Picking the Right Craft Show

Picking the Right Craft ShowHere is my way of picking the right craft show. Often the biggest factor for a crafter in picking the right craft show is the cost of a booth or table. Other concerns include whether the show is indoors or out, whether the organization putting the show together wants to first see your work (juried), the attendance history of the show and whether or not those attending are likely to want what you are selling. Let’s explore these issues one at a time.

Cost of the Craft Booth
Even though your motivation in crafting is to express your creativity, it is nice to be able to make some money on it. Some of us feel we need to justify the cost of the craft supplies and sell enough to pay for our hobby (or addiction, as the case may be). Others look at their art or craft as a business and the idea of spending $600 for a booth fee seems just part of the cost of doing business.

Whether this is your first show or you are an experienced vendor, the most important craft marketing tip is to know your break even point. Knowing this will help you determine how much you can afford to spend on a booth. For example, you make $5 headbands. Let’s assume only 2% of the people attending a show buy what you have to sell. If you sell to all those 2%, then the attendance to cover a $600 booth fee better be over 6000 people. Do you have the 120 headbands (6000 people x 2% buyers = 120 sellable items) in stock to pay for the cost of a $600 booth? If what you are selling costs $100, then you need a lot less inventory. You will only need six customers that can’t live without your artistry.

Keep in mind that the booth cost is only part of the money you have spent in preparation for the show. There is also the cost of the material to make the headbands/art, food during the show, hotel, shipping and even licensing if the show is in another state. Because of this, perhaps a $600 show is not the right venue for a $5 item, regardless of the attendance. Your artistic nature may not want to face these business realities, but it is important to be aware of your break-even point and let it guide you in making decisions.

Indoor or Outdoor Craft Venues
Although this may seem very straight forward, it would be terrible to agree to an outdoor spring show for your origami (paper made into designs) and have it rain, or make super cupcakes or chocolates only to have them melt in the hot summer sun. Bad or extreme weather can influence the number of attendees, which will affect your sales.

Wind is often the worst culprit when it comes to outdoor art displays. Your booth needs anchoring with heavy sandbags or water jugs. Many outdoor parks or locations won’t allow digging stakes in the ground. Back and side panels on your overhead “tent” keep out most weather concerns, but it also keeps the heat in. Just think things through and like a scout, prepare well when picking the right craft show for you.

Indoor shows may seem better and it is true that fall shows are very well attended as people think about Christmas. You may want to bring an anti-fatigue mat for indoor shows (concrete floors are harder on the back than dirt and grass). Listening to 8 hours of the same Christmas tunes can also get a bit tiresome.

Juried vs. Non-Juried Craft Shows
Allowing the show organizer to determine which artisans can attend a show is usually a benefit to all. (Juried shows mean you submit a sample of your work, often as a photo, to see if it meets an organization’s standard). Juried shows can prevent too many competitors, who do similar work, from overwhelming a show. If every other booth had headbands to sell, as in our example, it would not please anyone. Likewise, organizers may be looking for high-end artists, as in Denver’s Cherry Creek July 4th Art Festival and headbands may not fit. Be aware of the difference between an art show and a craft show.

There is a bit of controversy about the definition of handmade. People, who sell multiple level marketing products (Tupperware, Avon, etc.) may be business owners, but they are not selling handcrafted items. Where does that leave scrapbooking folks, who sell paper, but also sell the creative aspects of paper usage (greeting cards, origami, etc.)? Most of us are proud of what we create and don’t mind sending a photo or two to an organizer of a juried show. After all, they do not want unhappy vendors. Your sales and the people, who come to see your latest creations, turn into more buyers for everyone.

Craft Show Attendance History
I usually caution anyone I know from participating in a first time (first year) festival or show. This is especially true if the organizer is new at the job. They often don’t know how to market the show. One sure sign of trouble is that they accept vendors a week before the date of the show. Another sign is that they accept multiple level marketing companies to fill the space for lack of authentic crafters or artisans.

What is attractive about first time shows is the chance to meet newcomers to the crafting community. It is also an opportunity for novice crafters to check out the new show as a buyer and get a feel for its future potential. It is never a waste of time for a crafter to attend a show. Here you will learn what works and what doesn’t in terms of displaying your crafts. Look around. The art of picking the right craft show is being able to identify those you don’t want to show in. Be aware of your feelings when going to a show.

Firsthand impressions are important. Just because an event has a large attendance doesn’t mean it will be a success for you. Western Welcome Week in Littleton, Colorado was a total bummer for me, and yet it was heavily attended. The people come for the parade and don’t come to buy (although some do well). Here I think the focus isn’t on the craft show, but rather a celebration of Littleton as a community.

Having several things going on at the same time during a show may bring in more people, but it may also distract potential buyers from seeing your display. Santa Claus visits, dance performances, carnival rides, etc. are show events I prefer to avoid. I also avoid doing elementary and middle-school shows, even though my stuffed animals attract them. Often children are not with their parents, want to pick up and handle everything, and, of course, they have no money of their own to purchase items. A whole show focusing on grade school children is very different from the occasional child, who comes up to my booth and cannot decide which animal he likes best.

Do Craft Show Attendees Fit with What I’m Selling?
Crafters are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. You know they aren’t greedy people, or they would double their prices to make minimum wage rates for their crafts. Don’t interrupt if they are selling their crafts. But, if there is a lull during the show, ask them how the show is going for them. Pay attention to those who sell items similar to yours. Are they doing well? Have they done the show before and why? If they continuously do well make note of what they are selling. Is their price in line with the community of buyers?

Most shows prefer and many shows insist on just one vendor per booth. However, having two people helps with sales, restocking, wrapping and bathroom breaks. Complementary items are better, if you share or don’t have enough inventory. It also helps to pass the time if attendance is low. You can visit other booths to see displays and use the time to your advantage. Who is more likely to appreciate your craftiness than another crafter? If you happen to be wearing or carrying something that you sell at your booth, all the better.

Have a range of items, colors and prices. This will attract a wider market. Many purchases are impulse buys. Someone sees something that sister Jenney would love. As a crafter it is our job to present unique items not found in stores. When I see a booth with 100 hats all with the same color and design, it really doesn’t speak to me. But when I see creativity and something unusual, I pay attention.

Picking the right craft show means more than just forking over the money. It is determining whether or not the cost will be worth your investment in time. Is your booth tidy, welcoming and uncluttered? Are prices clearly marked? Does the lighting show off your product? Make an email sign-up sheet, if you forgot to bring postcards listing your upcoming shows. Don’t forget to look for other craft show listings. The best way to know whether you want to participate in a show is to go see it first as a buyer and then talk to the vendors. If they are happily selling, find out who is in charge and sign up for next year’s show.


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