10 Tips for Craft Show Newbies

Ready to monetize your crafty wares? Excellent! Let me save you some heartache and give you a few pointers. 

2012 was my first year on the local craft show scene. I started with a small market outside a local restaurant on a Saturday morning, with two types of products, and just a few of each. My friend, Tove', helped me out that day and am glad she thought to catalog that moment.

 The new kid on the block market, March 2012

The new kid on the block market, March 2012

I ended the year with a blitz of 4 months of doing shows every single weekend, sometimes multiple shows a weekend. I came a long way in that year, but learned a lot of lessons, some the hard way.  

 Here's my booth, just 8 months later, November 2012, fully stocked

Here's my booth, just 8 months later, November 2012, fully stocked

1. Attend shows as a patron

I cannot stress enough how important it is to know the feel and vibe of an event before you spend money on getting a booth at one. This is also a great way to figure out what shows are available in your area. Talk to the vendors and see if you can find out who is running the event. If it's a quaint market, you can often get some face time to learn more about the event and when they will be hosting another one.

2. Have a budget

And be ready to lose it. These markets are a gamble. Sometimes they pay off greatly; sometimes you don't sell a thing and lose money and time. However, you will never know which markets work for you until you try them. Talking to other vendors and crafters can help sometimes, but one show might killer for one person and a bust for another. 

If you're not willing to lose much money, stick to shows whose booth fees are less than $50 to start. It's a small enough amount you won't miss it too much if you don't make any sales. There is more to gain than just profit at these shows: networking, exposure, marketing and so on; but those extras only go so far, so find a balance between profitability and the non-tangible returns.

A lot of shows offer additional options: electricity, special social media mentions, name on the brochure, etc. I don't recommend doing any of these when you first start since you're trying to maximize on profits. The only one I recommend is taking an indoor booth, if that's an option at an indoor/outdoor event. It saves you from the elements if Mother Nature isn't kind that day.

3. Equipment, equipment, equipment

I cannot stress enough how vital your show equipment will be. If you're not properly prepared, you can be fighting your booth all day. I didn't buy these all right away, so I tried to put them in the rough order of how I obtained them. Here's my list of essentials to get you started:

  • Tent 

if you're thinking of doing more than one of these shows, buying your own tent will save you a ton of money in the long run. Most shows charge $50 or more to rent one of theirs, and you can buy a great one for around $150, so it can pay for itself in a few shows. I highly recommend the tent I bought,  which is still going strong for me after two years of hard use. My biggest pro about this one is that I can actually put it up and take it down by myself. You can even buy tent walls for rainy events (or privacy from a nosy booth neighbor). 

  • Weights

No doubt about it, you're going to need weights for your tent legs. Wind is your worst enemy. Most events you'll do will be on concrete, eliminating the ability to secure the tent with posts that you drive into the soil. There are some tent weight options: premade tent weights made by the company of your tent (expsensive), using gallon jugs of water and rope (messy to transport), using plastic 5 gallon paint tubs filled with cement (timely to make and large to transport) and my choice, cement paver bricks, like the ones shown. You can pick them up at any hardware store. I chose to get 8, 2 per tent leg, and it was less than $10.00. Use 1 per leg on less windy days. Wrap them in duck tape to make them last longer. Best part about these is you can put the tent leg directly in the hole. And so can your neighbor, if they didn't think to bring weights. 

  • Table & Chairs

Spend a little extra on your tables. You want them to be sturdy enough to stand a beating and easily transportable. This Adjustable Table is my favorite, because it locks into place, has 3 height settings and can fold in half for easy transport and storage. I use 3 of them for my booth setup. I also recommend placing your table on the highest setting, in this case, waist height, which makes it easier for customers to look at items without hunching over. Don't forget to bring seating for yourself and your helpers. Event days can be long and exhausting.

  • Other Equipment to Conside
    • DOLLY!!! This hand truck was one of my best purchases. Sometimes, terrain won't be condusive to using a dolly, but when you can use one, your back will thank you. Here's my favorite because you can use it as a dolly or as a handcart.
    • Large plastic tubs- use these to transport and safely store all your show equipment, supplies and all your products, going to and fro events
    • Shelving, if you have room to transport and it's easy to set-up take down. I use wooden craft crates from Joann's.
    • Display items - there are so many different types of items: candles, jewelry, clothing, paintings, etc. that the options to display them all are endless. If you need inspiration, go check out my Pinterest Board with all different display ideas.
    • Lighting- some events carry over into the evening. Check with your event coordinator if electricity is provided. I bought these camping lanterns so I don't have to pay for electricity at events. 
    • Cooler with snacks, water bottles, lunch/dinner
    • Tablecloths and other decorative items
    • Waterproof banner

Last note on equipment. Keep in mind you have to get everything into your vehicle. I borrowed my dad's SUV for every show for almost 2 years, which made it easier, but it also got old trading cars all the time. However, you don't have to have an SUV or truck to transport your stuff. When I bought my new car last year, I ended up with a Kia Soul, which can hold all of this: a tent, 4 wooden crates, 3 large plastic tubs with products and supplies, 3 folded tables, 2 folding chairs, a folding garment rack, 1 women's dress form, 1 child's dress form, some additional small boxes and still fit 2 people in front. The key is to practice packing your car before your first show, and each time after that when you add additional equipment. 

4. Make friends

While you're at a market, be sure to go around and visit other booths. Chat with their people and learn as much as you can without being too nosy. This is a great way to learn about new markets you haven't tried, tricks to the trade and just to make new friends. I met our realtor that way. BTW, she makes the best smelling soy candles ever. My latest favorite is orange chili pepper. 

5. Lists

When you're getting ready for your event, it's so easy to forget things. Many a time, my super supportive mom would bring me something I forgot. But save your nerves from getting frazzled and start making lists. I often will start them a few days before an event, but they are pretty standard. Here's a link to a basic Google spreadsheet to get your started. Feel free to save these lists to your documents and edit them as you need.

6. Journal your findings

As you attend events, keep a spreadsheet or journal going of what you learned. I like to keep a record of the booth fees, additional costs incurred for that event, what my sales were, general impressions of the clientele and turnout of customers, what people were buying or responding to most, questions that came up from customers, requests for custom items and so on. A day or two after the event, look back over your notes and determine whether or not this event is repeat. There's one show I like to do that can be hit or miss for me, but there are other pros: it starts and ends early in the day so I don't lose a whole day to do the event and it coincides with a food market, so I like to grocery shop while I'm there. I still have fun at that show even if I don't always turn a profit.

7. Taking payments

I cannot stress how important money handling is at these markets. Bring a change bank of 1s, 5s, and 10s, as you may not be able to make the sale if you cannot break a $20 or a $100 bill. Keep your money purse on your person at all times. 

But, more important than cash handling, is credit card processing. Get yourself a Square reader asap. They're free! You'll need a smartphone, either Android or iPhone, or an iPad, to operate the app to swipe the credit cards. They charge 2.75% of the transaction total, but there's no per transaction fee. Trust me it's worth losing 3 cents per dollar for the ease of using it. Plus, without it, I wouldn't have made sales that first market I did; they were all paid with a credit card. Square deposits the money into your bank the next day, for all transactions before 5 pm PT, two business days for those after 5. 

Word to the wise, I tried the PayPal version, since they give you 1% back, if you use the funds through their debit card that links to your balance. I loved the concept of saving 1% more, but the PayPal app is not nearly as user friendly and often, I had trouble getting it to connect and process payments. After one market, I went back to Square.

Friendly tip: price your items in even dollar amounts to make it easy to add up and process payments. I chose to include sales tax in the price of the goods, so that customers weren't confused or angry that sales tax was added after they heard a different price. For example, instead of pricing an item $17.50, I include the sales tax and round up to the nearest dollar, so it's $19.00 even. Much easier to work with when you have several customers scrambling to pay. When I figure out my true sales in my accounting software, I subtract out the sales tax from the total. 

8. Get assistance

 Super honored to have the lovely Noelle Scaggs, of  Fitz and the Tantrums , wear a OOAK EcoArmoire handmade creation on the stage at the KXT Summercut Festival

Super honored to have the lovely Noelle Scaggs, of Fitz and the Tantrums, wear a OOAK EcoArmoire handmade creation on the stage at the KXT Summercut Festival

It takes a village. Doing these markets alone is possible; I've done it on several occasions. Being friends with the other vendors or the moderators of the event help in these instances, since they can watch your booth while you go to the restroom or while you go watch a song performed, where the lead singer is wearing one of your dresses on stage. 

But, in truth, these events can be truly tiring; you get up early, you load/unload heavy equipment, you get windburned, you don't drink enough water, you have to be perky for all the new customers coming and going all day. It can wear you out. Having help on these days is the only way to survive and to actually have fun. I'm lucky that I have a supportive friend group, who not only give up weekend days/nights to help me, they believe in what I'm doing enough to keep helping me. Plus, it's a great way to have fun and catch up with friends, especially when you spend all your free time trying to make new product and see your business dream grow. 

If you can't afford to pay someone to help you yet, try to do something nice in return. I always buy their lunch/snacks on the day of the event and offer them discounts on products, if they're interested. 

Maybe someday, you'll be banking so much that you can afford to pay someone to run these events for you. We can all aspire to that, right?

9. Bartering

It's a common thing to find vendors bartering between themselves for goodies. I don't recommend doing this when you first hit the market scene, especially if you aren't familiar with the vendor yet. You may love, love, love their stuff, but they might not feel the same about your items, or just not be financially in a place to trade wares yet. That was me for a long time. I didn't feel comfortable trading goods, mostly because I didn't want to lose product for potential sales, just to get something for myself.

If people ask you to trade, you can politely decline or offer to take a look at their items. If you want to initiate a trade, be willing to accept no as an answer. Keep in mind that your perceived value of your goods versus their perceived value of their own goods might not make trade possible. 

I didn't make a trade until almost 2 years into doing markets and then, it was 2 trades in one day. First, my realtor/candlemaker friend asked to trade with me. I needed a new candle; she wanted a toddler scarf. We already knew each other well, so it worked perfectly. Second, a fellow vendor, that had bought items from me before, wanted to buy several things from me again, so I got a little daring from my first trade that day to offer to make a trade with her. I loved her stuff, but had never been able to afford it myself, so it worked out nicely. But again, I only felt comfortable offering that option to her because she had purchased from me before and I was familiar with her work. 

This is a tricky area, so tread lightly!

10. Assessment and planning ahead

Don't forget to value your own time. I spent four months doing shows every single weekend and got burned out in the process. Not only that, I didn't have any time in between the events to make more product, so some shows were fully stocked and some had measly offerings. 

EcoArmoire Booth

Some shows will be a let down, some shows will get cancelled when a freak ice storm covers the entire town in 3 inches of solid ice. Some shows will rock your world and your pocket book at the same time. The thing is you'll never know what markets will work for you until you give them a try. But don't plan on them all being successful. 

Once you figure out which ones work for you, repeat! Keep a calendar of shows, show application deadlines, when to look for applications to go live, and a budget calendar to coincide with booth fees. Most of the good shows have applications out months in advance. 

Want to learn more or see markets in action? You can find out where EcoArmoire will be on the event calendar.Good luck to you as you hit the market scene and hopefully, I'll see you at a market soon!