Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Craft Shows for Beginners

So you want to participate in your first craft show? But, where do you start?

First let me tell you, crafters on the whole are a great group of people to get to know. They are as passionate about their art/craft as you are about your own. They can also be the most helpful group of people you will ever meet. I can remember an outdoor craft show that Mother Nature thought it would be fun to throw some good old Kansas wind at. I remember trying to pull as many items off of my shelves as possible while my husband held on to the canopy and was lifted off the ground a couple of times. An older gentleman from the booth across the way saw what was happening and helped my husband stake down the canopy on two more points, with his own stakes. We had prepared for the possibilty, we had sand bags and some smaller stakes but we weren't ready for wind gusting 30-40 mph down the aisle. This gentleman didn't have to help us and he wouldn't take anything in exchange, therefore, we've paid it forward many times over.

I'd also like you to keep in mind that each and every show is a gamble. There are no guarantees that you are going to make money at any show. Many times you have to be in the right place at the right time. You can have the best looking booth at an event, but if you don't have the products that people in that area want they aren't going to buy. Everything from the weather, economic conditions (did a major employer just announce layoffs) and what other events are happening at the same time can affect your bottom line. That's not to say you can't succeed at every show, if sales are slow make sure you network, give out business cards, generate interest in your business. Remember those friendly crafters I mentioned above... they may be your best advocates, telling promoters and other vendors about you, which leads to more show opportunities and great connections.

My suggestions to get you started are:
  1. Do your homework. Find shows you want to attend and take the time to go see how they are run. Are the aisles kept clean, does it look professional, can you see your booth next to the majority of the vendors there? Are there a lot of booths with "buy/sell items?" Speak with the vendors and ask them how they like the show and if you're interested, how to find the show's organizer.
  2. If you can, start small. Get your feet wet in small shows. This will give you the chance to work through what works and what needs improvement. It also gives you a starting point to get those pictures of your booth setup that the larger show promoters want. My first show was run by the VFW Auxilliary in Victoria, KS. The booth rent was $40 for two spaces and we walked away with over $600 profit (needless to say I was hooked). I did that show every year until they could no longer find the volunteers to run it. If it were started up again, I'd be one of the first to sign up.
  3. Make lists. What do you need to take with you? I have a basic list that I update for each show.
  4. Make any necessary travel arrangements. If you are going to a show that is going to require a stay overnight book your hotel early, that way you can choose the rate and location of your lodging.
  5. Build up your inventory. Build your inventory to the point that you are comfortable. I have found that many times we take more than we will ever sell, but it is nice to have something to replace an item that has sold.
  6. Have promotional materials. Make sure you have lots of business cards (include your Etsy shop and any other website you have a selling presence on) and give them out - to potential customers, vendors, etc. Get your name out there. Even if you don't sell a dime a professional business card and smile can bring you contacts later down the road.
  7. Think booth space. I preset my booth and take pictures before every show. Keep in mind that the pictures are to be used as a map - and are never set in stone. Everything from the weather to how your neighboring vendors set up will affect your booth space. Be flexible and roll with the punches. Find table drapes that compliment your products and make them stand out. Think multi-dimensional, use risers and props to give your space some interest and feature specific items.

Preset of booth. We then pack down into boxes labeled by shelf
That way we don't have to go searching through our inventory to put it out.

But the most important things I can tell you is attitude is everything!

SMILE AND DON'T CROSS YOUR ARMS - I don't care if you are having a bad show, there are customers/vendors who travel from show to show and if you are grumpy at one they will avoid you down the road.

ACKNOWLEDGE everyone you can who stops just outside your booth with a hello. You don't have to push them in just let them know you realize they are there.

RELAX AND HAVE FUN - The more relaxed you are, the more you can visit about your products. The more you talk about your products to your potential customers and show how original or special they are, the better your sales.

TAKE SOMETHING AWAY FROM EVERY SHOW - What went well, what do you not want to repeat. Perfect your setup just like you strive to perfect your craft.

Ready to show - Liberal Kansas December 2010
See the light, my husband made that because we had shows with poor lighting

Other half of booth Liberal, KS December 2010

Close up of shelves Liberal, KS December 2010

Close up of back of booth - Liberal, KS December 2010


  1. So many good points and I love the good attitude on your checklist. I haven't done a show, but I've been to many and sometimes when it's the end of the day people are cranky. And even if I love their stuff, I don't even want to deal with them just by their demeanor.

  2. Great post!! Very helpful advice! I do quite a few shows each year and there is a lot of planning that should be done for a successful show. Great booth setup too!

  3. Your booth setup is wonderful, and I found your post very helpful. Lots of useful tips, even for those with experience doing shows.

  4. I agree that even if you don't have great sales participating in some shows can be a great way to make amazing contacts in your community and get some followers and potential future customers. I love seeing what customers pick up at my table at shows, it's a great way to test out new designs!

  5. I love this! You have so many items!

  6. that sounds like so much fun! I hope to do that at least once in my life!

  7. I wish they had craft shows around where I live!

  8. Great post!
    Thank you for sharing! :)

  9. Great advice! Thank you!

  10. What a thorough and well thought out post, great information. Thank you,
    Judy Stalus

  11. Good to brush up on those points as the show season is revving up in our area!

  12. I would like to go to a craft show someday. How cool is that!

  13. Great advice! Thanks for giving us beginners a look into craft shows :)

  14. Great advice. I would just add a word of caution to have a 2nd set of eyes always. Craft shows can be fun and rewarding, but you also have to watch your inventory! I've had things stolen. :(

  15. Very nice! Experience at a small show will help each seller grow and know what is expected for future shows! Networking is nice, too!
    Carol from Carol's Jewelry Orchard

  16. Wonderful points and information for someone starting out. A good attitude is so important.

  17. Great and useful information. Thanks you.

  18. Wonderful info. Thanks for sharing with us.

  19. A very comprehensive and helpful article. I've only done a few small indoor shows with my jewelry and it's quite a challenge as a newbie. Thank you so much for sharing this wealth of information.

  20. I've done craft shows for YEARS and I LOVE how you've created this guide to help newbies get organized for one. Thank you.

  21. good ideas---i need to find a buddy to do shows with---i can't lift and set up like i used to--the old arthur-itis doesn't help!

    thanks for the good post--i'll come back and see where i can do some things by myself!
    marilyn g