For a blog that’s all about selling at craft shows, this article may seem out of place.
But too many people sign up for craft shows, full of hope, and walk away with their dreams crushed, vowing never to sell at another craft show.
I don’t want you to lose money at craft shows, or worse yet, abandon your dreams because you didn’t sell as much as you wanted.
These are 10 challenges to be aware of and prepared to overcome.
>> If you’re ready to dive into craft shows and are determined to make them profitable, check out: Make More Money at Craft Fairs
>> You may also be interested in 7 Types of Craft Shows to Avoid
1. Overhead costs
It took me longer than I’d like to admit to realize that the wad of cash I was walking away from a craft show with, wasn’t all money in the bank.
I would count my money at the end of the show and if I had more than I spent on the craft show fee for the table, I considered the show a success.
However, there is a lot of time spent preparing for a craft show outside of production hours.
And there are many little fees that accumulate due to a craft show.
As long as you’re able to sell the unsold stock from a craft show, you’ll eventually recoup your production costs.
However, costs that are a direct result of the craft show (expenses and wages), should be covered by craft show sales to make a return on investment.
Some of the expenses and wages you’ll incur due to a craft show are:
- craft show table fees
- wages for time spent setting up/taking down
- wages for time spent selling at a craft show
- parking and travel expenses
Your prices must have enough markup so each sale helps cover a craft show’s expenses (and collectively, your total sales from the craft show cover all expenses that are because of the craft show).
On top of that, you should be left with profits; money left over after you deduct ALL costs (production costs, wages, craft show expenses).
Be aware of all the expenses related to craft shows and look for ways to reduce them.
Speed up your setup and take down times, pack a lunch, buy shopping bags in bulk, change credit card readers to a service that has a lower rate, etc.
Make sure you’ve priced your products properly so you have a better chance of covering all those expenses and making a profit.
>> Here’s a guide: The Right Way to Price a Handmade Product (Step-by-Step Formula)
2. Smaller sales
Although there are exceptions, the majority of craft show shoppers buy smaller, lower-priced items.
This can pose a challenge if the majority of your products are over $40 – $50 and/or are hard to carry.
Keep typical craft show shopper behavior in mind when preparing stock and consider developing a line of products that are lower priced.
For example, a woodworker who makes larger pieces such as coffee tables may bring one or two tables plus a lookbook so they can take orders at the event and deliver them after.
They may create a new product line of smaller items such as coasters, trays, charcuterie boards, crib boards, or other items that work with a coffee table.
These types of items are easier purchases for craft show shoppers to make.
>> Check out other entry-level product ideas here: How to Create an Entry-Level Product for your Handmade Business
It’s important that all your products work together and encourage more sales.
You want to make the most of each customer. Create items that are commonly purchased together so one transaction includes multiple items and one transaction leads to a future transaction.
>> Here’s a great system for developing products that encourage more sales: How To Sell More to Each Customer (w/ a Ladder System)
3. Time diversion
I have participated in small shows that only run for a few hours. But most require you to be at the event for several hours over 1 – 3 days (sometimes more).
The time you spend preparing for, selling at, and recovering from a craft show is time away from other aspects of your business (or personal life).
When you’re selling at a craft show, you aren’t making more stock, updating your website or Etsy shop, marketing your products, etc.
So it’s important that a craft show is worth your time and gives you a return on investment.
Choose craft shows wisely to help ensure a return on investment (ROI), and take the time after each craft show to determine whether or not you’re making a return on investment.
Simply, did you make more money at the craft show than you spent on the craft show?
If you don’t track ALL craft show expenses and costs (here are 10 to be aware of) and pay attention to the ROI of each craft show, you could go years selling at craft show after craft show, getting a poor ROI.
Taking the time to calculate your return on investment after each show will show you whether or not craft shows are worth your time.
*Do this with other areas of your business too. How much time do you spend posting to social media in a month? How many monthly sales are your social media posts responsible for?
Low ROI tells you you need to change your tactics or stop spending time and/or money on a task altogether.
>> The Success Planner will help you track and calculate important numbers and build a profitable business.
4. Product saturation
The people who shop at craft shows…tend to shop at craft shows.
Meaning, they’ve been around the block when it comes to craft shows and have seen handmade products before.
They’re not going to be blown away by a hand-knitted scarf, handmade soap, or other crafts that only require entry-level skills to create; those categories are saturated.
Almost every craft show has a vendor selling:
- knitted goods
- wreaths or wooden signs
If you want to make more than a few sales, you need to offer something above and beyond what craft show shoppers typically see.
Visit a couple of local craft shows to see what type of vendors are in your category (e.g. if you sell jewelry, what type of jewelry vendors are at craft shows?).
Can you create something different and/or better than what’s already out there?
- Target a different type of customer…here’s how.
- Create products that follow a different theme…here’s how.
- Find a unique selling position…here’s how.
No matter how you choose to get creative with your products and offer something different, it’s important that they’re made with a specific target market in mind.
A jewelry maker can create a unique line of jewelry by using old doll parts; that would make their jewelry different. But is there a market for that type of jewelry?
>> Here’s how to find a profitable target market: How to Define a Target Market for your Handmade Business
5. Unknown bestsellers
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stayed up late making a lot of stock in a certain product, because it was popular at the last event, only to sell a couple of that item over 2 or 3 days.
Or how many times I’ve created a new product thinking it was going to be popular, only to have it ignored.
Online, you can use tools to determine the search demand for a product. And you can start with one product, list it, and make more if the demand is there.
At a craft show, you don’t know who’s going to show up and what they’re going to be looking for. But you must be prepared for each product to be a bestseller.
That uncertainty can lead to time and money spent on products that don’t sell.
The more craft shows you sell at, the better idea you’ll have of general (craft show) consumer trends.
>> Here is What Sells Best at a Craft Show
However, every business should have multiple sales channels to soften the blow of a product not selling at a craft show.
If you sell at craft shows, you should also have an Etsy shop or website to sell online. Or retail stores you can sell your product through on wholesale or consignment deals.
Keep those other sales channels in mind when creating stock for a craft show.
That way, if you create a product you know is popular online, but it doesn’t translate to sales at a craft show, you can list unsold items on Etsy and recoup your production costs.
6. Organizer dependence
You must put your trust in a craft show organizer and their ability to market the event and get shoppers to it.
Although every vendor should do their part to get people to the event, the majority of the marketing is out of your hands.
>> Here are ways to promote your next craft show: 10 Ways to Get More Buyers to your Craft Show Table
Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with more “bad” organizers than I have “good”.
So you really must do your due diligence to ensure the organizer has a good reputation and knows how to market an event.
Look for craft shows that have a track record.
That’s not to say new organizers can’t put on a great event. But if an organizer runs a craft show year after year, it’s a good sign the past ones have been successful.
You can also get a better idea of how many people attend their events.
With each year, an event should grow. So if the event had 1000 shoppers visit last year, they may see a 5 – 15% bump in shoppers this year.
You should also look for craft shows that have a clear target market and an organizer that has a marketing plan.
A good portion of your craft show fees should be going toward marketing.
So if the organizer isn’t planning on marketing the event beyond creating a few Facebook posts, it may be a sign that the event won’t attract many shoppers.
7. Traffic uncertainty
You can pick the best craft show in town, run by an expert organizer/marketer, and every vendor can do their part to make the event a success, but it can still be a flop.
Online traffic to a website like Etsy stays fairly steady from month to month and even day to day. There aren’t typically huge disruptions to online traffic.
However, a snowstorm can keep people home the weekend of a craft show, while a beautiful weekend in the summer can drive people to parks and pools, and away from an indoor craft show.
No matter how much effort goes into planning, foot traffic to a craft show is unpredictable.
Be sure to invite your fans, followers, and customers to your events as there’s more incentive for shoppers to visit when they know a vendor they love will be there.
You may also consider offering a perk (e.g. a coupon they can print and redeem only at the craft show).
Also, make sure you have other sales channels you can use to sell stock leftover from a slow craft show.
>> Here are ways to get your fans, followers, and customers to an upcoming craft show: 10 Ways to Get More Buyers to your Craft Show Table
>> And here are some unique, last-minute ways to get shoppers to a slow craft show: How to Promote a Craft Show Last Minute
Craft shows have a way of making you doubt your abilities (more so than selling online).
I think because the build-up to a craft show is so big. You spend so much time preparing for a craft show and there’s a lot of excitement packed into one or two days.
When you spend that much time and money preparing, and only a few people buy, it can leave you feeling crushed.
A bad craft show is not a reflection of your work.
You’d have a hard time finding a craft show vendor who has never experienced a bad show. It happens to all of us.
Go into a craft show with curiosity and be open to making changes based on the show’s outcome.
Most business owners have to pivot from their original idea. So there’s no shame in your first business or product idea not working.
If people are visiting your table but not buying, use the craft show as an opportunity to do some market research.
Let shoppers know you’ve just started your business and are looking for honest feedback. Ask specific questions (e.g. don’t ask “What would you change about this product” but rather “Would you prefer this item if it was X or Y?”).
Running a business is all about learning and adapting. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, something changes.
Look for opportunities in the challenges.
9. Unsolicited advice
Whether you ask for it or not, people love to give you their opinion when you’re running a business.
Expect to hear mostly positive comments, but a lot of “you should make X”, “I could make this” or “I could buy this for half the price at X store”.
Don’t let unsolicited comments and advice about your work get you down, frustrate you, or derail you.
It’s great to gather feedback but don’t run with an idea just because one person has a suggestion.
I wasted a lot of time and money making different products because someone told me “I’d buy X if you offered it”.
People who are quick to give their opinion often do so because they don’t want to pull their wallets out. “I’d buy if you had this” is not always, but often an excuse not to buy. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a shopper who complains about what I don’t have on my table, visit me at a future craft show or find me online.
One person will not make or break your business.
If dozens of people suggest a feature or product, then you should spend some time researching to determine if it’s a viable product for you to sell (i.e. is there a market for it? Can you make it profitable?).
One person making a suggestion should not send you down a rabbit hole, researching and executing an idea.
10. Imposter syndrome
This isn’t a reason NOT to do craft fairs, but it’s a mindset to watch out for when you sell at your first event.
You’re going to see a mix of vendors at your first event.
Vendors who know everyone in the room, have their products and display dialed in and have a constant flow of shoppers and sales.
This can make you feel like you don’t belong, but trust me, they were in your shoes at one time.
Most people selling at local craft shows don’t have an MBA.
They’re a creative, just like you, and are learning as they go. So don’t be intimidated by other vendors at the event. Get to know them and soak up some of their knowledge.
If you keep these 10 points in mind and prepare for them using the tips suggested, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of most craft show vendors.
Use the guide Make More Money at Craft Fairs to take your craft show game to the next level.
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!