The Basics: Your First Show
Perhaps you’ve been creating handmade goods in preparation for doing a craft show. Maybe you’ve made things for family and friends for years and they all tell you that you should sell your work. Now you’ve decided to try your hand at selling at a craft show. Congratulations!! But before you delve into the listings to find your first show, remember that all craft shows are not created equal.
There are indoor shows, outdoor shows, single day shows, and multi-day shows. Some shows are put on by churches, some by schools or civic organizations. Others are hosted by charitable organizations or artist collectives. Some shows are carefully juried while others take makers on a space available basis. There are handmade-only shows and mixed vendor shows. There are so many options for shows that it’ll make your head spin!
Stop. Take a deep breath and relax. I’ll help you pick a first show that’s not as awful as my first show.
My first craft show was put on by a community organization. Silly, naive me charged in and didn’t realize that “craft show” could also mean that direct sales vendors are allowed.
Despite higher quality materials in my jewelry, my work looked massively overpriced when compared against the DS vendor across from me selling mass-produced costume jewelry at rock-bottom prices. The shoppers at this show flocked to the cheap jewelry and barely gave my Swarovksi crystal and natural stone jewelry a second glance.
As icing, this vendor spent the day constantly calling out to everyone that walked by, which none of the organizers could be bothered to do anything about (the good shows prohibit this behavior). It’s been seven years since my first craft show, but I sometimes I still hear him calling out, “Everything’s $5!” in my head.
You won’t have that experience. Because I’m going to help you.
In this series of articles, I’m going to give you tips about choosing a show, pricing and general business tips, setting up your booth, prepping for the show, and finally what to expect the day of the show.
For this first article, I’m going to help you choose your first craft show.
There are many different types of shows that look for craft vendors to fill out their shows, but for your first show, you’ll want either a handmade-only show or a craft and vendor show, and you’ll want it to be an indoor show.
Why an indoor show?
Doing an indoor show means that you don’t have to deal with buying a canopy system. A good canopy system can be a substantial investment. (We’ll talk about canopy systems in a future article.) Some indoor shows will also either provide a table with your booth or offer them for a small rental fee. This means you don’t have to buy or borrow a table.
Indoor shows are also less weather-dependent. While poor weather may impact the turnout of shoppers at an indoor show (although usually not very much), as a maker, you don’t have to worry about your inventory blowing away or being destroyed by water.
Why just those types of shows?
Craft and vendor shows are usually the easiest to be accepted into as they are not juried. Many of these shows may have space available up to a few days before the show date. These shows often have words such as craft and vendor fair, market, boutique, or bazaar in their names or will have a description similar to “featuring handmade, vintage, gift, and boutique items.”
The main downside to craft and vendor shows is that they also accept direct sales and other commercial vendors so you are competing with companies that have both national name recognition and a lot of money behind marketing campaigns. Another downside is that some of these shows don’t limit the number of makers in a category. If you are in a highly populated category such as jewelry or bath & body products there may be an overabundance of those makers. More competition isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the greatest thing either.
As a handmade maker, handmade-only craft shows are your true target, but many of them require a few to several months of pre-planning. Handmade-only craft shows are generally juried and require pictures of both your work and booth. If you are just getting started, you may have images of your work available, but you may not have images of your booth. You can always set up your booth in your home the way you intend to have it and take pictures. Booths will evolve over time so it’s okay if it’s not an exact layout.
Handmade-only shows generally have firm application deadlines and fill up fast. If you are in a highly populated category, you will want to get your application in early and make sure that you have solid images of your work to present. Some of the most popular handmade-only shows will be considered full at the end of the previous year’s show as artists will submit their applications for the next year’s show on the day of the show!
If you already own or can borrow a pop-up canopy system (canopy, sidewalls, and weights), you may want to do an outdoor street fair or festival. Festivals may allow both handmade and commercial vendors, but they may separate them into different areas of the festival.
Like indoor shows, the handmade-only areas may have firm application dates and juried requirements while the craft and vendor areas will have looser requirements.
Avoid anything resembling a flea market. As shoppers to these types of markets are looking for a bargain, and not necessarily hand-crafted goods, they won’t be willing to pay top-dollar for handcrafted goods.
Try to match both your products and your price points to the general demographic of the area. Make sure that you have a variety of items to sell at various price points.
Don’t automatically assume that better areas will be willing to pay more or buy your big-ticket items. I’ve had more success selling my higher-ticket items in areas considered to be “lesser” while shoppers in areas considered to be “better” will often stick to cheaper items.
If you sell seasonal items, make sure that you are selling them during the correct season. Christmas-themed items sell better from October-December. If a show is doing a “Christmas in July” theme, then you will likely have better luck selling those sorts of items there than at a normal summer show.
Garden-themed items will sell better in the spring and summer months. I know of one fellow maker who makes patio lights, and she’s done with doing shows for the year by the end of September while I (the jewelry designer) am just getting started for the year. Yes, jewelry will sell fairly well for most of the year, but I find that I have better sales in the holiday shopping season so I focus my efforts there.
Booth Rental Cost
For your first show, you don’t want to do an expensive show. Aim to spend no more than $50 for booth rental for your first show. If tables are offered for an additional fee, you may want to rent them if you don’t have tables of your own or you just don’t want to lug them around.
You likely won’t need electrical unless you are making items that are powered and you need it for your display. We’ll talk more about electrical and lighting in our third Basics article: Booth Setup.
Some product categories are more saturated than others. Jewelry, candles, and bath & body products are three of the most saturated categories. If you make and sell items in any of these categories, you should get your application in as soon as possible as these categories fill up fast.
Single Day vs. Multi-Day Shows
This won’t be too much of a consideration for your first show as most of the shows at this level are single day shows. If you have a good day, you get to go home on a high. If you have a bad day, you can go home and drown your sorrows and not have to worry about going back the next day.
Attend some shows before choosing one to get a feel for what to expect. Even if you can’t attend the one that you are interested in ahead of time, most craft shows will have a similar layout and makers.
If you are looking at participating in a craft show and have not been able to visit it ahead of time, here are some questions to ask the organizer:
- How many booths? Shows with over 100 booths will generally attract a larger crowd of shoppers, but you will also be dealing with more competition. I’ve done smaller shows (around 20 makers) where I’ve actually had better sales than I had at shows with 100 makers or more.
- Are the booths contained in one area or spread around multiple areas? Booths spread around multiple areas is okay as long as those areas are clearly marked and large enough to be noticeable (e.g. a school gym and cafeteria). I’ve done shows at churches where they have makers in a main area and then place a few makers each in several classrooms. You don’t want to be a maker in a classroom with 3-4 other makers. Shoppers usually won’t bother to come in to the smaller rooms with just a few makers.
- Are there booth sitters available? Some shows have enough volunteers to be able to sit in your booth for a few minutes while you run to the restroom or grab a bite to eat. Sometimes they don’t have booth sitters, but will offer delivery service for food.
Some regions will have more opportunities for shows than others, but you should still not have to travel more than 20 miles from home for your first show. As you get more experience and confidence in doing handmade markets, you may want to expand that out and go 50 or 100 miles from home.
My Recommendation for your first show
For your first show, I recommend doing a smaller (around 50 makers), one day, indoor show with a booth cost of no more than $50 that also provides tables and chairs (either as part of the booth fee or for a nominal add-on fee).
This show should also be close to your home. For a first show, the presence of direct sales/commercial vendors probably won’t make a difference as this is meant to be a learning experience, but as you gain experience, you will want to focus on handmade-only shows.
In the next Basics article, we’ll go over pricing strategies and some basic business tips including bookkeeping. Don’t panic. I’ll even give you a spreadsheet to use that will make things easy.