How to Decide if a Craft Show is for You
For 10 years I earned about a third of my annual income doing the craft show circuit. In that time I learned from a lot of mistakes. Some of my mistakes were dumb, others were costly. After a few years I’d made enough mistakes that I became pretty successful doing Craft shows. But I saw my fellow vendors making the mistakes that I used to make over and over again. One of the biggest mistakes crafters make is picking the wrong show.
How to pick the right Craft Show
Every show is different and every vendor is unique. Pick the Craft Shows that suit you, your style, and your products. In spite of the desire to attend all the shows you possibly can, there are limitations. You cannot be in two places at the same time. Not all shows are going to be a good fit for you or your products. The profitability of each show varies, along with the results from year to year. All of these factors come in to play.
Be deliberate about where, when, and how, you will do craft shows. It is not always the bigger shows that give you the best return. One of our local Christmas shows is in a small unincorporated area. That’s right not a town or even a village. It’s in a hall on the fair grounds. The show is one day only, in at 8, selling by 10, over at 3 and out by 4. Besides travelling time it is all over in 8 hours. These are rural people who make do with what they have. I know them and many have been friends for years. They know me and my products. Some years they buy lots, other years not so much. Initially I didn’t think the show would succeed for us because the market was quite small. But year after year it was a consistently profitable show. Given that it was a one day show and close to home it made sense to participate.
What do you know about the show / event?
You might hear about the show from other vendors, friends, or solicitation from the organizers. Research the show on the web and contact the organizers if you have questions. Download and fill out the craft show information form, as best you can, for the show you want to attend.
These are the basic facts you have about the show. At Christmas time there are often three or four shows in a region all on the same weekend. The date and hours of the show are important. Shows have different costs and different requirements. So jot everything down.
This information is the starting point for your evaluation.
Are you going to cover all of your expenses? This is a basic question. Spending 10 or more hours in the hot sun to realize at the end of the day you made only $ 5.00 over your entry fee is a very disappointing feeling. (Been there, done that, couldn’t afford the t-shirt!) If I had evaluated the event better I might have spent my day more productively.
The easiest to identify are the costs. Registration fee is the most obvious expense, however, consider the other expenses especially travel and accommodation. (See the section on additional costs later in the post) In our first years I wasn’t as aware of the cost of eating out, travel, and accommodation. This can easily double or triple your event costs. After one year where we basically broke even, after looking at all of our costs, we decided that to do the event next year we had to modify our travel expenses. The next year we stayed fairly close to the event with friends. We brought our own food and cut down amazingly on our travel expenses. It was a good thing as the event was not as good as the first year and again we just broke even. Well after trying for two years we opted for other events to sell at. This was an event that sounded like it would be good but did not really fit our product and our typical customer was not the type of person who came out to the event.
In your opinion who is likely to attend this event?
One event I attended was called the “Freedom Festival.” It was local, the cost was moderate, and it gave us a chance, outside of the Farmer’s Market to interact with the local community. The show brochure didn’t spell out what a vendor could expect at the show. Inquiries made to the organizers were answered in a vague way.
Once we set up our outdoor booth, however, we discovered that it was a rock concert. Not what we were expecting. It was focused entirely on the music. No time was given between acts for the audience to visit the vendors attending the event. The festival goers weren’t interested in our handmade artisan crafts. If we’d had tie dyed t-shirts, we’d have been a better match for the audience. Lesson learned.
Here are some general questions to get you thinking about the show.
- Will this attract customers from an urban or a rural population?
- Is the area having economic growth or economic challenges?
- Have you sold at the event before? Sometimes your reputation can override the limitations of the event.
Sometimes you just have to attend the show and then see what the results are. We were specifically invited to a Soroptimist event. Soroptimist is an international volunteer organization working to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world. This wasn’t an obvious fit or miss-fit. However, during the event, it was obvious that the very successful ladies at the event were not a good match with our products. Nothing wrong with either the ladies or our products, they just didn’t go together. The only way to know was to try.
What are your immediate costs of doing the show?
It is easy to focus on the sales that you are making at the craft fair. However, you must evaluate the direct cost of the event along with the cost of the product you are selling. Often a craft fair closer to home gives you a better return than a fair that is an overnight trip and has a higher sales level but also higher costs. Download and fill out the Associated Business Costs Form.
You might have to estimate some of your costs like eating out or accommodation. The goal is to understand what it will cost you to do the event. This also gives you an idea of the breakeven point in sales that you will need. If you are not sure whether you will get close to the level of sales you need, then maybe a different craft show is in order.
Initially I was happy if the direct costs for the event were covered by the sales that we made. However you also need to recoup your product and packaging costs. If you are turning kits that have a $ 5.00 cost and you sell 10 of those kits at the event then you need to take the $ 50.00 product cost off of your sales before you determine if you have covered your event expenses. Don’t focus on just gross sales, remember to take off at least an estimate of your product costs.
The level of expense is dependent on you. When we stayed with friends at an event the hide-a-bed mattress was not comfortable. After a long day standing a good sleep was a necessity especially for a multi-day event. We decided that the show had to cover the cost of a motel room, in the future, so that we could be refreshed and ready for another day at the event.
For some shows you have other reasons for participating than just the revenues and expenses. Shows that are local and put on by your friends and neighbours are a good excuse for visiting and maintaining good local relationships. It is not all about dollars and cents but you need to think carefully about your decisions.
If you choose to do a show, do it to the best of your ability.
One show that we did was close enough to be local but was in an area where I did not know the market or the people. The vendors were all familiar to me so we all knew each other and our products. However the customers were new. While I wasn’t feeling the best I determined to stand during the event and meet all of the people. As the day progressed our result was average for us. I noticed that other vendors were not active in their interactions and there were fewer people in their booths. The temptation would have been for me to interact with the vendors (the people I knew) and pay less attention to the customers. But I knew who I had to focus on and the day was a success as a result.
Craft Sales are one of the choices for selling your products. Evaluate the show and your products to make sure you have a good fit. Consider expected sales and expected costs. Keep good records of the sales and the event. When the event is over evaluate what worked and what didn’t. Keep working at getting the best fit between you, your products, and the shows you attend. With experience your judgement will sharpen and you’ll have more successful shows.
If you are attending a craft show as a vendor you want to have a successful show. Here’s seven mistakes to avoid, and six ways to be successful. Check out the “profit” category as I have several other posts that relate to selling at a craft show.
Let me know how you are doing at your shows. I would love to hear from you.