10 lessons from a year of craft fairs

My first craft fair was a bit of a disaster. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t sitting in a drafty hall with people more interested in the secondhand books I had used as ‘props’ to stand my handprinted cards on. Luckily I had company; I was able to rope in my sister, Sam, as she had also recently started the whole making and selling thing too. So despite having no customers I had someone to talk to and drink copious amounts of tea with.

So that’s a depressing way to start a post about craft fairs isn’t it? Well in many ways no. OK it wasn’t successful in terms of takings, but each graft fair – good or bad – has helped both me and my sister. Talking to fellow crafters, it seems everyone has their tips and recommendations. We have been lucky to meet some very talented people and learn from them, and be part of some very successful events. We have also been part of some terrible fairs, but through this now know what type of events to avoid.

Over the last year we have become a little craft stall twosome. Epic tea drinking has become a theme and a lot of the time we forget we need to think about lunch and end up eating cake all day instead. At first we researched all the equipment we would need, and worried about forgetting anything essential, but now we are much more relaxed. So what have I learnt from this year of selling at craft fairs? Well here are my top lessons:

  1. Even an unsuccessful fair can be useful. Crafters are a friendly bunch and you can meet some wonderful people at fairs. Talk to them – find out if they know any good fairs or if they can share any tips with you. Equally impart your knowledge and be part of the craft community.
  2. Visit the craft fair first. OK I have to admit I have never done this, but often have found myself at a lousy fair asking why I never bothered to check it out before hand. Sometimes it seems like to much hard work, or the cost seems so minimal that visiting seems pointless. This one is on my New years resolution list!
  3. Find out about promotion. See if you can find out what the venue or organisers are doing to promote the event. I have done fairs where the venue just seem interested in taking the money for the stalls, so much so there have been near revolts from the army of stallholders! Ask where they advertise or list the event or if it will be in the local paper. The location of the venue is also worth checking, is it near the high street or tucked away on an estate?
  4. Take a notebook. Even busy fairs can have quiet times and when they do crack out your notebook – or sketchbook. Doodle, write down new ideas, record the details of the people you have met, brainstorm. It’s valuable stuff and makes much better use of your time.
  5. Practice your craft. Similar to point 4, this gives you something useful to do if the sales are a bit slow. I struggle with this one as dragging along the printing press or cutting some lino can be a bit tricky, but if you are lucky enough to knit, sew or sketch or if the craft fair has the space and facilities for you to show off your skills do it. People love to see you at work too.
  6. Let people know who you are. Some people are great at sales spiel and can talk to anyone about what they do for hours on end. Some customers love this, but some don’t. I prefer to smile and say hello. If something they are looking at needs explaining, point it out. And have some business cards or promotional bits or pieces to hand to give to people; maybe they will buy something another day. You don’t need to over do it, but have ways of making people know who you are.
  7. Find out what who else is selling. Will there be lots of cool, hip people selling, or will it be mainly tweed and patchwork numbers? If you can find out who else will be selling you can see if your work fits in well. Equally if there are lots of bought-in items such as books and cards, will your handmade items be able to compete?
  8. Experiment with layout. Get some boxes to stand things on, or a rack for your prints. Look at your stall through a buyer’s eyes – can you see everything clearly, and does it look appealing? I put little price tags by each product and label them clearly. The secondhand books are gone – too heavy for  start – and we now use little easels to stand prints up to. Get ideas by looking through the craft fair stall photos on Flickr; which ones look good to you?
  9. Start small. Learn your lessons at cheaper, smaller craft events. Then, when you have perfected your products, made some brilliant business cards, got used to selling yourself, and know what works for your business, you can spend mega bucks on some big events.
  10. Oh and don’t forget your cup! Most craft fairs I have been to let you help yourself to free tea and coffee. You will need a cup for this. If the craft fair is going badly me and my sister often see if we can drink enough tea and coffee to make our fee back. We haven’t managed it yet but have given it a darn good try.

Are you a craft stallholder? What have you learnt from the experience – and do you have any stories to tell??

Our craft fair stall at Thame Art and Craft market 2011. Notice our lovely lacy tablecloth – thanks Nanna!

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