Craft Fairs

I love craft fairs. I get to travel, make money, trade, and meet super-nice people. What could be better?

Instead of giving you lots of generic advice, I'll share with you exactly how I go about my craft fairs.

Picking a Show
First, I find a good independent craft show that costs less than $50 to get into. In Portland, my favorites are handmadebazaar at Christmas (which I believe is now defunct) and the Mississippi Street Fair in the summer (my local street fair). Both are one-day shows where I pull in $600-$700 on average. The low entrance fee keeps the stress low and the people are nice. I’ve done three or four other local shows where either the people putting it on were unprofessional and grumpy, or the show itself received very little traffic, so it’s a bit of a hit-or-miss proposition. By avoiding first-time shows and visiting the shows beforehand in person, I would have saved some headaches. To find shows in your local area (or an area you’d like to visit), ask other crafters, ask on etsy, or try the website IndieCraftShows.

I also do a couple of smaller shows for various reasons. Last Thursday is a free street fair in Portland that I’ll sometimes set up at. This show is best for a lot of small, cheap items ($5) when I’m trying to clear out a stash and want to make a couple hundred dollars in a couple of hours. I also like the iheartrummage sale in Seattle. Cassandra, who runs it, is just so darn nice, and it’s a great excuse to head up to Seattle. I don’t make more than $200-$300, but it pays for the hotel, gas and food for a fun weekend with the family (and a tax write-off as well).

What to Make
Once I’ve gotten into a craft show, then I start making stuff. I make sterling silver earrings, simple necklaces, wire-wrap rings, and hats from recycled sweaters. My favorite price range is $15-$20 with less than $1 invested in materials.

earring
hat
ring

The beads and such I get from the sale section at Fire Mountain Gems, and the sweaters I mostly get from “the bins.” What sells well on etsy is very different than what sells at a craft fair since you have much less competition in person. I try to make 80-90 different items for a show so I have a good variety, with a goal of selling half. For example, I’ll put together 25 rings, 30 hats, and 30 earrings. While I normally spend a couple of months slowly getting things ready, I am always up too late the night before finishing things up.

Set Up
My presentation has evolved over time. Since I work at a used building materials resource, my display often involves shutters, recycled fabric scraps, wood sash windows, and so on. I finally invested in a lightweight card table for about $40 which is SO much nicer than dragging a heavy table around. My best trick has been to try to fit everything into--or strapped onto--a large, wheeled suitcase. Making one trip for set-up from the car to the show is a lifesaver. Having your items look professional also helps. I use a large circle punch to make colorful earring cards, and also make tags with washing directions for all of my hats.

show
One of my original set ups (left) toward the end of the show when most things were sold out. I used glass mason jars with beans inside of them to hold up the hats and give them shape. Cute, but heavy!
show3 Set up during the 2006 Handmade Bazaar. Looks calm enough....
show2 Mid-afternoon. These are the types of crowds that can bring great sales.

Things to Bring
In addition to the obvious (what you’ll sell, your display), the things I bring, packed into a smaller suitcase which I put inside the larger one, are:

  • Scissors
  • A lint removal brush (for the hats)
  • Jewelry pliers and such for fixing or altering the jewelry
  • A water bottle
  • A peanut butter cookie Luna Bar (mmmmm)
  • $75-100 is small bills, put inside a change purse that is different than my normal wallet
  • A mirror or preferably two so that customers can see what things look like on
  • Alcohol swabs if someone wants to try on earrings (or I’ll let them try them on but take them out of the sale if they don’t buy them)
  • Jewelry to work on (I always bring it, I never get to it, and I should learn my lesson and stop bringing it)
  • Business cards (even something handmade is very important)
  • Small, clear, self-sealing plastic bags. For packaging, I add some tinsel at the bottom of the bags. Then I wrap their item inside a piece of colorful tissue paper, add a sticker to keep it closed, toss in a business card or two, and then seal it for them.
  • A credit card machine. I pay $30 per year plus a transaction fee per use. Totally not necessary, but if I do more than a couple shows a year, the extra sales I get really add up.
  • Pens. Small ones for check-writers. Big calligraphy ones if I need to write a sign for something.
  • A piece of paper with my full name printed on it for check writers. Way easier than trying to spell it out over the noise of a large, holiday-shopping crowd.
  • String. Because you never know when you might need some.

Selling Tips
I have two tricks I’ve learned that work well for selling items. First, I talk to tons of folks when they approach my table. Very friendly, non-selling, laid back. I compliment them on their cool necklace/bag/earrings. I say “hey, how’s it going today?” Especially on my rings, I try to guess their size by what fits them: “are you about a 6 or 7?” If they try on a hat, I help them find the right size. I say “that looks nice” when they try on a necklace (or point out another one that may look better). I tell them all the earrings are sterling silver and semi-precious stones or that they can feel free to try anything on. Basically, I’m friendly and help them find something they’d like.

And I also offer “two-fers” on almost everything. My earrings are $12 or two for $20. My rings and hats are $15 and two for $25. I have signs up that say this, but most often people miss them. When they hand me one ring, I’ll say “you know they’re two for $25” and 85% of the time they’ll look more and find a second one. Deals are fun. Which leads me to my final point...

Have Fun
If you’re smiling, engaging people, and helping them out….and it’s genuine…it really shows. My first show ever I made $2.50 and traded for $5 more, but I had a good time. That’s the same show that I made $350 at the second year and $650 by the third. My fellow crafters are often a blast, so connecting with them is tons of fun, and then there’s all the trading that goes on toward the end that I really love. Last year I don’t think I bought one gift for anyone during the holidays; it was all independent crafty-trades through etsy and in person at shows. So even if a show doesn’t reward you with lots of cash-money, you can always come away with some fun, some trades, and some lessons-learned for the next one.