Preventing Theft at Your Next Craft Fair

It's a sinking feeling like none other. You're busy in your craft fair booth, answering customer questions and ringing up sales. Then you happen to glance down at your table when traffic dies down a bit.... and notice that one of your handmade creations is missing. You're sure you didn't sell it. Someone has stolen from you!

This happened to me for the first (and, so far, only) time about a year ago at a huge convention. At first, I was in denial, and frantically pulled up my tablecloths and searched the floor, looking for the missing bracelet. Once I realized that someone had indeed walked away with it without paying, I was furious at the thief, whoever he or she might have been. How dare someone steal from an independent artist? I halfheartedly toyed with the idea of putting up a big snarky sign reading "If you must shoplift, go to your favorite big box store instead; they can afford it!" But then, I turned that anger toward myself. How had I let this happen? Why hadn't I been more vigilant?

Unfortunately, theft happens in today's world, and shoplifters don't necessarily have respect for a handmade artist's livelihood. I just finished vending at that same convention this year, and this time I was determined to take better precautions. And I'm happy to report that nothing disappeared from my table this time! Here's what I did differently:

Have Helpers

Looking back, I know exactly when and why I was stolen from. I was resizing a necklace for a customer, and it was a trickier-than-usual task due to the piece's design. Normally, I can keep one eye on my booth while I'm resizing, but not this time. I was concentrating hard on the task at hand and didn't look up for a while — I made it easy for someone to steal. And, I was working alone.

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This is one reason why it's crucial to have booth helpers, if at all possible. If I'd had a friend working my booth with me, she could've kept an eye on the other shoppers while I was focused on that necklace.

Pay Attention to Every Shopper

Even though this convention is packed with thousands of people, I made a point this year of saying hello to every single person who stopped by my table. Not only does this help shoppers feel at home in your booth, it can also chase away shoplifters. People who are looking to steal don't want to be noticed or recognized, so it's likely they'll move on to the next booth.

Avoid Blind Spots in Your Display

Crafters are always told to create height in their booths — and tall, eye-catching displays definitely help draw people in from across a crowded room! Last year, I used fabric-covered boxes and crates to get my jewelry up at shoppers' eye level. They looked great. They were also so tall, I couldn't see over them when I stood behind my table. Guess where the stolen bracelet had been? Yep, lying flat on the table, right in front of my tallest tower and completely blocked from my view

This year, I used portable gridwall (shown at left in the photo below) for my tall displays. I could see right through it, and keep an eye on customers' hands as they touched and tried on my work. I also placed my hand mirror at an angle that let me clearly see the far end of my long table, when no one was using the mirror to try on jewelry. That was a total accident — I didn't realize it gave me a great view until I sat down behind my table — but it proved surprisingly effective!

craft fair displays

See-through grids and jewelry secured to my displays helped me avoid theft at this year's convention.

Consider Securing Your Items

The stolen piece was loose on the table, waiting to be swept away. This year, I experimented with clips and pins that fastened jewelry to my displays. Customers could still touch and try on my work, but it took them a bit more effort and time, and usually two hands, to take a piece down. If your pieces require a little work to remove, it's likely that a would-be thief will pass your table by and seek out an easier mark.

The ultimate secure display is a locked glass case that lets customers look, but not touch unless they ask. I personally don't care for these, as my work sells best when folks can easily pick it up and feel its weight and texture. But, if I were selling really high-end precious metal or gemstone pieces, I'd probably revisit that stance.

Have you ever been stolen from at a show? If so, what steps did you take to prevent theft at future events?

Comments

Wendy - Heartfelt Creations

We were told the large multi-vendor tent we were showing in during a festival would be guarded by adequate security overnight, and that we were safe to leave our jewelry there. We took our most valuable pieces home but left a lot of less expensive items there. The large tent was broken into overnight and we lost approximately $1500 of merchandise. Security did not hear or see anything. Several other vendors had merchandise stolen. Never again will we leave anything, apart from display items such as busts and racks, out overnight, no matter how much security a venue claims to have! I hope this may serve as a cautionary tale for other craftspeople.

Joy

Wendy, I'm sorry you suffered a big loss, and thank you so much for sharing your experience.

I'm going to be in my first fair that resembles what you described...multi-vendor where the
event coordinators mentioned security, and I'll think differently about what steps to take
overnight before the next show.

Many blessings,
Joy Resor

Leanne

It's pretty disheartening to know that there are thefts from independent artists. I wholeheartedly agree that they could been more selective in their theft like your big box store comment, lol. I kid. I don't think you should be angry at yourself though. You were doing your craft. The thief is the loser here. In any case, many thanks for the read and here is to many more less-theft shows!

Anonymous

Maybe your stuff was overpriced.  

Sharon

“Maybe your stuff was overpriced?”

And that means what exactly? An excuse to steal? If you can’t afford it, either haggle a price (if vendor allows it) or move tf on. An artist/crafters work is priced on the materials and time and effort spent in making a piece. Why should they have to reduce its value in the naive hope it’ll lessen theft. Most thefts are opportunistic and I can bet they’d steal regardless of price. 

Roberta

I just had 2 thefts of jewelry over 2 consecutive weekend shows.  A nature center holiday craft show and local farmers market.  I have been very upset about this and feeling like I might need to change my displays, a fireplace folding screen and picture frames, which have worked so well for me over the last 5 years (and no thefts that I know of before now).  But even if I'm standing up I cant see perfectly well over the screen.  I'm just mad that I even have to  think about this because some lowlife helped themselves to items that took hours to make.  I wondered if anyone has used security cameras or some kind of sign that doesnt put off the majority of customers.

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