When I started vending at craft markets 5 years ago, I was as green as they came. I knew nothing about how to properly set up a booth, choosing what products and colors I wanted to display, or how to respond to the odd comments from customers. I learned things the hard way and lost a lot of money in the process.
Since then, I’ve honed my process and narrowed my focus to make every show a success. I do fewer shows per season than I used to and make consistent sales with repeat customers. The lessons I’ve learned over time have made all the difference.
One of the questions I get asked all the time is how to know if a handmade business is ready to participate in craft markets. It’s a little tough to say since every show and every business is different. But if you’re considering adding markets to your income stream, here are 12 invaluable pieces of advice that I learned along the way:
1// Do Your Research
One major frustration of participating in craft markets is not knowing what to expect. You can learn a lot about a market by being a shopper first. Take the time to find the markets you are interested in and visit them before you put in a vendor application. Make note of their location, how the market is organized, and the traffic of customers. Ask vendors about their experience with the show. I’ve found that makers are more than happy to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. Use that research to make a decision on whether you will apply for that show or pass it up.
2// Scale It Down
It can be tempting to make a wide variety of products for your first craft market. I can’t count on my fingers and toes how many different crochet goods I had at my first show. But having too wide of a variety can be distracting for customers. Focus on finding a common theme, pick a color palette, then choose your products. My magic formula is 2 types of hats, 2 types of scarves, 3 types of cowls, 1 ear warmer, and 2 impulse buy products.
3// Your Booth is Your Storefront
You’ve spent all this time preparing product – make sure your booth is ready to sell it! Focus on giving each product in your booth some attention by creating height, using mannequins and garment racks, and having proper signage. You should spend a meaningful amount of time planning and gathering fixtures/supplies for your booth. Once you think you have everything, set up your booth in your living room or yard and have a friend scope it out, then make adjustments as needed.
4// Prepare for the Business of Running Your Booth
As if you didn’t have enough to plan for, you can’t forget the little things like packaging and processing payments. I like to use these small bags and these large bags from Amazon when packing up customer purchases. They’re nondescript and I can affix my branded TLYC sticker to them. When it comes to processing payments, I only take cash and credit cards. I like using Square to process credit cards, but there are lots and lots of options. Find what works best for you – some features to compare would be fees, use offline (in case you don’t have cell service at a show), portability, and ease of use.
5// You Actually CAN Over-Prepare
The craft show prep process will inevitably be stressful. Deadlines can do that to you. Staying organized and leaving room for self-care is still important. When preparing for a craft market, I try to map out the weeks leading up to an event and pick a cut off date for when I’ll stop making stock and focus on the final details like tagging and packing items. The main goal is to have a day or two before the show to replenish my energy levels (trust me, it’s worth it).
6// Offer Items at Various Price Points
Do you ever notice when you go to your favorite store they have shirts, dresses, and jewelry that widely range in prices? Those stores are making sure than every customer they encounter can find something they love in their price range. Take a tip from corporate retail and apply it to your booth: offer a couple versions of product within the same theme (for example, 2 different types of hats) and make them different prices. This gives the customer more options and widens your potential customer base.
7// Make the Prices Obvious
There’s nothing more embarrassing for a customer than to have to find you to ask for the price of an item. If anything, it makes them more likely to just leave your booth. Rescue your sales by making product prices very obvious. I like to do this by putting a photo of the item along with the price in a picture frame or sign near the product. I also put the price of every item on an attached price tag. This not only clarifies the price but also translates that your prices are firm and you’re not here to haggle.
8// Keep Track of Expenses and Income
It’ll be tough to tell if you reached your goals with a craft show if you don’t know how the money is moving. Before you even apply for a show, work through finding your supplies, how long it takes for you to make an item, how much you want to sell it for, and the resulting profit. If that product won’t actually put money in your pocket, go back to the drawing board. After a show is done, factor in things like travel, booth fees, food, and display expenses to determine if craft markets are a viable income stream for your business.
9// Be Ready to Educate
As you gain more confidence in yourself and your business, you’ll look for ways to improve, like raising your prices or changing your materials. Be prepared to have those educational conversations with your customers. As the maker, you should be well versed in every aspect of your product, including the price, materials used, care instructions, and size. Your professionalism boots customer confidence and makes them more likely to buy.
10// Pay Attention + Take Notes
Once you take your perfectly set up booth from your living room to a real live show, take some time to observe how customers move within your space. What direction do their eyes travel? What product or aspect of your booth attracts them first? What product are customers engaging with the least? Use that information to make adjustments where necessary. This could be easy like rearranging your booth, or more involved like overhauling your price or changing your product lineup.
11// People Say the Darnedest Things
You’d be surprised at what customers will say at craft markets. If you don’t believe me, watch this video where I recount some common phrases you can expect to hear. Some of my favorites are “Do you think so-and-so could make this?” and “Wow, you’re prices are so high!”. If you’re going to incorporate face-to-face sales into your business, you’ll have to toughen up and take comments like those with a grain of salt. Not every person at a craft show is your ideal customer.
12// No Craft Show is Truly a Failure
Honesty time: my first craft fair in 2014 was in a church basement (not even my church) and part of a community rummage sale. Not an ideal combination for success. My sales were terrible and I found myself questioning what went wrong. I felt like I’d failed. But in truth, I’d succeeded by putting myself out there. Signing up for your first craft show is intimidating but also very brave. And if you learn even one thing from the experience, it was well worth it.
Craft markets can be a great way to generate income and lead to more opportunity in your business. It’s through participation at shows that I’ve made so many friends and local business contacts in my niche. If it’s been on your crafty to-do list, give it a try. You might surprise yourself!
Looking for more maker advice about craft shows? Watch my Instagram replay on how to prepare for your first craft show and read this post on 9 questions to ask before committing to a craft show.
And find even more advice and encouragement in the TLYCMakers Facebook group. Our community of 1000+ friends is always there to help.
Best-selling crochet projects for your craft market table: