Open Studio report--success!

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Posted by Luann Udell on October 22, 2001 at 06:49:07:

In Reply to: 4 days to go! posted by Luann Udell on October 15, 2001 at 16:17:45:

I've cleared up the paper plates, run my credit slips, packed up some of my stuff, & thought I'd post about my open studio event while things are still fresh in my mind. Where to start??
Preparation time: I found that, because I was dealing with only me (as opposed to either a group event or a tour with multiple artists), I didn't need a lot of prep time. I sent out a mailing to my customer list about 10-14 days before the event, and sent press releases to 6-7 area newspapers. I know for sure that two papers ran the press releases. Next year, I will do more display advertising the week or so before the event. I allowed a week of studio clean-up, and shopped for food two days before. Next year, I'm simplifying the "menu" & I think I could do food the day before. I'm guessing that, even thought I'd been *thinking* and *planning* about the event for six weeks before, I really only started working on it a week to ten days before the actual event. I'd mentioned to most of my customers in the summer I was thinking about an open studio this fall, so they were prepped a bit for it....

What was hard: Cleaning my studio! My workspace gets extremely messy. Cleaning, organizing & clearing out was the biggest job. At one point, I wasn't sure I could even get it done in time. Finally, I simply picked one surface or small area at a time and focused on getting that one spot ready. From then on, it was a more stream-lined process. But actually preparing the studio space was the single biggest time-eater.

What was unexpectedly time-consuming: Pricing and ticketing. I've moved away from ticketing each jewelry item in the last few years. Instead, I usually display one or two samples of each design in a case and post a tiny price sticker next to each item, replacing each item as it sells. But to make it easier for my daughter to ring up sales, I had to mark everything. People who already have work priced for retail shows probably won't find this such a hassle....

Pricing strategy: After a lot of thought, I kept my full prices on my current work. I felt that putting work on sale less than two months after my big retail show, might cut into that show's sales. I *did* deeply discount old work and supplies. I put the full price on each item, then a red dot to indicate a 40% discount. I thought this would "read" psychologically as a better deal than to simply list a new discounted price. However, I *might* experiment with something like "bring a friend, get a 10% discount on new work" or something. I did offer door prizes.

Concerns: I was a little worried about security at first. I finally decided to keep my jewelry making/beading area off-limits. (This is where expensive materials would tend to be.) I think I did this subtly. I set up the food table in front of the access to that area, then put a chair to the side of the table. The chair blocked casual entry, but I could still get in and out easily. (I had one or two customers who brought pieces that needed a minor adjustment or repair, so I was glad I'd kept my workspace usable. And they both ended up buying more new pieces, so that worked out well.) People could still *see* the area, they just didn't have access to my tools and supplies. Also, by keeping the event in the studio (I'd thought about including part of my house at first, but then decided not to mix an open house with an open studio), it was pretty to keep track of where everyone was and what they were doing, without being "hovering".

Some surprising things: My strategy was to display my current work and take the opportunity to move out old designs, old products, materials I'd bought but didn't use, etc. Current work was full-priced, old stuff was marked 40% off. Results? My sales were split about equally between the two.

Nobody ate much. I served cold cider (the weather was sunny and mild, a perfect New England autumn weekend), OJ with cheap champagne, donut holes, grapes, and Goldfish snacks. I had planned to put out a Boursin cheese spread with crackers and veggies after noon, but so few people ate or drank, I never set it out. I think, though, that as the event grows, people will eat more (just like at artist receptions--you go for the wine & cheese!) :^) So I overspent on refreshments, but it was all things my family can "recycle" this week.

Who came? Most customers came from my mailing list. A few drove 2 hours to come! Some people had seen my newspaper bits (no display advertising, just some press releases and a small classified.) Some simply saw my sign out front and dropped in. Next year I will do my mailing list again (I used my Megacolor postcards, had info about the Open Studio printed on the back for $25, and mailed them to around 300+ people. I didn't mail to people who were further away than about 2-3 hours.) And I will also spend a little more on display advertising. I was worried about zoning issues (I'm in a residential neighborhood) but I don't think I need to worry about that for a 1x-2x annual event.

Visibility: At the last minute before I started, I realized I hadn't thought of a way to "mark" my house as the site of the event. I grabbed a large sheet of mat board and wrote "Open Studio 10-5" in big bold letters. At that time, it was drizzling, so I actually wrapped the sign in Saran Wrap! Turned out to be unnecessary, but still... I put it against a small stone marker at the end of our driveway. When it was up, people walking by came in. When it blew down, people didn't come in. I finally duct-taped the sign to the marker. (Ah, duct tape....) I think next year I will think of something even more eye-catching, in addition to a sign. Balloons? I dunno. Also, it can be very confusing to figure out which is the main entrance to our house. (A traditional New England farmhouse, with a very formal entry we hardly use, and the "family" entrance in the back, and then my studio entry farther back.) I moved all the potted flowers from our porches to the outside of my studio and added some pumpkins. It worked! Everyone was cued to come to the right door. I also left all my entry and outdoor lights on all day....

Flow: Very busy first thing Saturday a.m., then slow but steady throughout the day. I don't think anyone came after 4 p.m. Saturday. Sunday--dead, dead, dead. I don't think anyone came til mid-afternoon. Then a few people came here and there. Then a *lot* of people came after 3 p.m., almost up til 5 p.m.

And flow in the studio: There was good traffic flow throughout the studio. I moved items that had any potential for creating a squeeze or getting bumped. I moved my entire collection of beaver-chewed sticks out of the studio--I could just see someone catching a coat tail on one of them, and getting speared! Anything that was wobbly or the least bit unstable, I moved. People had plenty of space to walk around in, and didn't end up in any dead-end areas.

Results: Very strong sales. I think only one or two people didn't buy anything. Almost everyone bought something, and several people did their Christmas shopping. A retailer saw my article in Niche magazine, drove up to see my work, and placed a good wholesale order. Sales matched a decent day at my regional high-end craft show (retail.) Some people who selected things the first day, came back the next day to pick them up, and then bought even more.

Customer comments: Requests for me to do another open studio closer to Christmas. (October is good here in New England because it's so beautiful this time of year, and the weather is reliable--usually no blizzards!) People *loved* the chance to see where I work, and were fascinated with my set-up. And the barn itself is just a beautiful old barn. Another idea is to create a "wish list" for women who wanted the more expensive jewelry, and mail it to their spouses a week or so before Christmas or birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Because they would be nearby, a husband desperate for a great present could simply call ahead, come over and pick up the item(s). I think that would be a 34 cent experiment worth trying! (Heck, even less if it fits on a postcard.)

Great ideas: I have some oak display cases already in my studio, set up as a little "retail area" in my entrance (and also works well for storage.) I have lots of worktables and counters in my studio. But I also set up one of my Dynamic Display cases I use for shows, lights and all. It all looked very professional. People commented that they got to see more than I could usually fit into a booth, and that it was relaxing to wander around the studio. Less crowded.

In short: The people who came (especially from my mailing list, or those who already knew my work) were self-selected buyers. They came intent on seeing my work and to buy. I was very pleased with the results of the sale. And the best part? I was home! I put away some items this evening, but can wait til tomorrow to really get things put away.

Future plans: I was thinking about organizing a larger tour next year, with more artists in the area. Now I'm thinking that, if I do that, I will keep the number small and manageable, at least as long as I can. I think we'd get a bigger crowd, but also a more general crowd. We'll have to see what the trade-offs would be. It would probably result in fewer sales-per-buyer for me, but may give exposure to more people.

Conclusion: A lot of work (but I had to clean my studio anyway) with a good return on the investment in time and money. I will definitely make this at least an annual event, and am seriously thinking about doing another event before Christmas. What the heck? My studio can't get *that* messy in 8 weeks, can it? ;^) And, having done this once, the next time setting up will be easier.

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