When I started selling at craft shows, I would count my money at the end of the event, compare that total to my booth fee, and if I made more money than my booth fee, I considered the event a success.
But there are so many other costs to doing craft shows.
Many vendors don’t realize they’re actually losing money at craft shows.
You can’t ignore all the overhead expenses and time that goes into craft fairs.
You take a job that requires you to drive 40 hours/week and you’ll be paid $600/week.
It doesn’t seem too bad at first glance.
$15/hour to drive around and listen to music or podcasts.
But now consider…
>> You’ll be using your car (and putting hundreds of miles on it each week).
>> You must pay for gas (approx $400/week)
>> You’re responsible for oil changes, flat tires, and other wear and tear expenses. As well as maintenance costs such as windshield wiper fluid, car cleanings, etc. (approx $50/week)
>> You’re required to pay taxes on the $600 you’re paid (let’s say that’s around 10% = $60).
Now you’re left with $90.
You’re only being paid $2.25/hour for your time.
Would you be happy spending 40 hours a week doing this job? Getting paid $2.25/hour and depreciating your vehicle?
Or would you renegotiate your rate?
This is the scenario many craft show vendors find themselves in.
When they add up ALL the expenses craft shows require them to spend money on, and consider how valuable their time is, they realize craft shows aren’t helping their business get ahead.
Here are the costs you need to be aware of so you don’t find yourself in the same position.
These are things you’ll need to spend money on each time you sell at a craft show.
1. Vendor booth fee
The fee to rent a table or booth at a craft show, market, festival or trade show can vary from free to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
If you’re selling at a small craft show at your local community, your child’s school, or your church, the organizer may not charge anything.
Some organizers choose to take a commission on vendor sales instead of an upfront fee (or charge a flat table fee plus a commission on each sale).
Bigger craft shows typically charge between $50 – $250 for a table.
While bigger trade shows and festivals with 100’s of vendors may charge between $500 – $1000.
It’s important to choose the right craft shows for your business; ones that give you a better chance of making a profit.
The price of a booth or table fee is NOT an indication of how much money you’ll make.
I’ve sold very little at big, expensive events that attracted hundreds of shoppers and have done very well at smaller, inexpensive community craft shows.
When choosing craft shows, you need to weigh several options such as:
- how long the event has been going on
- organizer’s experience running craft shows
- how many vendors the event has
- how many shoppers an event attracts
- the type of shoppers an event attracts (are they your target market?)
- how much time and money the organizer puts into marketing
- the event venue (and potential foot traffic)
- time of the event (is it around a gift-giving holiday? Is the craft show competing with another big event in the city?)
- craft show attractions (are people visiting the event to shop or is the main focus music or food trucks?)
There are many factors that go into choosing the right craft shows for your business so you don’t waste time and money.
If you need help choosing the right ones, check out: Make More Money at Craft Fairs.
Here are some of the tasks you’ll need to spend time on when selling at craft shows:
- applying to craft shows
- planning your display
- marketing the event
- tagging your products
- designing signage
- sourcing display and sales items (e.g. shopping bags, business cards, etc.)
- packing products into bins
- preparing and packing display elements
- preparing your online shop before an event (e.g. removing listings for products you’ll be selling at the craft show)
- driving to and from the event
- setting up and taking down your display
- selling at the event
Although you can, you shouldn’t just pay yourself with the money left over after you deduct all your expenses.
Chances are, you’re underestimating how many hours you spend preparing for a craft show and how valuable your time is.
Let’s say you have $200 after deducting all production and craft show costs.
>> The craft show is a 2-day event, 8 hours each day.
>> You spend another 4 hours packing/unpacking your car, driving to and from the event, setting up and taking down your booth.
>> Maybe you spend 10 hours in the month leading up to the craft show posting about it, tagging products, designing your display and doing a mock setup, etc.
You’ve spent 30 hours on the craft show (not including your time to make the product).
If you’re using that $200 of “profit” to pay yourself, you only made a little over $6/hour.
Not to mention, the money left after you cover expenses should be put back into your business to help it grow.
At some point, you must stop dipping into your personal bank account to buy materials, pay for upcoming craft show fees, etc.
Your products’ prices should include the hourly wage you must pay yourself to make your products and operate your business.
Take the time to track your time and price your products properly.
In most cases, the common pricing formula (production costs x 2 = Wholesale Price. Wholesale Price x 2 = Retail Price) does not work.
Try this simple pricing method instead: The Right Way to Price a Handmade Product (Step-by-Step Formula)
3. Transaction Fees
Not many people carry cash these days. This means you’ll be missing out on sales if you don’t have a credit card reader.
Even if the event has a cash machine nearby, it’s still important to have a credit card reader.
I can’t tell you how many shoppers said they’d run to the ATM and come back to buy, but never returned. I lost a lot of sales by only accepting cash.
When you use a credit card reader, you must pay transaction fees.
It varies, but on average, a fee per transaction is around 2.5% + $0.10.
On a $20 sale, you’re paying $0.60 in transaction fees ($0.50 + $0.10).
If you made 100 $20 sales (and used a credit card reader for all), that would be:
$60 in transaction fees.
Choose your credit card reader wisely (based on the best fees) and encourage shoppers to pay cash if they can.
Unless the craft show is a block away from your home, you’ll be spending money on travel.
Gas to get to and from the event will be your minimum cost (which may seem insignificant but it will add up).
There may also be parking fees to park your car close to the venue.
And consider the mileage on your vehicle (which can add up if you drive further distances to several craft shows). That mileage may mean you incur more maintenance costs and the value of your vehicle will depreciate.
This only applies if you’re traveling out of town for a craft show and must stay at a hotel.
If you’re planning to sell at an out-of-town event, make sure it’s the right fit for your business.
Just because it’s a big, well-known show does not mean you’ll sell a lot of product and it’ll be worth the travel and accommodation costs.
If you don’t have time to pack a lunch, snacks, and drinks, you’ll need to buy food and beverages from vendors at the craft show or restaurants close to the craft show.
And if you must leave your booth to go get food, you’ll need to close it up to avoid theft (here are anti-theft tips) which will result in lost sales.
If you’re lucky enough to have a helper, that may be another expense to consider (as you’ll likely want to compensate their for their time in some way).
Even a spouse helping you out for free means 2x the cost of food or added travel fees (gas they use driving to and from the event to give you a lunch break).
Taxes technically aren’t a cost of craft shows. I included “taxes” so you’re aware of them and charge accordingly, and so they don’t turn into an expense.
If you’re required to pay sales tax then you should collect sales tax with each sale and simply pass that tax money on to the government.
But if you’re unaware of your local tax laws, and are required to remit sales tax, you’ll be paying out of your pocket if you don’t plan ahead and charge customers sales tax at a craft show.
Whether or not you must charge sales tax will depend on your local tax laws.
Understand your local tax laws before you start selling at craft shows.
These are things that won’t require your time and/or money for each craft show. You’ll likely need to spend time/money on them one or two times a year.
To determine the cost per craft show for these items, consider how often you’ll need to spend time/money on them and how many craft shows you estimate you’ll sell at within that time.
For example, let’s say you need to buy a vendor tent for outdoor farmers’ markets. You’ll need to spend approximately $300 on a tent, but that tent should last 5 years before you need to replace it.
Perhaps you plan to sell at 12 markets throughout the year, over 5 years, that’s 60 events.
The vendor tent works out to $5/craft show.
On the other hand, you may buy a package of 500 shopping bags for $200, and those may only last you 5 events. That’s $40/event you’re spending on bags.
Here are some common one-time expenses of craft shows.
7. Display elements
If you want to be taken seriously by craft show shoppers and make some serious sales, your display should look professional.
Put effort into planning your display and choosing appropriate fixtures, props, and signage.
Track the time you spend planning and sourcing materials for your display for your wages.
Physical objects you may need to spend money on for your craft show display are:
- tent – for outdoor events, or if you need/want walls and a ceiling for hanging space at an indoor event.
- table & chair – some craft shows provide a table and chair and will include the cost in your vendor fee. But some will require you to bring your own, in which case, you’ll likely need to purchase an appropriately-sized foldable table.
- sign holders
Also consider any bins, boxes, dollies, etc. you’ll need for transporting your stock to each craft show.
8. Marketing Material
To take full advantage of each craft show, you must make an effort to market your business to as many people as possible to increase your chances of sales after the event.
Not everyone will be interested in your products.
And of those who are interested in your products, not all of them will buy.
You also want those who do buy to come back and buy from you again. So it’s a good idea to place marketing material in each shopping bag.
Your marketing materials may be:
- business cards
- flyers advertising upcoming events or promotions
- coupons customers can redeem in your online shop
The way you package a purchase can increase the perceived value of that purchase and of your brand.
Imagine a $500 suit being tossed in a plastic bag. It makes the suit seem less valuable and doesn’t end the shopper experience on a high note.
A branded bag will also help you market your business and booth to other shoppers at the event.
Imagine seeing several shoppers holding bright pink shopping bags. When a shopper sees a bright pink booth, they’ll make the connection and feel compelled to see what dozens of shoppers have loved enough to buy.
Materials you may want/need for each purchase are:
- Shopping bags
- Tissue paper
- Receipt book
10. Business setup
Learn about the local laws you must follow when setting up a business.
Most jurisdictions require you to have a business license if you’re selling products for profit.
Depending on what you sell (and where you’re operating your business), you may also need permits, and be required to charge sales tax.
Legally setting up your business will be a cost you’ll incur before selling at craft shows.
>> Check out Laws for Selling Handmade
Once you know all your expenses, compare those to how many sales you estimate you can make, then multiply that number by your average price per sale.
Try to gather some average numbers from the event. How many shoppers is the event organizer expecting?
The average conversion rate of a brick-and-mortar store is between 20% – 40% (source).
Multiply the estimated traffic by the average conversion rate to get a rough idea of how many sales you might make.
This will help you determine if a craft show will be profitable for you.
You may need to:
- Reduce your costs
- Increase your prices
- Improve your conversion rates by:
For more tips and ways to be profitable when selling at craft shows, check out: Make More Money at Craft Fairs
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!