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There's something about the feeling of having someone admire your product, pick it up or try it on, and then pay you for it in front of your eyes that selling exclusively online just can't match. Call it connecting with your customers or getting a crash course in retail, but giving craft fairs and art shows a shot can be a rewarding experience when you prepare for them in advance and set-up your expectations wisely. 

It can be all too easy to see a listing for a craft fair and want to jump the gun, purchase a booth, arrive with your products, and leave without having sold enough to even cover your costs. Many people will testify that they've been there and done that.

To save you from going through a similar experience, I've put together a list of things you should think through before deciding on picking the right show or fair for you, how you should set-up when you get there, and how to be effective in generating enough sales to make it a successful event for you. 

How to Pick the Right Craft Fair for You

When you're first starting out, it's important to tread the craft fair and art show waters carefully, staying as close to the shallow end as possible before diving into the deep end and trying to swim with the big fish, you know, like the folks who tour the fair and show circuit for a living.

So, how exactly do you go about doing that? Let's start with some basic tips:

  •  Be a Customer First - Before you pick a show or fair, be sure to attend it first, walk the aisles, talk to the people behind the booths, and get a feel for the quality, price, and nature of the products being sold and whether your products would fit in. Also, ask the sellers what other fairs and shows they frequent, which ones they recommend and which ones they avoid. 
  • Create a Budget - From the outside, running a successful booth at a craft fair might appear to be relatively inexpensive, but before you get a head of yourself, create a budget tallying all the potential expenses you'll incur. This includes the booth itself, material cost, marketing and promotional material, table, inventory, travel, and potentially a licence or permit.
  • Take Baby Steps - Becoming established and successful at selling your products at art and craft fairs like any business affair requires an investment of time, money, and effort. So before you commit, it's worthwhile to experiment to see if it's a good fit for you. This can be as simple as sharing, borrowing, or renting a booth with another artist or seller when you're first starting out.

How To Set-Up the Perfect Booth

Once you've done your homework and selected your first craft fair or art show to take part in, up next, you're going to want to know how to set-up the perfect booth. One that not only gets noticed and gets you loads of foot-traffic, but one that will also hopefully make you enough profit to make the whole experience worthwhile.

But first, let's start with a materials list of what you should bring with you when you begin your craft fair journey.

For set-up, you're going to want to bring:

  • Pens, paper, and markers
  • Banners, signs, and poster boards
  • Business cards, brochures, and other take-away promotional material
  • Wrapping paper and different size bags for your customers
  • Scissors and/or x-acto knife
  • Tape, glue, and rubber brands
  • Table cloths/coverings (x2), fixtures, and display props
  • Mirror (if selling jewellery or apparel)
  • A means to accept credit card payments (Shopify POS or Shopify Mobile)
  • Calculator, cash register, a float with at least $100 in change (coins/small bills)

After you've gathered up all your materials using the above list and your own discretion, it's time to get cracking on crafting the perfect booth. While you're at it, keep in mind important retail principles around setting up merchandising displays, window displays, retail interiors, and signage to create a captivating retail experience that will set-you apart from your competitors. 

Most shows and fairs will give you a time for when they'll open doors for merchants to come in and set-up, make sure you come early as you never know how long the set-up process will take.

Lastly, running a booth at a craft fair is not an easy task, be sure to have some help with an extra pair of hands or two, otherwise you'll end up burning yourself out and quenching your thirst of selling at shows and fairs once and for all.

How to Make a Profit at a Craft Fair

Oce you've selected the ideal craft fair or art show for your products, gotten all the materials you needed to put together an eye-catching and traffic-generating display, and the show has officially opened for business with great fan fare, how do you avoid having all your hard work go to waste?

Here's a few more tips to make sure you come out with more money than what you put in to get you there:

  • Make Sure the Price is Right: People come in all shapes and sizes along with different appetites for how much they're willing to spend. To capitalize on the diversity of the people walking by, it's important to have products at price points that cater to more than one type of ideal customer, without compromising on your brand proposition of course.
  • Offer Consumables: Nothing draws people like food and beverages, even if it's just a jug of lemonade and cups. Do your due diligence and check with the organizers, but if you can get away with offering free coffee and tea, the foot traffic will be more than worth it.
  • Look Presentable: Just like how you put in all that effort on getting your booth to look just right, it's equally important to dress and groom to look the part as well. Pair that with a friendly hello and a cheek-to-cheek smile and you're sure to win over some hesitant visitors over to your booth.
  • Do a Giveaway: Similar to offering consumables, offering something for free, even if it's candy, can be a big draw for people. This will draw foot traffic to your booth and give you more opportunities to sell your goods.
  • Build Your Mailing List: Ideally, you want to be able to carry over the momentum from the craft fair long after it's over, and one sure-fire way to do that is to build your email list. Especially, if you also happen to have an online store and want to incentivize those who didn't make a purchase at the fair to do so at their own convenience. Now a days this can be as easy as having a sign-up sheet or having an iPad with an app like Chimpadeedoo set-up. If you're finding it tough to get email addresses, you can try running a raffle draw and offer one of your more upscale products as a reward.  
  • Don't Forget to Upsell: Sometimes, especially when things slow down, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of getting too caught up on making a single sale, so much so that when someone picks out a product, you may fail to point out other complementary or similar products according to their taste. There's a reason why every time you go to a fast food restaurant, the person behind the cash will ask "would you like fries with that?" or "would you like to make that a combo?" Get yourself in a similar habit and you'll see your sales increase much faster. 

After the Craft Fair

Once you've finished your first craft fair, give yourself a pat on the back, and set-aside some time to evaluate how you did so you can tweak the way you approach your next one. The most basic way to evaluate your success is to look at the difference between your revenue and expenses to determine how much profit you made.

If you made a loss or barely broke even, try to understand what you could do differently to change such an outcome. You'll also want to entertain the possibility that maybe there's another more profitable channel out there for you to sell your products through.

However, if you happened to have made a profit you're happy with, then it might be worthwhile to reinvest part of what your earned and go slightly bigger the next time around. 

Again, I'll reiterate that it takes time, effort, and money to succeed in selling at craft fairs, so be sure to cut yourself some slack if things don't turn out exactly as planned. Remember to keep your head high, learn your lessons, and go at from a slightly different approach next time around and keep experimenting until you find what works for you and stick with it.

Happy Selling! 

(Image Credits: Header - One of a Kind Show

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About The Author

Humayun Khan is a Content Crafter at Shopify and is responsible for helping merchants trying their hand at pop-up shops and those running retail stores succeed. Connect with him on Twitter.