Holiday craft show season is going to be in full swing sooner than you know it, so now is the time to prepare. If you’ve participated in events before, you know the amount of work that goes into them. They require you to start thinking about, planning and preparing months in advance.
I can’t tell you how many years I spent enjoying September, slowly picking away at my craft show to-do list and spending the better part of October, November and December in a stressed out, frantic state.
The holidays are one of my favorite times and year after year I would spend every waking hour I wasn’t at my full-time job (or eating), in my craft room…wishing I had planned better. I was jealous of all the craft show shoppers who actually had time to visit a craft show and were chipping away at their shopping lists.
I still have procrastination tendencies but I did indeed get smarter over the years. I know now, to get myself to take action sooner than I think I should, I need to shock myself and set in that how-am-I-going-to-get-this-all-done-in-time panic while there’s still plenty of time to actually get it all done.
Having a successful holiday craft show season isn’t just about making lots of money. It’s about maintaining your sanity, enjoying your business and avoiding the burnout that makes you feel like abadoning your business in January and February.
To ensure you have a happy, healthy and profitable craft show season this winter, let’s prepare now.
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I’m going to assume you’ve already applied and been accepted to your holiday craft shows. Most of the well-established, tried-and-true events have already accepted applications, chosen their lineup and notified vendors by September.
That’s not to say there aren’t great craft fairs and markets you can still apply to. But just as it takes you a lot of time and effort to prepare for a craft show, the same goes for the organizer to create a great event. Be sure each craft show that comes your way is going to be the right fit for your schedule, products, business and goals and that the event isn’t getting thrown together last minute.
If you need help determining which craft shows are right for your business, you’ll find a full chapter on the subject in MAKE MORE MONEY AT CRAFT FAIRS; what to look for, questions to ask, red flags, etc. as well as a Selecting Events Checklist and a Craft Fair Application Checklist to be sure you get accepted once you find a good one.
Once you have been accepted to a craft show, the real preparation begins.
*It’s important to schedule each task that applies to your business, into your calendar. If you don’t schedule a task, you likely won’t make time for it and it will continue to slip down your to-do list until it’s too late to prepare for and complete it.
Print your calendar from the download, one for each month before and during your next craft show.
Mark the event date(s) on your calendar.
We’re going to work back from that date to prepare and create a plan to keep you organized and on schedule for the busy holidays.
If you have multiple craft shows going on, you can mark each event on your calendar and complete the following steps.
How much time you have before the event and how much time your schedule allows you to work on your handmade business will determine how many tasks you fit into each day and week.
We want to get the more urgent tasks on your schedule and completed first and determine how many days we need right before the craft fair to complete finishing tasks. The time left in between will be filled with milestones to hit along the way and important craft show related tasks.
The first tasks you should mark down in your calendar to complete in the next couple days or weeks are:
Accommodation & Travel
If the event is out of town, booking your accommodation should be done as soon as you’re accepted. The same goes for bus, train or plane tickets if you’re unable to drive yourself. Or, if you’re participating in a larger trade show, you may be driving but require a larger vehicle; book your U-Haul or rental vehicle now.
Consider if you require assistance at the craft show; to help cover your booth, to transport your product and display or to lend a hand with setup/takedown. Confirm the date with your helper, have them commit and ask them to mark it in their calendar. This way you’ll avoid a scramble to find a helper the day of when your friend totally forgets she said she’d help and can no longer make it because she has to take her kid to soccer practice.
Although setting a goal may not seem like a high-priority, urgent task, this is a crucial step many handmade vendors skip over. Without a goal, how do you plan? Do you want to make $100 or $1000 by the end of the craft show? Planning product, creating stock, marketing the event, selling tactics, etc. all change drastically based on that number.
Without a goal, you’re simply hoping for the best and won’t be clear on whether the event was successful or not. Making $1000 sounds amazing! But if your table fees, parking, travel, wages and production costs add up to $800, is $200 profit still a success? If you were hoping for $1000 profit to be able to purchase that new sewing machine, probably not.
Set a goal based on how much money you want to make at the event and even in the weeks after the event from wholesale orders, repeat customers or new newsletter subscribers ready to purchase.
If you’re over setting goals, thinking it’s a useless tasks, I think you’ll love Chapter 3 of my ebook. I’m a huge self-help book junkie and have read a lot on the subject of goal setting and achieving. I’ve shared some of the most effective tips I’ve learned from the countless books I’ve read.
Permits, payments & policies
All covered in detail in Chapter 5 of MAKE MORE MONEY AT CRAFT FAIRS so just a brief overview here. You must ensure you have the proper business licenses, permits and insurance to even be selling your products, let alone selling them at a public event.
What’s required varies by your location, your business, your products and the event. Do the proper research so you’re 100% set up to legally sell.
Put your own store policies into place as well. Will you accept returns if someone finds something down the aisle they like better and want their money back? Will you do a swap with another vendor if they want to trade one of your products for one of theirs? Will you put an item on hold while someone runs to the bank machine? For how long? Many people don’t end up coming back.
If you don’t have a policy in place it makes it difficult and awkward to answer these questions.
Determining your inventory is not a 5-minute task, nor should it be based on how much stock you can churn out before the event. Set time aside to calculate stock numbers to better prepare for your craft show.
If you prepare too much, that’s wasted time, money and effort and you may be left with seasonal stock you can’t sell after the event.
If you don’t prepare enough, that’s obviously lost sales the day of the craft show.
Of course, there will always be some guessing, as many circumstances can affect the craft show’s attendance and type of shoppers it attracts. But there are ways to make best guesses and save time, money and energy by aiming for the correct amount of stock.
I share 5 formulas (based on your product’s profits, expenses, goals, the event, etc.) in Chapter 6 you can plug your numbers into. As well as instructions on how to calculate your numbers based on your products (proper prices, average transaction value, average profit per transaction, etc.), to help you determine a realistic inventory number.
And, there are also tips on creating stock FAST, for those moments you realize the amount of time left before the event doesn’t quite line up with the amount of time needed to build all that stock.
As well as some tricks to make it through a craft show and keep those sales up when you’re low on inventory.
Chapter 6 is a good one 😉
Here’s an area I believe many vendors have the most room for improvement in.
I was guilty of it myself when I first started selling at craft shows and I continue to see handmade business owners dream up and make product without a clear vision.
I can tell you, without a doubt, focusing my selection, planning collections and having a vision for my products was the best thing I did for my craft fair game.
It’s all covered in the free chapter download included when you sign up for my newsletter. MAKING PRODUCTS THAT PROFIT will walk you through creating profitable products that stand out and get you sales. (Download MAKING PRODUCTS THAT PROFIT for free below)
You likely shouldn’t be bringing the exact same products/product options to each craft show. You should constantly be tweaking your stock based on best sellers, the season, customer feedback, the event, etc.
Look at any retailer and you’ll see their stock changes throughout the year. Imagine a clothing store that sold sundresses year round, even though customers were shopping for sweaters 6 months out of the year. Or a clothing designer who chose fabrics based on what was in their scrap pile or cheapest at the fabric store while completely disregarding whether each piece in their collection could be worn together or if they all clashed.
It’s not about making more types of product, that’s a big mistake many vendors make and can leave a table looking unprofessional, overwhelming and confusing. It also makes it hard for your business to be profitable, to build a brand and to attract loyal customers willing to pay your prices.
What’s your skill?
What do you do better than most others?
What do you want your business to become known for?
Yes, you may be able to paint, sew and crochet but you should not be selling products under each if you want to build a strong business and make a name for that business at your next craft show.
Think of it this way; would you take my advice seriously if I only had a couple so-so articles on my blog about craft shows and the rest were covering travel tips, recipes, tech advice and parenting techniques?
My advice would seem a little inauthentic, scattered and I might even come across as someone who’s just trying to make a buck by throwing anything and everything against the wall to see what sticks. Right?
Hopefully, the fact that I have over 100 craft show and handmade business related articles on my blog, have written 2 ebooks on the subjects and have been in the handmade industry for over a decade, helps me build trust and credibility with you.
If you’re selling products that fall under several categories or are offering too much variety and are lacking a unique angle, you may be losing sales because of it.
Products must be well thought out months before a craft show.
Consider how you will package your products and wrap purchases at the craft show. Source your supplies and get your order in now so there’s enough time to have them shipped (if needed) and to brand them.
Make sure you also have enough promotional material to place with purchases (or to give to those who don’t purchase that day). If you’re running short on business cards or postcards, get your order in so there’s time for printing and shipping.
These will be tasks that will fill up your preparation days right before the event. Consider how much time each will take and mark them in your calendar.
If the event is out of town, mark any travel days on the calendar.
You’ll need a few hours the day before the event to chose an outfit, prepare snacks and lunches, gas up your vehicle and pack your supplies into it. It’s best to prepare for these tasks in the days before and not leave them for the morning of; you want those hours to be as relaxed and stress-free as possible.
Gather all your display props, fixtures, tablecloth, etc. be sure they’re in good condition and pack them into a container. Print newsletter signup forms, inventory sheets, table signs, etc. and place with clipboards or sign holders.
Consider all finishing details of your products. You’ll need preparation time to iron, fold, pack, package, price, etc. so you can simply pull your products out of travel containers and place them in your display. Do not expect to have enough time during craft show setup to price items or put finishing details on; that will only cause you stress.
If you have a website or shop on an online marketplace, you’ll most likely need to update it before the craft show. Don’t risk having an item up for sale in your online shop and on your craft show table and selling it from both platforms.
You should also avoid emptying out your online shop or putting it into vacation mode during the craft show. That may seem like the easiest option however, if you’re doing your job to market your business during the event, many people will leave the craft show and check out your online store. Having it empty or in vacation mode won’t help you engage those visitors or make additional sales.
Mark down how many days you’ll need for each of these tasks to prepare right before the craft show and block those days off to get them done.
Once you’ve determined how much stock you need to prepare, you can set milestones to hit along the way. If you need 3 days before the event for your “LAST TASKS”, the fourth day before the event is when your stock should be completed; not the day before the event.
An easy way to mark milestones is to take your stock totals and divide them in half. For example, if you’ve determined you need:
Divide each of those numbers in half. Then find the halfway point between now and your stock completion date, let’s say that’s October 19th. Mark on October 19th that you should have:
You can break those numbers down again to set more milestones. Find the halfway point between now and October 19th and again between October 19th and November 30th. Divide the halfway stock totals in half again and subtract or add that total from/to your halfway stock total, for your quarter milestones.
Of course, you’ll have to take your schedule into account. If you’re on vacation for a week in October, you likely won’t get any production done and will have to add the amount of stock that would be made in that vacation week, onto another week.
Do not wing your display or pull it together by emptying baskets and boxes from around your house the day before (yes, I did that for my first couple craft shows 😉
Your display will add to or detract from your product’s value and the shopper’s experience, so just as much effort should go into your display as you put into your products.
Once you have an effective display, less time will need to be spent on display preparation for future craft shows. But there should always be some level of tweaking and improvement from event to event.
If you simply want to put your products out and make a few sales that day, placing them down on a table may suffice.
But if you want to build your brand, attract loyal customers, garner interest from retailers, encourage future sales and grow your business, online and off, you need to set aside time to put thought into and plan your display.
It should be branded, tell a story, send a message, point out your USP (unique selling position) and be your silent salesperson (who doesn’t want to make more sales without saying a word?)
If you’re not sure where to start, want to check if your current display is on the right track or are looking to completely overhaul your setup, you’ll love this free 5 day challenge.
It’s 5 emails sent to you over 5 days with the exact steps you need to take to plan your display as well as worksheets to help you do so.
Thousands of people have signed up in the few months since launching it and the emails continue to roll in from people excited about what they’ve learned and where their craft show display is heading.
My blog is also full of articles on creating a powerful display so start here, check out the CRAFT FAIR ADVICE category in the drop down and click around.
The tasks outlined in this step may or may not apply to your business but are something to think about. Mark any applicable ones in your calendar and days needed to prepare and complete them.
If you hope to meet shop owners and gain wholesale accounts, you’ll want to create a lookbook (and linesheet). If you’re not interested in selling wholesale at this time, a more casual version of a lookbook may still come in handy. Think of it more as a catalog to show off your products. Use it to show shoppers custom pieces you can make, items you don’t have room to display at the event or beautiful images of your products to encourage future orders. Here’s a good example of a lookbook and the steps to create one.
Are you going to run any promotions, discounts or sales during the event? Block off time to think about what you’ll offer and the details. You may decide to give a special gift with purchase to the first 10 customers to visit your booth who mention the promotion. What will that gift be, will it give you a ROI (return on investment) and how will you promote the promotion to create urgency at the beginning of the show and have people flocking to your table?
Many craft shows also offer swag bags; are you going to contribute an item? It’s important to think about the ROI on those items as well. If it’s going to cost you $200 to provide product for each swag bag, will that item bring you more than $200 worth of sales that day or in the near future? Schedule time in your calendar to prepare the extra swag bag inventory and drop it off to the organizer (they’ll want the swag before the event so they have time to fill the bags). Ideas on awesome swag bag items that bring shoppers to your craft show table and give you an ROI are covered in the free sample chapter you’ll receive when you sign up for my newsletter.
If you sell your products wholesale to retailers, remember you’ll likely have orders to fill for them during your craft show preparation as well. Make sure you schedule time to take, prepare and ship wholesale orders before your craft show. Retailers often place orders months in advance so hopefully you don’t have any major ones that come in during the weeks leading up to your event.
Consignment agreements may be a bit different. I found they were usually more relaxed relationships with stores and product was dropped off or picked up every couple months, based on what did or didn’t fit in the store at the time. I worked with great shop owners who understood stock levels would be lower during a busy craft show season and some even offering for me to pick up stock before a show (although that’s not the norm; you don’t want to empty out a store to lessen your workload for a craft show).
If you need to have wholesale orders in by a certain date to plan your busy schedule or if your lead times will drastically increase in the months leading up to a craft show, be sure to notify retailers of cut-off dates or changes to lead times.
If your supply will run a bit lower for consignment stores during your craft show and the weeks leading up to it, be sure to let shop owners know so they don’t rely on as many of your products filling their shelves.
Showing up with your products and display and expecting to sell out is likely to leave you disappointed. You must prepare by working on your marketing and selling skills.
Although the organizer will be marketing the event, you should be doing your part to get people there as well. It not only benefits the event and other vendors, it will benefit your pocketbook too.
Why wouldn’t you want people to show up who are fans of your work and have proven they’re willing to spend money on it? It’s a lot easier to sell your products to them than to people who have never heard of your business before.
Brainstorm the ways you can announce the event and keep those announcements interesting. “I’ll be at such-and-such event on November 30th, come see me!” isn’t all that enticing.
Debuting your winter product line at the event, showing sneak peeks of the beautiful materials you’re using, mentioning the opportunity to grab an awesome swag bag or one of your free gifts with purchase, etc. will do a better job of catching their attention through a Facebook post or newsletter email.
It’s also not a one and done job. Mark when, where and how you’ll promote the event. Post it to Facebook, send out a tweet, write a blog post or mail a thank you card to local customers with a coupon valid at the event only. Get creative and spread your marketing efforts out among days and platforms.
Lots more ideas on where and how to promote your craft shows can be found in Chapter 8 of MAKE MORE MONEY AT CRAFT FAIRS.
Selling is usually an area handmade business owners need to work on. Where most vendors go wrong is simply pointing out product features shoppers can already see. You need to talk about the information that matters to the shopper, not about what matters to you.
Why should they care about an item? How does it make their lives better? And more importantly, your “sales pitch” should help shoppers imagine your product in their lives.
You first must know what makes your products different from the vendor’s down the aisle (why should they buy from you?) and then you must be able to point that reason out in a natural and interesting way.
I use quotes around “sales pitch” because it really should be more of a conversation or story than a pitch. Craft fairs are a unique shopping environment where you don’t have the square footage or time to give shoppers their space, so they require different sales tactics.
Chapter 9 will help you brush up on your selling skills, determine the right things to say about your products, the right way to say them and find natural ways to sell to keep you and your customers comfortable.
No one will stick around long enough to buy if they feel uncomfortable. And being shy and quiet behind your table can be just as harmful as being pushy and aggressive. It’s all about finding a balance.
Your calendar should now be filled in with a list of to-do’s to prepare for your upcoming craft show and keep you busy. But don’t forget about the tasks required to run your business day in and day out. Leave time to update your website, post to social media, send out newsletters, etc. so the other areas of your business don’t come to a screeching halt while you prepare for a craft show.
For more details on any of the steps mentioned in this article, you’ll find them in my ebook MAKE MORE MONEY AT CRAFT FAIRS.
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