Secrets to Success at Craft ShowsComments (2)
This article is from Issue 93 of Woodcraft Magazine.
These 12 tips will help you sell your work for fun and profit
By C. Edwards Smith
It can happen to any amateur woodworker: Sooner or later, you make more items than your family and friends can use. Craft shows provide a rewarding solution to this problem. I’ve been selling my work at craft shows for 20 years, and really enjoy the experience. Woodworking tends to be a solitary practice, but craft shows get you before the public to share your accomplishments. There’s great camaraderie in this community; it’s like a big family of creative, hardworking artisans who want to succeed individually and as a group.
I’m not going to encourage everyone who reads this article to quit their day jobs and jump into the craft show circuit—it’s not the easiest way to make a living. But if you have quality work to sell and the capacity to keep up with demand, read on. My advice will help you get the most from your entry into the craft show market. The illustrations show many of the tips in action.
Pick the right shows.
Selling your wares at a small local craft show or farmer’s market is a good way to get started. But for profit and exposure, you’ll want to set up your booth at well-established craft shows that draw thousands of visitors. A show that extends over two or three days is better than a one-day show. Indoor shows are better than outdoor shows, because you won’t have to worry about how weather might diminish attendance or damage what you’re trying to sell.
Don’t be afraid of the jury process.
In a juried show, a group of artists review your work ahead of time and decide if you should be in the show or not. This sounds intimidating, but it’s an opportunity to get valuable feedback on the salability of your products. I’ve found that stricter judging equates with higher-quality vendors and customers who are willing to pay more.
Watch, listen, learn.
Before you jump into the craft show business, go to shows to see how others are doing it. As you walk the aisles and stop at different booths, keep track of what you like and what seems to attract show-goers. Observe how woodworking vendors are pricing and displaying their wares. Take note of the items that sell best, and ask vendors for advice on getting started.
Have nice bags for customer purchases.
A customer who just paid you $300 for a bowl shouldn’t have to hold it in a cheap plastic bag. I always have attractive white paper bags with handles available for customers who need them. I purchase the bags by the carton in two sizes from ULine (uline.com).
Work on a good website.
These days, it’s not difficult or expensive to market and sell your creations online. A Facebook page or Instagram account will help keep friends and followers up to date on what you’re doing. But a good website is the best way to showcase your products, provide contact details, and let folks know about your craft show schedule.
Get the right gear.
Design your booth for efficient setup and breakdown as well as attractive display of your products. The 10 × 10' E-Zup tent that I use matches the standard booth size of most shows. Even indoors, a tent can nicely delineate your display space.
Get some folding tables and large tablecloths that drape down over the table sides. This gives you display space while enabling you to store additional stock out of sight beneath your tables. Consider shelves or stands to create attractive displays. Buy a power strip, outdoor extension cords, and durable lights that will mount on your tent frame. Make space for a cash box, bags (Tip #4), and printed material (Tip #11).
Make friends with fellow vendors.
Friendship and good feelings among vendors will generate sales. I often end up selling some items to other vendors, or bartering with them if I see something I want. If a vendor likes you and your products, you’re likely to get referral business.
Always have something for kids.
I love it when children visit my booth. Turned tops and wooden toys are sure to interest youngsters. When they get excited, their parents do, too. The captive-ring baby rattles that I make on my lathe have always been popular. In a world full of plastic toys and digital entertainment, handcrafted toys have a special status that kids and parents appreciate.
Be savvy about sales tax.
Most states require that you collect sales tax, report it, and pay it. Unfortunately, the requirements vary from one state to another. The show organizer should include this information in the registration process. You can get more details online (salestaxinstitute.com).
Accept credit card payments.
You’ll definitely lose sales if you can’t process credit card payments. I use Square Reader (squareup.com), which works well with my smart phone. Other programs are also available.
How to price your work
This is a tricky task because so many variables come into play. Visiting other vendors who sell items similar to yours will give you some ballpark pricing guidelines. But don’t give in to the temptation of discounting your work. For the turned bowls I sell, it makes sense to have a formula that equates size with price. But it’s also important to factor in the time and skill required to make each item, the uniqueness of the design, and the type of wood used. Printed descriptions for certain items can help explain your prices (Tip #11).
Provide printed material.
Everyone loves a story. Factory-made items don’t have one, but your projects do. Have some handouts that will give customers details about you, your workshop, or the item they’re buying. Customers appreciate this added value. The other printed material you want on hand are business cards and care instructions for particular items. You don’t want an irate customer whose cutting board came apart in the dishwasher.
Cover a broad price range.
It’s not easy to price your work. But it is helpful to sell a good variety of items at different price points. I recommend having some inexpensive items ($15 or less) that anyone can afford. It’s just as important to have a few premium-priced products. There are always a small number of show attendees who can afford your best work. Make sure you’ve got something for them to buy.
Craft show essentials
For under $1000, you should be able to get all the essential gear to set up a well-equipped booth at a craft show. The basic essentials listed here can vary greatly in price; it all depends on quality and your willingness to shop around. The more craft shows you attend, the smarter you’ll become about organization and display. At well-established crafts shows, you can count on good information about electricity, lighting, security, and even inexpensive accommodations.
*Tent weights are essential if you are doing outdoor shows. Tethered to your tent frame, a set of four 40-lb. weights will prevent your tent from blowing over on windy days. You can easily make your own from PVC pipe and concrete, sand bags, or even water jugs.
Thanks for the great info. A lot has changed since the 70’s and 80’s when I made a living at craft shows. Your guidance will help n me with getting back to it
Thank you for this article. Good basics. I would add a few other things: A high chair for occasional resting that will keep you at customer's eye height. And a power booster for your phone. I also really like to be working on a project. When I start the day I check each product and sometimes do a light sanding and oiling so everything looks perfect!
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