Selling at Craft Shows: How to Choose the Right Fair for You and Your Products

The best craft shows have well-placed ads. (Photo courtesy of James Allenspach)
Many crafters do well at shows, like Handmade Market, in funky, dimly lit bars.
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Craft fairs don’t come with guarantees.  You can never know for sure whether you’ll have a great day selling at craft shows, or whether you’ll practically see tumbleweeds rolling in the aisles between booths.

After selling at craft shows more weekends than not for the past two years, I've got a pretty good mental list of craft fair tips that help me decide which shows to apply for and which I should avoid. It’s different for every crafter – you might do great at a fair that’s not good for me, and vice versa. That being said, these craft fair tips will show you how to investigate in advance whether a show is worth your time and effort. It’s all about asking yourself the right questions.

Is the show well-advertised?

• Do you see posters around town advertising the show?

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• Are there ads in the local newspaper or online?

• Are organizers tweeting about the event, or have they created a public Facebook event for the show?

• Are there banners or posters for the show outside the venue?

These are signs that the organizers have worked hard to bring in shoppers.

Where is the show located?

• Is it an area that already gets foot traffic, or is it in an out-of-the-way destination that people have to make the effort to get in their cars and drive to?

• If you live in a major city, like I do, where many people don’t own cars and depend on public transport, is the venue accessible by bus or train?

• Is it in a neighborhood that has tons of craft fairs? This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but I find that I do better when selling at craft shows in neighborhoods that don’t already have several events every month. People do get burned out.

Would other crafters recommend this show?

Crafters talk, and most won’t hesitate to spread the word about selling at craft shows that had zero paying customers, that treated crafters badly, or that were poorly organized. If you have a local Etsy team or a Facebook page for crafters in your city, post to the page or team forum asking what others think of the event.

What other events are going on at the same time?

I live in Chicago, and when the Renegade Craft Fair comes to town, it’s the 900-pound elephant of the crafty world. I usually pass on selling at craft shows that also take place this weekend. Everyone who wants to get their craft on is probably doing so at Renegade. If there’s an event or festival in your city that everyone attends, it might not be good to try selling your work elsewhere that day.

I also once did a show on Super Bowl Sunday, thinking that people who buy what I make — goth chainmaille jewelry — wouldn’t be watching the game. Yeah…. don’t do that. I think we had five people come through the door all day.

Is it the right niche for your product?

Does the neighborhood or town have residents who would buy what you make? If you make racy burlesque accessories, a show in a conservative suburb may not be a good fit. The “alternative” part of town might not work for you if you make sweet traditional baby accessories.

Are you panicking?

About a year ago, sales in my Etsy shop suddenly ground to a halt. I admit that I freaked out a bit and started applying to every craft show within a reasonable distance because “I have to do SOMETHING to get sales.” Mistake! This is NEVER a good reason to sign up for a craft fair. I ended up at shows that had zero foot traffic, that only drew people who fear skulls, that involved sitting outside in a tent in 95-degree weather for 12 hours. If I’d thought it through, I’d have realized that those shows weren’t right for me. Never apply to a craft fair out of panic. You’ll panic more if the show turns out to be a dud and you’ve sunk your time and a booth fee into it.

Are there nontraditional venues you could sell at that have never occurred to you?

When I learned that selling at craft shows that were traditional or trendy didn't work so well for my decidedly non-mainstream jewelry, I started seeking other places that would let me put out a table – art galleries, bellydance workshops, roller derby bouts, the monthly goth club night. Even if the event doesn’t usually have vendors, it never hurts to ask nicely if you can sell there. When I vend at these locations, I’m surrounded by “my people.” Even those who aren’t buying that day seem genuinely jazzed about my work. That’s a huge confidence boost, and definitely affects my mood and my saleswomanship throughout the event.