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August 10, 2014

How to Test your Handmade Products at a Craft Show

My friend and I got a piece of advice once that has really stuck with us; don’t try to perfect your business before you go to market, the market will perfect it for you. Before launching a business or new product, we work so hard to get everything perfect. The problem is: you’ll be waiting forever and there’s no way to tell what perfect is. Farmers’ Markets and Craft Shows are the perfect place to test out what works, what doesn’t and what customers are drawn to.

Here’s how you can take the first steps of getting out there and gathering feedback:

1) Scope out the scene. Check out Made Urban’s event page to find craft shows, farmers’ markets and festivals in your city. Head to one as a shopper to get a feel for what they’re like, how vendors set up their tables and what the traffic is like. Talk to a couple vendors to see if they have any suggestions for upcoming markets to try.

2) Sign up for your first market. Choose a market that you think will be a good fit and try to start with a smaller one. There are several that last for 2 or more days but it may be a good idea to start with a 1 day event or even a farmers’ market that’s just a few hours one evening.

3) Work your way backwards.The first craft show or market you attend will be full of unknowns so you’ll have to do a lot of guesstimating. Think about what you would like to get out of the market: what items would you like to get feedback on? How much money would you like to make? How would you like your table to look? Based on your answers, you can determine the items you need to bring to the sale and how much stock you need to make.

4) Don’t try to be everything to everyone. You’ll want to test a few items out but you don’t want to confuse the customer. It’s easy for your imagination to run wild and think of all the things you can make before a craft show. But it’s best to focus on what you do well and showcase a few key items that will be the meat and potatoes of your business.

5) Bring photos of your work. If you want to show customers more variations or different items you’re able to make, bring a flipbook full of photos. This will allow you to keep a clean, clear message at your table, making it easy for customers to shop, while still showcasing a wide selection.

6) Ask for feedback. You can usually get a pretty good idea of what people like and don’t like by watching their reactions and listening to their comments. But if you want more reassurance, ask them. Strike up a conversation with the shoppers that visit your table and let them know this is your first craft show or you’re a new company and see if they have any feedback or tips for you. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, have a comment form at your table that people can fill out anonymously. Once you get an idea of what’s working and what’s not, adjust your products accordingly.

7) Have contact information accessible. Keep a stack of business cards with your contact information on the corner of your table and pass them on to people who buy and even those who don’t buy. You need to make sure people know where to find you if they want to purchase again or how they can get in contact with you.

8) Learn from others. You don’t want to walk away from a sale and copy someone else’s set up or idea, but keep an eye on which booths are consistently busy and think about what they’re doing right. Do they stand out from every other table? In what way? Tables are successful for a number of different reasons; it could be the product, the set up, the story or the personality behind the table. Think of ways you can apply successful ingredients to your business.

9) Chat with your neighbors. The crafting community is a great one to be a part of. It’s easy to feel like an outsider when you first start but as you chat with people, you’ll discover they’re all so willing to help. Ask fellow vendors if they have any advice for you in terms of products, craft sales to attend, places to buy material or general business advice. You’ll probably get a boatload of information from the people who know the market best.

10) Look at it as a learning experience. You’re not going to walk away rich from your first craft sale but you will gain some knowledge. Whether it turns out to be profitable or not, use it as a learning experience to decide what you may do differently in the future or if you want to focus on an entirely different market.

Image courtesySicha Pongjivanich/

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