It's beginning to look and feel a lot like springtime outside (even if just for a day or two here and there). Spring brings the start of outdoor craft fairs here in Arkansas. They are quite a big deal in this state, some bringing guests from all over the US into small towns, flooding used-to-be farms and town squares with groups of people sporting matching shirts, tackle vests printed with acronyms like "CSI", that would be Craft Show Investigators, and travel packs on wheels for their heavy duty shopping. Ah, spring, I would not have it any other way.
Many first time craft show artists find themselves in a panic prior to their first show. What should they take for display? How much inventory should they prepare? What type of payments will they take? Are 100 bottles of water really necessary for one weekend? There are plenty of resources out there to help you with this and sometimes your best source is your fellow craft show artist. Some of the members of AREtsy put their heads together to come up with quite the extensive list of helpful hints for the first timer and the not-so-first timer on the craft show circuit.
BEFORE THE SHOW
- Know before you go. Read and re-read the craft fair "rules". Will you submit sales tax to the organizers or submit it yourself? Will the organizers collect commission at the end of each day? Are you going to be at a show with other crafters or in the middle of a commercial nightmare with items priced at prices you could never beat as a handmade artist? These are all important questions that can be answered (for the most part) in the rules and guidelines.
- The word "juried" does not an "all handmade" show make. If your application states that the show is juried but there are no guidelines, proceed with caution. Juried can mean that only "artists" will be selling, but can also mean only that the organizers can pick and choose who's there, no matter what is being sold. Sometimes the best way to know which shows are which is word of mouth. If you still aren't sure, attend the fair this year as a buyer/observer and if you like it, sign up next year.
- Hey you with the $50.00 necklace, do you think the average person has a $50 in their pocket? If you sell expensive items, be prepared to accept credit cards. It's not hard and there are many forums in the Etsy world talking about it. One site that makes accepting credit cards a cinch is ProPay. If you haven't signed up for ProPay yet, make sure to do it ahead of time. It can take up to a week to get it going.
- Practice makes perfect and craft shows are no exception. Set your booth up at home and practice how you want to set things out. No matter how early you get to a show to set up, if you have no idea how you want your tables to look, it's a guarantee that customers will show up while you're still arranging and rearranging. You might want to take some snapshots of your tables at home, to help you remember your brilliant ideas later.
- Once your booth is set up, take a step back, walk by, pretend you're the buyer and not the seller. Does the booth look great? Did it catch your attention? If not, address the problems - there are hundreds of booths and yours needs to stand out.
PACKING FOR THE SHOW
- Bring everything that you might need. Extra tables (if you can) extra covers, bags, etc. I bet you'll find that you wish you had if you do not.
- Laurie at GlassBead has a MARVELOUS packing list - far too involved for a post on here but far too valuable not to have it in your hands. You can contact her through her Etsy site and I bet she'll send you a copy.
- Ice coolers are your friend. Fill them with drinks and small snacks; you'll wish you had if you don't. Craft fair food it tasty, but it can be a bit pricey.
- More often than not, your customers will want to try out what you are selling. For those with bath/beauty products, this means having samples of your items available to try. Those who sell jewelry might find it wise to bring a mirror - trying out jewelry is all about seeing yourself in it.
- Display your items in action. If you sell wallets, it is a good idea to have one on display full to the brim to show your customers how much it will hold. Or perhaps you sell market totes - fill one up with some fresh looking produce. You'd be surprised at how well suggestive selling works!
- While you're enjoying the nice weather sitting in your booth (or the lovely mood lighting inside a convention center), you'll never find a better time to show off your craft. If you sell knit items, knit at the show. If you sell jewelry, bead away. Customers love to see the sellers actually making what is on the table. It's kind of a guarantee that their future purchases did not get shipped in from a factory.
- If the show is outdoors and it's any time of year in Arkansas, be prepared for rain. Tents are great, tents with sides are even better. If you don't own a tent with roll down walls, bring some tarps to hang for peace of mind. You do not want your stock getting soggy and wet.
- Think of creative ways to display your items that spread them out across your space. Don't make your customer dig through piles if you can help it. If you sell scarves, have a coat rack type item to drape them over. Draping gives the customer a full view of the scarf they will wear next season. Maybe you sell fan pulls that also make great light catchers. These look great hanging up above the tables catching that afternoon sun. Also, arranging items by colors is a good way to catch the buyers eye. Perhaps neutrals can all hang out on one side of the table while the wild colors can chill on the other side. Mixing too many colors can drown individual items out.
- While we're on the topic of colors, make things in all colors. Just because you do not like blue, does not mean everyone else does not. Make sure there is something for everyone.
- Dress nicely, funky, cute, anything but plain. This is not the place to not put some time in to your ensemble. Make sure your hands look nice, your hair has been paid attention to, and you're wearing/using what you sell. Note - put your hair up, brushing your hair in the booth is not attractive to a customer no matter how windy it is.
- Do you really need lighting/lamps and electrical cords? Don't assume that because the fair is indoors that the lighting will be sufficient. It's pretty certain that it is not. While electricity at a booth often costs a bit extra, it really can be worth it. As I've mentioned, you're competing with hundres of other booths for attention.
- So you think you're set with your 3'x6' folding tables and are good to go. Well, guess what? Those tables are a bit short for shows. Bring a way to raise them (pvc tubing or cinder blocks work well for this). It's easier to look at the items if they are a bit higher than your average convention table.
- Bring a sign! Tell people from a distance who you are. It's also an easy way for people to find you. Make it striking and attention-getting, but make it readable. Your artistry and creativity will shine in your products.
- Bring many, many, many business cards. Some people might take them for free bookmarks, but many take them to put with an item they bought as a gift or to do some shopping later. There is nothing worse than finding a booth you like that has no business cards. BTW - business cards with the wrong Etsy address or email are useless - double check the information before getting them printed.
- While you're printing more business cards, why not print a coupon for your customer. If they love the item they bought at your booth, it's quite likely they will visit your Etsy shop and repeat customers love a discount. A 15% off coupon is not much of a loss and is a good incentive to get some repeat business.
- Price your items, all of them. Either have a sign that reads "Glass Pendants - $25" or mark each item individually. Unmarked items could lead to a loss in sales if you are busy or if your potential customer doesn't want to strike up a conversation asking about the price. You'd be surprised how many potential customers really don't want to ask you questions or engage in conversation. If they can't see a price, they'll keep walking.
-If you don't want to include sales tax in the price of your item and prefer to keep things at an even dollar amount, you'll need change and lots of it. Really, though, make it easy on you and your customers and just round to the next dollar after you've added tax to the price.
- Be able to talk about what you do and how you do it. Be ready to have this conversation over and over. Stress the important and unique parts and leave out the details that lose the average customer. Save those for the kindred spirits.
- Smile - it goes a long way. This means being friendly to your customers (even those playing the flea market game who are trying to negotiate the price of your art) and to your booth neighbors. I've found that your booth neighbors can be your best marketing tool at a show and after a show. Some booth neighbors go on year after year setting up next to each other, and yes, they will remember if you aren't very nice.
- Don't complain with your customers or neighbors if it is a bad show. Surely no show is bad. If you don't sell anything, at least get business cards in people's hands. Talk up your Etsy site or your crafting blog. Chin up - some shows take time and optimism goes a LONG way.
- Don't eat a 3 course meal in your booth. If you are alone and won't be able to take a break for a proper meal, take small, clean snacks that can be eaten discretely. If you have a booth with a friend, take turns eating so one can man the booth while the other fuels up.
- Remember, the customer always comes first... even if is not your customer. Booth neighbors tend to be chatty; join in the conversation, but when a customer walks up, excuse yourself or allow your neighbor to do the same. The same applies when chatting to your booth partner. Be available for questions and keep your daily gossip about kids, in-laws, and lousy jobs to yourself.
- Keep a good record of what is sold and for how much. You'll appreciate this come tax season.
Tips contributed by Lauren of DressGreen, Cyndi of The Twisted Purl, Laurie of GlassBead, and Erin of IdyllHands.