It’s that time of year again when, despite all of the preparations I have made for upcoming fall craft fairs, I find myself blogging less and creating more. One week ago my husband and I packed our car with folding tables and chairs, cloth bags of crocheted accessories, boxes of handmade books, and an assortment of display racks, signage and other items. I’m always surprised that everything fits in one vehicle, as well as grateful that my husband designs and executes the loading plan.
The destination was Clarinda Craft Carnival—my third time—at the Page County Fairgrounds in southwest Iowa, where Edi Royer—one of my Blogging Business Artisans teammates—also sells. This fair is typically pretty busy, so while we don’t have much time to visit during the event itself, we do meet up afterward for dinner. This year Edi, her parents, my husband and I enjoyed a leisurely dinner at a local restaurant, as well as conversation that never flagged. I realized afterward that we completely forgot to take photos of each other, but you can see Edi’s basic booth setup on her blog from a previous show, and my tables are shown below.
Of the two craft shows where I sell each year, the Clarinda one is more successful, but I learn something new at every venue. Whether you have lots of sales or not, it’s always a good idea to take stock of went well and what could be improved. With three weeks to go until my next show at Beaverdale Holiday Boutique in Des Moines, below is the learning I’ll take with me, going forward.
What went well
- Aim for a small footprint while transporting your goods. Using pretty lidded boxes to both store and display handmade books works well, as does using cloth bags to store and transport crocheted goods. Both types of items take up a relatively small footprint in our car for transport, and are easy to carry into the exhibit hall.
- Use an SKU (stock keeping unit) system for merchandise. Attaching SKU tags to my crocheted goods helps to track what colors and items are popular, and identifies quickly what items need to be restocked for the next show. I use a letter code that pinpoints the type of item (such as gloves, head warmers, neck warmers, or scarflettes) plus a numeric code that represents the yarn brand and color.
- Be prepared to do credit card transactions the old-fashioned way. I always bring a paper method as a back-up for handling credit card transactions. Although I prefer to use a Square credit card reader at craft shows, sometimes the building where I sell doesn’t have an adequate Internet connection. That’s the case in Clarinda, where my iPhone read “No Service” for the duration of the show.
- Simplicity can be the best booth layout. The booth size in Clarinda is only 8 feet wide by 5 feet deep, so a straight-line table display is what worked best for me. When you only have 18 inches behind your tables, that narrows your layout options. I also needed to have a way to enter and exit my space, as there were booths on either side of me, as well as behind me. To achieve this, I brought 4-foot, 5-foot and 6-foot tables—the shortest table for my books, and the longer tables for my crocheted goods, with 12 inches between the two types of tables for entry and exit.
- Aim for eye-level display. To go vertical, I used spinning racks that I purchased from Achieve Display for crocheted items, a combination of decorative boxes (from Jo-Ann Fabrics) and tiered acrylic racks (also from Achieve Display), and wooden plate racks (from Hobby Lobby) to display my books.
- Focus on popular colors. I focus on popular colors for crocheted goods based on the previous year’s sales, but I also pay attention to current apparel colors in local department stores. This year, I was pleased to discover I hit my target colors particularly well. No one asked for colors that weren’t already available.
Where I could improve
- Allow enough time for new product development. I’m overdue for offering a few new categories of crocheted accessories, such as boot cuffs, flower lariats, and maybe jewelry bags or clutches with crocheted accents. Buyers like to see new items, but I simply ran out of time this year—due to medical issues—to develop something new. I need to dedicate time to developing new products instead of leaving this to chance.
- Bring the right merchandise. Crocheted scarflettes do not sell as well as neck warmers. Unfortunately for me, I brought more of the former than the latter. Go figure!
- Bring more merchandise than you think you will need. Despite the fact that I brought more crocheted merchandise than in previous years, there were still a few hooks on my display racks that looked skimpy. The solution, of course, is to manage my time better so that I’ll have more items to display.
- Identify what your shopper wants. What customers want or need changes all the time, so you need to pay attention to their discussions with other shoppers, and really listen to their questions and suggestions. Sometimes a poll on a social network like Facebook or a blog can be helpful. Right now I’m still trying to pinpoint which of my handmade books are most appropriate for a craft fair venue. The answer might be a type of book I haven’t yet created.
During the next three weeks, I will have limited time to implement changes and improvements, but you can bet that at the next show, I’ll be paying attention to my buyers’ comments, and jotting them down in a notebook or on my Notes app on my iPhone. What learning have you taken away from your last craft show?
© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.