Thursday, June 03, 2010

5 Essential Tips for Craft Fair Selling

I think I started doing this a couple years ago, listing tips for craft selling... then felt a little weird about it for some reason.  A bit know-it-all-ish, I guess. This past weekend though, I found myself surrounded by new sellers and pouring my wisdom all over the place. People were taking notes! haha. It occurred to me that this is my 10th year of selling at festivals, and maybe it's ok to know some stuff. Since I really do enjoy sharing what I've learned over the years, and possibly helping someone out on their path, I thought I'd post here. 

So, here are my 5 essential tips for selling at craft fairs. There are plenty more where this came from...but these are the biggies in my book:

1. Stay Positive.  I think if I hear one more discussion about these 'tough economic times' I might lose it. As craft vendors, we know every show is different. It's always something... gas prices, the weather, the promoter, the advertising, the location, the local population. Argh. Get used it and give me a break.

Personally, I believe you create your own reality in many respects. I met a vendor recently who was KILLing me with her constant talk of how hard things are. She can't find a good show, can't get a part time job anywhere, can't get orders online... blah blah blah. Guess how much fun I had talking to her?? Not only that, she spewed it out to her customers too. Do you think that's good for business? No. It's exhausting and boring. Generally, customers feel better buying from a successful vendor. Fake it 'til you make it.

So, how do you stay positive when you just spent 3 weeks and all your cash to make stuff that only 4 people have bought so far? Think about the next show, draw in your sketch book, dance around to the band playing, get a glass of wine, chat with your neighbors about what other shows are coming up. Smile. It's a festival, have a little fun.

Craft shows are a gamble, but there's always another one. Faith in yourself, your product and your customer is essential if you are going to do this type of business. I do this because it's fun and I love it... please allow me to enjoy.

2. Be a Good Neighbor. #1 is a good start here, but there are many facets to being a good booth neighbor. A huge part of what I love about doing festivals, is meeting other vendors. Where else do you meet your peers, folks who do exactly what you do for similar reasons? Artists, travelers, small business folk... so much to learn and gain from these friendships! 

So, be a friendly neighbor. Offer to watch the booth of a solo vendor so they can grab a break. Don't just stand by as someone's tent is collapsed by wind. Move your vehicle asap so others can load/unload too. Do NOT encroach in any way on your neighbor's booth space or the path to it (or get their permission first). Be aware. We are a community and these are your peoples! 

Talk to other vendors and you will be AMAZED by what you can learn. I still am every time. For example, last weekend I was at a very slow and tiny show in Oregon. I made a point of talking to most of the other vendors to find out what shows are actually really GOOD in OR.... since I have never found one. I learned of 3 shows I hadn't heard of, got the scoop on a show I'm doing for the first time next month, and input on a show I didn't want to try again but now maybe I will. I also met a vendor who has done shows in Montana, where I'll be passing through on my tour. I had no idea there were any shows at all in MT, and now I have 3 to choose from! I'm just scratching the surface here... I have made lifelong friends doing this, been offered showers and places to stay, bartered for some wonderful handmade goodies, shared stories and dinners, found wholesale accounts and material suppliers. 

Communicate, connect. That's how magic happens.

3. Use Your Space. Recently I was setting up my booth at an indoor show. I was along a wall with about 5 other vendors... most of whom had one table sitting in the middle of their 10ft x 10ft space and that was it. While my booth looked like a beast in comparison. Well, at least I was visible. Most of these folks were new to selling, so they didn't have much inventory. Still, you are paying for the space, why not use it and spread out a bit?? 

Now for me, it's easy to spread out in all directions because I use 6ft panels. Everything is vertical. For the table user, I have this advice: figure out a way to use your vertical space! Think about the customer walking by in a crowd... they should be able to see what you sell as they pass, or they might not stop for a closer look. Make a banner with your name/tag line or giant photos of your work and hang them up. For SURE find a way to add levels to your table display. I have seen some sad little table booths out there. Use boxes under tablecloths to add levels, hang lattice on the side of your booth for easy wall displays, keep your eyes open for interesting racks and baskets that fit with your work. 

Refer to #2, visit your neighbors for great display ideas and resources. 

4. Price Fairly.  Jeesh. I can really go off on this one... first of all, I guess my first tip for craft selling should be to get a good book. I have a couple and I read them cover to cover many times before I started my business. Go buy anything by Barbara Brabec. One thing I learned from her is the importance of fair pricing. Fair means fair to YOU. 

My biggest pet peeve with new sellers are their low low prices. This is not a flea market. Yes, some people are only looking for bargains, but that's not your best customer... people who appreciate quality handmade goods ARE. Please trust me on this. Low low prices often just make a thing look cheap. Some might say 'what a deal!', but many will think 'what's wrong with this?' Think about it. The consumer mentality says, better things cost more. 

The best way to make sure you are covering all of your costs, is to use a formula. Generally, it goes something like this: (Materials + Labor) + Profit = Wholesale Price. Wholesale Price x 2 = Retail Price. At an art fair you are selling retail, so the mark-up is meant to cover your retail costs (booth fees, gas, time selling, booth structure, credit card fees, food, etc). You should also be able to cut your price in half (or close) to sell to a shop wholesale. You MUST charge for you labor!! Pay yourself at least $10/hr. You have skills and abilities that others don't have. That is worth plenty.

Now the other side of low low pricing is (read carefully please) that it HURTS your neighbors and the crafting community at large. Underpricing your hard work just makes mine look outrageous by comparison. It brings down the worth of the whole show, really. Have some dignity and pride about what we do. It is valuable. 

One last word about pricing... higher prices mean you can sell fewer items and make more money. The dinky show I did recently only yielded about 10 sales, but that was over $400. The guy next to me selling $10 candles did about the same but had to sell 40 of them. Just ponder that for a while...

Printed Rayon Poncho and Organic Bamboo Wrap (both $45)

5. Quality is Key.  When I FIRST first started out selling crafts (circa 1993), I crocheted. But, crochet is labor intensive for the amount people are willing to pay for it. What I did figure out quickly is that takes just as long to make a hat out of wool as it does acrylic. And I can get much more for the wool hat. 

Now as a dyer and printer of clothing,  I still use the same principles in my work as far as materials. I mean... I could do Tshirts and shorts for the masses, like many tie dye folks (who sell much more in quantity than I do!). But I focus on women and get the best quality fabrics and nicest styles I can find. That helps set me apart from other dyers. People comment all the time 'ooooh this is the good stuff!'. That's what you want. 

Spend a bit more on materials and price accordingly. Your best customers expect quality. Give it to them... don't waste your talents on crappy materials.


DaCraftyLady said...

What great tips..I ama crocheter and I agree no one seems to want to pay the $$$ that I feel my items are worth...I went to a craft show last year and I had my bags priced at $40-$80 depending on the time and cost to make it. And pepole came by and oh and ahh about how beautiful they were, but a gal new to crafting made tote bags and put hers up for $10-$20 tops!!! That hurt my sales...and made me a little angry especially since her quality was poor, I spend a lot of time on the embellishing end searching for the right matches in color and quality...I have wanted to venture out a little in So. CA and do more fairs but got discouraged...Where do I find craft fairs and how do I know which ones to do??? I am new to the fair scene too but would like to do more..thanks I love reading your blog.. thanks...Debb

Also I am the one trying to finish the rock star crown...I don't see a 2nd post for it...thanks

*TheMermaid* said...

Debb, I should write a whole new post about finding and picking craft fairs. It's an ongoing process for sure. Mostly I hunt online, talk to vendors and customers, and stick to certain areas I think will be good. Eventually you learn what types of shows work best for you, but you just never know for sure until you do it.

Oh my, the rockstar tiara. Bless your heart lol. I just got busy and never wrote up the rest of the project. It was a doozie. Sorry about that.

Uncle Enore said...

FINALLY! Look, I love that you love what you're doing, the fabric-ee artsy side of things, but I have no interest in women's clothing or any sort of fabric or any of that. I've always appreciated that you can do this stuff, but, I dunno, I don't think your clothes would look too good on me.

But I LOVED every single word of this post and the chat between Debb and you. I was interested in every single word!

Of course you should be sharing this information, baby. Experience, knowledge and, yes, wisdom come from doing anything for a decade, let alone something like this where anyone can get involved, but not anyone can, as you point out, get involved successfully.

And it's true to say that keeping "ambient prices" higher is better than keeping them lower. That's true in any occupation, isn't it? One of the reasons I wanted MY wages to be as high as they could be is because it raises the pay level of the entire occupation, or tends to.

Plus, reading this got ME interested in hot dog carting during the summer season...maybe...kinda thinking about it.

You're pretty smart for a lil hippy girl.

*TheMermaid* said...

Thanks, Dad. This is for sure a topic I love to talk about... and I do know some stuff. The thing about crafters and pricing is really it's a head trip. Most are taking their favorite hobby and trying to make it a business. It doesn't feel like real work, so people feel guilty charging real money. Or, they aren't trying to build a business, but just selling off their pile of crafts.

Oh you know, the funny thing is I can totally see you and your camper and your cart meeting up with me on the road for some fun. All we need is for stu to retire and work the cart...

Uncle Enore said...

When I am able to do so, we might could work sumptin' out along those lines, if you guys were really interested. be continued...

Vietgal2002 said...

Awesome post. I really appreciated everything in your post because I am preparing for my first of several craft fairs. THanks.