Five Tips for Selling Your Goods at a Craft Show
As a designer of physical goods like stamp sets and paper products, how people experience my products is important to me — everything from their first point of contact with my packaging to how they open it, study it, and ultimately use it. My obsessive designer side kicks in and I go all out with color-coordinated labels, delightful packaging, and even small, handwritten notes for each and every order I ship out.
However, since I run an online business, my control over how customers experience my products only goes so far. I mostly get feedback by observing Instagram-savvy buyers who post photos and YouTubers who share unboxing videos. Other than that, all I can do is hope they love what they bought after I send it out.
This is one reason why I love craft shows, and why I believe it’s essential for small businesses (especially online ones!) to try selling in person at least once. It’s a great way to get instant feedback on your work, and observing how people react and use your products is basically free user research. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching strangers’ faces light up when they see your packaging and no better learning experience than a potential customer asking about how to use your product.
Here are a few things that have worked for me while preparing for craft shows:
1. Know your audience and where to find them.
The first thing to do when considering participating in a local craft show is to know the event’s audience and location. How much traffic did the event get the last time around? What is the usual demographic of people who attend, and in what neighborhood is it held? Who are the other vendors?
The first show I joined was organized by the San Francisco Center for the Book, so I knew a ton of paper nerds would be there. (And since paper nerds are into letterpress, I thought they might be into stamps, too.) Lastly, don’t forget to take dates into account: If another important event is happening in your city at the same time, attendance at your show may be lighter than you expect.
2. Sweat the details: Check your inventory, product lines, and supplies.
Do you have enough products on hand, both in terms of quantity and variety? When I started planning for my first craft show, I realized that the only product in my shop were clear stamps. I wanted a booth full of paper products that brought people in whether or not they were crafty, so I quickly produced supplementary products, including postcard packs, travel-themed prints, a travel journal, and a clipboard calendar.
It’s hard to predict which products will be more popular, so inventory planning can get tricky, but remember that you can sell online the products that didn’t do as well at the show. The best thing is to have a booth full of fun products that people can look through and hopefully buy.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It was a challenge for me to prepare for my first show since I live alone in a small space and don’t have a car. While planning my booth, I had to come up with display structures up that were foldable, could fit in an Uber, and were easy to pack and organize myself. It wasn’t easy, but I did it!
One thing I learned: Other vendors have been there, done that, and are more than willing to help out a newbie. Make friends with your booth neighbors and take turns watching each other’s stuff while one of you runs out for food. They’re the best people to ask for advice because more often than not, they’ve successfully done this before.
4. Make it easy for customers to buy from you.
On the day of the show, make the customer experience as easy as possible, while ensuring that your products are the center of attention. Design a booth layout that looks inviting to customers by showcasing a bestseller directly at eye level. Make payment easy, too, whether this means you get a credit card reader or have change ready. List prices by your products so that customers don’t have to ask. Since my stamps required some explanation, I had a few signs with instructions listed and a small stamp station where people could try out the stamps. It was a Christmas craft show, so I let customers stamp their own free gift tags. A lot of people ended up buying my stamps after seeing how easy they were to use.
5. Have fun: Smile, chat, and market yourself!
As a classic introvert, the most exhausting thing (in the best way) about that first craft show was smiling and chatting with strangers all day. I was constantly demoing the stamps and answering the same questions (no, I did not invent these, though I wish I had, and yes, they are reusable). But I was excited that people were curious about my products.
Remember, this is a great opportunity to talk to prospective customers — especially your target market. (You’ll know them by the sparkle in their eyes when they pass your booth.) Ask them what other products they’re interested in, what they do, and what they’ll use your products for. Use this as an opportunity to invite people to sign up for your mailing list, too — your best future online customer might just be in front of you!
Preparing for a craft fair takes a lot of time and energy, but there are a ton of resources online that can help guide the way. I think the best ones are personal blog entries from small business owners about their experience. Also, organizers behind the annual Renegade Craft Fair have a great archive of posts for vendors, and CreativeLive has a good class for people getting ready to join shows. I also love browsing through booth ideas on Pinterest and asking other creatives for advice.
If you’ve always wanted to try designing physical products or are looking to start an online business, a craft show is, by far, the best way to test products and get invaluable feedback. Go for it, and get your products out there!
Christine Herrin is one of Adobe’s Creative Residents. Find out more about her and the Creative Residency.
October 12, 2016