Here we are again, life returning to normal, and I use that term loosely, following the Providence RI 16th annual Fine Furnishings Show. It was a new experience for me, and in my previous post I expressed some of the apprehensions I was having. I do appreciate the words of support and encouragement I received in the comments which followed.
So, "how did it go?", you might ask? Quite well I thought. I learned a tremendous amount and met some great people, both in terms of potential clientele who attended the show and in the other exhibitors. My booth was across the aisle from a fellow named David Stine, who has a 1000 acre farm and mills his own trees into slab-style (ala Nakashima) furniture. He does some 18 shows a year so he was a great resource and allowed me to pick his brain about the whole scene.
Actually, the response from the other furniture makers at the show to my work was interesting. It didn't take long for word to spread about the, and I paraphrase, "guy with the joinery and who uses no glue", and one by one different furniture makers came by and examined my work. Of course, the usual comments like, "I couldn't make a living doing that", or it's variant, "I couldn't do that sort of work fast enough to make it pay" were received, but I had long ago decided to discount such remarks and put them in the category of excuses and justifications. Many of the other furniture makers seemed quite impressed, and told me so, which was rewarding to hear. On the last day I had several from the North Street Bennett School come over and examine every nook and cranny of the pieces.
The show wasn't as big an event as in previous years, as the rows of vendor booths didn't quite reach to the back of the hall. I guess that times are tough, and many makers may well have quit the game or for one reason or another can't afford to attend. It seems like the people who sell the smaller cash-and-carry items, like cutting boards, photos, pens, glassware, and so forth, did some reasonable business during the three days. A few furniture makers sold a piece here and there, including one guy who sold a grandfather clock for $3750 early on in the show.
I didn't sell any pieces, and really, I didn't expect to. Not many people walk around with thousands of dollars in their pocket ready to drop it on a whim on something they like. Most people are quite careful with their money, especially in these economic times. And frankly, if someone just casually forked over the money for a piece from me, without it being much of a big deal to them, I would feel less than good about the transaction. I want the clients to be as excited about, and invested in, the pieces as I am. I did meet several potential clients of that sort, fortunately. There was a LOT of interest in the walnut vanity and the lantern. A lot of people seemed to think that the tsuitate, or room partition, was a headboard. I guess one could expect that with a piece of furniture that is not in the normal western set of pieces. And sure, it could in fact be made into a headboard.
A lot of people had trouble accepting the idea that the lantern was meant to be installed outside.
It was a real pleasure showing people some joinery samples and letting them take the pieces apart and put them back together. There were a lot of gasps of delight and fascination with some of the joints, and I think for many, it was a paradigm shift to realize that furniture could be put together, in part or whole, without recourse to metal fasteners or glue. Even some one-year old children, we observed, are fascinated with joinery.
A professor from a nearby university wants me to come and lecture to his design students about Japanese joinery so they can create CNC programs to make a joint. Apparently he feels the students in the program are lacking opportunities to actually make tangible items in a course revolving around virtual designing. I'm not sure how I feel about doing those lectures, but it was nice to be asked.
Speaking of being asked to do something, I received an invitation from the director of the Philadelphia Fine Furniture Show, taking place in March 2011, to attend and display my pieces. I'll be thinking about that over the next couple of months. David Stine thought it would be a good venue for my sort of work, though he himself had done poorly at that show when he had attended. The type of crowds at shows seem to vary in their interests quite bit with the respective cities that host the event, from what I gather.
It is difficult to assess just what constitutes success in one of these shows when so far, for me, there have been no direct sales. A lot of people told me that I won't really know until at least a year later, and David Stine mentioned receiving an order from a client who had seen his work at a show 4 years prior. Many also told me that it took attendance at three shows in a row before people started buying your work to any degree. I guess that people tend to trust more someone who they have gained familiarity with through prior exposure. We'll see.
At this point, I felt it was a good experience overall, and I was able to present myself and my work in front of an audience of people who were, for the most part, looking specifically at furniture, for one reason or another. I passed out plenty of business cards and other promotional materials, and found I was able to enthusiastically engage with complete strangers for three days on end. Even my wife was surprised that I could do that! Here we are in my booth at the show:
Having my wife there was a tremendous support - I really would have had a much tougher time without her. So, thank you honey!
Here's a few more shots of my furniture display, in 10'x10':
The tsuitate and the vanity:
The bed frame end boards and, on the floor, the joint I cut last year for the Boston Children's Museum Japanese New Year's event:
That's a wrap then. We'll see what unfolds as a result over the next 12 months and my hope is that, with just a single commission, I will have at least covered the costs for attending the show. Of course, I really hope it leads to more than that!