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.