I’ve been selling my artwork and handmade accessories at craft shows around the midwest for 3 years now. Crazy, right? I remember my google frenzy in the months before my first show, trying to take in as much information as possible about what to expect and how to succeed.
1. Find your tribe.
The best thing about selling at craft shows, for me, has been participating in my local crafting community. Finding where local artists, crafters, and handmade makers are hanging out online and figuring out how to keep up with who’s who has been crucial for me to learn about which shows are the best fit for me and how to apply to them. Nowadays there are so many Facebook groups, Etsy teams, blogs, etc for craft communities, supply swaps, etc– you just need to find yours!
It’s really important to visit some shows yourself before trying to sell at one. Start a conversation with people whose booths you feel drawn to. Starting a friendly relationship with a few makers is a great entry point into the community! Remember that buying something from a vendor is a great way to show your appreciation and not come off like a mooch when you’re ultimate goal is information from them.
Some shows are invite/recommendation only or have short time windows for taking applications, so knowing who organizes which shows and hearing all the gossip about which are the best/worst is invaluable, especially if you’re thinking about visiting an out-of-town show and investing a lot of money in travel.
2. Match yourself with the right shows for you.
There are so many opportunities for selling your work in person! Art fairs, music festivals, craft shows, boutique trunk shows, conventions, vintage fairs, farmers’ markets… the list goes on. What you make and what your aesthetic is affects who your target audience is, which in turn affects the shows you’ll be most successful at. Who seems to love your work the most? Are you making things with a specific audience in mind? Where are those people most likely to go?
I have a friend who makes very on-trend apparel and accessories and although they’re handmade, she’s found much greater success at music festivals than craft shows. Her audience is a young crowd who loves to see live music, but might not think of attending a craft show, plus they can easily buy her accessories and wear them immediately at the show. I’ve strayed away from these kinds of shows because I doubt someone wants to carry around a delicate art print while they’re partying it up outside.
The kind of show you sell at also affects your costs and set-up. My aforementioned example of music festivals can cost $1000+ for a single vendor spot! That’s way out of my price league. Flea Markets on the other hand can cost as little as $15 per spot. The average cost for craft shows in my area seems to be $50-100 per day. I know in bigger cities such as Chicago, that average is closer to $150-250 per day. Those vendor costs reflect the price of the venue and the work the organizers put into the show. It’s easy to scoff at high vendor prices, but that often means that there’s a good marketing budget–websites, advertisements, and printed promotional materials cost money! Good marketing equals a bigger crowd of shoppers. You get what you pay for!
Selling at an outdoor show introduces more costs and preparation than an indoor show. You’re usually required to supply your own tent and weights (expect to spend about $300 total for those, even if you DIY weights) in addition to your other display pieces. I’ve spent some windy days chasing after prints and jewelry that flew off my display racks! I used to have to borrow my parents SUV to have the room to transport a tent, too.
3. Do your research.
Research as much as you can! We’re so lucky to be living in the time of the internet–you can find out so much valuable information if you just look for it. You’ll never be truly blind-slighted.
Research other vendors’ displays to figure out what works best for the items you make. Research costs for vendor fees and display materials. Research which shows are the most popular in your area. Research your audience. Research trends. Research everything!
4. Set a deadline.
I had been toying with the idea of selling at craft shows for almost a year when I signed up for my first one. Applying, getting accepted, and having an official deadline was the ass kick I needed to get prints made, sew some accessories, and experiment making new products. Don’t be afraid to sign up for a show before you’re really “ready” if you think the deadline will help your productivity.
5. Practice makes perfect!
Yes, research is important, but you know what’s more important? Just doing it. You can only be so prepared and it takes time to figure out some of these things, like who your audience is and what shows work best for you. Get yourself and your work out there as soon as you can! Waiting until everything is just right is a great way to never actually make it happen. Chances are you’ll never feel like everything is just right. I certainly never do! You’ll find yourself making stronger connections with your community when you start putting your money where your mouth is.
I’m looking forward to sharing more information and advice about selling the things you make. Talking shop with other artists and crafters is one of my favorite things. Hopefully this will help motivate any readers who have been thinking about doing this themselves!