Well, today’s the big day, the day of your first craft show. You selected an appropriate venue. You arrived on time. You’re displaying only juried items. Your booth is handsome and well-done. The only problem is…you’re competing with other vendors at the event. Now what? How do you bring customers into your booth?
The obvious stuff
It should go without saying your booth is attractive and not sloppy. Tables should have floor-length tablecloths so you can tuck crates, boxes and extra stock underneath, rather than shoving them in the back. Your displays should be uncluttered, clean and easy to view. You should be wearing clothing that is neat and professional (whether a costume or street clothes). You should have a nice, friendly smile.
All of this is pretty standard stuff. Yet if you still have trouble selling your wares, then it’s time to look deeper into the psychology of selling at a craft fair.
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The not-so-obvious stuff
One of the easiest things to learn is how to sell your wares by placing yourself in your customers’ shoes. How would you want to be treated in a booth?
Many years ago I taught an adult education class on how to turn a craft hobby into a business. The subject of sales techniques came up. I explained how customers don’t like to feel pressured when they enter a booth. They don’t want to be backed into a corner in order to have the merits of the product explained to them. Very few people will purchase a product under these circumstances, unless it’s just to escape the craftsperson.
My students understood this concept…I thought. Yet after the class was finished, one woman came up to me, almost literally backed me into a corner, and started telling how her husband sells a gizmo that increases the gas mileage on cars, and if I buy one right now she’ll take 25 percent off the price, and she accepts both Visa and MasterCard, and how many gizmos did I want?
Okay, so she didn’t get it. She didn’t get my concept, and she sure as heck didn’t get my sale.
Take a lesson from used car lots
Selling takes a certain psychology, as any good salesperson will tell you. When customers are browsing, the last thing they want is to feel pressured.
You know all those old stereotypical jokes about the used car salesman following you around the lot, talking continuously and trying to force a sale? What do you do when that happens? You start to walk more quickly. You want to get away. You don’t take the time to look at the cars thoroughly because you hate having the person dogging your steps.
Used car salesmen do sell cars. They must, or they’d be out of business. But there’s a difference between a car lot and a crafts fair. People go to car lots specifically to buy a car, and they’ll put up with the salesman because they want a car. People do not (usually) go to a crafts fair specifically to buy your product. That’s a critical distinction.
Do not—ever—become the craftperson’s equivalent of a used car salesman, or you will find your booth empty of customers. Treat your customers respectfully.
Did you know that most people will decide whether they like you or not within ten seconds of meeting you? That’s why first impressions are so important, and never more than when you’re trying to get someone to part with money. Believe me, if a customer likes your product but doesn’t like you, they won’t buy the product.
To talk or not to talk
Sometimes, when a customer walks into a booth, you need to make a snap decision whether to engage them in conversation or not. I remember one time a woman with a beautiful toddler came into the booth. I love children, and my first instinct was to coo and fuss over the child. However, I made a snap decision not to admire the kid, because the proud mama’s attention would be diverted from browsing my products to talking about her child. So I merely said hello, and let her browse. Sure enough, she bought something…and then I had my chance to gush over the child while I rang up the sale.
Come up with a line that can get across critical sales points in very few words. For example, we make hardwood drinking tankards. For some reason, a common reaction when customers first see one is to assume it’s merely decorative, not functional. So rather than launching into a long-winded explanation, I’ll say something half-joking like, “Those make great coffee cups!” In five words, I’ve explained two critical concepts: 1) the tankards are usable; and 2) they will hold hot as well as cold beverages.
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Never underestimate the importance of humor to put people at ease. I don’t mean you should run a vaudeville show from your booth, (although, I know someone who does just that successfully) but be prepared with a few standard jokes to break the ice. The secret is to not make the jokes sound canned.
Customers like humor because it’s relaxing. When a customer picks up one of our crooked tankards, we’ll explain it’s our public service tankard because when it appears straight, they’ve had too much. Lame, yes, but everyone gets a chuckle, and the customer can look with greater interest at the mug as a result. And now they feel more comfortable asking questions about the product without feeling pressure.
My husband (who has an uncanny ability to mimic foreign accents) will adopt an Irish brogue or a Scottish burr or a German accent (depending on if we’re at a Renaissance Faire, an Oktoberfest, or whatever) when explaining things to customers. He gets a huge reaction to this. On the other hand, I know my own limits (meaning I stink at accents) so I have to take a different sales approach.
Learn your venue
Obviously different sales techniques work at different venues. You can’t be loud and boisterous at a wine tasting. Nor should you be quiet and murmuring at a Renaissance Faire. The different venues have different demographics of customers, who in turn respond to different types of sales techniques.
You must also find the techniques that work with your particular personality. My friend who does a quasi-vaudeville act is a hilarious sit-down comic (he’s in a wheelchair) and can come up with witty one-liners at the drop of a hat…which has the added advantage of putting people at ease around his wheelchair. Other people adopt a droll, straight-faced style of humor (think of Bob Newhart) that can work wonders. Yet others avoid humor altogether because they know they can’t pull it off.
Through experience, you will learn what works for you. Learn from customers’ reactions. If they smile uneasily and look for a hasty reason to leave when you launch into your spiel, then that should tell you something. If customers give you funny looks and don’t laugh when you try to crack a joke, back down from the attempts at humor. And—most of all—if customers seem to like product but don’t buy anything after meeting you, then you could have a lot to learn.
There is always an element of risk for a customer when he walks into a booth. Make him feel comfortable by merely offering a neutral but friendly greeting (“Good morning!”). You’ve acknowledged the customer without making any additional demands. Don’t start peppering him with unwanted information (“We’re having a sale today on blue-satin widgets! Just look at the quality of these things…they’ll last for years!”). If you do that, I can almost guarantee the customer will backpedal out of your booth with a mumbled excuse about meeting Cousin Bob somewhere else.
Naturally you’ll be available to answer specific questions about your product, but answer in such a way that does not imply you now expect them to buy something (“That widget is made out of solid walnut…so, can I wrap it up for you?”). Don’t talk too much—customers generally want to be left alone to make up their minds.
It’s a fine balance. Being friendly with your customers improves your chances of selling something, but trying to make them your best friend by nagging them will damage your sales—and your reputation.
And, of course, most people will walk into a booth, and then walk out again. Most won’t buy anything—at least, not yet. It’s up to you to make their brief browsing experience so pleasant and pressure-free they’ll feel free to come back later and buy.
Are your products too cheap? Find out here
Interested in turning your artistic hobby into a business? Find out how you can make money by selling your handicrafts at art shows and craft fairs.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
When Terry Speer was a struggling art student in the 60s, he put himself through college by selling his prints and paintings at local art shows. In 1979, after eight years as an art professor, Speer left academia to do the show circuit full time with his wife, Deborah Banyas, a fellow artist and quilt maker.
"I had tenure and benefits," Speer recalls, "but I was miserable. I thought, 'Why am I torturing myself as a professor when I can have more fun doing this and make more money?'"
Speer hasn't looked back once. Today, he and Banyas run a homebased business selling their whimsical mixed-media sculptures at art festivals and craft shows around the country, including the recent Coconut Grove Arts Festival in Miami where they rang up sales of several thousand dollars over the three-day Presidents' Day weekend. Despite an estimated $3,000 in travel and other miscellaneous costs, Speer and Banyas ended up making a tidy profit. Then they packed up their truck and headed home to Oberlin, Ohio, where they stayed for less than a day before traveling to another show in Baltimore.
"This isn't an easy way to make a living," says Banyas, who estimates that the couple exhibits at 12 shows a year. "You've got to be willing to drive a truck and get up at four in the morning."
Still, Speer and Banyas can't see themselves doing anything else. And they're not the only ones who feel that way. Though it's impossible to know how many artists and craftspeople sell their wares full or part time at shows and festivals, their numbers appear to be growing as crowds turn out by the thousands to buy paintings, sculptures, woodwork, metalwork, glasswork and jewelry and to meet the artists and craftsmen who make them. And as Speer and Banyas have discovered, there's real money to be made. Last year, the Coconut Grove festival drew more than 150,000 visitors who purchased approximately $4 million in artwork from more than 330 exhibitors over the course of the three-day show. (Figures for this year's show were not available at press time.)
"I think it's a great opportunity for the public to connect with artists," says Lisa Remeny, a Miami artist whose painting was picked to be the official poster art of this year's Coconut Grove show. "You don't have that in a gallery where people buy from dealers."
For homebased artists and craftsmen, selling at fairs and shows provides an opportunity to ring up sales and find new customers at little cost and no overhead. Typically, shows charge just a few hundred dollars for a booth and allow artists to enjoy big markups on the work they create--profits they don't have to share with a gallery or store owner. But making money at fairs and shows isn't as easy as it seems. It requires research, planning and the ability to keep a smile on your face while standing on your feet for long hours. And that's not for everyone.
"To be successful at shows, you need to have a retail personality and that's not me," says Debra Sachs, who creates fanciful wooden canes with her partner, Marilyn Keating, at their company, The South Jersey Museum of Curiosities LLP in Gloucester City, New Jersey. Even though Sachs says she and Keating made a profit at every show they attended, the shows took them away from doing what they really loved--creating art. "We're doing public art projects now," Sachs says.
Think selling your work at shows and fairs might be for you? Follow these 10 road-tested tips to success:
1. Walk the show. Just because your Mom used to tack up your drawings on the refrigerator doesn't mean your work is professional enough for people who aren't related to you to buy it. First, attend a few shows to see if your stuff is good enough to pass muster. Some shows are juried, which means that judges review your work and select you; others are open to everyone.
It's also important to find the right venue for your work. While an indoor art show may be beyond your grasp, a craft show or Renaissance fair may fit the bill just right. You can find out a lot of information about the shows by talking to artists and craftsmen you meet there. "The best way is to ask other vendors where the best shows are," says Christopher Spelman of Wax Creations in Oceanside, New York. "They'll tell you which fairs to not even bother with."
2. Do your homework. Find out who typically attends the show, what kind of turnout you can expect and how much it will cost to exhibit there. Even though booth space typically costs just $200 to $300--the Coconut Grove festival charges $550--you need to factor in travel costs, shipping costs and the cost of a table, banner and the booth itself. And don't forget the materials costs; for jewelry or sculptures made of precious metals, those costs can add up. And depending on the city or state the show is in, you may also need a license or permit to sell there. It's best to figure out your breakeven point--that is, how many items you need to sell in order to make a profit--before you decide to pack up and go.
3. Start small. Most established artists and craftspeople sell to repeat customers who frequent the same shows every year and often collect their pieces. While you're establishing your reputation and building a following, keep your expenses to a minimum. Speer suggests renting or borrowing a booth from another artist instead of buying your own. Another option is to share a booth with another artist or craftsperson. "Don't invest a lot of money until you're sure it's going to work," he says.
4. Price it right. While cheaper work is easier to sell, you've got to sell a lot more items to cover your costs and make a profit. At the same, an artist selling $10,000 paintings may go home empty-handed. That's why many art show veterans offer a range of price points to potential customers. Biba Schutz, a New York City jewelry artist, sells her work for anywhere from $150 to $900 but offers one-of-a-kind pieces for up to $5,000. "If your material costs you $10 and you double it, you've got a $10 profit," says Schutz, who works in silver, bronze, copper and gold. "If the material costs you $200 and you double that, it's $400. You need to sell less to make those numbers."
5. Bring your credit card machine. Credit cards are the common currency of shows and fairs, and if you don't accept them, you're going to lose sales to vendors who do. You also face the risks of dealing with bounced checks from strangers who may be hard to track down after the show. Especially if you're selling work priced in the hundreds of dollars, credit cards are a must. To find out more about obtaining merchant credit, see our " Resources " section.
6. Don't go it alone. While shows can be exciting and profitable, they can also be physically and emotionally exhausting. That's why it's important to bring along someone to help you work the booth and deal with customers. This will also give you a chance to get up and go to the bathroom and grab a hotdog or something to drink without losing sales. Spelman of Wax Creations works the fairs with his wife. "You need a lot of good friends and family willing to help you," he says.
7. Pack your stuff. Make sure you bring enough work to sell but not so much that you'll have to carry most of it back. Besides your artwork, you'll also need to pack your booth, several chairs, a small table, a calculator, a credit card machine, bags for customers to carry your products home in and any brochures or marketing materials you might have.
8. Put your best foot forward. People like to see a craftsperson creating artwork in his booth, not just selling it. While this isn't always possible, it's a crowd-pleasing idea that works well for jewelry makers, woodworkers, quilters and other craftspeople. At the very least, make sure your display table is clean and attractive and that your products are well displayed with prices clearly marked. Some artists, like jewelry maker Schutz, string lights in their booths and display color photos of their work to spice things up a bit.
9. Build a mailing list. Shows are a great way to develop your customer database. Try putting a fishbowl on your table and offering people a chance to win a piece of artwork in return for giving you their contact information or business cards. Giving away promotional items with your company's name and logo works, too. This way, you can send out postcards inviting prospects to your next show. Don't forget to collect e-mail addresses, too! It's a lot cheaper to send out 100 e-mail messages than it is to pay for paper and postage. "I have some customers who've bought from me every year for 10 years," Schutz says. "These days, I send more e-mails than postcards, and with my wholesale customers, I actually call them."
10. Count your money. Before you move on to the next show, sit down and figure out how much you made on the last one. For example, if you spend $1,000 on this show, did you make $1,000 back? Remember, we're talking about profits, not sales! Don't forget to include the cost of your materials, the booth space, travel, shipping and cleanup. This kind of breakeven analysis will help you figure out if you should exhibit at the same show next year.
Don't be disappointed if you don't make a fortune your first time out--or ever. Except for artists like Speer and Banyas, who sell exclusively through shows and fairs, most artists and craftspeople also sell through galleries, wholesalers, the Internet and other marketing channels. "My best year ever I made $18,000," says Spelman of Wax Creations, who does most of his business at parties and events. "I'd consider making $2,000 in a weekend to be a success. Some people live off these shows; other people use it to market their business."
Looking to break into the world of fairs and shows? Check out the web links below to jump-start your business today.
Rosalind Resnick is president and CEO of Axxess Business Centers Inc., a boutique consulting firm for startups and small businesses. She can be reached via her website.
Determining how much stock to make for a craft fair can be difficult. Too little and you lose out on sales, too much and you add unwanted costs. Find the.
Home shows. Industry shows. Craft Fairs. They’re all great opportunities to market your small business and sell your wares. Whether you have a trade show circuit that you run regularly or are exhibiting at your one and only event of the season, the same principles of show success apply.
If you’re an artist or crafter, you already know this, but it applies to every business. The first secret of selling more at any show or fair is that you and your products and services will be judged partly by those around you.
So bluntly, if the stuff around you is junk, the perceived value of your products and services will suffer. Likewise, if everything around you is top-notch, your products and services will immediately gain luster.
So it’s important that you research any place you’re planning to sell ahead of time as best you can.
Before you attend that trade show, choose the best shows for your products and/or services and prepare in advance to maximize your profit.
Before you start slapping stickers on anything, read and memorize this first rule of pricing:
Price is not about what it’s worth; it’s about what it will sell for.
Novices often make the mistake of pricing their products and services according to materials and/or time put into them. For instance, a person who creates wooden toys will add up the cost of the wood, glue and other materials that they bought to produce the toys and then add in the hours they spent cutting and carving them to come up with what the toy is worth – and then write that on a tag or a sign as the price.
Okay. What’s the difference between a painting of a soup can and a painting of a soup can by Andy Warhol?
If you answered “millions of dollars”, you’re right. But do you really think that Andy Warhol spent hundreds and hundreds of hours creating that one painting?
So to establish an appropriate price, yes, do a break-even analysis first, because that tells you the price you must not go below if you’re going to make any money.
Then do the research necessary to check out your competition and make note of what they’re charging for the same or similar products or services.
And then choose your strategy. Are you going to charge less, the same or more than your competitors for your products or services? Remember, you should only charge more if you can justify the increase as a perceived value to the customer.
In other words, take a hard look at yourself and your product or service. Are you the just anybody who painted the soup can or an Andy Warhol? Most of us fall somewhere in between – and that’s the art of pricing.
Create a trade show display that's going to draw customers to your booth.
Think visibility first, before anything else. Before you can sell anyone anything, you have to get them to your booth. If you’ve ever attended a large trade show, you know that there seem to be big electronic display screens everywhere, showing everything from flashing words through full-length movies about attendee’s products.
Well, that sort of thing might work for you too, depending on your venue and what you’re selling.
But you don’t have to use a screen to get people to pay attention and come over. At a recent farmer’s market, one of the vendors was dressed as a pirate (which tied in perfectly to the name of his farm) and his stall full of vegetables was mobbed.
At an art/craft show, we came across an all-white booth with a person dressed all in white, including a white head-covering. Nothing else was visible. That’s right. A steady stream of people kept approaching that person and asking them what was going on – a perfect selling opportunity.
Now you don't need to have to have a screen or dress up to increase your stall sales, but definitely, you have to make your booth and your wares visible to prospective buyers somehow.
Actively engage visitors to your display.
Just standing there and letting people look at things is not going to engender the number of sales you're dreaming of.
Sure, if your products or services are enticing enough, some people will buy. But most won’t.
Here’s another secret for you- most people are running a loop of reasons not to buy through their heads when they’re looking at your wares. Your job as a salesperson is to counter those reasons and give them a reason to buy instead.
One reason that works for many people is the reason explained in the nest point below. But there are all kinds of other reasons that lookers will turn into buyers, from the quality of a product through how easy a product would be to send to someone as a gift – all reasons that will never get activated unless you actively engage with the people that visit your booth.
Create and play up the back story.
Another secret you’ll want to apply as much as you possibly can when you’re chatting to potential customers: (almost) every person loves a story. So give them one.
How was it made? Where is it from? Who else owns one? Or even sometimes Who else owned that one?
These are all questions that prospective buyers might ask about a piece or a service if they were interested in it.
So turn it around. Stimulate their interest by giving them the answers to the questions they might not have even thought of.
Sometimes things come with their own provenance. Think antiques. Or things that celebrities have used.
But if not, it’s not that hard to create one.
It’s not just a necklace. It’s a necklace crafted from sea glass that you personally harvested from Canada’s rugged West Coast Trail.
An appealing story can provide the added value that will clinch the sale.
Take a moment to think about your typical sales transaction. Does it go like this?
Now how much would your sales increase if you could change that last part to “they come back and buy something else” or even “they come back with a friend and they both buy something?”
The last secret I’m going to share with you in this article:
The money is the return customer, not the new one.
So anything you can do to encourage someone who has bought something from you to return and buy something else from you is a great thing.
That’s why so many businesses have jumped on the loyalty program bandwagon.
And there’s no reason why you can’t run some version of a customer loyalty program yourself. Straight punch card types where customers can buy x number of items and then get one free are popular, but I think programs that encourage customers to bring in other potential customers are even better – such as giving customers a discount card they can pass along to someone and then get a discount themselves when that card is turned in.
If you’ve ever had the experience of being at a show or fair and watching people stream past your booth headed elsewhere, you know how depressing such an experience can be to both your pocketbook and your ego. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use the advice I’ve given above to get people to stop at your booth and engage their interest – and watch your sales soar.
It’s easy to say ‘it’s always better to bring more stock than less stock. But what does this realistically look like if you have a young family with kids running around, errands to run, a social life, a full time job not to mention chores all whilst trying to side hustle?!
Most fairs and markets are booked well in advance, so when you receive the official “you’re in!” email, start drafting out a plan. Map out what items you’ll need to replenish and how many you can make in that time period. You don’t want to stress yourself up until the last minute frantically making stock the night before! Set realistic goals and deadlines and be realistic about how long it takes for you to complete each piece. If you don’t know – it’s a good idea to time yourself and note this down somewhere, so you will remember in future, how long, materials required etc it takes for you to make specific designs.
Keep in mind, in this stock preparation stage, it will require you to buy more materials, packaging etc. Keep track of all these expenses, so you can work out how much you’ll need to break even before returning a profit. Which is why understanding and implementing the (simple) maths behind your pricing and pricing for profit is so vital!! For more detailed help on how to price your items for profit.
Remember to keep in mind the length of the fair or market. Obviously the longer the fair’s duration, the more stock you should prepare. Also consider the amount of space you’re allocated and the size of your pieces, you want your stall to look full. Estimating the stock you’ll need to make is an estimate at best and with more experience selling at fairs and markets you’ll gain a better idea of how to estimate this number.
Generally I’ll make 5x of most designs, but with items that are within the $30 – $150 price range, I’ll make more. How many more is of course dependent on many factors such as the following to name a few:
Pieces in this lower price bracket are more likely to be an easier sell than items in a higher price bracket, especially if this is the first instance someone is encountering your brand at the markets. You do not want to spend hours and hours making an item that isn’t profitable for you – especially in this lower price bracket or any price bracket really. If you’re wanting to seriously grow your business into something sustainable, you need to start charging what you’re worth and positioning your brand in a way so that potential customers can appreciate the value in your creative ideas and products and are willing to pay for it!
Most of your pieces should be no more than $150 – that’s generally the upper limit for the average shopper at a market. Of course there are exceptions and there may be customer who will buy your higher priced items. They’re always nice to have on display as “aspirational” pieces for your target customer. From experience, this $150 ceiling is because of situational positioning. Visitors of the market think that ‘because this is not a retail shop’ and ‘it’s a market’ there’s a subconscious barrier that makes them justify that they shouldn’t spend more money here. If your same piece were available at the MONA, NGV or MCA gallery stores – their perception of ‘value’ for your piece appears entirely different. The visitor will feel like: ‘Oh, this piece is being sold at MONA, NGV, MCA etc – it must be amazing and worth the asking price.’
For me, there’s nothing particularly special about choosing 5x of each. It literally is just an arbitrary number I chose. Whatever number you choose depends on how big your existing product collection is, how much time you have to prep for the show and the profit margin you’ve built into each piece. I have about 50 unique items in my collection, and building up sufficient stock before any show takes a considerable amount of time, energy and discipline to stick to my production schedule. But the beauty is, even if you don’t sell out, you have ready-made stock available to pack straight away for online sales. Also, don’t forget to take into consideration any other fairs you may have booked that are close in date to each other.
At my last event, I created these copper wire test tube vases designed to bring a little bit of nature inside to place next to one’s computer/laptop, dressing table, bedside table or a small table centrepiece on the dining table. I made 10 of these just to test the waters, and they sold out mid morning of the first day of the market. Of course I had customers who had come back later on who were upset, because they wanted to look around the whole fair first before deciding on what to buy only to realise they had all sold out.
Yes I know that if you sell out of something, you technically could direct the person to your online store to place an order, but more than likely the customer will not follow through with it (unless they really, really want it.) If you do sell out of an item, always take down their details – name, email, details of item, so you can follow them up. Don’t just give them your business card and hope they follow you up to buy your item. Chances are they won’t. People are busy, they get lazy, forget – what have you and you’ve missed out on a sale. Be proactive and be in control to close the sale.
From experience, it definitely sucks running out of stock, and missing out on potential sales. But at the same time, it’s a big flashing neon sign, telling you that, that specific product is hot property and you need to make some more quick smart or even expand upon that idea into complementary products.
It’s a good idea to organise the stock you’ve built up, so on the day, you know how it’s organised, how many you have in stock and where you can find more of a particular style. Just a running excel spreadsheet is a good start. You can print it out and update it at the end of the event, so you know the difference is the amount you sold. I like to keep a running tab in a notebook of the items I sell each day at the market. That way, I can perform a simple reconciliation to check that the items I sold on the day actually do match up to the differences on my excel sheet. Any weird differences should be investigated – it could be just a case of you accidentally misplacing the item somewhere else, or maybe even unfortunately a case of theft. Another benefit of this process is that if you need to order more supplies for a product, you don’t need to manually count all your stock each and every time because the excel sheet should be an accurate account of your inventory.
For organisation, I pack each item of my jewellery into individual zip lock bags. This means there’s less likelihood that a chain would get tangled or scratched. I’ve bought some subdivided plastic containers and labelled each area by type e.g. earrings, rings, body chains etc. This means I know exactly where to get more stock to replenish my stall when I sell an item and helps slow down the tarnishing process. (silver reacting with free particles in the air to cause the piece to appear greyish/shadowy on the surface.)
Of course, organising your stock is dependant on what you sell – and this varies greatly between different products from paper goods, skin and bath products to bulkier home décor items and everything in between. Exercise common sense in how to organise your stock that makes sense to you.
Always take enough packaging to prepare for the best-case scenario: you sell out of everything. So depending on how much stock you’ve made, bring enough packaging to cover that number of items. Nothing is worse than running out of packaging and just handing over the item as is – give your customer the full brand experience that includes “all the bells and whistles” for a lasting impression.
Bring enough bubble wrap, plain coloured tissue paper or custom tissue paper. You want to make sure if you sell breakables like ceramics, glass items etc that you wrap and pack it securely, so it gets home safely with your customer! Don’t forget tape and scissors!
Depending on what you sell, it’s a good idea to invest in some carry bags. It builds curiosity when people at the market see lots of people carrying around bags with your shop logo on it. They’ll wonder – ooh – I wonder what products that shops sells – everyone’s bought something from there! It’s a form of social proof and piques curiosity – evidence that people have bought items from that shop, so therefore the items that the shop sells must be interesting.
Some markets have banned plastic bags completely, so it’s best to check what guidelines the organiser’s have in place for packaging. Otherwise paper bags are a good choice, not only because they’re reusable, but also can be recycled. Getting them in a neutral colour and stamping it with your logo or sticking your business logo on it is an easy way to customise it, without going down the full customisation path. If your budget allows, custom printed bags give it a nice professional touch.
Many years ago I taught an adult education class on how to turn a craft hobby into People do not (usually) go to a crafts fair specifically to buy your product. now expect them to buy something (“That widget is made out of solid walnut so, .
As American consumers increasingly long for a personal, local touch in the goods we buy, the craft industry seems to be booming. Have you ever dreamed of quitting your 9-to-5 job and starting a career selling handmade crafts? Or wondered whether selling goods at craft fairs would be a lucrative side hustle? Here’s what you should know about the economics of craft fairs, from how much it costs to participate to how much you stand to earn.
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You may have heard that in the case of craft beer, what’s marketed as “craft” is sometimes owned and produced by big corporate conglomerates. The same can be said for some of the items sold at craft fairs. If you head to a holiday craft fair in your area, particularly one that casts a wide net for vendors, you may be seeing mass-produced items. But in theory, a craft fair should have vendors selling items they made themselves, by hand. One reason to go to a craft fair is to “shop small” and support local businesses.
As a craftsperson, you’ll generally have to pay for the privilege of selling your wares at a craft fair. The price you’ll pay for a booth or table at a craft fair will depend on several factors: the size of the fair, the prestige, the length of the fair and the perks involved.
For example, an established three-day fair that draws a huge crowd and engages in a lot of promotion and advertising will charge vendors more than a small, local event held in a parking lot or church basement. According to Entrepreneur.com, booth space at a craft fair typically costs between $200 and $300. Some fairs also charge a percentage of your sales.
Craft fairs come in two basic forms: juried and non-juried. Vendors who want to sell their crafts at a juried show have to apply for the privilege. Sometimes there is an application fee. Juried shows also charge higher booth fees. However, because they’re likely to attract customers with more to spend, the financial outlay involved in selling at a juried show is generally considered worthwhile.
The booth fee won’t be the only fair-related expense you have to pay for. In some cases you’ll have to provide your own table and chairs, though these are often included. To attract visitors to your booth you’ll probably want to have more than just a table and the goods you’re selling. You may want to have a nice tablecloth, some cookies and lemonade or other enticements. It’s a good idea to pay for a sign and business cards to promote your business.
You can save money by bringing your own food but you still might end up succumbing to temptation and spending money at the craft fair yourself. Another expense that may pay off is some sort of give-away, whether it’s a free sample or mini product with purchase, or a larger item that’s raffled off at the end of the fair.
Let’s say you’re a crafter who decides to take the plunge and spend $200 for a booth or table at a craft fair. Your costs don’t end there. You likely have to travel to the craft fair by plane, train, car or public transit. You may also have to pay for luggage or shipping.
Want to get a credit card reader so your customers can pay with a credit card? You’ll have to pay for that, too. Square, which lets you use your smartphone as a card reader, charges a 2.75% swipe fee. Intuit charges the same percentage. Paypal and Shopify both charge swipe fees of 2.7%. All of these services charge a higher percentage for payments you enter manually.
Then there’s the cost of the materials you use to make your wares. If your personal talent is making wallets out of old tires or picture frames out of salvaged wood, your costs will be fairly low. But if you make artisan jewelry out of gold and diamonds, you’re going to need to shell out a lot more for materials. Whatever their materials costs, many makers double, triple or quadruple their costs to determine the price they’ll charge customers.
Those with the highest costs generally charge the highest prices, which means they need to sell fewer items to make a craft fair an economics success. If your goal is to make $2,000 at a craft fair and the average price of your goods is $20, you’ll have a different approach than someone whose average price is $200.
For some vendors, customer volume is key to success, while for others it’s a question of finding a good match with a handful of customers who have more to spend. That’s why it’s important to do your research before you apply to sell at a craft fair. You want to make sure the crowd that attends is a good fit for your merchandise.
In fact, one successful jewelry artist wrote in an essay about why she stopped doing craft fairs that the fairs weren’t a good fit for her business model. Because her materials were more expensive, her prices were higher and craft fair attendees weren’t willing to spend that much. As a consequence, she was paying to attend craft fairs and not making a profit.
For folks with high materials costs, selling online may make more sense than attending a lot of craft fairs. On the other hand, there are high-end craft fairs where a maker with high prices could do well. And selling at a craft fair could provide valuable marketing that would translate into greater online sales.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings in the U.S. were $803 in the third quarter of 2015. Let’s say you want to do a little better than that and earn $900 per week. At 50 weeks of work, you’ll earn $45,000 per year. You won’t be flying first class but you’ll have a solid income.
In craft circles, there’s a lot of talk about the “7x rule.” According to this rule, makers should aim to sell 7 times what they pay for the booth fee at a craft fair. So, if you go to a craft fair that has a $200 booth fee, you’ll want to sell at least $1,400 worth of merchandise. 45,000/1,400 = 32.14. Does that mean you’ll have to attend 32 craft fairs per year to meet your income goal? Not exactly, because you’ll still have to cover your costs. You either need to make more money or attend more craft fairs.
When you run the numbers, you can see why it’s pretty rare to make an income from craft fairs alone. If you already have a part- or full-time job and do, say, five craft fairs each year as a side hustle, you could rake in $7,000 ($1,400 x 5) in revenue. That’s a respectable side hustle for five weekends of work, plus the hours you spend making your merchandise. Or, you could supplement your craft fair income by selling your wares in a brick-and-mortar or online shop.
Here’s a 2012 quote from an Etsy forum titled “Craft Fairs… it’s a living! Average income from craft fairs.” It shows how difficult it can be to make a living solely from the income made at craft fairs:
“Usually about 10x my booth fee is a pretty profitable show for us. We take what we make and subtract about a third of it for materials, then subtract our expenses for the show (booth fee, gas, meals, possible motel?) and if we have a couple hundred dollars after that we’re good. Of course if you broke it down to hourly pay for two of us, including time to create, prepare, set up, sell, take down, drive to and from, our hourly wage is not too good.”
The income you make at a craft fair is income you’ll have to declare to Uncle Sam when it comes time to pay your income taxes. For starters, you’ll need to obtain a tax ID number for your small business, which may involve registering with the state where you’ll be selling your wares. If you don’t have a business you’ll declare your craft fair income on your personal income tax returns.
Depending on where the craft fair is located, you may need special paperwork or permits to sell, too. Each time you apply to sell at a craft fair it’s a good idea to ask the team running the fair if there are special licenses or permits you’ll need as a vendor. You should also ask if there will be someone on hand to collect local sales taxes at the close of the event.
In some states, there is a floor for collecting sales tax, which means you might not need to collect the tax if your sales are small. The rules concerning local and state sales tax can be complicated, but it’s important to comply with all relevant tax law. For more details on tax compliance for craft fair vendors, check out this page from the U.S. Small Business Administration. With mobile services like Square and Paypal, you can enter your tax settings before you start swiping payments.
Anyone interested in selling at a craft fair can head to festivalnet.com or thecraftsfaironline.com. Both are sites that aggregate listings for craft fairs around the country. Unless you have an impeccable record of picking the perfect craft fairs for your work and racking up sales, you may decide to think of craft fairs as a complement to other income sources. One other income source could be your day job. Or, if you want to devote yourself to your craft full-time, you can complement craft fair revenue with sales in galleries and online.
If you decide to become a a small business owner, you may need an advisor who specializes in taxes or one who specializes in another area. A matching tool like SmartAsset’s can help you find an advisor to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and your goals. Then the program narrows down thousands of advisors to up to three who meet your needs and are in your area. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while doing much of the hard work for you.
Photo credit: © iStock.com/PeopleImages, © iStock.com/joste_dj, © iStock.com/carterdayne
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