Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Decisions, decisions

We've made our decisions! Our acceptance letters for Spring Bada-Bing have gone out! Right now, 54 vendors are ramping up production to bring the absolute best handmade goodness to our customers at Hardywood in just under a month.

Which, on the flip side, means that there are over 100 vendors who, unfortunately, didn't get picked to be in the show. Some of them are on the waitlist (which I'll cover in another post) and some just plain weren't picked at all.

The hard part:

Let's call a spade a spade, eh? Rejection SUCKS. How would we know? Because, dudes, we get rejected from craft shows too. A lot more than we'd like. Sure, we'd love to throw our credentials around and say "but we're members of the *Richmond Craft Mafia.* We are unbelievably amazing at ___(fill in our craft of choice here)___. Your show will be a void, meaningless black hole without us there." But that would be crass, unhelpful, and hey, let's face it, probably a lie. Those other craft shows go on without us, to great success, and we try, try again for the next one.

Competition is FIERCE. Do the math: there were over 150 applications, for just over 50 spots at our show. That's 3 apps for each spot. And if we look at individual categories, like jewelry, bath & body, or 2-D art, those categories in particular are extra hard. If we let in, say, too many soap makers to SBB, at some point, they would just start cannibalizing each other's sales. Jewelry is its own special story: almost 25% of our applications were from jewelers. Home goods (an incredibly broad category) made up another 25%. If you applied in one of the categories mentioned, you were fighting a tougher numbers battle in a competition that's hard enough as it is.

Behind the scenes:

The key to the entire jurying process is balance. We are building a show with the right number of vendors, especially within a category, selling the right mix of goods, in harmony with the other vendors who will be there. If you take away nothing else from this blog post, let it be this paragraph.

So let's peel back the curtain for a sec, and talk about how the jurying goes down. After the applications close, each business in the Craft Mafia votes on all the applications individually. We vote "yes," "no," and "maybe." And typically there are a whooooole lot of maybes. It is pretty rare to get a unanimous "yes" or "no" vote. I can tell you that we ALL had a hard time with this year's apps. We all struggled with our own votes, knowing full well that, as a group, we had a lot of work left to do.

Once the votes are cast, we have a big group meeting, and we sort through the applicant pool by category. We don't have a set number of people that will get in from each category, so as we work on jurying, we're working out the overall show balance. How many jewelers can we squeeze in to the show? Are there enough clothing vendors? Etc...

Within each category, there are always a few obvious top vendors, based on the voting process. Then we round out the rest of the category. How many spots do we have left? Who's left who would fit well with the businesses who are already juried in? Do we need to consider their secondary category, to balance against the people already chosen for that group? For Spring Bada-Bing in particular: do they want an indoor or outdoor spot? All of these questions (and so many more) get hammered out. It takes HOURS, on top of the hours we've already spent on our own going through the apps.

At the end of the group meeting we go through all three lists: accepted, waitlisted, and not accepted. There are always gasps, even at this stage of the game, when we list out who didn't make the cut. There are a lot sighs of "oh, MAN, but I love those guys!" We feel for you. We're sorry. And, we trust the process. None of the decision making is ever done lightly, and it's all done to make the entire show well-rounded and as good as it can possibly be.


Let's talk about a couple other things...

Some common misconceptions we've heard:

  • "You just let your friends in." Ha! Nope, not even close. I can't even begin to count the number of times that one of our BFF's has had an application in, and just couldn't make it through the jurying process. As with any vendor we've seen around at our own shows and other shows, yes, it helps that we know someone and can vouch for their set-up, their professionalism, their quality of work, etc... but sometimes even that's not enough for a vendor to make the cut. Remember, we're balancing an entire show for the right mix of goods and artists.
  •  "I've made it in before, I'm a shoe-in this time." Again... not really. The vendors who get in time and time again are those who shows us new stuff every time. A few jury processes back, there was one vendor in particular who I had decided ahead of time I *wasn't* going to vote for, because they do make it in just about every time, and I wanted to shake up the vendor list. Then I got to their app, and dang if they didn't have entirely new designs, with entirely new processes, and it was AMAZING. Of course I voted them in. (And also: this just goes to show you that pre-judging the vendor list is a waste of effort.) As an applicant, don't rest on your laurels. Even if you have a steadfast design that's your best seller, if we're seeing it every. single. jury. then we're gonna assume you've plateaued. Go ahead and bring that design on game day, obviously, but show us what else you've been up to when you apply.

Some tips to make your next application better:

  • We can't stress enough how important good photos are. Get superfluous items out of your shot. Take clear photos of your work. Don't make someone wonder "what am I looking at here?" or "what are they selling me in this photo?" Make sure the lighting is good. Using a flash is almost always a bad idea - it creates harsh bright spots and dark shadows. Your photos need to tell the WHOLE story. Yes, there's a description box, but sometimes the photos and the descriptions aren't reviewed together, and the photos are ten times more important than your words.
  • Don't be cutesy. You are running a business, and selling yourself to other business owners. Take yourself seriously, so we know you'll take our show seriously. That said, you don't have to be robotic or antiseptic in your application. Let your voice come through, tell us why you're passionate about your craft and your business. Tell us why working with your spouse makes you a perfect team. Tell us about how a snow day with your kids inspired a craft-a-thon that led to your business. Unless it's super relevant, you can skip your resume about where you went to school and what your job history has been. And finally, we need your story, but we don't need a novel. 5-ish sentences is usually plenty.
  • This one was important enough to get its own bullet: tell us what makes you different. If you make your own garments, and you design the fabric too, TELL US. Otherwise, we'll assume you bought it. If you make jewelry, and you make each bead or finding by hand, TELL US. If you make your own essential oils from scratch before adding them to your perfumes, TELL US. If you're a t-shirt designer, and you draw each design and have them screenprinted down the street by a friend with an eco-friendly shop, TELL US. It doesn't automatically hurt your application if every single step isn't done by your own two hands, and your partnerships with other businesses help us understand your process. (Obviously if you don't make *any* of your product by hand, then you're not the right fit for our show.)

And after all that:

You could be right. We could be wrong. You might have been perfect for our show, and yeah, it's our loss, and our customers' loss. If you need to let off steam because you're angry with us, go grab a beverage with a friend and rail against the tyranny and injustice of it all. What you don't want to do is send a snarky email to the jurors implying that they didn't do their job, or that they are idiots, or that it was a total waste of time on your behalf to deal with them by applying. If you're on the waitlist, you DEFINITELY don't want to make this your strategy. All you're doing is sewing ill-will for the next time your lovely jurors encounter you, whether it's the next jury session, or another craft show, or out in the real world. It's okay to be fuming mad, and it's okay to not reply back to an email with news you didn't want to hear. Calling us names isn't going to make us want to work with you later.

So keep your head up. Keep applying to lots of shows - not just ours. Talk to us when you can. We can't give everyone individual feedback, but if you run into one of us somewhere, we're almost always happy to give you tips to make your application stronger. If you're on the waitlist, it's okay to hold out hope. We're already dipping into the waitlist for SBB, and notifications went out yesterday. And once, with two days notice, we even pulled someone off the straight-up rejected list, because we knew she could fit into the show, with enough goods, at the last-minute, and she ROCKED that show. (Yeah, it's dang rare for that to happen, but it *did* happen.)

In the end, thank you for applying. Thank you for making our job hard, because it means that the show is as awesome as we can possibly make it. Keep going, keep making awesome things. Good luck out there, and stay crafty!


Priya said...

I've never read anything that's given me this much insight into the black box that happens between hitting "Submit Application" and the acceptance/rejection email. I already know not to take rejections personally, and I know new work is really important, but reading this post helps it hit home. Great post! Jurying sounds like like a ton of work... it's a wonder you had the energy to write this blog post afterward!

Rachel Chieppa said...

This is the best explanation I've ever heard. Thank you. Keep up the good work. Being selective is what makes your shows good and why everyone wants in! Great work! Glad to be accepted and a part of it.

Kim Dell said...

As a new crafter on the scene, I was absolutely not expecting to make it into this show, but viewed this instead as a part of the learning process from hobbyist to professional. I am so appreciative of this post; thank you for taking the time to share!