Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Being the overachiever that I am, when I applied to my first craft fair, I went BIG. I applied and was accepted to a coveted juried show series that is always rated in the top 20 in Sunshine Artists Magazine. Did I mention I had never done a craft show before.....Well...let the planning, diagramming, worrying and fretting begin.
I would not recommend that you take this route if you are planning to do your first show. The booth rates are steep, the artisans are top notch, and the rules for booths are rigid. For example, you need 3 sided displays that are at least 6' high and cannot be seen through to adjacent booths. In other words it can be a very expensive learning experience; however, you are learning from the very best in the industry and your take is generally 10 times what it would be at a local small venue. But the risk is greater too.
Here is what I have learned over the years...
1. Get a tent.....a good tent. Don't go to your local Walmart and buy the cheapest tent they have. You want a good tent with zippered sidewalls. Listen carefully now, this next tip is very important. Get sidewalls that will attach to your tent frame NOT your canopy. Why, you ask? So you can use your tent frame with the sidewalls at indoor events without your tent canopy. It looks much more professional this way at indoor shows and does not make your booth look so closed in. This configuration comes in very handy for me at indoor shows as it meets the 3 sided 6' high wall requirement. I also attach a sign to my top tent post when I am at an indoor show without my canopy so shoppers can find me easily when they are trying to come back to my booth after their first trip through. If you are outside....YOU WILL NEED TENT WEIGHTS. Don't rely on ground stakes. They will not keep your tent from blowing over on a windy day or in a thunderstorm. Another good idea is pool noodles. Yes....pool noodles. You can position them inside your tent between the frame and the canopy to support your canopy top to prevent low spots that would permit water pooling in your canopy in heavy rains. AND YES it will rain
2. Invest in good lights whether indoors or outdoors. Many people think this is just important if you are selling art or jewelry. Not so...good lighting will enhance your product and make your booth look bright and inviting both indoors and outside. I stress the word good. I've seen many people buy cheap clip on lights that take a lot of time to set up and really don't enhance your product. I have two (count 'em 2) lights from Show Off Lighting that take all of two minutes to attach to my tent frame and plug in. They are professional lights that do not conduct any heat (very important when it's 90 degrees in the shade) and they illuminate my entire booth. The representative from Show Off Lighting also looked at my booth drawing and honestly suggested which model light I should buy, how many, and how I should set them up. Again, they are not cheap; but I only require 2 rather that 20 of the cheap clip on lights and I got professional design help to boot. You get what you pay for and it pretty much evens itself out.
3. Try to avoid folding tables. I learned this the hard way. I set up and tear down my booth by myself (usually a 10 X 10 booth). Wielding 8 foot, 6 foot and 4 foot tables loading in and loading out is extremely difficult. They are heavy, take up a lot of cargo space and are exhausting trying to haul in, unfold, raise, cover and repeat all those steps to load out of the show. I was literally black and blue because of those tables after my first show. They also take up a lot of display space. Your goal is to get as many people in your booth to browse and if your tables are taking up 2 feet all the way around the interior of your booth....that is a lot of space. 6 ft of remaining open space is really not much when 15 people are trying to get in your booth. I mentioned raising them, this is fairly easy to do by cutting lengths of PVC pipe to place over your table legs. The reason you want to raise them?.....Items at eye level sell better. The picture at the top of this blog depicts my display at a "trunk" show at a local shop where my 8' folding table is raised to counter height. I still use a table in a retail setting for trunk shows where my tent is not allowed and my space is smaller. If you do this awhile you will have a couple of different display setups depending on venue. But most of the time I am in a 10 X 10 booth space indoors and outdoors.
My solution to alleviate the table agony was to use 2 ft Wide X 6 ft Tall Grid Panels. You can configure them either in a zig zag pattern, "C" Pattern, "L" Pattern or a triangle. Securing them together with zip ties is super quick. You can also use L-Brackets to give them bottom support and/or attach them to your tent frame with bungee cords at the top for extra top support if you are putting something heavy on them; but, generally in any of the configurations mentioned above they will stand on their own. They are quick to set up, take down and store. They also come with many options....hooks, shelves, corner shelves, baskets....etc., that will allow you many more options for display than tables. Additionally, by using the grid system you can place your products at different levels that will add visual appeal to your overall booth atmosphere. By placing things higher you will draw attention from potential buyers passing by. Even if you decide to use tables you must do this. Don't just lay everything flat on your table. It will not be visually appealing.
4. Use part of your booth space for storage that is separate from your display. Here again many people want to use tables so they can store extra product underneath; however, this does not work very well when there are 10 people in your booth and you are asking them to move away from whatever it is they are looking at so you can access that tub under your table to replenish stock. I (using 2 grid sections in opposing "C" shapes) create a store room in the back of my booth. It also allow me enough room to put my chair in the "doorway" created by the 2 opposing C's to greet customers as they walk in and creates a pay station/work area that is out of the way. See my booth diagram below. By the way, if it is your first show, diagram your booth and dry run it in your back yard. It seems like a lot of work up front; but, it will save you much heartache on setup day.
5. Pricing and Signs.....PLEASE PLEASE price your items either with individual tags or signs large enough so that people know how much something costs. You will lose many buyers if they have to ask you how much something costs. If you are using the grid configuration, price signs become very easy. Print out your pricing sign (i.e. "shampoo bars $8.00), laminate it with easy to use laminate sheets, and attach magnets to the back of the sign. They will attach right to your grid panels with the magnets, they fold flat for storage and you can reuse them a million times. I learned this tip from another artisan at a show and it works like a charm. I also have invested in an eye catching 2ft X 6 ft retractable banner that I stand at the front corner of my booth. It draws more people in than any other sign or banner I have used in the past AND it retracts to 2' X 4" and comes with a zippered carrying case. It is awesome!
6. Display your Business and Rack Cards in a prominent place. I use both. Many people like the rack cards when they are giving their purchase as a gift. I usually place a business card in my packaged items (i.e. soap) and I also have them in a holder with my rack cards. If you are unfamiliar with rack cards you can see mine in the bottom right corner of the photo at the top of this blog. The other thing you may want to do is take 10 or so of your cards and write your booth number on the back to give to people who want to return to your booth. It will make it easier for them to find you again. Always... always put one of your business cards in the bag with the customer's purchase.
7. TAKE CREDIT CARDS. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough. You will sell 50% - 60% more in my experience. It is worth the 2.5% that Square or PayPal charge you and it makes it much easier to collect sales tax as both of these providers allow you to set the rate within their apps. Both also calculate totals for multiple item sales.
Don't worry you will have cash sales. I use a cash box with flip lever bars that hold my bills in place even on windy days. I secure my cash box using a cable with loops on both ends, with one loop around my tent leg and one loop padlocked to the top handle of my box. No one is going to run away with it without it being very noticeable. My cash box locks and I have made it a habit to lock it every time I close it and put the key in my pocket. Many other artisans use an apron and that works too. I just find it easier and faster to use a cash box for making change. I usually begin with about $200.00 in a combination of $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills.
The other habit I have is to take the cash someone gives me and keep it under a paperweight while I make change. If you put the cash in your cash box or your apron and then make change someone may say "but I gave you a $20 not a $10". This practice keeps that confusion from happening. Once the sale is complete I put the cash in my cash box and lock it.
8. Greet your customer but don't hard sell. I usually say hello and tell them if they have questions to let me know. Watch them, if they look perplexed ask them a question....for me it is always "What kind of dog do you have"? This always starts a conversation and generally results in a sale. But let them look before you do anything other than say hello. If you are not naturally an extrovert, this takes some practice; but, it can make the difference between selling something and not selling something. Your product, in most cases, will not sell itself without some explanation from you. If your plan is to sit in a chair and read a book until someone approaches you directly...I can guarantee you will not have a successful show.
9. Which brings me to your chair. Just like your product needs to be at eye level, so do you. Unless you want to stand the whole time, get a chair that is a bar height folding chair. Mine is aluminum (which makes it light) and it also has a cool flip up drink holder. I attach a bar clamp to one leg to hold my retail bags so they are handy when people are checking out.
10. Power. If it is available get it. You need it for lights and it's nice to have it to charge your phone, card reader...etc. Always have a 100' extension cord, a couple of shorter extensions cords and a couple of power strips. Your power plug in will not always be right at your booth. And you need the shorter cords to hook up lights and chargers to your main cord. The power strips make it easy to cut off everything at the end of the day by just turning off the power strip. I also have a usb battery pack that is small and light weight that I use as a back up in the event there is no power available or if I'm just doing a trunk show or farmer's market for a few hours. All reputable shows will have power available, most of the time for an additional fee. Get it, it's worth it.
11. Setup and Takedown should also be taken into consideration. If you have been reading carefully I have eluded several times about items that are "quick" to set up. This is probably the most important part of this entire blog. The first show I did (remember it was a multi-day juried indoor show) took me 7 hours to set up. I never want to do that again. You want a professional looking display but it needs to be fast to set up. Take down is usually about half the time of set up. You will also need some kind of cart or hand truck to cart your items to your booth. This is especially true for indoor shows where you are schlepping your display and product from a parking lot. The first show... I made 12 trips with a hand truck just to unload. Now I can get my display and product unloaded in 3 trips. This makes a huge difference!!!!! Especially when you are solo like I am. The difference for me...I switched from a hand truck to a folding cart (see below) that also folds to make my pay station stand (I just put a board on top of it) and it folds small enough to fit in the front seat of my car. I made my display with my tent, grids and grid accessories. No tables, tablecloths, risers, banners, table leg risers, bed risers, PVC sidewall frames, curtains...etc. Less to unload, less to assemble all equals less time, less stress, less stuff.
12. You need a tool kit. Mine has pliers, scissors, zip ties in multiple lengths, duck tape to tape down cords, bungee cords, razor knife, screwdrivers (phillips and flathead, hand clamps, bar clamps, large safety pins, scotch tape, rubber bands, super glue, trash bags and large binder clips.
13. How do I pick major shows. At first this is trial and error. But generally, I don't do shows that require me to travel if they don't have a history and cannot give me their attendance for last year. I also prefer juried shows just because, in my experience, they draw a better crowd of buyers. I stress buyers here. There is a difference between buyers and shoppers. The successful shows possess both of these metrics. When I first started, and still, if I decide to do a show I have not done before I research their history and I ask them their prior years attendance. The history tells me that they have a successful track record and their prior attendance gives me some idea of how much product I should bring with me. I usually bring product equaling 2% of attendance. So if last year 10,000 people attended, then I'm going to sell to around 200 customers. I usually break that down even further into product categories based on my own historical sales. This math works well for me as an average of how much product to bring. You want to bring more than you think you need because your booth needs to look full even at the end. If it doesn't folks will keep on walking.
I also do local farmer's markets and trunk shows in my hometown when time permits. I like the customers and my product appeals to those who attend this type of venue. Since I don't have to travel, and my overhead cost and setup is minimal these shows tend to be the easiest and many times are the most fun.
14. Keep it real and have fun. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.