Craft Show Review: GeekCraft Expo Madison 2018
This review will be a little different from my other ones, but GeekCraft Expo was a little different from any show I've ever done before! (If you'd like to read more about my convention reviews and why I write them, check out this blog post)
I should probably start by explaining what GeekCraft Expo (Or GCE) is. In their own words:
"GeekCraft Expo is a curated craft market specializing in handmade, “geek”-themed crafts of all kinds; clothing, accessories, toys, home decoration, furniture, art…if it’s geeky and made by hand, it can be found at a GeekCraft Expo."
But that doesn't quite grasp the unique flavor of a show like this. It's as though someone cut the artist alley out of a convention and plopped it into it's own space for a 2 day show. It pulls inspiration in layout and theme from a traditional artist alley, but runs much more like a craft show. Geeky crafts is a bit of a niche market, but if it's one you're in, or interested in, this show has amazing potential.
The rules seemed rather lax for GCE which isn't to say there is none, but rather, they aren't overbearing. They are pretty common sense. Most of them are present on the sign up page, but we are also given a brief run down via email before the show itself.
The biggest rule has to do with the heavily curated nature of the show. GCE selects their vendors based on a number of factors. They want to make sure the products will fit the theme of the show (geeky crafts), that vendors are bringing quality goods, and that there will be a good variation in the products within the show. As such, you are required to give a list of everything you intend to bring when you sign up. If you bring something that interferes with another vendor or is significantly other than what you described, you may be asked to remove it or be removed from the show entirely.
I'll be honest, I think I brought a few things that weren't on my application. I know the terrariums and ghost products I did in collaboration with Gross and Colorful wouldn't have been on my application as they are newer. But I don't remember exactly what I said I'd bring. It might be a good idea when applying to screenshot your application and save it for your own references. I suspect most people will be fine, though, as long as you stick to the spirit of your brand and don't bring something vastly different.
Other rules include common sense courtesy like cleaning up after yourself and not blocking others in as well as a height limit, depending on the space you are in.
Sign up takes place over a form on their website. Applications open at a set time and stay open until they are full. Application are juried and accepted/rejected in the order they are received so it's best to apply as soon as possible if you want to attend to make sure you get in before your competition.
They will ask for photos of your products that you are most known for so be prepared to have some good quality photos on hand. As I mentioned, you may want to take a screenshot of the application for your reference.
One thing that is different if you are used to a standard artist alley is an application fee. If you do craft shows, this should come as no surprise to you, though. There is a small (I think) $10 application fee that is non-refundable. If you do get in, this fee is applied to your booth costs.
Honestly, I'd like to see more places implement an application fee. These fees help pay for the huge amount of time it takes to do through the many applications and respond to each one. It also discourages people from applying on a whim, or applying when they know they aren't a good fit for the show.
Communication was excellent. Ahead of the show they sent out an informational packet for load in and responded to my questions quickly when I realized I hadn't gotten one (it went to my spam and was automatically deleted, not a fault of theirs). At the show they greeted us personally at load in, made sure we knew where everything was, and went around throughout the weekend checking in on us.
We were given a number to text if we had issues. On the first day I was reaching to get something from under the table, lost my balance, and to try and avoid falling I braced myself by putting my knee on my chair. Except, that's not quite what happened. The seat of the chair, it turns out, was made of a thin cardboard like material and this just folded in half when my knee and full weight hit it. Oops. I texted them and they brought me a new chair quickly and checked in later in the weekend to make sure I was okay. It was much appreciated.
Organizers also seemed genuinely interested in my experiences and opinions which was nice.
Load in went very well and it's one of the only events where staff has actually offered to help me by bringing out a cart and helping to unload the car. I declined since I already have my method in place and I'm a creature of habit. But it was a very nice gesture. We were given badges to wear for the weekend as well as a parking pass. Exhibitors got priority parking close to the entrance.
Staff greeted us personally right away and made sure we knew everything, pointing out the bathrooms and the green room for vendors.
I was in a rush because my 6 hour drive turned into 9 hours with Chicago traffic, rest stops, and heavy construction, but I was able to get my car unloaded on Friday evening and arrived early to set it all up Saturday morning.
At the Event
I was unsure of how this event would go. I did do my research into the GCE brand shows before attending, but there's a lot of variation depending on location. Across the board, though, I heard the shows were well run which is why I chose to attend. Even if a show is slow, as long as it is well run I'm generally happy.
I knew it would be smaller than most conventions I do and I didn't know how the local audience would respond to my products since it's the farthest I've gone for a con. I brought books to read in the downtime and also stocked my table carefully with only products I knew would sell, very few were risky choices for me.
My nerves were quickly settled Friday at opening. We had a steady stream of people throughout the day on both days, with only brief lulls in traffic towards the ends of each day and around lunch time. While I was never overwhelmingly busy, I was never without a customer for long. Sales were also consistent throughout the day and much higher than I'd have expected.
It's hard to describe how sales went and how that translated to profit.
To start with, sales were very consistent. It was nowhere near as busy as a large convention, but I made about as much money per day as I do at a show with 6-10,000 people. I think that just had to do with the nature of the show. It's free to attend and there's nothing else going on, artists are the main attraction. So people who showed up did so with the sole intention of spending money. It also meant shoppers aren't coming in already drained after dropping $ on a badge, food, hotel.
However I made less overall than I do at a 6-10,000 person convention, even though the per day sales were very similar, because it was only 2 days instead of 3. Yet I saved money by not having to get a hotel and buy food for an extra night and my helper didn't have to take an extra day off work so I think in the end it likely evened out quite nicely.
There was also a high number of kids and families in attendance, I suspect because free kids crafts were offered. I was nervous about this, at first. Selling stuffed animals you'd think I'd do well with more children in attendance, but the opposite is usually true. The vast majority of my customers are women ages 18-25.
GCE Madison was an exception to this. Many families came through and usually the children would find a plushie they loved, the parent would remind them they had to see everything first, and more often than not they'd return and the child would be allowed to pick out one plushie.
Honestly it was heart warming, I spent the entire weekend looking at my helper and making high pitched noises over how cute it was.
Another fun thing was that they played music during the show. At conventions I tend to not like music just because it's already so loud and overwhelming, but I appreciated it at GCE because it was slower and quiet in the room. The music, I felt, added some background noise and set a good mood. Many of the people shopping I caught dancing. Or they caught me dancing!
As an Attendee
I wasn't necessarily "an attendee", but I did walk around a good bit and pick up gifts. I was very impressed with all the vendors, there was some extremely cool stuff. I think this is an excellent show to pick up gifts for the nerds in your life as you can't necessarily find this stuff in a store so having it all in one place (and no shipping costs!) is fantastic. It was a good way to get stuff for harder to shop for people.
I definitely recommend anyone local to stop by and check out a GeekCraft show. After all, they're free, so there's no loss if you don't find anything you like and if you're interested in geeky crafts, you'll enjoy looking.
GCE has a unique system for load out. You pack up, sign up on a list, and wait for them to come by. Then they'll carry your stuff out to your car for you and help you load up. It's a great system that takes a lot of the stress out and load out and reduces the chance to get a backup of 50 people trying to get out at once.
Of course, being the stubborn person I am, I carried my own stuff out. Like I said, I've got a system and I'm stuck in my ways. Next time, though, I'll probably take advantage of the offer for help.
GeekCraft Expo Madison was a very solid show. I saw consistent traffic and good sales throughout the weekend. If you fall in this niche market you're going to love these shows and I absolutely recommend checking out their application list to find one near you. You won't want to be flying out to these shows, but if there is one in driving distance you won't be disappointed. While attendance, sales, etc, are going to vary by location, the organizers actually care about their exhibitors and it shows, guaranteeing you a well run and stress free show if nothing else.
And, of course, you should absolutely stop by if there's a GeekCraft show happening in your area. Free to attend and full of talented nerds? What's not to love?!
As for me, I'm not sure I'll return to GeekCraft Expo Madison, but this has nothing to do with the show itself! Because it ended up being such a longer drive than it looks on paper for me, it might be just outside my range. But I'm absolutely keeping my eye out for applications to open for the Milwaukee and Columbus shows next year! And perhaps the STL one as I have friends in the area. Either way, you'll definitely see me at a GeekCraft show in the future! (Hey, GCE, if you're reading this, come to Michigan!)