Everywhere you look on your weekend calendar at this time of year, you’ll find craft boutiques, festivals and shows. They are fun places to do some early holiday shopping, and can be good places to sell, too. However, not all venues are equal. You’ll discover these craft sales events in shopping malls, churches, schools, community lodges, fairgrounds, and sometimes even in a section of a grocery store! From a seller’s point of view, you really appreciate sites that provide good lighting, adequate booth space, and a good mix of handmade items. It’s ideal if handmade items outweigh manufactured ones, as the two don’t always mix well, at least as far as pricing goes. Handmade goods cannot usually beat retail sales prices! It’s a bonus if the organizer works at not placing you in a space with similar goods, if the event is advertised in multiple places, and if you can get a wireless or broadband signal for selling apps like Square Up, PayPal or ProPay. It’s nice if there is food onsite that you can purchase, but not a deal breaker since you can always pack a sack lunch.

I know there are plenty of sellers who participate at craft shows many weekends each year, but I am not one of them. I do perhaps one or two shows each year, so I have to make them count. Still, there’s a little bit of luck involved in choosing the right venue. During the last few years I sold at a show that created a welcoming atmosphere for shoppers and sellers alike, yet I barely made my booth fee. This past weekend, I sold at a local school, and had wildly successful sales. My booth fee was also twice what I normally pay, so I took a bit of a chance there.

This past weekend’s booth size was small at 6 feet by 8 feet, but there was immense variety among the 105-plus sellers, more than making up for the lack of space. Areas of the school were identified as North Pole, South Pole, Santa’s Kitchen and other catchy names, and were appropriately decorated. Each seller was asked to donate an item that could be raffled off, so while the organizer provided a cheerful atmosphere for shoppers and sellers alike, the school also benefited. School children directed sellers to their booth spaces, and helped them move items from their vehicles to the building. At regular intervals, a little girl visited each classroom, offering everyone home-baked treats in the form of cookie crumbles. Lunch orders were taken, too, enabling sellers to stay at their booths while enjoying a meal. This was a day-plus-evening event. I was surprised by the steady stream of buyers who made their way through my classroom during the 2-1/2 hours of that first evening. My husband John, who helped me out, commented that we were so busy, we didn’t have time to visit other booths. That’s a first! John did take the time to visit Santa’s Kitchen, however.

Photo courtesy of Beaverdale Holiday Boutique

To prepare for any craft show, I do a dry run of the set-up in my living room. This speeds up set-up at the event, and enables me to discover ahead of time items I might forget. When I set up my rotating racks at home, for example, I discovered that I had misplaced my L-end wrench. That would have been a disaster at the craft show! I normally bring my own tables, narrow 20-inch deep by 48-inch long tables that fold flat, but can be easily arranged into whatever configuration I need. The small space at the school allowed for only two tables, so that’s what I planned for. You’ll notice that the space at home is set up exactly the same way as the space at the school; pardon the dark photo caused by a sunless day and my forgetting to turn on the high resolution setting on my iPhone’s camera. In the school photo, you won’t see other sellers’ booths, since I arrived pretty early.

Home set-up
Craft show set-up

I sold my scarves, hats and fingerless gloves as separates, which gave me the opportunity to accept custom orders. Ahead of time, I decorated a small clipboard and designed order forms. The clipboard was fun to decorate; I think I may offer these in Mister PenQuin.

Every time I sell at a craft show, I learn something new. After customers repeatedly thought that my felted bags were children’s hats, even though they were not positioned near hats, I realized that I either need handles on them to make them stand out as bags, or I need to recycle the materials in a different way. Since these bags have been around for a while, I am up for a new challenge. If you have ideas, I’m all ears!

The biggest hit at this weekend’s show turned out to be fingerless gloves, which people paired with other items, or asked me to create as a custom order. This was gratifying, since this is where I spent the most time before the show, making more merchandise.

You’ll find me this weekend at the Beaverdale Craft & Vendor Show, which is a new place for me to sell. There will be about 25 sellers offering items ranging from aprons, baked goods, and blankets to garden ornaments, hats and scarves, jewelry, and table runners. There will be a few party vendors, too, such as Pampered Chef and Tupperware, but the bulk of the sellers are offering handmade goods. Wish me good selling!

As you get ready for your own craft show, here are a few tips to keep in mind that will help you be more successful:

  1. Research the type of sellers that will be at the craft show you plan to attend. Will there be a mix of handmade goods and retail goods? Is this a good mix for you?
  2. Make sure you have enough merchandise on hand. You don’t have to display everything, but have it handy.
  3. Do a dress rehearsal by setting up your displays at home. Try to arrange your merchandise at a variety of heights, not just flat, to attract attention. You can even raise the height of your tables with bed risers, since they will be hidden by a cloth cover.
  4. Make sure you have enough change in your cash box. Many shows are on weekends, when it is not convenient to visit a bank.
  5. Look into credit card alternatives such as Square Up, PayPal or ProPay. It is becoming more common for some buyers to show up with just their debit card.
  6. Be friendly and helpful, but don’t stand in your buyer’s face. Many people prefer to have some time and space to browse before being approached.
  7. Be prepared to accept custom orders. Collect any contact information you may need for delivery, pick-up or shipping.
  8. Don’t compare your merchandise to other seller’s similar products. There are always trends and it may feel as if people are copying you (or the other way around!). Instead, concentrate on making your items unique so that you can justify the prices you charge. Use every craft show as an opportunity to learn about your products and make them better.

© 2012 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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7 thoughts on “Putting together a successful craft show”

  1. Congrats on your success at the school show! And good luck at your upcoming show. I have one more show–on December 8. It will also be a small space, 6′ x 8′. Struggling to keep up with custom Etsy orders while creating new stocking stuffer and seasonal items for the December show — but I am VERY grateful for the custom orders. I have a lot of empathy with Santa’s elves about now.

  2. I’m so glad your first show was a success and I hope the one this weekend is as well!
    Lots of good tips for preparing for a show and I love your clipboard and custom order forms!

  3. Really great advice! I know I’ll be participating in a couple of shows next year (no more than that; I’m like you), and I’m looking for all the tips I can get. Now if anyone can tell me where I can get cheap tables, I’ll be set. 😉

  4. Great tips! I’m still largely new to shows myself, as I’ve only done 2 last year and am only doing 1 this year- one of the same as last year. I love your display and have always thought they look neat and well spaced- not too crowded but full, you know? I aspire to create a table as organized and de cluttered as yours this year! Where did you find your display racks?

  5. These are all great tips! Thanks for sharing your insight. Congrats on such a successful show. I hope that your next one is, too.

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