How to Succeed at Craft Fairs
Craft shows are a good starting point for anyone selling their work. Beyond the dates of the show, there are no further commitments. When a show is over, it’s over.
You can do one or two events and walk away with a minimum of expense of time and money or you can do shows every month and take up the craft fair life-style, making it the mainstay of your business.
In an art and crafts fair, you have your own scaled-down model of a retail store, even if it’s only for two or three days. You can use a show to test new products, designs, price changes and booth displays. You are directly in touch with the marketplace, so if your work isn’t selling, you will find out why immediately from customers’ reactions and sales results.
In selling direct to the public, you keep the entire amount of the sales, minus expenses. Since almost all shows are held on weekends, your week is free to create more pieces. You have control of your time. It’s a great feeling to go to a movie in the middle of the week when everyone else is laboring under canned air, moronic managers, and minimal wages.
How to find shows
There are several resources that list art and craft shows around the country and give information about show performance in previous years. If you buy these guides, and you should, get the most current editions available.
Show performance changes over the years due to causes you have no other way of knowing about. Some shows simply fold up and disappear. Compare different reviews for the same show. If the reports are similar among various guides, then you can consider them good bets.
The Appendix of The Basic Guide to Selling Arts & Crafts lists almost all of the major crafts fair guides. The cost of owning so many different resources may seem expensive, but you can make back or save hundreds of dollars more than the cost of these books by selecting or avoiding a show because of what you learn from them. Avoiding the bad shows is worth the price alone.
In addition to show guides in print, announcements of events can be found online at:
Arts Crafts Show Business - Magazine and website for the craft artisan who sells. Includes show listings, articles, links and more: http://www.ArtsCraftsShowBusiness.com
The Crafts Report - Online version of print magazine discussing all aspects of crafts business.
SAC News Monthly - Articles on craft business and promotions and reviews of craft shows: http://www.SACNewsmonthly.com
Sunshine Artist - Online version of print magazine discussing art and crafts business. Also links to craft show locators. http://www.sunshineartist.com
Another source of art and craft shows will be your state arts council. They should be listed in the government pages of your phone book. I
How to start doing shows
Do your first show close to crafts, within one hundred miles. There are two good reasons; lower gas and mileage expenses, and less stress. A shorter drive and a longer night’s sleep give you more energy for the show. Shows can be both exciting and demanding. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of potential customers come by your booth, many of whom will look at your work and talk to you.
If at all possible, visit a show beforehand to see if it attracts the right crowd for what you’re selling. If you can’t go in person, ask a friend that lives nearby to go. If that’s not possible you’ll have to rely on word-of-mouth information from other crafts persons and reviews found in the craft show guides.
Which shows should you be in
When selecting shows, choose the kind of event that will attract buyers of the products you make. There are several different kinds.
For example there are fine arts shows which may or may not allow craft items. Another kind of show is the juried art and crafts fairs. There are events sometimes referred to as country craft shows.
Crafts are also sold at a variety of other events such as state and county fairs, mall shows, renaissance fairs and large trade shows. Trade shows for crafts are discussed in another article.
Fine art shows feature paintings, photos, posters, prints, sculpture, and other fine art. Often fine art shows are found in combination with the better craft fairs in order to draw larger crowds.
Juried art and craft shows are often the most lucrative market for the craftsperson. Because the event is juried, the crafts displayed tend to be better quality and higher priced. A juried show is one where slides or actual pieces of your work are judged by a jury committee who selects the best from hundreds of applicants. All of the finer art and craft events are juried to screen out mass made products from kits and imported items.
Country craft shows are distinctly different from the juried art and craft shows. Their main criteria for entry is that you aren’t selling assembled kits or imported products. The crafts exhibited are usually for the crafts, usually selling from $2 to $50. These shows often work well for small inexpensive gift items. I have tried them with high-priced crafts ($150 to $200 range) and did not do well. When selling higher priced items, choose the more established, juried art and craft shows.
Renaissance fairs are outdoor events that include craft booths as a part of a total entertainment package. All the vendors dress in medieval costume and booths have the same theme. A variety of food, drink, jugglers, jousters, knights, and fair maidens abound at these festivals. Renaissance shows are listed in Renaissance Shopper Magazine, P.O. Box 422, Riverside, CA 92502.
Mall shows are listed in craft show guides and periodicals. They are usually produced by the mall management, a show promoter, or a local organization. These shows are usually part of a tour sponsored by a producer putting on events in one or several nearby states. Many exhibitors follow the circuit for several weeks, especially in the fall and pre-Christmas months. Mall shows may be an option for otherwise empty weekends. Mall shows might help, too, in slow months like January and February.
Other special interest shows
Some possibilities for special interest markets for your craft products include, but aren’t limited to:
Local fashion shows. Women’s groups and charity organizations often produce fashion shows for original work. Call your chamber of commerce and check the library for listings of associations in your area. Visit the large hotels and convention centers and speak with their public relations person. They have schedules of upcoming shows and producers to get in touch with.
Crafts shows and boat shows. Many major cities have a crafts show and a boat show at least once a year. Look for announcements in your newspaper.
Gift shows. Gift shows exist for both consumers and store buyers, usually held in large convention centers.
Flea markets. In some cities, flea markets have grown to include smaller, inexpensive craftwork. Booth rental is not as high as craft shows and they draw big crowds. Check them out, though, before you sign up, because almost all flea markets are full of garage sale items. Around Christmas time, however, smaller priced craft pieces like ornaments and toys may do well.
What to learn before applying
Before you apply to a show, visit it yourself, read what the show guides say about it, and talk to other crafts persons who have done the event. Here’s a list of things you need to find out.
How many booth spaces are being rented for the whole show? A show with 500 booths will draw bigger crowds than a show with only 50.
Is the show outdoors or inside? Has weather affected previous attendance?
Is the show well known? Does the promoter advertise in the newspapers, on radio, billboards or TV?
What are the security arrangements? Many outdoor events have no effective way of guarding your merchandise. Unless you secure your booth from possible entry, you should count on packing up and taking your goods at the end of each day of the show.
What kinds of crafts are exhibited? Is this the kind of show that attracts buyers for your craft?
Applying for shows
Applications for shows will be mailed upon request from the show producers. Once you are on their mailing list, you will probably continue to receive applications for a few years. Many applications are due three to six months before the actual show date.
Better shows are juried. This means that the artist must submit slides or photos of their recent work and possibly a photo of their booth display to the show producer, along with a jury fee.
There is no guarantee that you will be accepted into a show with your first application. Shows you do once, though, will often give you preference for reentry.
More tips for crafts fairs
Create a mailing list of your customers’ names and addresses whenever someone makes a purchase or inquiry, enter their name on the list. When returning to the same city later, mail them a postcard with details of the show’s date and if you know it, your booth location. You will find regular customers collecting your new pieces every year.
Be prepared to wrap up the sale as soon as possible. At craft shows, the more time you spend with one customer, the easier it is for another one to walk away. Have bags handy to put the purchased item in.
You will need a small space on a table to carry out the transactions. This will be where the customer can comfortably write a check or sign a credit card sales slip. Keep extra pens around. They inevitably disappear.
Keep a receipt book for customers requesting one. By writing a receipt for every sale, you have a physical record and a copy to give to the customer. Also, legally you must give a receipt for each sale.
Have a supply of brochures or flyers about you and your craft to give with each sale or inquiry.
Bring extra ones, fives, and tens for making change. Keep your money in a belt concealed under your clothing. Never show large amounts of cash at the shows or motels you stay at when traveling. In larger cities, be extra careful when leaving the show to hide your money. Have a list of your credit card numbers at crafts or kept safe when traveling in the event you lose them.
Bring a lunch. The fewer times you leave your booth, the better chance of making sales. If you have someone to help you, it’s easier to take breaks.
It helps if a friend or spouse can assist you. Setting up the booth and handling sales go more easily with two persons, but be careful not to impede the flow of traffic into your selling space. At some point, you will want to take a break, or walk around and see the other booths; this is impractical unless you have a partner.
Get a toolbox to keep emergency tools and supplies like scissors, electrical and duct tape, hammer, nails, pliers, screwdrivers, string or flexible wire, and spare parts for fixtures or booths. Keep a small box with needle, thread, crochet hook, and scissors for unexpected snags or just discovered mistakes. Include it in your toolbox.
For indoor shows, bring long extension cords, power strips, and clamp-on lights with bulbs. The better your lighting, the more you will sell. Most exhibit centers do not provide adequate light for good displays.
* Make a checklist of the above items and go over it before you leave for the show.
About the Author
James Dillehay, author of seven books, is a nationally recognized expert on marketing arts and crafts. Artist, entrepreneur, and educator, his articles have helped over 15,000,000 readers of Family Circle, The Crafts Report, Better Homes & Gardens, Sunshine Artist, Ceramics Monthly, and more. James has appeared as a featured guest on HGTV's popular The Carol Duvall Show and he is a member of the advisory board to The National Craft Association. He is editor of
www.Craftmarketer.com. This article is copyrighted and excerpted from James Dillehay's The Basic Guide to Selling Arts &