5 Ways you’re Losing Money at Craft Shows


If you’ve sold your handmade products at a craft show, you know how much work goes into preparing for the event.


It’s incredibly disappointing when you sell less than you were expecting. 


But it’s even worse when you lose money because of the craft show. 


This article outlines the not-so-obvious ways craft shows can eat into your profits and leave you with a deficit. 



Craft Show ROI

For this article, I want to focus on return on investment (ROI). 


Your ROI is important in all aspects of your business (I cover that in The Success Planner), but craft shows tend to be an area where a negative ROI is less obvious.


Many crafters count their cash after the craft show, deduct their table fee, and consider what’s left to be profits. 


But there’s much more you spend money on when you sell at craft shows. 


And let’s not forget about your hourly wages. 


To be successful, you must make more money than you spend on a craft show (seems obvious, but there are many expenses, wages, and opportunities vendors ignore).


Otherwise, you have a negative return on investment and are actually losing money. 


Here are common things that may have you spending more than you make:



1) Your Inventory

When it comes to craft show expenses, the bulk of your time and money will be spent on inventory. There are a few ways your inventory can contribute to a negative ROI.


A) Too much inventory

Ideally, if you make too much stock for a craft show, you can sell it after the event and not lose money. 

However, you may not be able to sell products for a profit after a craft show if your stock is seasonal, on-trend, or easily shopworn (gets slightly damaged from being handled by shoppers or during transport or set up. E.g. greeting cards may get bent corners or discolored from dirty hands).

You also don’t want to use all your time leading up to an event frantically making as much stock as you can, while ignoring other important business tasks. 

Use this guide to estimate how much stock you need for a craft show as accurately as you can.

>>How Much Stock to Bring to a Craft Show: Calculations & Formulas

B) Wrong inventory

You’ll end up deterring sales if you make stock that: 

    • isn’t a fit for the shoppers the craft show attracts
    • doesn’t have a USP (unique selling position) that attracts shoppers
    • decreases the perceived value of your work (cramming a table with too much stock and too many types of products can make all the products seem cheap).
    • causes confusion (selling art and knitting and jewelry can leave shoppers wondering what the vendor’s expertise/specialty is).

C) Unprofitable production practices

Putting pride into the products you make shouldn’t be at the cost of profits. 

The longer you take to make each item, the less you profit. 

Of course, you don’t want sloppy work to devalue your products. 

I’m not suggesting you rush.

I’m suggesting you streamline. 

Repetition creates efficiency. So break your production into steps and repeat the same step for multiple products before moving on to the next step. 

Read more about lowering production costs here: How To Lower Production Costs to Increase Profits

Make sure the time you spend creating stock is efficient and that your products’ prices incorporate your production wages. 

>> Here’s the right way to price your products

If your material costs and wages are higher than the price you charge, you will have lost money at the end of a craft show, even if you end up selling all your stock.



2) Your Display

Your craft show display does need to look professional, attract shoppers, and encourage sales. But display elements don’t need to be expensive to do all that. 


Be mindful of how much you spend on your craft show display elements; 

  • signage
  • props
  • display fixtures
  • tables
  • tent
  • etc.


If you’re testing the waters with craft shows and aren’t sure how many you’ll participate in in the future, don’t spend hundreds of dollars creating a display. 


You don’t need a professionally printed sign or retail-grade display fixtures. Get creative and find ways to DIY fixtures and props or make thrifted items look on-brand and professional. 


Use the profits from each craft show to invest in your display. 


If your first 5 craft shows are profitable and you plan to sell at 5 more, then it may be time to invest in a professionally printed sign and higher-end display fixtures.


The time and money you spend on your display will reduce your profits. So be efficient and stay on budget.


>> Try my free 5-day email course: 5 DAYS TO A STANDOUT CRAFT SHOW DISPLAY



3) Selling Hours

If you spend time making stock for the craft show, and you don’t sell that stock, you can still cover your production costs by selling those products after the event. 


The same is true if you spend hours planning your craft show display. You can use that same display (with no additional costs) at future craft shows and eventually recoup your costs. 


However, you can’t get paid for hours spent at the craft show, after the event. 


You must sell enough at the craft show to cover your sales wages (time spent selling at the craft show multiplied by your hourly wage). 


Many crafters don’t put a value on their time and aren’t worried about being paid for every hour they work. 


But think of it this way…

Would you spend 8 hours at a craft show to promote Walmart’s products and be okay if they didn’t pay you for those hours? 


Or think about the valuable tasks you could be completing if you weren’t at the craft show. You could be making products, selling online, or even spending quality time with friends and family.


So if you’re taking time away from other valuable tasks by being at a craft show, those hours need to be worth your time, right?


When those craft show doors are open, make the most of every selling opportunity.


  • Finish your setup on time – shoppers won’t feel comfortable shopping your table if you’re standing in front of it moving things around. Be ready to sell during every selling hour.
  • Be present – don’t sit on your phone or bury your head in a book (even if you’re shy and feeling uncomfortable)
  • Be welcoming – watching shoppers in the aisle can make them feel intimidated to stop at your table. Stay busy behind your table while glancing up periodically to smile at shoppers. And of course, give shoppers as much attention as they may need when they’re in your space (you’ll have to pick up on their cues).
  • Conversate with shoppers – not every conversation needs to be a sales pitch. Sometimes simply chatting with a shopper can be enough to build a connection and encourage them to buy.


It’s also important you choose the right craft shows. 


It doesn’t matter how great of a salesperson you are; if the event doesn’t attract many shoppers (due to lack of marketing by the organizer), or doesn’t attract your target market, you’ll have a hard time making sales and covering your sales wages.


>> You’ll find lots of selling tips to make you more comfortable and effective selling in Make More Money at Craft Fairs



4) Event Expenses

Every vendor takes the table fee into account when determining if they made money at the end of the event. 


However, most forget about the other costs associated with selling at the craft show.


Anything you spend money on, because of the craft show, is a cost that needs to be covered by selling at the craft show.


Aside from table fees and display costs, you must also consider:

  • travel – the cost of gas to drive to and from the event
  • parking – if you have to pay for parking while you’re at the event
  • lodging – if the event is out of town and you must stay at a hotel for the weekend
  • food – buying lunch at the event (and breakfast/dinner if the event is out of town)
  • transaction fees – if you’re using a credit card reader, there are fees for each transaction
  • shopping bags – you’ll need bags to place customers’ purchases in


Think about everything you may need to spend money on leading up to, and during, the craft show. 


Consider if there are ways to reduce those costs to help ensure you profit.



5) Theft

You may wonder what type of person would steal from a small handmade business, but it does happen. 


You don’t have to be suspicious of every shopper, but you also can’t be too trusting. 


Use these tips to help prevent theft from your space: 10 Tips to Prevent Theft at a Craft Show


If you need to leave your table and don’t have a helper, consider having a second tablecloth or sheet you can place over your table while you’re gone. 


Small items such as jewelry will be really easy for someone to take without anyone noticing…even the booth neighbor you’ve asked to keep an eye on your space may miss it.


Although it’s not theft, you can also lose money if customers break your products and you can’t repair them. 


Make sure your space is easy to shop and not too crowded. Items that are more fragile may be kept in a display behind your table so customers must ask to view them. This will ensure fewer people handle them. 



I hope this article has helped you identify ways money may be flowing out of your business when you sell at a craft show.



Finally understand why your hard work isn't resulting in more sales

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