Doing craft shows can be fun and profitable! That’s how we got started at Land of Odds. We made up a lot of jewelry. We put together some glass covered display boxes. We set up for the public, hoped for great weather, and prayed that our spread-the-word campaign would pay off. And it did. We repeated our success over and over again, with only a few exceptions – what we call “learning experiences.”
Defining Your Business / Setting Your Goals / Getting Started
Before you get started in your craft business, you need to do some thinking and reflecting. You need to have a clear idea of the types of products you want to sell, and what you think people will be willing to pay for them.
Then you need to research craft show opportunities. We suggest you start small, and start locally. Check out crafts fairs sponsored by local Arts and Park Commissions, churches and synagogues, non-profit organizations and schools. Your local craft and bead stores may know of craft shows, as well.
Next, set some business goals. How much are you willing to spend to be included in a Craft Show? How much money do you want to make? To what degree is it important that you make a profit at your first craft show(s)? In what ways can you leverage your efforts to increase your business later on – such as, strategies for getting repeat business, or increasing your mailing list, or finding information from other vendors about other show opportunities or other sources of craft supplies?
Finding Them / Choosing The Right One
You can search databases to see what shows are available where and when. You can determine what application rules and fees exist. You should follow up on this research by trying to find and talk with vendors who’ve attended these shows before. See if you can uncover an exhibitors/vendors list. If you can visit the show and check it out beforehand, that would be great.
Examine the mix of items offered at the show. Will your inventory complement and fit in? You want to be unique and different, yet you also want your products to have a good fit with whatever else is there. It’s the synergistic affect of all the vendors together which brings the crowds in, and this affect is greater when there are a lot of related things there for sale. Does the show’s style or theme fit well with that of your merchandise and your business? If you’re selling fashion jewelry, you don’t necessarily want to be set up at a country crafts show.
Find out the general attendance at the show, and the number of vendors exhibiting there. Evaluate the numbers with a critical eye. For example, a show without an admission fee might have a large attendance, but many of those attending might not necessarily be there to buy. Another example, all the booths might be full, but many of the vendors might be somehow associated with the event promoters and primarily there to give the appearance of filling up the spaces. Ask questions that get to the core issue: What are the qualities of the customers? What are the qualities of the vendors?
Find out how long the show has been in existence, and how it seems to have fared over time. Shows in their first year or two may not do well, because many people may be unfamiliar with the show. A show’s long-time staying power might reflect on its strength. Conversely, it might reflect on people needlessly holding onto tradition.
Ask about what kinds of marketing the show operators plan to do, and how systematically they’ve evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of past marketing strategies. Hopefully, they plan to do more than putting up a few signs. Successful show marketing requires a multi-method approach, a lot of sustained effort and follow-through.
Critically assess the location of the show. Would your customers venture out to this location? Are there parking issues, finding-the-place issues, or related concerns? What are your specific options for a booth location within the show itself? Very often, newcomers start in the least desirable areas. Will customers at the show still find you? Will you be near complementary booths – ones with items that will attract customers you want to attract to your own booth?
Is the show held in conjunction with other activities? Are there entertainment or educational activities? Are there food concessions? Are there adequate bathroom facilities?
If possible, talk with other exhibitors who have done the show. Has it met their expectations? What kinds of people attend the show, and what types of products do they seem to buy? How much does a typical person spend at a booth? How is the traffic flow, and what, if any, peculiarities are there? What is the quality of the merchandise at the show?
If you determine that a particular show is a good fit for you, you should give it more than one chance. You might not do well your first time out because your own marketing efforts or inventory selection might be deficient. Sometimes even a good show has an off year.
Read ALL THE FINE PRINT. COMPLETE the Application forms COMPLETELY. Be sure to meet all DEADLINES. Include your CHECK/MONEY ORDER for all required PREPAYMENTS and DEPOSITS.
For very popular shows, the promoters might use a simple rule to make the first cuts — Any Omitted Information, and out the application goes.
Some shows require applications more than a year in advance; other shows ask for applications only a few months in advance.
If at all possible, type up your applications. In any event, make sure that it is very clear and readable.
If you need special arrangements, be sure to negotiate these up front. Do you need electricity or special lighting or special access? Do you prefer to have a particular location or table arrangement? Will your displays conform to the show’s expectations, requirements and limitations? If you will be doing demonstrations, will all your equipment and tools meet show requirements or not? Do you need to be on a corner?
Is this a juried show? Is there a jury fee required? (Typically $5 to $50).
Are there additional costs besides the booth rental, such as required advertising expenses, parking fees, electricity fees, tables and chairs, insurance requirements, and the like?
Are there any restrictions as to the type of merchandise allowed, such as a requirement that all merchandise be hand-crafted by the artist.
Are promotional materials such as brochures or postcards provided to exhibitors?
Be sure to find out ahead of time,
- What times you have to be ready and fully set up in your booth
- What time you have to wait until before you can take down your booth
- How early you can begin to set up your booth
If you must provide slides, be sure each one is clearly labeled and numbered. Be sure it’s obvious to anyone not familiar with you, your slides and your work, which way is up.
Packing Up Before The Show (And After The Show)
The best way to organize your merchandise and all the other things you need to bring, is to sort them into similarly sized, easily carried, bins. You can get some great bins with lids at discount stores and hardware stores.
Organize your inventory into bins by section or type, so that you can easily put up a section, and then take it down and store it. Have separate bins for administrative materials (sales forms, staplers, tape, handouts) and for utility items (extension cords, table risers, table covers, display pieces).
The Set Up/Booth
How you set up your booth or space can have a big impact on your sales. You want an inviting, professional and attractive look. You might visit several craft shows, and observe various booths, and how customers approach (or avoid) and interact with the booth, its space, its displays and the like. If you have the space, we recommend setting up your display cases or tables in an “L” shape, where people can have a sense of “walking into” your temporary store, or an “interior box” where people can walk all the way around your displays. With any set-up, be very aware of “traffic flow” – how will your customers maneuver around your space, so they are comfortable, and can comfortable examine your wares.
Most tables are lower to the ground than optimum. You can get PCV pipe at your local hardware store, in a width that will slip over the legs of the table. You can cut pieces in 1 foot or 1 1/2” foot lengths, and raise your tables before you set up. In this way, your customers won’t get sore backs, and have to stand in uncomfortable positions while viewing your merchandise.
Don’t forget to bring a couple of chairs, if these are not provided.
Make your display cases, if you use these, portable. There are many easy-to-assemble systems you can purchase through a fixture/display store, catalog or on-line business.
If you will be outside and need a tent, you can get a great 10’ x 10’ or similar sized tent at a reasonable price at many discount stores, like Sam’s or Costco’s, or on-line. These tents are compact, and pack up into a very manageable bundle.
It’s useful to have panels on each side that can roll up or down, depending on the weather. Determine how well the tent will perform in wet weather and in high winds. Determine if you can hang things from the tent’s frame, or if you will need to set up separate display panels.
Be sure you practice assembling and dissembling the tent prior to the show. Determine if it will take one person or more than one person to do this.
Signs should generate interest and help sell your products. Don’t use “superlatives” like best, most, cheapest, largest and the like. In as few words as possible, tell the customer how your product will solve his or her problem, or meet his or her needs. Be positive and diplomatic in your wording. Writing “unruly kids will be sold as slaves” makes the point much better than “No Kids”.
Explain that which is not obvious. What’s it made of? When using the product, what must be avoided– such as getting it wet? Are there any disclaimers or conditions? What are the advantages of your product over others?
Use colors, typefaces, and images on your sign which have the same feel as your merchandise. Don’t overdo your signage, so that the signs overwhelm your inventory.
Be sure you have a clear, prominent sign that includes the name of your business. If your booths are numbered, this number should appear on the sign.
How much inventory should you bring to the show? Bring more than you intend to sell. If you plan to sell $500.00, then you should bring about 3-4 times that amount in merchandise, that is $1500-2000.00. If your booth feels empty, it will dramatically and negatively impact your sales.
Bring the kinds of things you think people will buy, based on your assessment of the types of people who attend this show. Don’t waste your time and energy bringing things, which may in the abstract be great, but which you don’t think this particular show’s attendees will be interested in.
From our experience, it is an advantage to accept credit cards. If you are just getting started, you may not be able to do this at first, but getting a merchant credit card set-up for your business should be an item high on your list.
When accepting checks, be sure to get the person’s Driver’s License number and their phone number. Verify that the preprinted address on the check is the current address. Don’t accept starter checks – those checks people get when they open a bank account, and which don’t have preprinted address/phone information on them. Checks are numbered consecutively. For those with a number less than 300, you should be cautious in accepting these.
Originally featured on Land of Odds. Republished with permission.