In late January, I attended Creativation in Phoenix. Formerly known as the CHA Mega Show, the new title for the trade event is part of a complete rebranding of the Craft Hobby Association. On the last day of the show, Mark Hill, the recently-appointed CEO of the organization, also revealed the group’s new name–Association for Creative Industries (AFCI.) Members of the association’s board of directors worked with a research and branding firm for over a year to redefine their mission, benefits, and visual identity.
Choosing to distance itself from the hobby industry and align itself with creativity rather than craft, the organizers feel that the new name better represents the members it serves.
Unlike many trade shows which are comprised mainly of buyers and vendors, Creativation is open to all AFCI members, including creative industry “manufacturers, retailers, distributors, designers, educators, digital content providers, professional makers and DIYers, and other creative professionals that comprise the $40 billion+ creative arts industries around the globe.”
As a sewing industry professional who regularly attends Quilt Market, I noticed a marked difference in the way I was treated at Creativation as opposed to other shows. Out of respect for vendors at Quilt Market, I always let them know that I’m not a buyer, but rather a blogger or content creator. Somewhat apologetically, I approached Creativation vendors in the same way. Unlike Quilt Market, however, I was enthusiastically welcomed into booths to take photos, listen to stories, and receive marketing materials. My overall impression was that vendors are not there just to take orders, but also to spread the word, educate, and attract enthusiasts in a variety of ways.
From Thursday to Monday, show attendees could attend classes in the convention center and neighboring hotels through Creativation University. The catalog included both business classes and craft classes. The business courses covered topics such as Content Marketing, eCommerce, Branding, and Social Media. These short 1—2 hour classes, led by industry professionals, were free to attend, but required pre-registration.
Craft classes such as “Adult Coloring and Marker Blending” and “Art Impressions Watercolor Stamping” were designed to introduce attendees to new products and techniques. Students in these courses paid a $25–$40 fee which covered classroom and sample supplies to take home.
I asked several attendees about their class experience. Most of them were enthusiastic about the variety of topics and the quality of the content. Several attendees were disappointed that they were unable to register for classes they were interested in because they filled up quickly. (There were 4 or 5 classes going on at any given time.) I attended the show on Friday and Saturday and tried registering for several classes in person, but almost all of them were full. I got the impression that the AFCI education department has a good understanding of their members’ interests, but demand for classes was higher than they expected.
Other learning opportunities were available throughout the convention center and on the show floor. Many vendors had staff, artists, and well-known social media personalities demonstrating products in their booths. Make-and-takes, in which attendees are invited to sit down and learn make a project of their own, were prevalent and very popular. In the Maker’s Space, small groups such as the Phoenix Calligraphy Society, demonstrated their art and invited attendees to sit down with them to watch and learn.
AFCI’s new goal of connecting people with each other was hard to actualize at such a large show. Although the organizers tried to encourage socializing through happy hours and other evening events, like many trade shows, it was difficult to meet new people without a solid networking framework. Although I met people through friends, and friends-of-friends, my introverted self would have appreciated more formalized opportunities to shake hands, do an elevator pitch, or even simply exchange business cards.
Is this the right show for CIA members?
I think Creativation, in its current form is a trip worth taking if a) you have a shop with a variety of craft supplies and are trying to stay current; b) you’ve developed a craft product and are trying to connect with distributors; c) you are researching the viability of a product or service; or d) you are a content provider with lots of followers who look to you for trends and new products. I would not attend for the classes, or to walk the floor unless one of the above goals was my focus, although I do think it’s all worth it if you have another reason to be at the show.
I feel like I learned a lot from talking to vendors and noting the difference in how craft vendors promote their work, as opposed to how sewing industry businesses do it. All-in-all it gave me a new perspective on how show booths can be done, how different sectors of the craft industry interact with their buyers, and how show attendees can make the most of their trade show experiences.