Another season of Christmas Fairs is over. Did you go? Were you selling? Craft shows are a great opportunity to connect with customers. It is a thrill to see the determined stride of a familiar face that recognizes your booth and is incoming for a purchase. It is easy to do the same thing year after year — make the same items and set up in the same style. Are you making the same mistakes too?
But consider other booths and vendors. Did you see things you liked or actions that turned you away? There are extra resources listed at the end of the post to help you with your markets and craft shows.
Here are 7 deadly mistakes when selling at fairs. (Circumstances have been altered to prevent the identification of the guilty.) Are you making any of these mistakes?
1. Having a Closed Attitude
I was there. I saw them across the aisle from me. Husband and wife are sitting in low chairs behind a table piled high with textiles. Knitted dish cloths, stacks of towels, napkins, and other kitch create a mountain between the customer and the seller. As the day wears on the arms are comfortably crossed over their chests. Smiles turn to frowns. Any customer visiting the booth now encounters the “attitude”.
The presentation of items in the booth, the low chairs, and the physical posture communicates to the customer – don’t bother me. This is a bad fair. I’m not selling as much as I want to. I’m in a bad mood. This works very well for sending the customers on their way. Piles of products are an actual physical barrier while the crossed arms are an implied barrier. Both of these need to be taken down. Don’t make these mistakes in your booth.
You can do better:
Open up your presentation. Don’t sit behind the table, instead stand beside your table and invite customers into your space. Your posture and the physical condition of your booth need to be welcoming and inviting to your customers. No matter how your day has gone the next customer needs to feel as important to you as your first customer. Uncross your arms, smile, and make eye contact.
2. Operating in the Dark
The venue has brilliant halogen lighting whose glare reaches all vendors as you set up your booth. It seems bright enough so you don’t bring any lights. As you are setting up you see student lamps, LEDs and mini fluorescent lights being attached to other booths. Then shortly after the event begins the lights are turned down to create ambiance for the shoppers. Lighted booths look warm and inviting. Those without lights recede into the wall space.
One of our first Christmas Fairs caught me off guard on this one. Located at the turn of the outside aisle, I thought we had a good visibility for attracting customers. While in the booth I could see people a long way straight ahead and to the right. The place was packed with shoppers. My wife left during a quiet moment and I reflected on why so few people were stopping to see our lovely products. When she returned she said “We’ve disappeared!” At her suggestion I walked away from the booth and returned. She was right, nothing was standing out about our average looking, dusky corner of the venue.
You can do better:
Turn on the lights! Without lights in our booth to highlight and sparkle our wares, we became the same consistency as the back ground. Nothing stood out or attracted the customer to our booth. We now use lighting at all indoor fairs. It is amazing how we stand out especially when others are still in the dark.
3. Making the Most of My Time
The artist had beautiful vibrant acrylics that attracted people into her booth. No lighting, but the colors on the paintings jumped off the canvases so it was a minor flaw in booth design. She sat behind a table, shoulders bent and head down over a book, “The Emotionally Abusive Relationship.” And she sat there for two days. She made a few small sales of post cards and a she sold a couple of paintings. There wasn’t a lot of conversation going on, but she did finish reading her book.
From the customers’ perspective what do they see? They see a vendor with her head inclined to a book, moving her head slowly from left to right as she moves methodically through the pages. There is no recognition or eye contact until the customer connects with the vendor. The customer has to make the first move. In the selling game the customer usually quits and there is no game, these are challenging mistakes.
You can do better:
This time is for the customers. No reading allowed. If there is no one in the booth, rearrange your display and act engaged. Connect with the customer even before they enter your booth. Make eye contact. Ask a question that can’t be answered by “yes” or “no.” “That’s a lovely sweater that you are wearing. Where did you get it?”
Standing, or sitting on a stool, puts you at the same level as the customer. They are usually not looking down or up at you. Keeping your arms at your side gives you an open stance to your posture. And if you absolutely must read — then please pick the cover of your book carefully!
4. Shadowing the Customer
We’ve all been there. Enter the clothing store because a sweater in the window caught the eye. Immediately the sales clerk makes walks purposefully toward you. You avert your eyes, knowing what’s coming, and hoping to be left alone to browse. “Can I help you?” the guy asks? “No, thanks, just looking” is the standard reply. We all know the script well. So now you know you’re being watched. You touch a few suit jackets and decide there’s nothing really special in that store and move on.
Same thing happens at the craft show, but this time you are the sales person. As the customer enters the booth you watch them, maybe make eye contact. Now you know you need to say something, but somehow can’t bring yourself to start the script that is always answered with, “No thanks.” Are you silent until the customer initiates the conversation? They aren’t going to.
Did you read #3? If the customer has to talk first they’ve probably moved on to the next vendor. So let’s not be silent. Ask the first question.
You can do better:
Now what question do you ask? “Do you have any questions?” Seems reasonable, you are the vendor and you know your product. You’ve just put the ball back in their court with a yes/no question. A quick “no” leaves you as the silent shadow again. Try to avoid asking questions that are answered with a quick “yes” or “no.” By the way, I’m still working at this one, its one of the hardest mistakes to avoid.
Ask questions that open a discussion or introduce a special aspect of the product that they are looking at. If you recognize the person you could mention that you remember them from before and ask how are they doing this year? Engaging the customer increases your ability to suggest ways that your products meet their needs or solve a problem that they have. And when products solve problems they are more likely to be sold.
5. Customer Hide and Seek
The vendor is a fiber artist with tall walls that display her work. She sits behind the walls on a chair and chats to her customers and other vendors, while peeking out from the back of the booth. But after the first two hours of the show opening, she’s gone. She walks around visiting with all her old friends and leaves her booth to fate. While she’s visiting with the other vendor’s she glances back to see if anyone is looking for her. Not seeing anyone in the booth, she keeps up the banter across the aisle. The other vendors hear about her grand children, the problem her son had with bullies at school, or the high price of hydro this year. Since she is on Etsy and Facebook, she has a following and has good sales, in spite of her “games”.
You can do better:
Be available. While the customer would rather not be pressured, they feel very uncomfortable alone in a booth. They need to know you are there and that they can talk to you if needed. If you are talking to vendors nearby, and you can see the customer, they may not see you or know that you are connected with the booth. Head back to your booth. It is a real balancing act to judge the distance that is comfortable for both vendor and customer.
6. Hiding the Merchandise
The woman sells table runners, place mats, napkins, and tea towels. To save money she takes the smallest vendor space available, a 10 x 8 space. Within the space are two tables and a clothing display rack. The table runners are on hangers and stuffed onto the display rack. There are three piles of place mats stacked about 30 high and numerous columns of napkins. She maximizes the available space.
Tables are piled high with items for sale (see #1). Racks of table runners are packed so tight that three fall off when her customer takes one off the rack. There are lots of options and color choices for all customers to see and appreciate. A full booth or table will mean the customer is going to find what they want here. However, it may take hours to look through everything. The customer may become overwhelmed with the glut of choice. Overwhelming the customer is one of the most common mistakes.
You can do better:
Making your customers work to find the right item is counter productive. You need to strike a balance between product availability and choices. This year we had a fair where we were able to expand into more area to fill the space out. I thought that it might be too sparse because I’m always trying to squeeze more items out and on display. My customers indicated that they appreciated the extra space in order to examine the products that attracted them and they weren’t crowded out by other shoppers. This is definitely a challenge in a 10 by 10 booth space. Sometimes samples on the table with more in bins underneath works to satisfy both presentation and selection.
Even when you are cramped for space take an item or two off the table and make it look like some items have already sold. If the display looks perfect the customer doesn’t want to wreck it. Usually no one will take the last item. No one wants to seem greedy. So restock as the day goes on.
7. Grunge Dressing
Greeting your customers in a t-shirt and jeans might work at an outdoor market especially if you are selling vegetables, but it won’t impress them at a Christmas Fair. You don’t need to wear a tuxedo either.
Be reasonable, pressed, clean, and presentable. It is a balancing act between being comfortable and presentable. Take the time to evaluate other vendors at your events. How are they dressed? Are they attractive or a bit too casual? Even if you feel like the Grinch, you don’t need to look like one.
You can do better:
Dress to suit your product. My friend, Rene sells maple syrup from his family farm in Quebec. He dresses the part of a French Woodsman in a red checked Wool flannel shirt and jeans, with a finger woven sash around his waist. His costume suits his product and adds to the ambience of his booth. While potter, Sandy-Jo from Potterbees in Grand Forks, BC dresses the part of a business woman at the show.
Your appearance has a significant impact on your sales. I was surprised at the sales that occurred when I wore a suit and tie to a Christmas Craft Fair. Believe me your appearance matters.
Moving Forward with Less Mistakes
These 7 mistakes can kill your sales but with a little fore thought you can avoid them. It is hard work to sell your products. You need to be presentable and available to your customers. You should be knowledgeable about what you are selling and excited to share your information with them. While it may seem that I am exaggerating, I’ve seen all 7 mistakes at fairs and craft shows. I have even made a few of these mistakes myself when I was starting out. I hope that by reading this you can avoid these mistakes and improve your sales at the next show.
Additional Craft Show Resources
A craft show is a big event and the excitement focuses on selling at the show. But it takes a lot to do a show. Here are 6 steps to help you organize for your next craft show and beyond.
One of the keys to being ready at a show is not forgetting something important at home. At one show I forgot all of my coin. Managed to get through the day but don’t make the same mistakes I did, use a craft show checklist.
Not all craft shows or farmer’s markets are created equal. They each have their own unique flavor. Take the time to evaluate your shows and make sure they are the best fit for you and your products.
Sometimes it is the mental games that cause me the most frustration. 5 Money Mindset Issues that Woodturners Face looks at how thinking about money impacts your woodturning sales and business.
I saved the best for last. The most common question that I get asked is “What will sell?” We all want a magic bullet (or product) that will always give us great sales. The answer is actually not that obvious.
I hope these articles will help you with your craft shows. Leave a comment and let me know how you are doing and what you are going to do differently in the future.
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