Christmas Made in the South: How to Make 40 Years
November 2021, by By Angie Landsverk
What started as a one-day show among crafter friends has long since become an annual tradition in multiple cities and states for exhibitors and customers alike.
“I like that we have something for everybody. I like that it is fun,” Russ Hunt said of Christmas Made in the South.
He is the director of Carolina Shows, Inc., a family-run business that was founded in 1980 and holds indoor, arts and crafts festivals in six cities in four different states over the course of about six weeks.
“It takes a village to put our events on, and we have dozens of friends in each city that help us from selling tickets to anything else that we may need,” Hunt said. Most of them are people Carolina Shows has known for more than 30 years.
The annual show began after Hunt’s mother Janice and some of her friends decided to have an event at a church, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hunt’s father Bob helped with the posters. When he saw how many cars were there, he thought there was a wedding at the church. They were there for the show.
Within a few years, they expanded into Charlotte’s convention center. Hunt was about 10 years old at the time and remembers running around in it. Some of the exhibitors they still have today were part of the festival back then.
“My parents have been at this for 40 years, professionally for me 25 years. They have been instrumental in my growth and at times I feel like I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” Hunt said.
Christmas Made in the South is a juried festival. There are no commercial exhibitors, even though Carolina Shows has received many requests from businesses wanting to participate in their shows.
“For us, it’s never been about that. Thankfully, we’ve been able to fill our shows for 40-some years,” Hunt said. “That’s kind of our niche.”
Their definition of craft is that it must be at least 50% crafted. “There’s got to be creativity behind it,” he said.
Each show is juried independently of the next one, and they limit the number of exhibitors in each category. The artisans expect Carolina Shows to advertise their shows heavily, and the company does.
Hunt said 75% of their exhibitors return each year, and if they like a particular spot, they are welcome to have that space again. “Customers like seeing their old friends,” he said.
This year’s schedule began on Oct. 22, in greater Charlotte, North Carolina. Festivals in Georgia (Columbus, Macon, and Savannah) were next. They were to be followed by a late November show in Jacksonville, Florida, and an early December show in Charleston, South Carolina.
Like many promoters, they canceled their 2020 shows. Carolina Shows provided a free, virtual storefront for its artisans. “It was the best way we could find,” Hunt said. “You can’t go to Amazon and find Christmas Made in the South. What we do you can’t duplicate online.”
The company’s employees work year-round. In July, they decided to move forward with planning this year’s festivals. “I think it’s important to do the shows this year,” he said, noting there are precautions people can take.
What Hunt hears from other promoters is attendance at shows is down a little but buying is up. Carolina Shows is full across much of its shows, with the exhibitors ready to go, he said.
“The excitement comes from when the exhibitors are having fun and the customers are having fun,” Hunt said.
Advice from Carolina Shows, Inc.
Love What You Do
If you don’t love pairing all these wonderful artists and craftspeople with brilliant customers and creating a tradition for both, then this would probably not be a good profession for you. Our No. 1 goal is that the exhibitors and customers have a great time. If this happens, everything always falls into place.
Pay Attention to the Small Details
Make sure all your advertising has the correct information. Proof and then proof again. When working on floorplans, be sure there is a nice flow, so the work of the artists and crafters is shown in its best light and check that again and again.
Grow Smartly, Thoughtfully
Just because a show is popular, and you could add another 50 exhibits, does not necessarily mean that is the correct time or way to grow it. Go slower and add quality exhibits. This benefits the public and exhibitors.
Remember Your Vision
It’s tempting to let in a huge commercial exhibit or multiple ones but ask yourself if that is what you want your show to become. We started as an arts and crafts festival, meant to be fun for everyone and showcase creativity. Forty years later, that’s still what we are.
Know Your Numbers
We were able to handle taking an entire year off from shows and still be economically viable because we save. It’s business 101 but you must save, and you need to have budgets. Numbers never lie.