Here’s how I used to treat craft shows. I’d go into crazy-woman sewing mode in the weeks leading up to a craft show. All other marketing and updating of sales channels would stop so I could give my full attention to production.
I’d stay up late the last couple of nights before the show, gathering props for my table, tagging products, printing signage, etc.
I’d have a busy couple of days selling at the craft show, maybe coming home the first night and making more stock, and then once the event was over, I’d crash.
I’d give myself permission to sit on the couch and watch TV or step away from my business for a few days because I had just made a pocket full of money, worked my butt off leading up to the event, and…I deserved it.
Here’s when I realized something was off about that plan…
I was able to take time off after a craft show.
After a craft show should be just as busy as before.
I remember talking to another business owner who had sold at trade shows. He explained how different they were compared to craft shows and how much business they brought him in the form of BIG orders and connections that extended outside of the event.
I’ve been to lots of trade shows and craft shows and really analyzed why one sets you up for future business while the other tends to attract a lot of one-and-done sales.
In general, trade shows attract other business owners (who place bigger orders) while craft shows attract consumers, which tends to create one-time sales. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to build orders, contacts, and loyal customers at a craft show.
Once I started thinking about craft shows from a trade show angle, and how I could keep the momentum going after an event, I really did see more sales and retail orders come in post-event.
This article explains 5 common mistakes made at craft shows that encourage one-time sales instead of opportunities that set your business up for the future.
1) Using craft shows as only a sales channel
Craft shows are a great sales channel, but also a great marketing channel. Meaning, don’t just look at craft shows as a way to make a bunch of one-time sales, but also to make connections, grow your newsletter, and increase brand awareness.
Your main focus should be selling the product you’ve brought to the show, but don’t simply divide shoppers into one of two categories: will buy or won’t buy. There’s a third category that’s being neglected:
Will buy, just not today.
Here’s how to look at each craft show shopper:
1 – They are not a fit for your products now and will probably never buy – your products will never be right for everyone who walks into an event.
2 – They are a fit for your products and are going to buy that day.
3 – They are a fit for your products but aren’t going to buy that day – they may need a little more convincing or just need to wait for the right time (e.g. pay day).
On average, over 90% of shoppers will fall under #1 or #3. So if you’re simply focused on making the sale or nothing, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to market (not just sell) to the majority who aren’t going to buy that day.
Word of mouth marketing is so important for small businesses. Even if you look at people who your products aren’t for, consider how you can get them to consider buying as a gift for someone they know, or tell someone they know about your business.
Let’s look at two scenarios:
I make and sell a variety of products. On my table you can find some knitted hats, mitts, and blankets, as well as a variety of items I sew. I have a few aprons, pillow covers, and baby products such as bibs, burp cloths, etc.
If a shopper approached my table and didn’t have a need for anything on it, it’s unlikely they would think: these products would be perfect for so-and-so. Or: I’m going to remember this business for the next time I need a gift for x occasion.
I only sell baby-related products and I build my collections around prints with animals. For example, I have a set of burp cloths, bibs, and onesies made out of fabric with cats printed on it, and another collection made out of fabric with dogs printed on it.
The majority of people who pass my table, won’t have newborn babies. However, there will be many people who know someone who has a newborn, or is about to have a baby, or is planning to have a baby.
More shoppers are likely to look at my table and think: So-and-so would love these, she’s a cat person and is about to have a baby. I’m going to take a business card so I can find them when I need to buy a gift for their baby shower.
In scenario #1, my craft show table doesn’t make a connection to a specific person. So a shopper who’s not a part of my target market isn’t likely to think about my business after they leave the craft show.
In scenario #2, the shopper is not my target market, but they can immediately identify who my products would be perfect for. Therefore, they are more likely to think of someone they could buy my products for, or share my business with.
This article explains something I believe is important for every handmade business to have and that will help you create scenario #2 at your next craft show.
You can also use the following tactics to market at craft shows:
-Reach out to local shop owners before the event and encourage them to stop by. Have a lookbook and line sheet behind your table so they walk away with the information they need to place an order. (You may also be interested in: HOW TO ATTRACT WHOLESALE ORDERS AT CRAFT SHOWS)
-Get people signed up for your newsletter, that’s THE best way to stay in touch with shoppers who don’t buy. Getting them to follow you on social media is not nearly as effective and 80% of business cards will just end up in the trash (here’s how to make yours avoid the trash can)
-Build your brand awareness so shoppers remember your business’s name after the event and will recognize you right away at future events or online. The more they hear about your business, the more comfortable they become buying. Your booth should be so branded, shoppers could see it from across the room and recognize whose it is. “I saw that soap vendor at the last event I went to, I want to buy some this time.” Not “I wonder if that soap vendor is here….I don’t even remember their name or what their soap/booth/logo looked like.”
MAKE MORE MONEY AT CRAFT FAIRS has an entire chapter on branding your display: why it’s crucial, defining your brand, and how to communicate it at a craft show.
2) Using your craft show table as a stockroom
Although businesses will sometimes sell directly to consumers at a trade show, the direct one-time sale is sort of small potatoes to the trade show vendor. They’re after big orders from other businesses, which bring in revenue for months to come.
Trade show vendors aren’t creating and housing a bunch of stock to sell at the event, but rather, bring samples.
They’re creating displays that instantly tell trade show attendees what their business is all about, draw them in, and allow them to see a sufficient selection to make an order; not sort through every item they’ve ever made.
The purpose of a craft show is to sell directly to the consumer, so you do need enough stock for sales that day.
However, it can be beneficial to create a bit of a scarcity (make people think there’s limited quantity of an item while restocking from behind the table as items sell down)
Don’t think of your craft show space in terms of: how can I fit more stock in?
Think of your craft show space in terms of: how can I tell my brand’s story through the way I display my products?
Stacks of product sitting on a table without props, display fixtures, signage, color themes, etc. doesn’t say much aside from: I have some product to sell.
Download MAKE MORE MONEY AT CRAFT FAIRS for detailed instructions on creating a money-making craft show display.
3) Being order un-friendly
How would a vendor at a trade show take large orders if no two items offered were alike?
Most retailers do not want to leave it up to the vendor to choose which designs end up in their store. They want to know exactly what they’re ordering (e.g. 20 units of the silver necklace with leaf pendant and amethyst stone; not 20 handmade necklaces).
As a crafter, I wouldn’t give up control of the material I receive. “Hey supplier, send me 5 yards in 10 different fabrics…which colors and prints? You choose.”
Whether you’re selling to retailers or not, being set up to take orders and sell one type of product multiple times will encourage more sales after the craft show.
Truly one-of-a-kind products are here today, gone tomorrow.
Although that may create a bit of urgency to “buy now”, the 90%+ of shoppers who don’t buy will figure there’s no chance that one exact necklace they liked will still be available next week or month.
And if they did put the effort in to contact the vendor and ask about the necklace, how would they describe it? How would the vendor know which one they were talking about when they had 50 different necklaces at the event?
The majority of shoppers you encounter at a craft show will not buy from you that day. If they like your work, make sure they know they can buy the items they saw, once they’re ready.
4) Being unprepared for questions
Retailers at trade shows ask more hard-hitting questions than craft show shoppers might.
>> What’s your RRP?
>> What’s your minimum order?
>> What’s your lead-time?
>> Shipping costs?
>> What are your net payment terms?
Trade show vendors must be prepared to answer all of them.
I went into my first several craft shows as a vendor simply ready to set up my products, take people’s money and put their purchases into a shopping bag.
What sales pitch?
What do you mean by “wholesale prices”?
Although consumers may not come right out and ask: “What makes your scarves different and better than the vendor down the aisle selling scarves?”
They are wondering if your products are right for them. Craft show shoppers may not be business owners thinking about their bottom line and profits, but they are still trying to protect their money.
No one wants to spend money on a product that’s not right for them or that doesn’t last.
You must think about what your shoppers want to hear, the doubts and questions swirling around in their head as they shop, and be proactive; share what’s great about your products without having to be asked.
>> Download MAKE MORE MONEY AT CRAFT FAIRS if you need help uncovering your USP, coming up with an effective sales pitch or just tips on how to feel more comfortable setting up and selling at craft shows.
And, if you’re able to answer the questions retailers would ask, (even if you never plan to sell wholesale) you’ll inadvertently build a better business.
Retailers care about their bottom line and how profitable they can be selling your products through their store. You may have the most amazing products in the world, but if the profits are too low, retailers won’t touch them.
Build your business as though you could sell your products wholesale and be profitable, and you’ll make a lot more money when selling straight to consumers at craft shows.
>> Here’s the right way to price your products for profits: The Right Way to Price a Handmade Product (Step-by-Step Formula)
5) Offering no sense of security
No retailer is going to place an order at a trade show if the vendor doesn’t seem like they have their ducks in a row. Can you imagine them spending hundreds of dollars with a business that doesn’t have a registered business name, a brand, a website, or an email address?
Craft show shoppers may not be spending hundreds of dollars but they still want to know you’re running a legit business.
Consumers want to buy from someone who knows what they’re doing, is making products that are going to last, and that will still be around next week if there’s an issue with their purchase.
They also need to know where to find you after a craft show so they can buy.
You must have some sort of online presence that correlates to your business. Meaning, don’t share your personal Hotmail account or direct people to Facebook and ask them to send you a friend request if they want to place an order in the future.
Set up an Etsy shop (here’s how to determine if Etsy is worth it for you), website, or some other platform that allows shoppers to easily find you and place an order.
To really take advantage of craft shows, don’t show up as a maker; show up as a business owner who does more than just make a cool product.
How do you encourage craft show shoppers to find you after an event? Share in the comments:)
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!