I’ve met many people through the craft show circuit who sell at craft shows full-time. I remember chatting with a jewelry vendor who spent her entire year travelling to different shows. I had a table beside her at a 3-day event so I got to ask lots of questions…like “how do you do it?” Although she had some online and wholesale sales, the main source of her income came from craft shows.
Short answer to: can you make a living selling at craft shows?
But it’s not a matter of signing up for as many craft shows as you can.
I’m going to share some tips in this article to help you get the most bang for your buck out of craft shows and use them to earn a living from your handmade business.
But what if…
I DON’T WANT TO SELL AT CRAFT SHOWS FULL-TIME, BUT I WANT TO KNOW…ARE THEY WORTH MY TIME?
Maybe you don’t need to 100% rely on craft shows for your income because you have an online shop and wholesale orders. Or maybe you just want to use craft shows to make some extra cash.
Either way, you don’t want to waste time or money and may be wondering:
Are craft shows worth my time?
That answer is also:
If executed properly.
It requires effort if you want to walk away from a craft show with a healthy profit.
We’ll get into how to make craft shows more profitable in a minute…
But first, let’s get an understanding of why, for many crafters, craft shows tend NOT to be profitable and why it can be hard to make a living by selling at them.
WHY CRAFT SHOWS AREN’T ALWAYS PROFITABLE
There are always expenses when it comes to running a handmade business, such as:
The costs associated with the production of your products:
- Material costs – cost of all materials needed to create a product that’s ready for sale (this includes packaging if you sell a product such as cream sold in a container)
- Time costs – the time it takes you to make each product, completed to a state that it’s ready to be sold (e.g. the time it takes to package your products and attach proper labels must be included in production time)
Your total sales must also cover the other costs associated with operating your business, such as:
- Tools & equipment, as well as their maintenance
- Shipping materials
- Office supplies (ink for your printer, envelopes for invoices)
- Marketing supplies (business cards, postcards, flyers)
- Gas to drive to and from the post office or craft supply store
- Transaction fees
- Taxes, business registration fees, licenses, etc.
And then, let’s not forget about your time associated with each of your business expenses. Time spent:
- Researching and buying tools/equipment or bringing them in for maintenance
- Packaging shipments and your time to drive to the post office and stand in line
- Purchasing office supplies, printing invoices, addressing & mailing invoices, etc.
- Handing out marketing supplies
- Researching, buying, paying for and driving to and from craft supply store
- Filing taxes, applying for registration or licenses/permits, etc.
Whichever sales channel you use to sell your products, there are some costs associated with it. For example, when selling online, you may have the following costs to cover:
- Website hosting fees
- Website design
- Etsy listing fees
- Time spent setting up and maintaining your online shop
When you sell at craft shows, your list of costs gets a bit longer. It may include:
- Table/booth fees
- Display fixtures and props
- Gas to drive to and from the venue
- Food and parking for the day
- Bins to transport stock
- Credit card transaction fees
- Shopping bags and tissue paper
And of course, we must account for your time:
- Driving to the bank and getting smaller bills for change
- Packing stock into bins and those bins into your car
- Driving to and from the event
- Sourcing, designing, planning craft show display
- Setting up and taking down your display
- Selling at the event
As you can see, craft show costs add up and eat into your profits.
However, craft shows also give you the opportunity to make more sales…a lot of sales in a short amount of time. The increase in sales helps cover the added costs.
But you’re not guaranteed to make a bunch of sales, just by showing up with your products.
Which is why it’s so important to properly prepare for each one.
- Find the right craft shows that are a fit for your products and brand, and attract the type of customer that is likely to buy from you.
- Create a display that strengthens your brand and tells people they’re buying a quality product from a reputable business (not someone who’s made a couple items and might not be around next week if there’s an issue with their purchase).
- Sell! It’s not enough to sit behind your craft show table, answer questions if any come up and ring purchases through. You must talk with everyone who stops by your space and say the right things that encourage a sale (you don’t have to be pushy; just try to connect with your shoppers).
There’s more to a successful craft show but these are a few “musts” to get started.
You may also want to take the following steps to increase your chances of making a profit at your next craft show:
STEP 1 – INCREASE PROFIT MARGINS
Technically, your profit margins are calculated once you’ve deducted all costs, including those from a craft show.
However, you don’t know which craft shows you’ll be accepted to for the year and will have a hard time knowing all your expenses before you set prices.
Not to mention, when running a small handmade business, most of us aren’t necessarily forecasting our expenses for the entire year, setting marketing budgets, etc.
We’re doing our best to plan ahead, but for the most part, are taking it month by month, or quarter by quarter, rolling with the punches.
So if you have extra padding around your profits, it leaves wiggle room to cover “unknown”, “unplanned” or “hard to predict” expenses.
That’s the reason the following price equation is commonly used:
Material costs + time costs = production costs
Production costs x 2 = wholesale price
Wholesale price x 2 = retail price
The “multiplying by 2” factors in the unknown expenses we’re likely to run into.
So before you jump into selling at craft shows, take a look at your profits, based on the expenses you’re aware of.
Keep it easy and simply look at last month’s numbers.
- Add up all your sales for the month (which is your revenue)
- Add up your total costs (include your wage)
- Then subtract total costs from your revenue
Is there money left?
If so, how much?
*If you don’t know your revenue, didn’t track your costs, have no profits, or are in the red, you may be interested in THE SUCCESS PLANNER.
If you don’t have much money left over, it makes it harder to profit from craft shows.
For example, let’s say you profit $5 with each sale. That profit doesn’t take into account the costs of a craft show that popped up this month.
It’s a small craft show and your total costs associated with it are $100.
You would need to sell 20 items just to cover the costs of doing the event (e.g. cover table fees, parking for the day, your time spent setting up, selling and taking down, etc.)
You don’t just want to break-even though, so you must sell more than 20 items to earn a profit from that craft show. If you wanted to profit $100, you would need to sell another 20 items.
40 items total to cover your expenses associated with the event, and hit your profit goal.
First, you must know your numbers. How much are you actually profiting once you deduct all costs and pay yourself for all your time?
Then work on improving your profits. You may find a way to save on materials, speed up production, cut back on packaging, or sell more at a craft show.
STEP 2 – STAND OUT
When I run out of coffee beans, I don’t just buy any bag of beans. I make a trip to Co-Op to buy “Co-Operative Coffee” because they package their coffee beans based on where they’re grown. I prefer the taste of coffee beans grown in Ethiopia and Co-Operative Coffee makes it easy for me to find them by labeling one of their bags of beans “Ethiopia”. I’m sure there are other brands that source their beans there, but I don’t have time to read the fine-print on all the bags in the grocery store.
When I need a gift for that “hard to buy for” person, I go to Uncommon Goods because they carry a ton of unique products (like a Shitake Mushroom Log Kit) you can’t find in other stores, and they make it easy to shop by theme/interest (e.g. spring or gardening themed gifts), or by the person you’re buying for (e.g. women, men, kids).
These two businesses stand out to me among a sea of other businesses doing something similar. Because of that, they’re always first to mind and have turned me into a repeat customer.
There will always be several other businesses selling handmade jewelry/soap/accessories/art/etc. and everyone’s work is amazing.
Therefor, there’s more to capturing sales than simply having nice jewelry/great smelling soap/trendy bags/beautiful art.
- Stand out through branding? A good example of this is Dawn dish soap. What’s inside the bottle is comparable to other dish soaps on the shelf, but the outside of the bottle has a cute duck and a brand name us animal lovers tend to favor because they help clean up wildlife affected by an oil spill.
- Alter your products so they have a unique angle? Method dish soap changed what’s inside the bottle to help them stand out on the shelf. Their dish soap uses non-toxic, plant-based ingredients.
- Create an amazing experience for your shoppers? LUSH creates a unique shopping experience through their: payment process, tailored customer service, store layout, etc. You can read more about it here: https://econsultancy.com/how-lush-is-raising-the-bar-for-in-store-experience/
Not quite sure how you might alter your brand, products, or experience to stand out at a craft show or why it really matters? Let’s look at another example.
Let’s say I was selling jams at a craft show and you stopped by my table. Nothing was particularly different about my jams; they seemed pretty similar to the ones your grandma makes.
I may argue that my recipe is a little different or a family secret, and that’s why people will buy from me rather than another vendor or business.
My recipe may be different, but all jams taste good, so there needs to be something else that sets mine apart.
Shoppers may buy a jar from me if they need jam and they stumble upon my booth.
But will they stock up, buying multiple jars so they don’t run out?
Will they find me online after the event and pay to have a jar shipped to them if they can’t really tell the difference between my jam and Smuckers’?
Will they seek me out at future craft shows and save the money in their pocket to spend at my table?
If I wanted to see more sales at a craft show and even more roll in after the event, I would think about reasons shoppers may feel more compelled to buy from me, and me only, when it comes to jam.
Here are a few ideas:
- BRAND – I may decide not to touch my products and simply change the way they’re perceived:
- I may change my packaging and use squeeze tubes to save busy lunch-making parents from having to dirty a butter knife for the peanut butter jar AND the jam jar.
- I could design a new label and make them more appropriate for gifting. Strawberry jam could be labeled: “Wishing you a fruitful life in your new home”, or “Wishing you many sweet moments in your marriage”, or “You’re my jam” so they become perfect housewarming, wedding or Valentine’s Day gifts.
- PRODUCT – I may alter my jam recipes and focus on one of the following niches:
- Reduced-sugar jams for sugar-conscious diets.
- Jams that incorporate healthy ingredients such as flax seed or chia seeds.
- Finding a way to “hide” vegetables in my jams so they taste like regular jam but have a serving of veggies, perfect to market to parents of picky eaters.
- Unique flavors. You wouldn’t find strawberry or raspberry jam at my booth but might find flavors such as watermelon jam, or savory flavors such as bacon or onion jam.
- EXPERIENCE – I could set up a tasting station, showing shoppers the different pairings that can be created with jam. Then walk customers through the steps to build a personalized jam set based on their preferences. I may even personalize jam labels with the customer’s name.
If I were to implement one of these ideas, I’d become known as more than just someone selling yummy jam. I may even create a buzz at the event (“Have you sampled the bacon jam at the booth over there? You should check them out!”)
Think about ways you can stand apart from other vendors or businesses selling a similar product to yours. Start with looking at your brand, products and the experience you create for shoppers, to see if there are any opportunities to separate from the crowds.
STEP 3 – PRICE POINTS
Shoppers don’t know what they’ll find at a craft show, so they don’t typically go with the purpose of buying a specific item. They’re there to browse.
The amount of money you’re willing to spend when browsing vs. shopping with a purpose, is usually less.
If you weren’t planning to buy a new painting but come across one you love at a craft show, you’d probably need time to think about it before spending over a hundred dollars, and might take a business card instead of buying that day.
If you’re just browsing the craft show and come across a pair of $15 earrings you love, you’re more willing to spend $15 on the spot, without having to “think about it”.
Having a range of prices helps increase sales, and thus, your profits.
NEVER lower your prices to create more appealing price points; lower your costs first.
If you only have products priced $100 and up, you may only need one sale at a craft show to cover your costs, but you would make more sales if you have products that appeal to the average budget of craft show shoppers, which tends to be around the $50 mark and under.
For example, a painter may feature 5 original paintings, each priced over $100. If shoppers aren’t prepared to spend that much, but love their work, the painter may have the following products/price point options for them:
- Smaller framed print for $40
- Un-framed prints of the original paintings sold for $20 each
- Wall decals for $10/each that use an element from the original paintings (e.g. a flower decal that mimics a flower found in the painting of a bouquet)
If all your products are priced over $50, consider if you can create profitable products at lower price points.
On the other hand, if your products are priced low, give shoppers the option to spend more money with you. Introduce new higher-priced products, higher-quality/greater quantity products, or bundle products together.
For example, if a soap vendor sells $5 bars of soap, a shopper may be looking for a gift and want to spend more than $5. If they only offer $5 soap, the shopper isn’t going to fill a gift basket with 10 bars of soap. So they may buy one bar and spend their money with other craft show vendors selling gift items.
The soap vendor may create more purchasing opportunities by offering one or more of the following:
- $10 bars of soap that are bigger than the $5 ones, or that use higher-quality ingredients
- $25 soap pack with 3 scents of soap and a loofah packaged in a gift box
- $30 jars of cream or bottles of liquid soap
- $50 set of lavender scented soap, cream and bath salts
A person can only buy so many bars of soap but these options allow them to spend more if they love their products.
What price points do you currently offer and are they limiting your shoppers’ purchasing? Consider if you need to add lower or higher price points to your lineup.
In order to make a living through selling at craft shows, or for craft shows to be worth your time, they must be profitable.
To increase your chances of making a profit you should:
Properly prepared for each craft show. Additional resources:
HAVE GOOD PROFIT MARGINS
Know your numbers, how much you currently profit and find ways to increase those profit margins. Additional resources:
HAVE A USP (unique selling position)
Give shoppers a reason to buy from you that day and continue to buy from you in the future. Additional resources:
OFFER DIFFERENT PRICE POINTS
Offer products that fit within the typical craft show shoppers’ budget. Check out Tactic #3 in the article linked below for some ideas:
What are your tips for making a profit at craft shows? Please share in the comments!