I can add up 80 people x $100, then having the nerve to ask for 25 – 50 items to be added to bags, costing the crafter up to $200 a show before they even arrive. Can we just speak about morals for a moment? I am disgusted with the whole profit system of some organizers and just cannot sit back in silence anymore. You may think I am a disgruntled crafter, I am really not, but I know when I am being taken advantage of. You should be ashamed of yourselves. A very sad picture of the society we live in. I think I will move to Tibet and go and live with the monks.

      • Thomas Lowry

        I think the admirable thing about this post is that everyone who authored the article and almost everyone that has participated in the discussion following it, in the interest of transparency, accountability and openness, has identified themselves. Rather than hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. That always has the potential of making comment sections toxic. One can only assume who from Kanata, ON you may be.

        To respond to some of your points; I think we can all agree that an issue faced by anyone trying to make a living as an artist or craftsperson, is putting an honest value on your products so that your time invested in creating whatever it is you make, is valued. Meaning the price in some way is going to reflect your hours of hard work. I think that is something we can agree upon is worth striving for? No one wants to be undercut by someone who has zero value on their time invested.

        So providing that you agree with the previous statement, why is the business side of running a craft-show/event so offensive to you? In the spirit of people valuing their time, is the time spent organizing a show, promoting it, and responding to hourly requests not worthy of being valued in the same way?

        And that is just time invested, let alone upfront costs like venue rental, table/chair rentals, advertising fees, liability insurance, taxes, cost of printing marketing, promotional materials, signage, parking arrangements or even graphic/web design services required to create promotional materials. And lets not forget many of these people have also donated a large percentage of their overall earnings to a charity.

        Have you see anything that has stated that contributions to swag bags are mandatory? Last I recall is that this was voluntary/opt-in. Vendors that do understand, realize that this is what helps drive attendance and create a line out the door which benefits everyone. It also doubles as an advertisement their own business. Generally-speaking, artists aren’t contributing a free full-size version of their product. Perhaps you have made a lot of assumptions about the swag bags.

        Now lets look at the return on investment for your money spent. You have an opportunity to sell your products in person, not on the faceless world of the internet, where you get to meet hundreds if not thousands of potential customers. The possibility that your products get featured in the promotion of the show (social media impressions, printed matter, video coverage, photos, and even the potential of even a few seconds of TV coverage). Is there no value to that? Look at the advertising costs of any legitimate business and you will soon realize that the reach your $100 gets is a drop in the bucket compared to what could have been spent (especially when you factor in that that a large percentage of your $100 is supporting fixed costs like rental fees, insurance, and the venue costs). Anyone with a brain and a calculator should be able to figure that out. I would assume (and I hate doing that given that so much of your posts is based on assumption), that as someone with experience organizing a show would understand this. Either that or you short-changed your vendors by spending the bare minimum beyond your fixed costs.

        If you ask me, it would be morally unacceptable if you went into this expecting an organizer to spend months organizing a show, fielding calls and emails (including hate mail), being out of pocket in expenses to put the show on, all to benefit the vendors without any potential to turn a profit? Doesn’t everyone involved in selling anything want the potential to make money? Why is it that selling your items is a noble way to earn a profit but hosting a show (which also happens to benefit many people beyond the organizer) is not?

        I don’t see this as a sob-story, more of an open door on what goes behind the scenes. I don’t envy those who have to decline great vendors when there is a fixed amount of space to fill. If you went into work to start the day off with angry emails and personal attacks, I’m sure you can appreciate the negative affect this has on your day when you haven’t done anything to justify such a response.

        Happy to continue the discussion out from under the guises of pseudonyms and online screen names.

  • Pingback: I didn’t get in – again. Follow up to our Open Letter. – Makeology()