by guest blogger Harriete Estel Berman
A true story . . .
“Looking back, my booth was pretty bad, I think I did all the display mistakes you list. I was so crazed trying to have enough work that I didn’t have my act together when it came to the booth. It was a cluster ‘you know what’ all the way around. The show was so much work . . . but in the end I broke even.”
This story tells a familiar tale — and one moral of the story is that we all make mistakes and we can learn from our experience. There is no problem, if we learn.
But that last phrase is one that I hear over and over, “In the end I broke even.” Too often this perception of “breaking even” is a misperception — actually a trap — that too many of us fall into.
Let’s start with what people really mean when they say “I broke even.” Typically what they mean is that they took in enough gross revenue to equal their show fees and travel expenses only.
Unfortunately such statements may be comforting to the ego — while costing them a lot of money.
The delusion of “I covered my expenses” relies on the denial of the true total costs and expenses of participation in a show.
What are typical show expenses?
A quick list includes:
- application fee
- booth fee
- travel expenses including:
driving or a flight
- booth tent purchase or rental
- display tables/cases
- drape/fabric for display
This is a quick list. But these are only the “out of pocket” expenses — the show expenses for which you can obtain a receipt and itemize on your income tax forms.
What is not itemized is YOUR TIME:
- one/two days packing
- two days at a show
- one/two days unpacking and recovering
- and time traveling to and from the show
Should you include the two days of packing? Of course.
How about the two days at the show? Absolutely!
What about the time for unpacking / managing inventory while you recover at home?
It is quite common to invest several days before and after a show not even counting travel time.
You expect to make money for your time don’t you? An example of the arithmetic:
(6 days) x (8 hours per day) x ($15 per hour) = $720 unaccounted
What is your time worth? $25/hour? $10/hour? $0/hour?
In business, each day you invest in one activity could be considered as your “opportunity cost.” What could you have been doing otherwise with the days consumed by participating in the show? Would you have completed a piece or two or more? Would you have arranged for a gallery show or done website marketing? What would you have created if you weren’t making the production “sell-able” bread and butter items that you need to sell to cover your expenses at the show?
The point is that spending several days of your time preparing for, attending, and recovering from a show is an opportunity cost (at a minimum) that you could have used to complete other tasks, experiment with new work themes, or earn income from other sources (opportunities).
Retail Sales? or Net Income? . . . more delusion & denial
Another “faulty accounting” misconception in the delusion and denial realm is that the gross cash inflow (the total amount of revenue generated at the show) is all profit. This isn’t true. A show is really a marketing or retailing activity. Retailing expenses are typically accounted as only half of the retail price. The other half is the wholesale price which covers the manufacturing/ fabrication/shop overhead plus (hopefully) a small percentage for profit. The wholesale price is where the artist/maker covers the cost of materials, tools, equipment, overhead (studio utilities, maintenance, insurance, taxes, health insurance, etc.) and an hourly wage for fabrication.
Similar to a gallery relationship, your show participation is like a “pop-up” gallery and you are playing the role of a temporary gallery operator marketing the work of an artist with whom you split the retail sales 50/50. Consequently only half of the cash inflow from a show should be allocated to “covering your retail expenses.”
The “delusion and denial” lesson here is to be really honest about your retail experience. Delusions and denials do not make money.
A show is a marketing opportunity and your decision to participate should factor in all the costs including your time expended, production expenses and a realistic wage for your time. With full awareness of all the costs of participating in a show — choose wisely.
Harriete Estel Berman received her BFA from Syracuse University in 1974 and a MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University in 1980. Since then she has exhibited regularly in the United States and Europe including seven one person shows. In addition to teaching, giving workshops and lectures, her work is in the permanent collections of 15 museums and featured in over 38 books. Berman is the author of the Professional Guidelines and ASK Harriete offering professional development advice and information to the arts and crafts community.
Photo credit: all photos by Harriete Estel Berman