The Maker Series - When Should I Start Planning for A Craft Fair?
Okay, so you've decided sell your products, you've heard craft fairs are a great place to start, let's book a table and we're all set. Right?
Hold up just a minute.
My first craft, I did exactly that - my friend encouraged me to sell the hats that I was crocheting, my neighbour sent me an application for a 3-day craft fair in a few weeks, I paid, and thought "this is great".
Oh my goodness, that was a learning curve!
Now, if you're just looking to sell your excess hobby items, maybe that's not such a bad idea but if you're looking to build a business, you need to think like a business. Inventory, payment processes, how you'll package your products for shoppers, what your table or booth will look like, these are just SOME of the things that you need to consider ahead of time.
So, here are a few tips and things to consider, in no particular order. As always, you might notice that things work a little differently in your area, so feel free to share you experiences with me!
1) What and where are the markets in your area.
To sign up to a market, first you need to find them! Check out local event pages, ask around at craft shops, browse the community newsletter, look at the event calendars for farmer's markets/halls/recreation centres/churches/Chamber of Commerce. Often, other local artisans will advertise events that they'll be at or you can peek back at their social media. Tourism centres or cruise ship terminals can be another place to find local happenings.
2) Consider what events suit your products, your schedule and your intentions.
When I first started, I signed up for a lot of different markets. Small school fundraisers, huge multi-day Christmas shows, curated high-end markets. Each had different rules, requirements, and expectations and for some, I was highly unprepared.
6 seasons later, I've learned that I prefer:
-multi-day, curated handmade-only markets that strategically place their vendors,
-have a well planned layout that flows smoothly and is accessible to all,
-have nice lighting, or have power hook-ups to bring your own,
-heavily advertise the market well ahead of time,
-have designated volunteers or staff for assistance who are familiar with the facility (ie wi-fi password, washroom, ATM, and wheelchair ramp locations),
and those that provide some options for enhancing your table or booth (ability to purchase multiple spaces, wall or corner spaces, etc).
While I consider all options or invitations when making my calendar each year, there are some events that I find result in a better experience overall for handmade vendors. I apply or book these first, and may supplement with smaller or newer events if my time allows. I also consider my personal schedule; for some of my larger multi-day shows, I may take vacation days or lighten my workload in the week leading up to them in order to finish last-minute tasks, pack, and rest before the excitement!
When it comes to your first show, a smaller market might help you work out the kinks. Juggling your brand new card reader with 6 people hollering questions at you can be overwhelming! Whatever you choose, make friends with your table neighbours - they can be your greatest supports during these events (more below)!
3) Consider your inventory.
This relates to the point I mentioned above about scheduling: keep in mind not only how many events you're planning, but how close to each other they are to each other, how much stock you'll need to create your display, AND how much time you'll need to make everything.
Again, this was a learning curve and still a struggle for many experienced makers, particularly if their item is seasonal.
There are two ways that I've heard on how to predict your amount of stock that I'll share below, however, keep in mind that not only can markets vary between each other, but the same market can vary year to year as well.
The first way, works best for well-established, curated or themed markets who track foot traffic. Depending on the source, they suggest that you can estimate 1-10% of attendees will purchase from you. For example, if the market sees 2000 people pass through the door, that means that you could expect 20-200 people to buy from your table.
To help make this more accurate, consider the audience, marketing, and your items. If you sell knit toddler sweaters and your event is a Senior's Health Fair in July, probably not going to be your best sales day. If you sell bridal shower gift boxes and it's the annual 3-day wedding fair, you're likely going to have a better shot at selling out!
Now, method two is a little easier and can be helpful for when you're just starting out but also has some pros and cons. Consider your expenses, consider the prices of your items, and figure out how many items you'd need to make (and sell) in order to cover your costs. I like to suggest setting a goal a little above that minimum too, so you can pay yourself for your time and purchase more supplies before getting into what's considered true profit.
Now, ideally you are tracking all of this information anyway since it's necessary information for a business, but sometimes we forget to account for more than just our table fee and what our materials cost. That's a whole other blog post though so do your best and start keeping those purchase receipts if you aren't quite there yet!
Some makers will consider how their table looks as well - enough stock to look appealing, not too much that it's overwhelming. Extra stock can be kept under your table or sold elsewhere so if it doesn't expire, don't worry too much about overpreparing!
Selling out is great but some markets penalize you for an empty table or for leaving early, plus people won't stop to chat and grab a business card if they don't know what you sell!
Regardless of which method you choose, seriously think about how long it will take you to prepare your stock. If you think you need 50 hats and they each take you 2 hours to make, plan accordingly. Include buffer time for labelling, ordering supplies, packaging, work/life balance, and so on. Consider time for sourcing materials and have a back-up plan for essential supplies. Can't knit if your only pair of 8mm needles break and the local shop is sold out!
4) You've made a sale, now what?
Cash, credit, debit, etransfer, Paypal, Apple Pay, etc. There are lot of ways for people to pay, and again, pros and cons to each.
We'll go in-depth on payment methods another time but in my experience, cash and a card reader are both essential. Be sure to have plenty of small change on hand and in a secure place, know how to get more if needed, order your card reader ahead of time, and ensure it's charged and you know how it works.
There are a number of options on the market but I love my Square reader. Get started with no fees on your first $1000 by signing up with my referral code*: https://squareup.com/i/ANAPPLEAD3
*New sign-ups only, $1000 sales in your first 180 days. I receive the same benefits when you sign up, at no cost to you. Thanks!
5) Time to hand it over!
Once you've made the sale, how will you pass your product to its new owner?
Bags, boxes, tissue paper, stickers, ribbon, however you plan to package your item, be sure you have enough of it on hand in the correct sizes and shapes. Consider your market and your item - pack fragile products well in case they'll be jostled, ensure your bags can hold heavy items without handles snapping, and that you have bags large enough to hold multiple item purchases. Personalized packaging can also advertise your table while shoppers browse the rest of the market!
6) It's in the details
You have your product, your payment method, and your packaging, anything else?
Those are your essentials but think about each interaction (whether someone buys or not) as building a relationship: what are their first thoughts when they see your booth? How will they find you once they leave? Do they need to ask questions or is it readily available?
Even if it's not required by your event, a neat and tidy display can be simple and affordable. Be sure to check for requirements when you sign up but in general, here are some tips:
- choose a tablecloth that allows your item to stand out (a solid colour like white or black is great). Floor length or fitted lets you hide supplies under the table, and puts the focus on your items. Be sure to keep it tucked it or secured using clips to avoid gusts of wind, kids tugging, or customers tripping.
- Add height to your display. Laying items flat is great but means that people can't see unless they're directly in front of you. Use blocks, bins, shelves, or wire racks to display items at eye level. Ensure these are secure, balanced and won't tip if your table is bumped or an item is removed.
- Add lighting. Battery powered lights or lamps are an easy way to draw attention to your table, let customers see the true colours of items, and create a nice ambiance.
- Include a mirror if you make items that can be tried on. People love to see what it will look like on them before purchasing!
- Have some way for customers to find you later. Business cards, a sign inviting people to search you on social media, brochures, stickers, etc. Make it easy for customers to remember you.
- Signs, displays, t-shirts, etc. Take a peek at the next market you attend and see what draws you to and away from particular booths. What are they doing well and would it work for your items? Do NOT copy what another maker is doing, however it can help you understand what a particular market is looking for in its vendors, and what customers expect from a particular niche.
6) Tying it all together.
So, you'll notice that I didn't give you a hard and fast answer as to when you should start planning for a craft fair, and that's because honestly, it depends on a lot of factors.
In general, earlier is better and you'll often hear experienced makers "joke" about heading home to prep for next year. They're not too far off and have often learned from experience!
So tell me: Are you a cautious newbie, a seasoned pro, or somewhere in between? Where are you in your planning? Did I miss anything?
Let me know! I'd love to hear from you.
x Ann Marion