One of my most popular articles details the types of products that sell best at craft shows; you can read that here: What Sells Best at a Craft Show?
This article explores the other side:
Types of products that don’t tend to sell well, or that can actually harm the sales of best-selling products.
I’ve created this list based on my craft show experience and the types of products I would constantly have to pack up at the end of the craft show because, once again, they didn’t sell.
I’ve also analyzed other people’s craft show sales reports to determine general themes when it comes to products that typically don’t sell well.
The list also includes a few tips I’ve learned from experience and the types of products I stay away from making.
These are items to avoid selling at craft shows or to think twice about selling based on the amount of work and the risk of a low return on investment.
1 – Low-skill + high-importance products
That’s a complicated title. Let me explain…
Products have different levels of importance to consumers.
Consider a wedding band you wear every day versus a ring you’ll wear a few times before it goes out of style.
You’ll care more about the background of your wedding ring (e.g. who made it, their credentials, the materials used, the business and its policies, etc.) than you will about the background of a piece of costume jewelry.
The more time a product spends in a consumer’s life, the more invested consumers are in its background.
Product impact and investment are also important.
The bigger the impact a product can have on a consumer’s life and/or the more money they must spend on a product, the more importance they will place on it.
For example, when compared to hand soap, face cream can have a bigger impact on a consumer’s life because it could cause a rash or breakout on their face. Most consumers care more about the creator, how qualified they are, the ingredients used, etc. for a face cream than they do a hand soap.
A product’s level of importance should be kept in mind when it comes to the products you sell at a craft show.
>> Consumers expect MORE from a product, its creator, and the business selling it when it’s a high-importance product (i.e. we wear/use/see it frequently and plan to have it in our life for a long time).
>> Consumers expect LESS from a product, its creator, and the business selling it when it’s a low-importance product (i.e. we only wear/use/see it sporadically and don’t plan to keep it very long).
If you plan on selling “high-importance” products at a craft show, your skill level should correspond with the level of importance.
Most creators are highly skilled at one craft (e.g. painting OR jewelry making OR soap making OR sewing).
Very few creators have enough time to build a business, sell at craft shows, and hone the skills required to make different types of products (e.g. paintings AND jewelry AND soap).
If you plan on dabbling outside your main skillset, stick to lower-importance products.
For example, if you’re a jewelry maker but want to dabble in painting, create some greeting cards to sell, rather than pieces of wall art.
A greeting card is a “lower-importance” product while wall art is a “higher-importance” product.
When buying a greeting card, I’m not as concerned about the maker’s art credentials as I am when I’m buying a piece of art for my living room wall that I’ll see day in and day out.
The higher importance a product has in a consumer’s life, the more advanced your skills should be for making that product.
Avoid selling high-importance items at a craft show if you don’t have the right skill level to do so.
Chances are, you’ll invest time and money into those products and won’t see a return on investment.
2 – High-risk products
Some products are riskier to sell than others and require more legal prep work.
There are many more regulations to follow when selling baby products than there are if you’re selling art. For example, children’s sleepwear must meet strict flammability requirements.
Products that make health claims, have the ability to cause health issues (e.g. a cream that might give someone a rash), or could pose a safety issue (e.g. teething products for babies that could cause a choking hazard) mean there are more legal hoops for the seller to jump through.
For example, natural health products, kitchen utensils or products that come in contact with food, chemical products, cosmetics, etc. are considered higher-risk products in most countries and the businesses selling them have strict regulations to follow.
Not only are you at a greater risk of a lawsuit when selling high-risk products, but you’ll also have to spend more time and money to set up your business properly and follow stricter regulations.
When selling products that pose a greater risk to the consumer, you should also have liability insurance, which will increase your business costs.
Without liability insurance, your personal assets (e.g. house, car, etc.) will be at risk in the case of a lawsuit.
There are many types of “higher-risk” products that sell well at craft shows and farmers’ markets >>> (e.g. food products, bath and body products, children’s products, etc.).
These types of items don’t necessarily need to be avoided by craft show vendors.
But they should be avoided if you’re not willing to invest the time and money to get the proper licenses and/or permits, or follow the necessary regulations.
3 – Low-margin products
When I started making products for craft shows, I set prices based on what I thought consumers would be willing to pay.
It wasn’t until I started crunching the numbers that I realized I was making much less money than I thought at craft shows.
(I was also in a bad position when a store asked about selling my products on consignment; I didn’t have enough markup to give 50% of a sale to the consignment retailer.)
Craft show fees and expenses add up quickly.
If you haven’t worked enough markup into your product’s prices, you may end up losing money at craft shows.
Your products’ prices should consist of:
- Production costs
Production costs cover your materials and time to make a product.
Markup helps cover other business expenses and your wages for time spent on work outside of production (such as applying to craft shows, your craft show display, shopping bags for customers, time spent travelling to, setting up, selling at, and packing up from craft shows). Markups also allow you to offer discounts (e.g. running a sale, selling wholesale to retailers, offering a discount to a shopper, etc.).
Profits allow you to earn more than an hourly wage, invest money back into your business for growth, float your business during slow periods, etc.
Consider all the things you must spend money on to sell at a craft show (you can find a list of common, and often forgotten, expenses here).
There will be one-time fees (e.g. you may only need to buy a new tablecloth once a year) and reoccurring fees (e.g. you must pay the craft show fee for each event you participate in).
Look at your craft show expenses and wages on a monthly basis; how much do you spend (on average) on craft shows each month?
Compare that to how many products you make each month.
If you were to sell every product you make in a month, would you have money left over after you deduct the production costs of those products, your monthly craft show expenses, and any other monthly business expenses you have? (don’t forget your wages).
If not, you should take a look at your products’ prices and determine if you need to lower your production and operating costs or add more markup.
Avoid selling products that don’t give you a profit.
4 – Hard to transport products
With the exception of vintage shows (where many vendors are selling furniture), most craft show shoppers don’t show up with the muscle or vehicle to take large and/or heavy items home.
If you’re selling at a big craft show or farmers’ market, many shoppers will spend an hour or more browsing vendors’ tables; they don’t want to hold onto big heavy items while they shop.
If you’re selling large items that are heavy or difficult to carry, you may get a lot of shoppers saying: “I’ll come back after I look around”.
When you let shoppers leave your booth without buying, you’re giving them a chance to change their mind.
They’re more likely to talk themselves out of a purchase when the item isn’t right in front of them. And their “want” list will get longer and longer with each table they stop at; which may push your item to the bottom of their buying priorities.
Based on experience, very few shoppers actually returned to buy after telling me they wanted to check out the rest of the show first, or go get money from an ATM.
If your items are heavy, big, awkward to carry, etc. work that into your craft show booth, services offered, and/or sales pitch.
For example, you may create a space behind your craft show table to store customer purchases while they shop. Take their name and number in case they leave the event without coming back to grab their purchase.
For larger items, you may offer a delivery service.
If your prices have a healthy markup, you may offer free delivery within a certain radius of the event. Or, you may charge a delivery fee based on the distance you must drive from the event or your home.
Avoid filling your craft show booth with hard-to-carry items without a “shopper assist” plan.
Also consider adding smaller, easier-to-carry, products to encourage more sales.
5 – Stand-alone products
If you’re selling at a craft show to make a bunch of one-time sales (i.e. each customer only buys one item and they have no interest in returning to buy from you again), or to test different types of products when starting your business, then filling your booth with anything and everything is the way to go.
If you’re building a business and you want each craft show customer to buy more than one item, and you want them to return to your business and buy in the future, you need to plan products strategically.
This ladder system is the best way to build a product line that encourages multi-item transactions (one customer buys multiple products in one purchase) and return customers.
Craft shows are NOT easy (or cheap) to sell at. You should be doing your best to grow your business with each event.
The more sales you can make at the event, and after, the more profitable the event will be.
Avoid filling your table with items that are unlikely to be purchased and used together.
The more cohesive your product line is, the more likely it is that people will buy multiple items together, and find you after the show to buy more items from you.
6 – Lacklustre products
Consumers can purchase most items displayed at a craft show, at any mall.
They know where to buy jewelry, scarves, handbags, soap, etc.
People visit a craft show because they’re looking for unique products and an experience they can’t get at the mall.
Vendors selling ordinary products simply because they know how to knit, sew, string beads together, etc. don’t tend to do as well as the vendors who have a purpose, passion, and unique angle behind the products they sell.
Millions of people know how to knit, sew, make jewelry, etc.
Try combining that skill with one or two other special skills or interests you have to create a product that has an interesting story behind it and can’t be found at any craft show, mall, or shop.
- knitting + passion for animals = winter accessories made with cruelty-free materials
- knitting + love for bohemian style = bohemian style winter accessories
- knitting + love for neon colours = bold colourful winter accessories
- knitting + skill for combining colours & styles = unique winter accessory sets
- knitting + graphic design skills = beautifully branded and packaged winter accessories
Get creative and try to offer something above and beyond what consumers can find at most craft shows.
Avoid selling products that don’t have a unique angle, story, or feature.
7 – Products that infringe on intellectual property
One of the laws you must follow when starting a business is the law of intellectual property.
It’s up to you to know, understand, and follow the categories under that law (e.g. patents, trademarks, copyrights).
There are hundreds of small businesses selling Disney-themed products illegally. That does not make it right.
(It’s not just Disney; Disney’s intellectual property is simply one of the most commonly violated).
Although intellectual property laws can be complicated, it’s easy to understand if you think about how you would like your work to be protected.
Imagine you created an original image and had that image printed on t-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, etc.
You spent a lot of time and money marketing that image and building a strong brand around it.
Consumers started searching for that specific image by name and had to come to you to buy any item with that original image on it.
Now imagine another business coming along and using your image on their products.
Instead of consumers coming to you to buy items with the image, they’re going to the business that is using your image, without permission.
Other businesses are profiting off of your hard work.
If you create products using a Disney character (or other copyrighted/trademarked material), you’re taking sales away from Disney.
There are circumstances in which you can use copyrighted material (e.g. fair use), but when in doubt, it’s best to avoid using other people’s/business’s designs.
Again, this article isn’t to suggest you can’t make money selling these types of items at a craft show. But they do require more effort, are more difficult to profit from, or are simply illegal to sell.
Are there any items you find don’t sell well at craft shows? Please 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!