By Mark Okrant
NH Travel Guru
As a follow up to the August 20th column, “Events Can Put You on the Travelers’ Map: But It Isn’t Easy,” your Guru thought it would prove helpful to evaluate the efforts of one popular, medium-size event. Recently, four of us attended the 84th rendering of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.
Two things that you should know in advance: 1) I don’t particularly enjoy driving miles into the hinterland regardless of purpose; and 2) I prefer to avoid activities situated on steep slopes. The latter include downhill skiing, long uphill golf holes, and cliff diving. So, as I arrived at Mount Sunapee, site of the Fair, I was prepared to spend an unenjoyable day. Instead, what I experienced was an event that proved to be a textbook in careful planning and execution.
Some background about the League: This is an organization that limits membership to dedicated, skilled craftspeople. One may join only by submitting successfully to a rigorous evaluation procedure. Each league member must satisfy the League’s jury process, by meeting a rigorous set of standards for creativity, innovation, and technical expertise.
Eligible craftspeople are New Hampshire residents (or, are from places in surrounding states whose town limits are within ten miles of the New Hampshire border). These people have developed a high level of skill in one of fifteen disciplines, including but not limited to: baskets, calligraphy, clay, fiber, glass, photography, and wood. Needless to say, every person who presented at the recent fair is a true artisan.
How did so many talented artisans arrive in one place? Since 1932, The League has been preparing its members to achieve the level of skill that was on display at Sunapee. Through this organization, New Hampshire craftspeople have access to juried artisans, who inform them about their strengths and make suggestions about means to improve (Note: classes and demonstrations are available for anyone with an interest).
Once a craftsman achieves juried status, the League offers workshops on a range of topics, including booth design and social media, all of which was in evidence before and during the event. Attendees saw countless beautiful booth displays that appeared as though a window dresser from Lord and Taylor had designed them. I soon forgot my phobia of slopes, and spent several hours touring the impressive array of crafts. My greatest challenge was extricating myself with some disposable income still intact.
The designers of the Fair deserve much credit for making this event so pleasurable. Promotion of the event was abundant, and directional signage was sufficient. The organizers receive high marks for facilitating on-site parking, thereby making access and egress very easy.
Their paperbound program, including diagrams, was very helpful. Convenient and comfortable restrooms were provided. The food and beverage tent was large, with a variety of choices available at reasonable prices. Placing live music across from the food location was an excellent touch. The exhibit stations were well placed, and exceptionally functional. There were even play stations for the youngsters in attendance.
So, in the final analysis, was this a perfect event? Well . . . almost. There was one minor blemish. While most craftspeople were very personable, a small minority did not exhibit the slightest idea how to engage the public. At more than one booth, I stopped and stood less than ten feet from an artisan. I slowly and silently counted to ten, but there was no eye contact, no vocal greeting, nor an attempt to explain the beautiful craft in evidence.
Consequently, I (and, in all likelihood, most of the other attendees) moved on. Each person who completed the jury process and, thereby, was eligible to present at the Fair, has a story to tell. Organizers must explain that—by personalizing the experience—the probability of making an onsite or future sale will increase many-fold. Knowing what I do about the organization, I am confident this will be addressed before next year’s Fair. I can’t wait.
After forty years as an educator, researcher, and consultant, Mark Okrant joined IndepthNH.org to offer concise, informative insight into New Hampshire’s travel and tourism industry as a business, while showcasing the people and places you want to know. This guy’s really been around. And, he’s funny, too.
For more about Mark’s compelling tourism-based murder mystery series, visit www.markokrant.com.
For information on current things to do in New Hampshire, go here.