So let’s assume you make something, or several somethings, and you’ve been really tempted / curious about selling your handmade goods at an Art or Craft show, but you don’t quite know what to expect.
You’re in luck! We’ve been doing this for 20+ years, and we heartily encourage you to do it as well. Seriously, welcome to the club. Here you will find not one word of negativity toward your desire to sell your Handmade items at a Craft or Art show, but you will find some sound advice and tips we hope will help guide you into it.
First off, may the god of your choice bless you for making Handmade items. The most important – nay VITAL – piece of advice we will offer you is this:
NEVER attend an Art Show that allows Commercial products.
No made-in Peru friendship bracelets. No Scentsy candles. No brand-name clothes or knitwear of any kind! Your Handmade art, first of all, is more valuable, unique and special than any mass produced crap that sells for a quarter of the price. If your customers can’t see that, they’re not your customers. More importantly, and we say this with love because it pertains to the Velvet Zebra’s products too, you can’t compete with that.
You just can’t.
You’re making felted baskets that sell for $30.00 each, and some Schmuck at the same show is peddling felted baskets from Country-X that are mass produced by small children. The most HE did was pay wholesale and truck them to the show where he’s selling them for $8.00. We wish we could tell you that customers will see how much more value there is in your Handmade felted baskets, but let’s be honest – if they can buy one for $8.00 they’re going to.
So never – and we mean NEVER – be a vendor at a show that allows Non-Handmade anything. And if you’re at a show that professes they don’t, but you and the other vendors clearly SEE someone doing it, dime them out. Seriously. And if the people in charge don’t kick them out, never do that show again.
This is the main reason most Holiday shows are going the way of the Dodo as far as we Handmade artists are concerned. The venues that put them on, typically a High School or Benefit event, are solely interested in the Booth Fee that you’re paying. Once they have that, they’ve made their money. They could give a rip how well YOU do. They may profess to only allow Handmade, but if they don’t sell each Booth space they have, they’ll turn to Commercial vendors and sell them, which in turn is selling you out.
And that brings us to the Elephant in the room we call Commissions.
We’ll leave this up to you to decide, but if you’re doing a show that has A) a Booth Fee as well as B) Commission on your sales – we say No every time. They’re making money from our Booth Fee, we’re not about to let them make money from OUR hard work and expenses. It’s different if you’re in a Shop or Gallery, there your commission is the only money they make. The difference is, you’re not paying them simply for the chance to be there. That’s what a Booth Fee is, you’re paying the venue simply for the right to be there and sell your product.
How much is too much? Personally, we cap a Booth Fee for a 2-day show at $200.00. The show we attended regularly happens to be a 3-day show at $175.00, which is ideal.
Remember, in order to justify being there, you need to make a profit. If it takes the entire event just to earn back your Booth Fee and nothing more, it’s a bad show. If you spend more on food than you make selling your product, it’s a bad show. If you have to spend money on a hotel because of the location of the show, keep that in mind when you tally up your earnings.
Our motto is: We’ll try any show once.
That is to say, if it sounds like a good fit, if the Booth Fee isn’t over our limit, and we’re really feeling the itch to get out there – we’ll try a new show. Once. There are a lot of shows we’ve tried once and have never returned. There are a few shows we’ve given a second shot, just to be sure. We’ve even walked out on a few right in the middle – which is Craft Show Taboo. We’ll talk more about that in future articles.
Now if you’ve never done a show before, there are things you need:
A Canopy. You can get these anywhere, we got ours from Costco. We’re on our third canopy after all these years, but they’re pretty hardy. Make sure you have Walls, you’ll need them. Aluminum frames are your friend, unless there are a few strong men who are also your friends.
Weights. Don’t even pretend you won’t need weights for an outdoor show. These you can make yourself (when we started out, we used kitty litter jugs with handles and filled them with water). They make amazing round weights that fit over the feet of your canopy that are portable and incredibly useful.
Seriously, we mean this, you NEED Weights.
Tables. Also an easy Costco or just-about-anywhere purchase, unless what you’re selling requires an elaborate Wall-type structure. If you’re using tables but find they are a bit too low for easy shopping or set up, bed riser feet are a great addition.
Chairs. You might think you’re going to stand up the whole time, but you won’t.
Table Covers. If you’re like us and you’ll be using tables, be sure to cover them. Get covers that go to the ground, they’ll hide all the stuff you’re going to cram underneath them, and you are going to cram a lot underneath them. They even make some now that snug up around the legs, so there is no extra fabric flapping around and threatening to trip anyone.
Displays. These will depend on what you are selling. Search the Internet, check out other people’s displays, whatever you need to do. There are a LOT of things you can buy, and a lot MORE you can DIY.
Supplies. This is up to your needs, but keep in mind how you’re going to write receipts, package your sales, wrap anything delicate or bag up small things, and how you’ll keep your records on the fly during potentially busy times. We’ll talk details in a future article.
Food. Do NOT forget to bring food. You can‘t count on there being food nearby, and what you really hope will happen is that you’ll be too busy to even think about dashing somewhere for food. Ideally, you’ll barely have a chance to shove a PB&J down your throat when you think no one is looking. So don’t forget to bring food. Also keep in mind when deciding what food to bring – your customers are going to see you eat this, so we suggest no leftover spaghetti.
Other things to keep in mind – depending on your needs – is how you’ll accept payment. We use Square now, we used to use Paypal. When we started out we were a Cash/Check only Booth – that ended years ago, and you’ll make an S-ton more money if you take plastic. But there will be cash sales, so make sure you can make change. Everyone is going to have $20’s from the ATM, keep that in mind.
Our advice to you is also to Price your items well – by that we mean don’t make your customers ask how much something is, they’re more likely to just walk away. Prices shouldn’t be a secret or something you are embarrassed to say out loud. Put up signs, put your price tags facing outward, whatever it takes to keep the customer in your booth. (In coming articles we’ll delve into the What Now? Of being a vendor and how to deal with all sorts of customers)
So if you, too, are a Handmade artist and you’re ready to take the plunge and become a Vendor at an Art or Craft Show – do it. Find a show you want to try out, you’ll find a ton of them if you search the Internet. Keep in mind they probably start taking applications at least 6-months in advance of the show. You might have to pass a Jury to get it, that’s not hard if you’re Handmade.
You might need Insurance – don’t panic – there are places online that can provide you with Show Insurance, which is a policy that will cover you strictly for that show at an average cost to you of around $40.00. The Internet is your friend, search Craft Show Insurance and you’ll be find.
Welcome to the club ! And good luck.
Check out our next Article: Know your Audience.
We’d love to chat about your experiences – please feel free to leave a comment, ask a question or offer up some advice to all the newbies out there.