Right now, I'm knitting (and knitting) and getting ready to pack up and drive to Renegade next month. And as I work, I've been reflecting on how this whole craft show thing breaks down and what I've learned from my tiny bit of experience. I realize that this post may not interest everyone, so here's your disclaimer: What you are about to read is about craft shows. And more specifically, this post is aimed toward people who are interested in selling their hand-made things at craft shows.
I love talking with people who are enthusiastic about handmade goods, handmade artists and local craft fairs. And I love it when people email, wanting to know more. I've received quite a few emails from craft show virgins with questions like these:
1. How can I get into craft fairs?
2. What do I need to know (and do) to get started?
I don't know the hard and fast answers to everything, but the following hopefully explains a few things I've picked up along the way.
My friend Erin and I started selling our handmade goods at craft shows a little over three years ago. In that short time, we've actually learned a lot. We've weathered (sometimes literally weathered) all kinds of circumstances. We've survived slow shows and basked in the glory of successful shows. The good and the bad; the blood, sweat and tears. Okay, maybe not tears, but I think we'd both agree that there has been a lot of sweat involved. Mostly during the loading in and setting-up part.
This is the question I get the most; 'How do you get in?' Do a little research and find out as much as you can about the craft shows offered in your area. Choose shows that best fit with what you make, and then apply. Most craft fairs have a website with an online application or a list of info that you'll need to copy into an email and send back. Many shows are juried, meaning that you may have to submit an explanation of who you are and what you do along with a few photos of the items you plan to sell. Once you're accepted, be ready to pay your booth fee. (Craft show organizers appreciate timely payments, so don't wait until the vendor fee deadline passes or you may risk losing your spot.)
The actual making.
The fun part, right? Yes! Pace yourself if your craft is time-consuming. Make goals and don't put things off until the last week – or last night – before the show. (I've definitely done this a few too many times and learned this lesson the hard way.) You will most likely spend the last few days before the show pricing things, making signage, working on your display, packing things up, and finishing up last minute details. And that stuff takes time, so don't wait until the last minute to make all of your stuff. You'll be glad you worked ahead. There's no magic number or formula to determine how many items you should have on hand – I always tend to freak out a tiny bit before each show, wishing I had made just a few more things. But it's best to just do what you can, when you can, and carry on.
Don't be afraid to share.
Are you intimidated by jumping into your first show ... gulp ... alone? (I totally understand.) If you're lucky, maybe you have a crafty friend who would be willing to share a booth with you. Most craft fairs that I've vended at will allow you to split a booth space with another vendor, even if you each make different items. (Note: A shared booth may cost a bit more than the normal booth fee. And please be sure to ask the organizer if it's okay before you decide to split a booth with someone.) My friend Erin and I shared a booth for countless shows when we were getting started. We were booth-mates until we got to the point where we actually outgrew that space and needed our own tables. It was awesome to spend the day together, help each other out, and feel like we weren't completely on our own. But the number one benefit of vending with a booth-mate (or at least bringing a helper friend who is willing to help you out for the day) is having someone who can grab you a soda or a sandwich, or give you a bathroom break. (Trust me ... you won't want to leave your booth unattended. And you're gonna have to pee at some point.)
First order of business: you're going to need to get a state tax ID/state sales tax license. I promise that this isn't nearly as scary as it sounds. Your craft show organizers can usually get you in touch with the right information for the state you live/sell in (or you can Google it.) For everything else (expenses, receipts, worksheets, goal-making, budgeting, etc.) I highly recommend the Craft Inc. Business Planner. It has everything you will need to make the bookkeeping part of your crafty business a lot easier (and it's really well-designed, too.)
It never hurts to offer items at different price points. If you sell lots of things that are higher priced, consider making some smaller less expensive items to sell as well. Keep in mind that craft show shoppers may not be carrying $95 in cash. Offering a variety of items at a range of different prices may help you be more successful. Also, if you are willing and able to accommodate custom orders, draw up some order forms and have plenty of copies on hand.
Be prepared. Have business cards and pricing ready before the craft show's doors open. I read somewhere that it really is best to have all of your items marked with pricing so no one has to ask how much something is. Have plenty of cash on hand to make change – ones, fives, tens and a few twenties. Have a clipboard and a few sheets of paper handy so that people can sign up for your mailing (or emailing) list. Booth set-up can take longer than you'd think so give yourself a little extra time and you'll be glad you're ready once the first few early birds come trickling in. Be prepared in case there's a rush right off the bat – sometimes there's a line of people waiting to get in!
If you're going to go for it, go for it! Work on a cohesive design for your Etsy banner, business cards, signage, and promo materials. Then be consistent and stick with it. If you have established a look, you'll be easier for people to remember. It's totally okay for you to work on this part gradually, and you can even make your own table signage/banner yourself out of paint, stencils, fabric or whatever materials you think would work best for your booth's style. (I love using mini cards from Moo.com – they price is right and the quality is great. They work wonderfully for both price tags and business cards, and they have my logo/banner/contact info on the reverse side.)
The amount of people who visit the craft fair that you're vending at directly depends on how much they've heard about it. Lots of craft shows are grass-roots efforts – help out if you can! Contact the organizers to see if you can help spread the word, whether it's by distributing posters throughout your neighborhood, blogging, or utilizing social media (Twitter and Facebook) to spread the word. Advertising is key to your success rate.
Loading in and loading out (your wares, your tables, your display items) can suck. But it doesn't have to. Plan ahead. Scout out the venue you'll be vending at ahead of time if you're not familiar with the location. You might be loading things in from a parking lot a few feet away from the front door, or you might have to deal with stairs, elevators or navigating your way through city streets. If you can, bring displays that fold up, are lightweight or collapsible. Bring a friend or two to help you set up and tear down. Use a wagon that you can load up with your heavy goods if you are setting up in a building without stairs (this is what my friend Lara does.) Give this part some extra thought if you're dealing with lots of large, heavy objects.
Guess what? You aren't just a crafter; you're your own salesperson. Keep a positive, friendly attitude. Don't sit around and look smug, too busy, or too bored – stand up and say hello. Make conversation, be engaging, but never pushy. Be yourself and show customers who the cool person is behind all of your cool handmade stuff.
Be friendly to your neighbors.
Your crafty neighbor at the table to your left is not your competition. Make friends with other vendors; you might learn something from them. Say hi, introduce yourself and exchange business cards. Observe what successful vendors are doing and take note. The very first time Erin and I shared a table at a craft show, we were booth-neighbors with Jade Scott, a talented jewelry maker. She was the perfect example of the approachable, memorable, easy-to-talk-to vendor. She made easy conversation with nearly every person who stopped to take a look at her jewelry. She gave quick explanations of her products and pricing and made people feel free to ask their own questions. You could tell that people remembered her and she seemed to have a lot of repeat customers. And guess what? She made a ton of sales.
No whining. If you're having an off-day, chalk it up to experience. Sometimes the success of a show requires a bit of luck. And every show is different. It all comes down to the right buyers finding just the right 'thing' that they can't live without. If in doubt, re-evaluate your product or your price-points. You might benefit from changing things up a bit next time. And if not, then so be it. But don't give up. Your next show may be a totally different experience.
List of things to bring.
- tent (if needed, for outdoor shows)
- tables (if not provided by venue)
- folding chairs or lawn chairs (if not provided by venue)
- a cooler with snacks/beverages
- price tags
- extra cardstock/paper
- custom order forms
- business cards
- mirror (if needed for customers trying things on)
- rope, twine
- table cloth(s)
- paper shopping bags (optional, for customers who may want a bag for their item)
- metal box or zippered bag to hold cash
- receipt book
- trash bag
- promo items (postcards, buttons, freebies)
* Check back for my Road to Renegade (part 2) post on Wednesday, where you can see how I've been putting together – and revamping – my booth/display. *