Crafts fairs: What kind of market should you do?

The variety of places to sell goods is really pretty vast. I have been paid to pop up in retail stores and I’ve paid as much as $7,000 to share an outdoor tent at a large holiday market (payment came in the form of a nice flannel shirt and the outdoor market lasted every day for 5 weeks and included overnight security, etc.). The right place to start will vary for everyone, but here are my thoughts on getting started.

The learning curve at your first show can be very steep so I recommend giving yourself a bit of grace by keeping the potential consequences very low. How do we do that?

Indoor events

First thing I would recommend is to find an indoor event. Contesting with wind or rain your first time out is a challenge you don’t need. Even if you’ve volunteered with someone else previously, setting up your display for the first time, making real sales to strangers (in-person!), etc., involves a lot of stress. So let’s take one of the factors you cannot control out of the equation: the weather.

Many retail locations will let you “pop up” in their space. Often, they will have several vendors at once at such a pop-up; these are a great starting place for newer vendors and most small business owners will have the patience to help you through the initial friction and learning curves. My experience with pop-ups is that you’re likely to have some good customer interactions and hopefully some sales. It’s a good and safe place to start.

Craft shows

Another good option for your early forays are school craft shows. These often take place in the fall as holiday markets and in the spring as fundraisers. Typically, they are inside the school and the turnout is good but not overwhelming–it’s mostly the school community that attends. This, of course, can vary depending on your area and your notion of what “overwhelming” is. Regardless, the idea is to find a market that is smaller, inside, and limited in scale. These markets will typically ask for 15% to 25% of sales as part of the fundraiser. To me, that is fair and it works with my pricing structure. It might be different for you.

Fairs and festivals

After you have a few of these markets under your belt, consider larger events, such as neighborhood festivals/street fairs, or large arts and crafts festivals. In larger cities, you can get high attendance at such events (i.e., 10,000 or more people). Of course, not every attendee is going to stop by your booth or buy things, but this kind of foot traffic increases the odds tremendously. These events are almost always outdoors and you’ll need to be prepared for inclement weather. This is where you’ll be especially pleased you volunteered with someone previously to work through such challenges with a safety net.

Come prepared

With markets this large and busy, you need to also consider more carefully your basic human needs: food, water, and bathrooms. I always pack food and water since the lines at the food vendors can be long and you don’t want to miss the opportunity for a sale. When you arrive, figure out where the bathrooms are and definitely visit them before the market officially opens. If at all possible, it’s great to have a friend help, or even just stop by so you can make an unhurried bathroom visit and stretch your legs. Some of the larger markets like this will have staff who will stand at your booth for 5-10 minutes to give you a break. I will also make friends with my neighbors and we will offer each other reciprocal support in this key area. Trust me, your point-of-sale tools are more likely to fail when you have a full bladder. It’s just science.

With this kind of experience, you’re now ready to approach the holiday market scene. While you may have found success with niche products or just really great quality and luck at previous markets, my experience is that you can expect at least twice as many sales at a holiday market. Everyone is shopping for gifts and more likely to buy than at other markets. With this many sales, having all of your systems well oiled and practiced will be really important and you’ll be happy you took the time to work through the bugs earlier.

Previously in this series


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