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17 Tips for Your First Craft Fair

How to help you grow your business, get feedback and make friends

Selling at a craft fair is a great way to meet customers, to connect with distributors or to start a business. However, there’s more to a successful craft fair showing than creating amazing art or beautiful products. You also need to create an enticing display and atmosphere--essentially telling your story through a mini-storefront.

Whether you’re an up-and-coming artist or an established business, craft fairs can help you get in front of customers. In recent years, craft fairs have grown in number and attendance. Small, local craft fairs still exist, but fairs with a national presence, such as Renegade Craft Fair, have grown. After starting in Chicago, Renegade has now expanded to 12 cities where they hold events that attract more than 300,000 attendees each year. More than 400 vendors attend their event in Chicago alone.

With so many other artists and makers, it can be tough to stand out. So to help you get the most of out of your first event, we asked some experienced craft fair exhibitors for advice.

1. Choose the right fair.

There are a number of factors that you need to take into account when choosing a craft fair, including audience, location and price.

Audience: Make sure you find the right audience for you. For example, if you make furniture, attending a market focused on jewelry might not be the best place to go. Craft fairs often have vendor lists from previous fairs, so you should contact similar artists or makers and ask them about their experience.

“I try to talk with other artists that I know who have already done the fair,” Amanda Dobbratz, a Minnesota-based artist, said. “They are often able to give an idea of what the customers are like, how many pieces to bring, and what the overall setup is like. If you don’t know anyone participating in the show, they can usually put you in touch with an experienced vendor.”

Location: Traveling away from home for a craft fair is a great way to expand your audience and meet other artists. However, you should take your travel and lodging costs into account when leaving for another fair.

Cost: The cost of a table or booth at a craft fair varies greatly. Some smaller fairs can be less than $50, while tables and booths at larger fairs can be well over $1000. When assessing cost, you’ll want to make sure you’ll be able to meet your goals, be it sales, meeting distributors or getting feedback.

2. Get a point of sale (POS) system.

Many craft market attendees will want to pay using their credit cards. With a POS system, you will be able to process their credit card payments. Also, understand that they will take a portion of your sales.

Two of the most popular POS systems are Square and Shopify. Both have attachments for your phone.

Square: With a Square reader you’ll be able to accept credit card payments anywhere. You can sign up for Square here to get your free magstripe reader. Square charges 2.75% per “swipe, dip or tap.”

Shopify: If you have a Shopify website, you might want to try the Shopify POS system. It will automatically sync with your Shopify store inventory. Shopify charges 2.4% for each transaction.

3. Bring change.

For the customers that do want to purchase with cash, make sure you have enough change. Make sure you have enough $1 and $5 bills to make change for your customers.

4. Make your customers feel at home.

Many customers at craft fairs are shopping for things to decorate their homes. Whether they’re shopping for a vase, a print or a ceramic bowl, they should be able to imagine your product in their lives.

David Bergeron started Bergeron Woodworks and has been selling at craft fairs for the past 17 years. He recommends bringing a rug with you to your first craft fair.

“A rug is a great thing because it defines your space and it makes people feel like they’re at home,” he said.

5. Keep track of the weather.

Some craft fairs are outdoors, so you want to make sure that you’re ready for rain or other conditions. According to Bergeron, “When the weather turns bad, you want to make sure your space still functional. If they want to duck into a tent ride out a little rain shower, make sure that they have a welcoming experience. You don’t want things piled up like a yard sale.”

6.Get feedback on your work.

For many artists and designers, craft fairs are a great place to see how people react to their products. Lindsey Schneider who started Little Bear Pots in Brooklyn likes to use craft shows to gather feedback.

7. Don’t overwhelm your customer.

Remember that craft fair attendees will see a lot of vendors, so you want to have a clear hook. Minneapolis-based artist Erin Smith tries make sure her set up is memorable.

“You will want to have a cohesive visual statement so they can say ‘I want to go back to that table with the (insert adjective and noun).’ Not, ‘I want to go back to that table with the jewelry/cups/bags/stationery.’ Just assume that everyone has a very short attention span,” Smith said.

“If I walk away from a market with a better idea of which pots people are drawn to, what textures they like to hold, and what catches their eyes first, then I feel like it's a success,” she said. “I spend so much time alone in the studio just making that it's gratifying to see what is working and what isn't -- which shape of handle people grab first on my mugs, or which pieces they are drawn to touch. We so rarely have a chance to do market research as makers, and there's nothing more valuable than taking mental notes for how to improve your designs.”

9. Have a variety of price points.

“I always bring a couple of high end expensive pieces, some lower price points, with the majority of my pieces priced between $20-$60. I think it's most important to appeal to an impulsive purchase by keeping the price affordable.”

10. Make local connections.

If you’re traveling out of town for a craft fair, getting in contact with the local arts and crafts community can help make the trip worth it. Besides connecting with like-minded artists, you might even be able to find a distributor.

“If you are traveling out of town, research local stores and invite them via email or postcard to come to your booth,” Liz Wolf, co-founder of Wolf & Wren Press said. “Make the most out of your time in a new place.”

11. Have giveaways.

Not every craft fair attendee will buy something from you, but you might still have something to offer them. Wolf believes in having giveaways for anyone who visits your table.

“Find something affordable to offer for free," she suggested. "Stickers or bookmarks for example. This is great advertising and an icebreaker with customers.”

12. Prepare for buyers.

Retail buyers and store owners often attend craft fairs looking for the next big thing. Even if you’ve just started your business, you should prepare to speak with wholesalers or buyers.

“If you are a wholesaler have wholesale info prepared to give away,” Wolf said. “If you sell online, make sure to have a business card with your store website.”

13. Make a checklist and practice setting up your booth.

Once you’re at a craft fair, it’s hard to leave, so you want to make sure that you have everything that you need.

“I make my own checklist for every craft fair,” Sasinun Kladpetch, a San Francisco-based artist explained. “Try to gather everything at least a day before the event. I like going there early so I will have enough time to set up the booth or in case something happen I will be able to fix it.”

Selling at a craft fair can be a life-changing adventure. At the very least, it’s a fun way to meet people and (hopefully) make some money.