Navigating Craft Shows 

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Navigating craft shows like a boss.

Finding your show and getting into it can be a challenge; but there is nothing like a craft show for a face-to-face opportunity to present your products to qualified buyers.

It’s craft fair time ladies and gentlemen! In no time, eager holiday shoppers and craft enthusiasts will parade to your table, excited to try your latest and greatest products. Isn’t there something exhilarating about that pre-holiday buzz? Craft shows are an excellent time to put your products not just in the hands of immediate buyers, but into the hands of potential future customers, too!

Think of each sale as an investment; a quality experience invested at the time of purchase will translate into more repeat customers in the future!

Finding a Show

Before you have the opportunity to peddle your products, you will need to find a show. The first place to look is in your local area. A local farmer’s market is often an excellent place to sell handcrafted soap and cosmetic products. Many towns have festivals, particularly in the summer and fall. If you’ve lived in the area for a while, you are probably familiar with what’s available locally in the way of Harvest Festival, Black Walnut Festival, Pumpkin Festival -- or whatever it is in your area. State or county fairs are also possibilities, although check those carefully to make sure the demographics of the attendees fit with your target market.

In the late fall, in preparation for the holidays, you will find all sorts of Christmas craft shows.They range from local activities hosted by a church or fraternal organization to huge shows with hundreds of vendors in Expo centers.

At any time of year you might find indoor or outdoor Art Shows or Festivals. These tend to cater to artists, and are more likely to be juried (see below) but can be great venues if your products are a fit. When choosing your shows, the best bet is to go as a customer first and see what the show is like. Some cater to car and motorcycle displays - which could be good or bad, depending on your products and presentation. Look for the type of products being sold; a show that requires “handcrafted” are likely to be better fits that those that have vendors selling all sorts of cheap products imported from overseas.

Here are some additional places to find craft shows, craft fairs, festivals:

  • Search Google. Local listings of activities may turn up shows to go check out.
  • Check with the Chamber of Commerce (by phone or online) in the area you are interested in. They often have lists of shows and activities and can provide you will contact information.
  • Talk to the vendors at the shows you visit or display at; they may know of other shows that would be a good fit for you.
  • Look in the local newspaper or “shopper” for advertisements for shows or show promoters looking for vendors.
  • Finally, there several published show directories. They tend to list the larger shows, but can be of help. Craftmaster News (www.craftmasternews.com) is one you could check out.

Keep in mind that most shows have registration deadlines well in advance of the show. The larger the show, the further in advance you’ll need to book a space. Doing your research well in advance will give you the best chance of getting a space in the shows you think will work the best for you.

Before committing yourself, remember that it is not only acceptable but advisable to interview the craft show you are looking to attend. Some questions you may want to ask of either show type are:

  • How many years as this show been held?
  • How many exhibitors are signed up to show, and is there a maximum allowed?
  • Is there a maximum number for each category of vendor?
  • How was the show received in past years by both exhibitors and buyers?
  • Are the products limited to handcrafted or is it “anything goes”?
  • How will the sale be advertised?

Asking these questions in advance will help you to gauge how organized the show is, and also help you to decide if it’s the right fit for you. Don’t be afraid to politely decline to participate if something seems off; you are the best barometer when it comes to the right atmosphere for you and your products!

Any show you come across will likely fit into one of two categories: juried or non-juried.

Non-Juried Shows

Let’s begin with a non-juried show. Non-juried events usually accept exhibitors on a first come, first served basis. Typically, these shows or craft fairs will charge a registration fee which can range anywhere from $10-$100. This fee structure can vary from event to event. Most are just a flat fee, but some events will charge a flat rate and also require a percentage of your final sales. For example: a $15 table fee, and 5% of your total sales.

Non-juried events do not have a selection committee or panel to curate the event; because of this, there is a chance that you will encounter multiple vendors in your particular category. As an example, each year I attend a non-juried craft show as a customer; I have noticed that the amount of jewelry vendors has increased by more than half since last year, which has started to affect the popularity of the show.

Juried Shows

Alternatively, you may come across juried craft fairs or shows; often art shows are juried.These shows are curated by a selection committee that will decide whether to accept you as an exhibitor based on a few possible subjects: creativity, originality, appeal, marketing potential and of course, the quality and design of your booth or table.

In order to be considered, this panel may ask for photos of your setup as well as photos of your products, or they may even ask for samples. Occasionally, there may also be a non-refundable jury fee-this fee will vary. Although putting an application into a juried show can be intimidating, it can also be rewarding.

If you aren’t chosen, you can ask for or may be provided with a reason why. Unless the reason is absurd or completely out of your control, take it as constructive criticism and use the feedback to better your product or display. On the flipside, if you are accepted, you will likely have the advantage of being either the only one at the event in your specific category, or one of few. Without an abundance of competition, you will have more chances to interact with buyers and your products will fly off your booth!

A common question asked by crafters is, “how do I get into a juried show?” Although there is no magic trick to guarantee entry, there are a few things that you can do to set yourself apart from other applicants.

  • Put in the label legwork. This is number one because it can mean the difference between being chosen or being overlooked. A curated show will be looking for quality--and this means legally compliant products, too. Be sure that your labels follow the regulations in your country so you don’t get disqualified on a technicality.
  • A picture says a thousand words. Your pictures, if the panel requires them, are going to be representing your products, perhaps without you there to explain them. Make sure that your photos are clear and high resolution. If you are sending them in by mail make sure they are clearly and neatly labeled and placed in a quality folio. If you are emailing them, be sure that your photos are high resolution, good quality pictures, and have file names that identify the pictures.
  • Don’t skimp on the description. If asked for an overview of your offering, provide a detailed description using professional grammar and spelling. Inject your passion into what you’re writing; this is going to distinguish between you and the next resume they pick up.

Ready to Dive In?

There is a lot of preparation necessary for your craft show. You’ll need suitable ways to display your product, signage, business cards and/or brochures. For outdoor shows you will probably want a tent of some kind to protect your products (and you) from the elements. Elements of your booth and display that are easy to pack and unpack will make your craft-show life much more enjoyable, and considerably less stressful, both physically and mentally.

Whether it’s your first show or your hundredth, having insurance coverage is a must to protect you and your products Our How-To Library has a great article, About Business Insurance, which covers the ins and outs of business insurance.

Finally, keep in mind that craft shows are not only a potential source of revenue, they are a way to see your customers face-to-face, to talk to them and find out what they are looking for. You can refine your “pitch” and then use what works best as copy for your website or brochure. Having the customer right in front of you also gives you the chance to try out new products and gauge their reception before going into full production. Interaction with your customers and potential customers can be one one of the most rewarding parts of doing craft shows.

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Craft Show

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