For the past twenty years I have been a craft show vendor. It ages me, I realize, but it’s true. I have done monthly shows in bars, big shows, little shows, street festivals in NYC and all the shows in between. I have experienced horror stories such as traveling across the country to outdoor shows that end up having crazy rain all weekend, or carting my stuff in mini hand trucks for blocks after doing house shows in Seattle. I have become known as the girl with the “Mary Poppins bag” amongst my friends, managing to get almost all my goods packed in one large bag.
After ten years of vending, I also joined the organizing team of Urban Craft Uprising, Seattle’s largest indie craft show. Whether it be on the organizing side or on the vending side, I really love it all. Even when tears have been shed, I have learned so much, forged many friendships and professional relationships along the way and ALWAYS look forward to the next big show. From the good experiences to the mediocre, I try to see them all as learning lessons, and hope to shed some light to you.
Perhaps you are new to the world of craft show vending, or perhaps you are a well seasoned vendor. Each show can present new challenges and learning to “roll with it” is not always as easy as it sounds. So here are some tips I wanted to share with you that might help you have a better craft show experience. I hope it helps!
If you are new to the world of craft shows DO ANY SHOW YOU CAN! I LOVE small shows. I have met some of my closest friends from doing monthly shows or smaller shows. It’s crazy what kinds of friendships are forged after chasing down thieving teenagers or doing a craft show on Superbowl Sunday. Not only that, but information is shared, whether it be about other good shows to apply to, ideas for new techniques or supplies. Small shows are so valuable to working up your business!
Talking about your business and dealing with the public for many hours really can be exhausting. Many of our vendors or potential vendors express concern because they see themselves as introverts, so this side of vending is really hard for them. I can sympathize completely but see it as a good challenge and a great way to overcome those fears. You do get a groove going and it gets increasingly less awkward talking about your work the more you do it. People are excited to see what you are up to and are often amazed that a person is capable of making the products they’re seeing at all. Feed off that excitement! Practice makes perfect, after all.
You’re tired, you’re cold, you just broke up with your love, or maybe you are sick or very pregnant. I’ve been a few of these and know that it’s hard to plaster a fake smile on your face all day and still seem enthusiastic. BUT looking at your phone all day or looking really unhappy while manning your booth really DOES affect your sales. It’s an organizer’s job to get people in the door, but it’s YOUR job to make the sale. If you look unapproachable, you will be.
I do application consultations with potential vendors, and often a vendor will ask me what they can make that will be a good fit for the show. You will never get an answer out of me concerning this, and this is why: if you are PASSIONATE about what you do and LOVE your work, it will shine that much brighter. Don’t cater to shows, because there are plenty of shows out there with different audiences and you need to find the right ones for you. DO NOT make something just because you think it will sell. You’ll get bored and your customers will sense it.
Focusing on a complete line is where you should spend your energy. If you enjoy working with a variety of mediums and design aesthetics, that’s fine, but make sure you are able to tie them all together into one cohesive message. If your work is all over the place it will confuse your customers and the jurors. Spend your time with what you love and creating that full collection will come together in no time.
Let’s face it, sometimes your expectations for a show are not met. Maybe it rained, maybe your price point was too high for that audience, or maybe it wasn’t in the best location after all. It’s happened to us all. BUT there are other things to consider besides the financials.
Building your customer base: Bring a mailing list. Each show you do enables you to meet new fans so capitalize on that as much as you can.
Press People: You never know who might be at a show who might work for the press
Wholesale Orders: There are plenty of small business owners that attend craft shows these days. You never know when you might get an inquiry about wholesale orders even AFTER the show. Game face, people!
Lasting Relationships: I know I’ve already mentioned it, but some of my favorite people I have met from doing craft shows.
Craft show vending is hard but the rewards are amazing and will definitely exceed your expectations if you keep with it. I have been a craft show addict for 20 years now and hope to have it be my longest habit in ever. I hope that this inspires you to try a few OR if you are a veteran vendor, reminds you of why you keep with it. Craft ON!
Do you want to sell your handmade wares at a craft show? Download Nicole Stevenson’s Timeline Checklist and get the insights you need to succeed!