What product should I turn that will sell well at craft fairs? What will sell at the farmer’s market? These are simple questions but they are not simple to answer. We all want to make lots of sales when we sell our products. But this question “What will sell?” might be putting the cart before the horse. Let me start by telling you a story.
What will sell at shows?
My wife and I attended a really good Christmas craft show in Oliver, BC. It was a two-day show so we had to make sure we brought lots of products to sell. One year I did the show solo. We packed up at home and I drove to the show very early in the morning. Everything went well including setting up the display.
At that time we had soaps and creams as two of our foundation products. On the first day, I was selling soap like hotcakes at a fireman’s breakfast. Creams? Not a chance no one was even looking at them. That night as I restocked the shelves I was worried. I didn’t have that much soap left to sell. The display racks were full but there wasn’t much support under the table (if you know what I mean).
I didn’t go home that night rather I stayed in a hotel. It would have been two long drives with a short sleep in between. So the second day what did I sell? I sold creams and hardly any soap. I don’t think I did anything to alter the customer’s perception of the booth. It was just that soap sold first and creams sold second. I had a great weekend and learned a lesson about selling at craft fairs. You just never know what will sell.
Is there a better question?
How is figuring out a good product to sell putting the cart first? As an artisan, it is the crafting of the product that gives enjoyment. Focus on what you enjoy and your enthusiasm for your work will give you more sales. A better question would be “What do you like to turn?” Let’s look at three main points with a bonus at the end as well.
1. What do you enjoy turning?
Do you like or prefer to turn spindles, bowls, or lidded boxes? These are three broad categories of turning projects. You could think of more categories especially if you like turning something else. That is okay. Start with what you enjoy turning. Then your production work will still be enjoyable rather than a grind.
You can also consider the size of what you like to turn. There are pens, spurtles, rolling pins, and mallets that are all spindle work of increasing size. From the smallest to the largest, there is no one size fits all, it is the size that is right for you that counts. Some turners love to turn pens and that is all that they do. You might see them making lots of sales at a craft fair. If turning pens is not a joy for you then please don’t turn pens, just because you want to make money and sales. Find what you love to turn and sell that instead.
2. What else could you turn?
Now that you have narrowed down, a bit, to what you like to turn, think of other turnings that could go along with your main interest. You may like turning honey dippers as a quick spindle turning project. You could change your pace a bit by turning a Mason jar lid to complement the honey dipper. Add a small wedge-shaped cut out so the honey dipper can stay in the jar with the lid on and you have a great combination product to sell.
The idea is to turn projects that are in similar categories. One turner said that he turned kitchen utensils and toys. Other options could be focusing on fiber arts tools or garden tools. If you only produce one item, like honey dippers, then you either make a sale or you don’t. Complementary products expand the selection for your customers which increases your sales. If you sell one of your honey dippers they may come back for a rolling pin or a Mason jar lid.
3. Feedback from your customers
When you are at your craft fairs chat with customers about what they like. While you could do custom orders, I’m thinking more along the lines of “Have you ever turned a spurtle or a muddler?” Look ahead and find new products that are related to your current product line.
If your customers are asking for it then there is likely a market for the project. So keep turning what you love, expand into complementary categories, and keep looking for new ideas and projects to turn. Some days you’ll sell lots of products, other days maybe a few items will sell. You can’t predict what will sell so turn a good product and enjoy the process.
The secret to what will sell!
Okay, now I’ll tell you the real key to success when you are making handcrafted products for sale. Find a niche you like and stay in it. Like the fellow who turns kitchen utensils and toys take your products down to one or two categories. This will actually help you increase your sales.
The background story is that I looked at woodturners on Etsy. Those who had the most sales had focused on a few types of products. One was pens, another was salad bowls, and so on. The vendors who had sold the least had the broadest selection of turned items. They had something for the kitchen, garden, bowls, boxes, toys, art, and more. You don’t have to be super restrictive but your customers want to know what to expect if they return to your booth or web store.
This is why you want to turn what you love. Consistency in your product is very comforting to your customers. They know what you do and you have lots for them to choose from. That means turning a lot of the same or very similar items. Being consistent will also increase your sales. Now you know what will sell.
Turning For Profit
Figuring out what will sell is a challenge for a lot of turners, new and old alike. There are also challenges being the salesperson for your turnings. A lot of us feel way more comfortable at a lathe than in a booth at a craft show. If you need help with craft shows take a look at 7 Mistakes that Kill Sales at the Show. Learn from my mistakes. The other part, that was a challenge for me was my mindset issues over money. Have you struggled with money issues? I’ve identified 5 money mindset issues that could impact your ability to price and sell your work.
If you have any questions about turning or the business of turning, please leave me a comment at the bottom of the page. What is your experience in figuring out what will sell for you?
These posts are for you, the woodturner. If you like turning projects or articles related to the business of turning then please sign up for the Turning For Profit newsletter. Generally, it comes out once a week and has links to the current articles, a bit on what I am up to, and usually a question for your response. You can sign up on the right sidebar or just a little lower on the page.