Markets, Fairs, and Festivals: How to Choose the Right Events for Your In-Person Sales

Craft fairs, farmers markets | Shopify Retail blog

The idea of taking your online business into the real world can be daunting. There are all sorts of considerations and costs in setting up a brick-and-mortar operation that you simply don’t have to consider when your shop is all online.

Lucky for you, there are some lower-risk entry points to test out in-person sales and connect with your customers in real life. Craft fairs, farmer’s markets, and local festivals are a great way to hawk your wares without the pressure of signing a lease. That being said, the time and money put into selling at these events can quickly add up.

Never fear — we’ve put together a guide to help you navigate the process of finding and applying for spots at different markets, along with a list of things to consider when choosing the fair or market that’s best for your brand.

Getting Started: How Do I Find Local Events?

Craft Mania, local craft fair | Shopify Retail blog

Image Source: Handmade Detroit

Before you start weighing the pros and cons of different events, you’ve got to find them. Doing a deep dive into the events in your area will help you to get the lay of the land, and see what’s out there. While you can always do a quick Google search, there are a few more targeted approaches you can take to finding the right events.

  • Shopify’s Market Directory: If you’re looking for the best of the best farmer’s and craft markets across the U.S., we’ve collected a comprehensive searchable database to help you out. Just plug your city into the search bar, and we’ll give you a list of nearby events.

    For those outside of the U.S., we also put together a short list of some of our favorite craft markets worldwide.
  • Facebook: This might seem obvious, but Facebook is actually a great place to look for upcoming craft fairs, festivals and markets in your area. Type a simple “craft fairs near me” into the search bar, and voila. On top of listing actual events, many larger cities also have Facebook groups that bring together information about craft fairs and markets all in one place.
Facebook sales events | Shopify Retail blog
  • Yelp: While Yelp is primarily used to rank brick-and-mortar businesses, there are also pages for many well-known craft fairs. If you use simple search terms for craft fair, farmer’s market, or festival in your area, you’ll quickly be able to find some of the most popular events, accompanied by revues of people who’ve attended it in the past.
Yelp craft fairs and farmers markets | Shopify Retail blog
  • Fairs and Festivals: Fairs and Festivals is a database that lets you search craft fair, art show, and festival listings by region. For an extra fee, they give you access to applications and contact info through their website so that you don’t have to search for it online on your own.

Vetting Sales Events: How Do I Know if the Market is Right For Me?

Before you go running to apply for the coolest upcoming festival, it’s important to take a step back and weigh a number of factors. It’s integral to determine whether an event is right for you and your brand.

After all, taking your online store on the road takes a lot of time, energy, and money, so you want to make sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Our comprehensive list of things to consider will help you make an informed decision about which events make the most sense for you.

  • Audience. Does the event fit with your brand story? Look at their online accounts, and if it’s an event that’s been run before, look at other retailers who have participated. Do they have a similar target market? If it looks like the other vendors involved will attract your ideal customer base, then you’re in the right place.

    If it’s a regularly occurring event like a farmer’s market, go check it out in person before signing up for a table. Or, if you know you’d like to snag a table at a holiday market for next year, do a round of this year’s markets to see which one you like the best.
  • Timing. Is your product seasonal? Taking your knitwear to a summer fair will probably make for a tough sell. Likewise, selling more expensive products might be a little trickier at a fair that takes place right after the holiday season. Consider whether your product is more seasonal, or evergreen, and how this should inform the timing of markets and festivals you decide to participate in.
  • Goals. Are you looking to sell straight to consumers? Gain wholesale clients? Build your email list? Your goals in attending a market will help you to decide which ones might be right for you.
  • Reputation. Has this event been run before? Was it well attended? If possible, reach out to the organizers and ask for some information on attendance and sales numbers, or reach out to past retailers to ask them about their experience. You’ll usually be able to find a retailer list if you Google the event from years past. Or, if the event had a specific hashtag, you can also take a look at its previous Instagram posts to get a better idea of who was there.

    The aforementioned city-specific Facebook groups might also be a great place to ask about which events offer the most worthwhile experience – the handmade and DIY business community is supportive, and more than likely a seasoned seller will steer you in the right direction.

    This might be one of the most important overall considerations. If vendors from past years all report high sales numbers, then that higher table fee might be worth it. By the same token, if vendors say that sales were unremarkable, then even a cheap entry fee might not make up for all of the time and effort you’ll need to put in just to be there.
  • Cost. While cost may seem straightforward, it’s actually one of the more complex factors you’ll need to consider; there are a lot of hidden pieces that play a part in figuring out the true cost of selling at a fair, festival or market.
    • Jury Fee. Many curated fairs have a juried process to select the best vendors that offer a variety of products, with the right look and feel to appeal to their target market. This fee is usually small but is non-refundable.
    • Table or Booth Fee. This is an upfront, one-time fee simply to be a part of the market. Some fairs might allow you to split a table with another vendor, so if you’re just starting out, pairing up with another vendor who complements your brand might be a good way to reduce the buy-in cost.
    • Actual Table or Booth. In most cases, you’ll be required to everything you need for your own booth, including tables, chairs, table coverings, extension cords, and signage – plus any other items you need to light and display your products. You’ll also want to add some flair to your table to draw in potential customers. Think of your booth as an extension of your brand. It should grab people’s attention, and immediately communicate the feeling you want people to experience with your product, even from across a crowded room.
    • Giveaways. Some craft fairs ask vendors to make a contribution to a door prize or swag bag. Or you might want to do your own giveaway as part of your marketing – this might include branded swag, like a sticker with your logo on it, or a draw that fair attendees will be entered into if they sign up for your email list.
    • Travel. If the event you’re selling at is close to home, travel expenses might be negligible, but it’s still important to consider things like parking and transporting your product to and from the event.
    • Your time. Don’t forget that time spent at the selling at an in-person event is time you’re not spending on other things. While technically your time is “free,” it’s still important to factor in when deciding whether a given fair or market is a worthwhile investment for your business.
    • Help. Chances are, you’ll want to take a break to run to the bathroom or grab food at some point during your sales day. And depending on the market, you might need an extra set of hands to make sure that you’re able to help everyone who comes to your booth. Consider whether you’ll need to hire an extra person to help you out, or if you have a friend who can swing by to cover you for a quick lunch break if you need it.

FURTHER READING: Want to build a killer branded booth for your next market, fair, or festival? Read up on our list of market booth ideas straight from the experts.

How to Apply to Sales Events

Local farmer's markets | Shopify Retail blogApplication requirements, timelines, and fees all vary greatly between events. Just like you want to select a craft fair that fits well with your target customer and your brand, the folks curating markets and festivals want their vendors to add to the overall experience.

For curated events, you’ll have to show organizers that your products fit the event’s desired style and feeling. So, you will likely have a better chance if you’re active on visual forms of social media like Instagram and Pinterest. If you have some good photos of past booths posted online, that’s even better proof that you belong at an event.

On the other hand, some events are simply all about getting in early. If the fair or market isn’t curated, selection might simply be on a first come, first serve basis. For more popular craft fairs and festivals, or seasonal markets, tables sell out quickly.

So, if there’s an upcoming deadline, make sure to mark it in your calendar so that it doesn’t slip by you.

In all cases, make sure to read the application requirements and instructions thoroughly, and reach out to event organizers if you’re unsure about something. If you’re new to the process, give yourself enough lead time to be able to ask questions and prepare any information you might need to include with your application.

Moving Forward With In-Person Sales Events

Now that you’re armed with all of the information you need to find the farmer’s market, craft fair, festival to take your online shop out into the real world, get out there and get selling!

Have you sold at markets, fairs, and/or festivals? How did you choose the best events for you? Share your advice in the comments below.