Secrets to Selling Your Art at Craft Shows
Want to sell your work on the craft show circuit? Here’s the inside scoop on making the most of your experience.
Ever dreamed of making a handsome profit at craft shows? It’s very possible if you take a strategic approach, says Patricia Baranyai, jewelry maker and author of Craft Show Business: How to Sell Jewelry at Craft Shows, Maximize Sales and Minimize Risks. But be patient when you’re just starting out.
Greenwich, London, England - September 8, 2014: People wandering around the many stalls inside the covered Greenwich Market in South East London. The present site of Greenwich Market dates to 1849, although older markets did exist in Greenwich. The current market has stalls for antiques and collectables on Thursdays and Fridays, and craft and design on Fridays, Saturday and Sundays. The various food stalls are also popular with locals and tourists alike.
“At the beginning of my craft show career — keep in mind, this was pre-Internet, before lots of information was easily available — it took a few years to feel like things were starting to come together, and about seven years before I had the show lineup I really wanted,” says Baranyai, who has more than 25 years of experience selling at craft shows in the United States and Canada. Here’s her insider advice for speeding up your learning curve:
Do your homework on local craft shows. It isn’t always easy to tell which shows will translate into sales success for you and your product. Big, well-known shows with $5,000 entry fees may not be worth the hype, and shows that seem small-time may actually be very profitable for you.
Read as much background as you can beforehand; Baranyai recommends getting a subscription to Sunshine Artist to research shows before you take the plunge. More importantly, though, visit shows in person. Watch to see how other vendors are doing in your category, how they’ve designed their booth spaces, and how customers respond to their products and setup. Don’t be shy about asking vendors directly about their experiences, including which other shows they like best.
It can take years to get accepted to some of the most prestigious shows out there, but persistence and professionalism in applying generally pays off.
Take steps to minimize your risk. Make each trip to a craft show multi-purpose, especially if it’s expensive to enter or is far away. Set up trips along the way to visit shops that might be interested in carrying your product line, and make time to network with new contacts at the show for future marketing. This ensures you get the most bang for your buck on each trip and makes it worthwhile even if sales are slow.
Learn to spot a prime location. You won’t always be able to choose which booth you want, but when you can, go for a corner (and pay extra if you have to). The important word to remember is frontage — always choose a wide booth over a deep one, and remember that corners offer twice as much frontage as an interior 10’ x 10’ booth. Booths with maximum frontage give customers a large area to browse your product line without having to enter the booth, which can feel awkward or create unwanted pressure to buy.
Put some work into your booth display. Make sure people can tell what you’re selling, both up close and from a distance. Professionally made booth signage with your logo is worth the investment and can increase your sales.
Practice your booth setup before your first show so you can get a feel for scale and proportion. Try arranging your stock around a focal point, grouping items by size/price/color, and using display racks, easels, or whatever medium suits your work best. Your display should use a bold but simple color palette to highlight your work without creating visual clutter. Also, be sure to experiment with spotlighting, which can make or break your booth’s stage presence.
Your ultimate goal is a booth that feels full, warm, and welcoming, but not overcrowded. “Don’t distract from your product,” Baranyai says. “A good display is one you don’t notice because it shows off the product so well.”
The final and most important component of your booth is . . . you. Stand confidently, make eye contact, and speak directly to your customers about what makes your product special. “The best approach is to connect to people with your heart,” Baranyai says. “Be warm and open and have natural conversation. There’s no need to be salesy — most people really don’t like that anyway.”
Bring plenty of stock. It’s a common newbie mistake to bring too little stock to sell. Your booth should look full at all times, even at the end of the day. How much should you bring? Sunshine Artist often reports sales figures for artists in your genre at a given show, so use that as a guideline; make sure you have more stock than your highest sales goal. If you don’t have sales figures to work from, Baranyai suggests plotting out how much stock it will take to fill your booth display, and then adding half again.
Market, market, market. Create professional business cards to promote your business — matching packaging for your products makes a great impression, too. Take advantage of social media to let your friends, family, and potential customers know when you’ll be showing, and start an email list to connect with your prospects. After each show, send welcome emails to anyone who signed up for your list.
Keep your mindset positive. The craft show business has its ups and downs, but don’t let that affect your enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Keep accurate, thorough records and use those — not your gut feelings — to measure your success and refine your business model as you go along. Don’t read too much meaning into one poor performance or a rejection by a top show; instead, be persistent and make changes to your approach based on the facts. Above all, don’t compare yourself to how you perceive others are doing.
“You’ll always wind up showing across from someone who’s confident about herself and her selling, and it’s easy to question yourself if you think you aren’t doing as well,” Baranyai says. “But remember, you don’t really know how well that person is doing. If you’d like to be more successful, the important thing is to acknowledge your strengths, give yourself constructive criticism, and go in the direction where there’s growth potential for you.”