Last weekend, Mom and I went to to craft shows. I hadn’t been to one since I was a child, and Mom ran a small craft business and had booths regularly. I belong to a craft group on Facebook, and there was recently a post made about craft shows; the post had over 300 comments about how difficult it is to make money at a craft fair. Today, I’m going to provide a craft show feedback post about what I noticed at the two fairs, what folks were most bothered with on the Facebook group, and my own thoughts on running an Etsy store without any sales.
Meijer Gardens Holiday Gift Show
First up was the event at Meijer Gardens. The show, 40 curated booths, opened at 9am. We got there about 10 and you could barely get up to see things at the tables. People were grabbing things right and left, and there was a huge line for checkout. When we finally did push through to the front, I was surprised to see that most of the booths had things that were not handmade. For instance, there was a booth with lovely knit scarves that were super soft, but they were made in China. There was a booth selling hot cocoa bombs, all imported from England. There were several kid toy booths, but all had things you could purchase off Amazon. Yes, there was a local apiary selling honey and Founders Brewery selling dog treats, but most of it was mass-produced items made in factories.
The fee to get in was the standard entrance fee for Meijer Gardens, rather expensive if you just wanted to go to the fair, but for us visiting the conservatories was the best part. We wouldn’t recommend or go to the fair again next year.
Caledonia Arts and Crafts Show
After Meijer Gardens, we swung by the Caledonia craft fair at their middle school. The school has two gyms, and both were absolutely packed with vendors and visitors. Now, this is a craft fair like I remember. Nearly everything was handmade. The booth pictured above was my favorite for set-up. The artist, LuAnn Tandy, runs Coppertop Crochet and has an eye for design. Her crochet pieces were gorgeous and the booth was both well put together and eye-catching. Check out her use of that vintage suitcase and dressmaker dummy to showcase her pieces! She had a lot of people looking at her products, but she had arranged everything so you could still see what she was offering. Mom bought a few gifts and the quality and look is amazing. LuAnn was at the front of the booth, answering questions and promoting features of the hats. I think her booth and her pieces were the best of the craft show.
Craft Show Trends
Here’s where the Facebook group post comes in. The individual in question had a booth at a show, and didn’t do very well. There wasn’t a ton of traffic (unlike what I saw at the two places Mom and I went), and those who were there just weren’t buying. Why?
First, we are looking at tight financial times. Prices in the grocery stores are higher, gas prices are higher, and winter fuel bills are right around the corner. Individuals are conserving their money to pay for needs, not necessarily wants. It may be slim pickings this holiday gift season for everyone.
Second, prices at craft shows are higher. Raw good costs are higher. The same skein of Caron Simply Soft is way more expensive now than before the pandemic. All craft supplies are more expensive than the pandemic. Craft show booth fees are more expensive, too. Fewer people having excess money to spend, and higher prices for the items means it’s harder to recover your money you put into the item you’ve made, never mind the time spent.
Finally, we are seeing that the big box stores have merchandise that looks more crafty or homemade. Similar crochet pumpkins I’m making are sold at Target for half the price, made in China. With new knitting machines and crochet machines, near-perfect designs can be created overseas for a much less cost.
Tips for Craft Success
One of the things I read over and over in the comments on Facebook was that there are still people out there who want to support handmade, unique items and the artists that make them. In many cases, the people who do buy these handmade items only give them as gifts to others who understand the value of these pieces. Once I offered to make a crochet blanket for a coworker’s ill father. She explained that while it was a nice thought, he wouldn’t appreciate the time or work that went into the creation. At the Caledonia craft fair, I bought a handmade felt ornament. I could see the fine detail work that went into creating it, and just fell in love with it. If you are working in arts and crafts, make sure you highlight the fact that your unique, handmade creations are supporting an artist, not a corporation. Even though I crochet myself, there are some things I just don’t enjoy crocheting, or there are some pieces so gorgeous I can’t help but want to support that particular artist despite the fact that I could maybe make it myself. All artists should support other artists! It’s what keeps us going. After all, who could better appreciate the time and skill that went into making something than someone who participates in the craft themselves?
Select a Location
Know where and when to sell your items. If you are mostly crocheting winter hats, a summer craft show might not be the best place for you. If possible, check out the craft show you are joining before paying your booth fees. Do they allow multiple vendors selling the same things? What is the normal audience at this particular show? Are there fees for visitors to get in? Consider arts and craft consignment shops, popup shops, farmers’ markets and other vendor booth events throughout the year. Make friends with other artists and find out where they like to go, and which shows to avoid.
Design Your Space
Next, if you do decide to set up a vendor booth at a show or an event, spend time designing your booth space and do a few dry-runs on setting it up and tearing it down. Does everything fit in your car? Can you haul everything yourself? Do you need electricity? There are so many YouTube videos on setting up tables for craft shows, watch as many as you can for ideas. Don’t just put your stuff flat on a table without having an idea of color and varying levels of height. And don’t just sit at the back of your booth! There were a few booths at Caledonia that had no interested customers, and the owner sat at the back of the booth. Being my own neurotic self, I felt awkward and wound up avoiding eye contact and not looking inside the booth at all!
Repeat Business is the Key!
Finally, and I think this is most crucial, you need to think about repeat business. Have signage of your business name so people know who you are. If you are going to be doing several different craft shows throughout the season, have a listing of where you’ll be next. Have business cards or a QR code that links to your social media. Offer small give-aways (stickers, suckers, etc.) to get people to give their email address and then send them an email the next week thanking them for stopping by, letting them know where you’ll be next, and asking them to follow you on social media. Even if you don’t have an Etsy store, having folks follow you on Instagram and Facebook, and showing your latest creations, could get them to contact you for individual sales. The fantastic booth with the felt ornaments? I gave her my email address in the event she gets a Facebook or Instagram page in the future. As I work on my holiday gift list, I would love to purchase some more ornaments from her but I have absolutely no way of contacting her. She didn’t have a logo or business name visible and had no social media. Leave a lasting impression and a way for folks to get in touch with you after the show!
The Feral Katt
I buy most of my unique handmade items on Etsy. In fact, I try each year to purchase the majority of gifts from independent artists. As I’m not a fan of crowds, I do nearly all of my shopping on Etsy. I have even set up my own Etsy store, The Feral Katt, to unload some of my creations. I think it gives me insight into the struggle other crafters have in creating, marketing, and selling their pieces. It’s discouraging, really. Fortunately, I have a full time job and I’m just doing the Etsy thing to entertain myself. It takes a lot of time. Time to make the items. Time to photograph them and put them up with a description. And, I suppose, time with tell if I wind up selling anything.
If you’re a crafter or have been to a craft show recently, tell me about your thoughts in the comments!