Sep 172016

It’s that time of year once more, when preparations for fall craft shows are in full swing for crafters everywhere. Although it may feel, especially during the last few weeks before a show takes place, that things aren’t coming together fast enough, preparations for a successful selling event actually begin many months earlier. Unless you are selling at the same venues every year, you’ll have researched different possibilities ahead of time. Registration usually takes place at least six months before a craft show, although it is not unusual for confirmation to arrive as late as a month or two before an event. Meanwhile, you still have to take care of details under the assumption that you will be selling where you have registered.


This post describes some of the usual tasks involved before, during and after craft shows, once you have registered for an event. Whether you sell at only two craft shows a year—which is typical for me—or as many as half a dozen craft shows or more, you’ll go through these preparations.

  1. Identify your best sellers. When you sell at a craft show, it’s not particularly effective to bring everything you make. That’s sort of like throwing mud up against a wall to see what sticks. To be fair, however, you probably will learn what your best sellers are over time. You may have to fail at a craft show before you can succeed. This also means you may need to sell at the same venue several times, tweaking different factors before you discover what works best for you. What I have learned for myself, for example, is that my crocheted winter accessories outsell my handmade books at craft shows, so obviously that is where I need to focus.


  1. Design your booth. What I appreciate as a shopper often guides me in setting up my booth as a seller. An attractive display, merchandise that is organized and accessible, and easily visible signage are important to me as a shopper, so those are some of the basics to which I adhere when I set up a booth. Make sure you know ahead of time whether the ambient lighting is appropriate for your items, or whether you will need to supplement it. Don’t assume electricity will be available; research ahead of time and pay for accessibility, if necessary. Be prepared for different table setup configurations, too, unless you have been guaranteed a specific location in advance. Although many venues will rent tables to you, you increase your flexibility when you bring your own tables. I have four-foot, five-foot and six-foot long heavy-duty folding tables that I can set up in various ways. Additionally, design your booth so that your merchandise does not lie entirely flat. The closer you can bring items to eye level, the easier you make it for your customers to shop. This also makes your booth more visually interesting. Don’t be afraid to invest in fixtures; over time that investment will pay off. The same thought applies to attractive table coverings; even if you use table cloths (as I do) instead of fitted coverings, make sure you stick to one color that doesn’t detract from what you sell, and make sure the table covering extends to the floor, especially from the customer’s side.
Blogging Business Artisans friend, Edi Royer, uses fitted black coverings for her tables. She varies the height of merchandise on the table, and has a shelving unit for her laser-etched glassware.

Blogging Business Artisans friend, Edi Royer, uses fitted black coverings for her tables. She varies the height of merchandise on the table, and has a shelving unit for her laser-etched glassware.

  1. Price your merchandise. I cannot state strongly enough how important it is for your items to be clearly marked with prices. Many shoppers will simply move on to the next booth if they have to ask the seller about the price. Absolutely use price tags, consider using removable adhesive labels that don’t leave a residue, and use tent cards. Post clearly whether or not you accept credit cards. Most people bring a limited amount of cash with them and don’t want to spend it in only one booth. Research payment options such as Square, PayPal, or Etsy that use a smart phone to process credit card transactions. (See also this post, My new Square reader finally arrived.)
  1. Have an advertising plan. Sometimes customers are not ready to purchase from you at a craft show. Provide as much information as you can, answering questions and suggesting options. Most importantly, prepare for post event sales by having business cards on hand that provide contact information. Consider having a banner printed for your booth that similarly provides contact information. Vista Print, for examples, prints high-quality banners for under $20 and even provides online design options. If you are doing multiple craft shows, have a stack of handouts available that provides buyers with dates and locations. You can also invite buyers to join your email list; be very clear, however, how this email list will be used. Many people feel that email lists are a source of spam.
I use a banner from Vista Print that I pin to the table covering for my handmade books.

I use a banner from Vista Print that I pin to the table covering for my handmade books.

  1. Arrange for help. Will you need assistance in toting tables, shelves and merchandise to the craft show? Will you need help after the show, when you vacate your selling space? It takes energy to set up selling space, energy you’ll need to use when you chat with potential buyers, so the more help you get with housekeeping tasks, the better you’ll feel overall about the selling experience. It’s nice, too, if you can find a friend or relative to help you sell; you never know when you will have to leave the booth for bathroom or snack breaks, or to take care of other business.
My husband, John, helps me during every craft show with booth set-up, take-down and selling.

My husband, John, helps me during every craft show with booth set-up, take-down and selling.

  1. Plan for the next show. Be situationally aware while you are at a craft show. Listen to your buyers’ conversations, noting suggestions for wished-for items or alterations. Obviously you will not be able to please every person, but you can take note of any patterns in questions or comments. Keep your eyes open for booth display ideas, and take time to chat with other sellers. You never know what selling tips you will pick up. When you get home from a craft show, assess your results. What items sold out? What items were requested that you did not have on hand? What items sold best or least? What items do you need to replace before the next show? Identify what went well, what could be improved, and what steps you can take to make future changes.

You’ll find other tips for craft show preparation in some of my older posts, as follows:

If you are planning to sell at one or more craft shows this fall, what preparation tips can you add to this list?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Nov 042013

I suspect that having a good time as a buyer at craft fairs, if you make handmade products, is one of the factors that encourages you to sell at a craft show yourself.  For me, at least, that’s part of my history. For years I visited craft shows, admired and bought merchandise, and in the back of my mind thought, “I really should be doing this.” Five years ago I set up my first craft show booth. Ironically, it was the lack of business at that venue that led me to Etsy, where my audience is much larger and statistically I have more hope of reaching buyers. At the same time, I’m a very small fish in an immense ocean of handmade sellers. As of today’s count, there are 583,354 shops on Etsy. Admittedly, many of the sellers (like me) have more than one active shop, geared to different types of merchandise (JN Originals, Mister PenQuin and 2nd Chance Treasures).  That hasn’t seemed to matter, though—buyers seem to be making their purchases online these days more frequently, perhaps because it enables them to shop quickly over a wide range of venues without having to drive from place to place. And that saves both gas and time.

LeAnn Frobom, sells vintage items in Aunt Pheba's Vintage (left) and PasqueFlower Creations (right) on Etsy.

LeAnn Frobom sells vintage items in Aunt Pheba’s Vintage (left) and PasqueFlower Creations (right) on Etsy.

All of this makes me wonder, honestly, how many booth fees are paid by craft sellers, all to no avail. I also wonder how many crafters sell their merchandise at craft shows at prices far below the time and materials they have invested in their products, in the hope that they will at least be reimbursed for their booth fee. I can tell you that at the last two craft shows where I sold earlier this season, I made only a few dollars over my booth fee, definitely not enough to make me even think about going back next year if profit is my main motivation. And I was not alone in sporting these results. Ironically, while I tried to sell my items in person, sales were taking place in my online shops. I still have one more craft show coming up this year, a venue where I did very well last year and hope to have a repeat scenario later this month.

Craft show

But I am not really sure, at this point, despite all the advice I’ve read and written, what constitutes a successful show. As a seller, you have to prepare an attractive booth, provide a range of products with a common theme, and set different price points to appeal to different types of buyers. You need to be friendly but not overbearing in your approach to buyers, and provide a way for them to find you after the show. Signage, business cards and appropriately labeled packaging are helpful in this regard. But you cannot control external factors such as advertising and the number of buyers who actually patronize the venue, nor can you control the mix of sellers. In a word, every show is a roll of the dice, weighted in favor of the event’s host who will not lose, no matter what, because the organizer collects fees from everyone, often the buyers themselves, not just the sellers.


This weekend John and I visited Ankeny’s 32nd annual Santa’s North Pole Village Craft Show, which is touted as having about 300 craft sellers and vendors all in one place. Well, actually they are located in three buildings: Northview Middle School, Parkview Middle School and Prairie Ridge Middle School. You can take the shuttle that is provided between the schools, or drive your own vehicle to each venue, which is what John and I prefer to do. Out of curiosity, I counted the actual number of sellers at each site, based on the event’s vendor list, and discovered there were 232 booths, plus one outdoor seller. So, there is a bit of a discrepancy between how this show bills itself and reality. But the organizers do advertise well. You can read about the event in newspapers, on the event Web site, on Facebook, and even in e-mails that are sent. So, all of this is good.

I have never sold at this site, but a friend I know mentioned that when she paid for a booth, the only information she received about it was confirmation, the location of the building, and set-up and take-down times. When she arrived at the building, another seller had to tell her where the booth map was so that she could locate and set up her selling space. None of the organizers approached her either during or after the craft show to see if her needs were being met or if she had any questions or helpful suggestions. No food services were provided for sellers, either, which—to be fair—you can plan around if you know about it in advance. Did my friend “make her booth fee?” The year she split the booth space and fees with a friend, yes, but not when she had the space all to herself.


It is not easy to cover a booth fee of $135 when you are selling products with a price tag below five dollars. This cute little greeting card was made by someone named “J.W.” No business card was provided.

It’s difficult to evaluate a show based on the results of one person’s experience, but often that is all a craft seller has to form an opinion about whether to apply for a show. As John and I walked from booth to booth on Saturday, we could only evaluate results based on what our eyes and feet told us. We noticed that some booths had no traffic at all, while a few others seemed to attract all the buyers. Sometimes extremely low prices, $7 for a pair of earrings, for example, was driving the foot traffic to one booth. John calls these types of products “loss leaders,” products that bring a buyer through the proverbial door into your shop, or in this case, a booth. Usually loss leaders are items sold at a low price (often near or below cost), but they pay for your booth fee (or an ad for a sale) and are intended to encourage people to look at your other products. In a perfect world, you make a low profit from a loss leader and don’t end up with a giveaway!

In another case, the novelty of the merchandise and a friendly patter brought business to a booth where a farm couple selling at its first show displayed fire starters and fireplace logs with a burning time of 2-1/2 hours. The fire starters and logs are comprised of wood chips from their farm and melted-down candle wax from a candle factory that would otherwise have discarded it. They are perfect for your firepit, and burn cleanly.

These fire starter log chips were produced by Kent and Amy Allen on their farm in Altoona, Iowa. Visit Hall-o-Logs for more information.

These fire starter log “slices” are produced by Kent and Amy Allen on their farm in Altoona, Iowa. The slice looks a lot like a cow pie, but smells quite good! Visit Hall-O-Log for more information.

Many of the booths that did not have their merchandise moved up close to the aisle—in other words, you had to walk several feet into the booth to see the products—were being skipped by shoppers. Were these types of booths threatening to buyers in the same way that invading a person’s personal space might be? Maybe. This was not true of all booths set up in this manner, however. Having enough space to move and observe merchandise, not having a seller breathing down on top of you, and having interesting and well-made products are always factors that attract buyers.

The seller who designed this beautiful bracelet moved her booth tables close to the outer edges of her space, and raised the tables to make jewelry easy to view. One way of accomplishing this is to use bed risers below the table legs. You can hide these with a table skirt.

The seller who designed this beautiful bracelet from Swarovski crystals moved her booth tables close to the outer edges of her space, and raised the tables to make jewelry easy to view. One way of accomplishing this is to use bed risers below the table legs. You can hide these with a table skirt.

I want to take a moment to talk about the size of a selling venue. I have sold at small craft shows that had only 35 to 40 vendors, usually a mix of both craft sellers and home business-type vendors. It is critical, when you mix both types of businesses, that there is a balance. If your advertising says you are a craft show, then that is what buyers expect, and their main motivation for attending the show. If they don’t find what they expect, business will likely be slow.  Not having enough variety at a show is a sale killer, too, or—for that matter—not having enough new sellers or new types of products. It may be unrealistic to expect high attendance at a small show. Expect a lower booth fee for smaller venues, and avoid like wildfire a higher fee if the organizer does not provide value that justifies the cost. Of course, you should define for yourself what is valuable. It might be having a great variety of booths in one place; it could be a conveniently located and well-timed venue; it might simply be a friendly venue where you enjoy the selling experience for whatever it is, or it might be an abundance of good advertising. Sometimes the value of a show is in the contacts you make for future business, not the actual sales you tally.

We fell in love with this garden angel yard ornament, which includes a battery-powered solar light. I'd love to look at more products from this seller, but she included no business card with her merchandise, and didn't have any available at her payment station. There is a lesson to be learned here!

We fell in love with this garden angel yard ornament, which includes a battery-powered solar light. I’d love to look at more products from this seller, but she included no business card with her merchandise, and didn’t have any available at her payment station. There is a lesson to be learned here!

On the other hand, really large craft shows have both advantages and disadvantages. It is more likely that there will be a good variety of booths at a large show, ample foot traffic, and also that there is enough space not to have two jewelry booths sitting next to each other or across the aisle. But from a buyer perspective, having more than 100 to 150 booths in one location makes you both foot- and eyesore. John and I only made it through the first of three buildings this weekend before all the sales merchandise melded together visually in our eyes, our feet became tired, and our pocketbook emptied. And as buyers, because we had visited this show previously, we were on the lookout for something novel or fresh. Unless it was a favorite booth, we skipped most previously-visited sellers and made a beeline for the newer sellers. So, it’s unrealistic for a seller to expect that a show that did well in previous years will continue to do so, unless there is something obviously new for repeat buyers to view. I’ll temper this last statement, however, with an admission that certain types of merchandise seem to do well at most fairs. These include candles, bags, and baskets, among many other types of products. Jewelry booths also seem to see a lot of foot traffic, but the competition in this area is fierce because there are often so many jewelry sellers at craft shows. Some craft shows  limit the percentage of this type of merchandise for this very reason.

One of the sellers I like to visit each year is Patricia Griffith of Cambridge, Iowa, who designs original corn husk dolls.

One of the sellers I like to visit each year is Patsy Griffith of Cambridge, Iowa, who designs original corn husk dolls.

So, what am I looking for personally at a craft show when I set up my booth? I like to do at least one craft show a year. In a perfect world, that show is well advertised, there is a good variety of merchandise, mostly handmade, and the buyers do more than just browse. They buy, in other words. But in reality, a show is successful for me if I have fun at the show, the atmosphere is friendly, and I learn a bit more about what my buyers are looking for. In other words, their feedback is an important part of the product development process. And yeah, I do like to at least “make back my booth fee.” Because my products sell much better online than in person, likely because their potential audience is the world and not a neighborhood, I will continue to place the majority of my products in that online market. But there is still a place for craft shows if I have realistic expectations. How about you? How do you define craft fair success? As a consumer, what balance of products (handmade vs. commercial) is important for you to still perceive a venue as a craft fair? How do you feel about a small versus a large venue from a buyer’s viewpoint? What are your turn-offs and turn-ons as both a seller and buyer of handmade items at craft shows?

© 2013 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Nov 052011

John and I spent a few hours today on the other side of the sales table as shoppers at the 30th Annual Santa’s North Pole Village Craft Sale held in Ankeny. This is, according to the organizers, “one of the most popular craft shows in Iowa.” It is also Ankeny Art Center‘s biggest fundraiser, and they do their best to fill every booth with a seller to the tune of $135 for a standard 9-foot by 12-foot space, or $300 for a corner space. Two chairs are provided, and if you pay an extra $10, there are a limited number of spaces to be had with one electrical outlet each. You provide your own tables and/or display set-up. There are so many booths at this fair that the Ankeny Art Center commissioned an architect to map out 16 pages of drawings with over 800 spaces.

The craft fair features only handmade items and runs at three sites: the high school and two middle schools. There is a $5 per person admission fee, as well as a $1 shuttle that takes you from site to site if you want to avoid the hassle of finding a parking space. Parking is admittedly tight, even though there are a lot of spaces. If you spend the entire day at the fair (which is not unrealistic, given the number of booths there are to view), you’ll be glad that the school cafeteria at each site sells food and beverages. Each cafeteria also squeezes vendors into every inch of available space. Never say never, but one of the fears I would have as a seller is that I’d get tucked into one of these cafeteria spaces. My observation is that most of the cafeteria traffic related to food-and-drink sales, not handmade products. And after buyers fill their tummies, I imagine that more than one vendor worries about the condition of his or her wares when they are handled!

What I hear from the vendors is that if you have been selling at this show for a while, you have some choice in where you are placed. The Web site points out that if you want to have any say in where your booth will be located, you need to mail in your application as soon as possible. You can request that you be placed on a mailing list, which I would guess is key to applying for booth space in a timely fashion. Honestly, I haven’t decided whether this is a show where I wish to sell in the future. There are pros and cons, as you can probably guess from what I have described so far. From the buyer’s side, however, I can tell you that there is a wide range of products available, and it is definitely fun to shop. The only negative I can report as a shopper is that every year I sense some tension in the air from sellers, particularly those who are not seeing a lot of traffic. I suspect they are worried about recouping their booth fees, although that is likely true at every venue, no matter what your fees may be.

John and I did purchase some lovely items from Iowa artisans at the North Pole show, which I’ll share with you in the photos below. To the best of my knowledge, none of these folks sell online, so you’ll just have to come to Iowa to find their wares. And in one case, the sellers did not provide a business card, so I can only show you a photo. Bet these folks would have had one if they had known I was going to blog about them!

A Colfax couple known as Gary and Mary run a woodworking venture called “Gary & Mary’s Art & Woodcraft.” They craft wonderfully detailed home decor pieces that I have been collecting for a few years. You can reach them by phone at 515-674-4202 or e-mail them at This year John and I bought from Gary and Mary some lovely Thanksgiving table accents, as well as a napkin holder that we will use all year long.


Jeanne and Emily represent “Sisters in Sync,” a paper-crafting business that features delightful handmade cards and glass goblet lamps with decorated vellum shades.  I spotted the sweet lamp below, and had to have it! You drop in a tealight candle, and you’re good to go. To reach Jeanne, call 319-393-6453. To reach Emily, call 515-225-1077.

Casey Schaefers says she had been making jewelry for years and was encouraged to begin selling her pieces. “What shall I call my business?” she asked. “I looked in the mirror, and guess what I saw.” She calls her business “Fat Redhead Designs,” although I must say that only the red hair fits her business name. This vibrant designer who likes to poke fun at herself produces beautiful jewelry designs. I bought the pieces below from her, since I wear a lot of earth tones and these pieces fit the bill. You can reach Casey by phone at 515-971-7383 or by e-mail at

For the last four years, I have been collecting Amish baskets from Darla Best of Gingerich Amish Baskets. Darla knows each Amish family whose baskets she sells. The family members sign and date their sturdy, practical, and beautiful baskets on the bottom of each piece. This year I bought a desk organizer made by Eli and Verna Troyers of Lamoni, Iowa. Darla has a busy show schedule, so if you’d like to catch her at an upcoming show, call her at 515-232-4355 to find out where she will be.

The last photo I’d like to share with you shows two pairs of thick mittens, lined in polar fleece. I don’t know who made them, since no business card was available, but I can tell you that these mittens are not only beautiful, but they are warm! There were two different booths selling mittens of this variety at the North Pole show. They were selling well in both locations for $24 a pair in one booth, and $35 a pair in another booth.

Describe some of your own handmade craft buying experiences this fall.

© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.