If At First You Don't Succeed...

Beginning of a new year is usually time when all of us look back and recap the happenings from the year gone by, and lessons learned from them. I didn't need to read the year end retail and sales related articles to know what was happening in the last two months of 2018. I experienced all of it first hand.

November and December in the Flathead Valley of Montana are full of holiday shows and art & craft fairs. As a brand new Montanan, I didn't want to fill my plate heaping full of holiday selling events, so I picked only two to participate in: Holiday Extravaganza at Majestic Valley Arena, and Christmas at The Fairgrounds in Kalispell. As it is held at an equestrian facility, the first one promised that my customers would be there, while the second one upped the ante by being a juried event that admitted only vendors of strictly regulated handcrafted products. Both of the events were 3-day shows, both were held in November, and both promised a large turnout of shoppers and brisk business... at least on paper.

The reality, however, was different. Looking back at my experiences with both of these shows, I could definitely see the trend that economic publications didn't officially admit until the beginning of the new year: people were reluctant to spend money. Oh, that was not for the lack of shopper traffic at these shows. Both of them were well attended, but of those attending, most were just window shopping. Compared to the enthusiasm and exuberance of the area's summer art shows, the mood at the holiday shows seemed subdued and at times almost glum. Most returning vendors complained of unusually low sales compared to the previous year, and nobody could seemingly put a finger on the true cause.

True cause, unfortunately, was very simple: politics interfered with daily life. We were just coming off the election cycle in which people had spoken and created a divided government. Now, there was trepidation on both sides of the spectrum as to how this division would affect the ability of the country, and eventually its economy, to function. People were unsure whether they should be saving for the proverbial rainy day or going about their holiday shopping as usual. This, of course, did not bode well for those of us whose annual income in large part depended on the last quarter of the year.

 So what did I learn from this? One thing I learned is that a book shouldn't be judged by its cover. Both shows had great reputation from previous years, but for me and many other artists and craftspeople, that didn't translate into sales. On the other hand, I also learned that there are things I can't control. Did I learn not to participate in these same shows in 2019? No. That would also fall under judging a book by its cover. To know whether something really works or doesn't work, one has to try it several times.

So, will I sign up for these shows again in 2019? Hold that question until the time comes to submit the applications. As the things look now, there is no good reason not to try again. If at first you don't succeed, try, and try again.

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