Whether you are seller of vendor items or you make hand crafted items; craft shows are a great place to sell your items and promote your business.  If you are new to craft shows or you have done a few, there is always room for improvement.  We have been selling at shows for many years and we are always looking for ways to improve on what we are doing.  Over the years we have seen many things that people do that can result in an unsuccessful show.  

The Bad Show…….

It had been steadily busy all morning for me and I finally had a minute to catch my breath.  I looked across the aisle and there they were, the two friends who had a large pile of linens, blankets, and other items that all looked like they would sell well.  Their inventory was crammed onto a table that was covered with a plastic table cloth.  Their product pricing consisted of a handwritten list that was hard to read.  I had heard them lose a couple of sales because they only took cash. They had obviously worked hard to have this much inventory but they were not making that many sales.  They were just sitting behind the big pile gabbing between them, answering questions and communicating with customers only when asked.  At lunch time they seemed more concerned with eating than working with customers at the busiest time of the show.  As the day went on the smiles I had seen at the beginning of the day had changed to frowns as they sat behind the table with their arms crossed.  I saw them pack up a lot of inventory to take home at the end of the day.

Here are the 5 things they could have done better to have a successful show.......

Interact and Communicate: The #1 way to increase your sales at a show is to interact with the customers!  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Say good morning or hello to everyone you can and smile.  Engaging them in conversation can make them take notice of your booth and your items.  Draw their attention to items.  I sell pet toys so I often ask if they have pets and then say “have you seen my toys”.  If they don’t stop or are negative just tell them to have a great day and move on.  While talking up your products and making conversation is a great way to increase your sales at a show, be careful not to overdue it.  Being too aggressive can turn a customer off too so find a happy balance.  Sitting with your arms crossed makes you seem unapproachable.  Stand up and look your customer in the eye.  If you are interacting you are making yourself open to questions and possibly more sales.  You might find this difficult to do at first but keep at it and it will get easier.

Don’t Tune Out:  In the Bad Show example the two friends were tuned out to what was going on at the show and seemed to be hiding behind their work. Chatting between them made it appear they were not interested in the show. Try to set up your booth so that the customer can walk into it.  If this is not possible organize your available space so that you can stay visible to your customer.  Do not pile your inventory up too high.  Create blank spaces on your tables so a customer feels they can set down their drink or purse while they look at your items.  Less is sometimes more.  You don’t have to have all of your inventory out at once.  Having choices for your customer is great but sometimes too many choices can be overwhelming.  You can bring out fresh inventory as items sell down. Chatting with your helper nonstop is unprofessional and again makes you look like you have tuned out.  The same holds true with eating, reading or playing with your phone.  We get our social posts out of the way as soon as we get set up including pictures.  After that the only thing we are using the phone for is taking credit cards.  We also make sure we have a cooler packed with water and snacks that we can eat throughout the day when there is a break.  We get to eat healthier and spend less.  It is easier to eat a piece of cheese, handful of nuts or carrot sticks than a sloppy joe or hot dog purchased at the show.

A great display will encourage the customer to stop, look and buy: Piles and piles of merchandise that the customer has to dig through makes it hard to shop and discourages a sale.  Instead put out several of each item with a good variety of color or other options to choose from.  You can replenish stock as it sells down.  Use shelving or other merchandising tools to bring height to your display or help arrange it so that your products are easy to shop.  If you get stuck for ideas check out Pinterest to see what others are doing.  Keep your eyes open at shows too for ways that you can improve your display. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your display.  Look for items you already own that would be useful or try the local thrift shop for inexpensive items. 

Use visual aids to show the customer how to use your item.  They need to be able to envision its use to close that sale.  As an example; I sell drink cozies.  At shows (and in my Etsy shop) I use a coffee cup with a cozy on it to show them what it is and how to use it.  Don’t forget your table cloth.  The plastic one in our example again makes this booth look like it was thrown together at the last minute.  I recommend a real cloth.  I started out using bed sheets to cover the table as most shows want you to go all the way to the floor.  On top of that I add a length of cloth in some appropriate theme that I purchased at the fabric store and hemmed.  I have several different top cloth options that I change up depending on the show and the time of year.  Over the years I replaced the sheets with fitted black tablecloths but I still use the different top cloths.  

Make sure you have clear pricing on your items!  If they have to ask they may not buy.  The handwritten list in our example is hard to read.  Remember impulse buying is key at a show and you want to make your items shoppable from across the aisle.  Again Pinterest can give you many clever ways to do this such as price tags on the items, small signs or even a small chalkboard.

Make sure your display is visually pleasing and attractive from every angle.  You may arrange it and look at it face on but remember that customer is approaching it from a side angle and can be coming from either direction.  Be aware of your traffic flow and merchandise so that a potential customer can notice you from any direction.  Try rearranging your items part way through the day.  This can be as subtle as changing your feature item or moving pieces around.  My husband sells hand turned bowls made on a lathe.  We merchandise them on shelving.  I often switch up the more visible ones or the ones that are on the table that most people touch and feel.  We have had several times that we sold to someone who had already been through our booth all because they saw items they didn’t see before just because I moved them around.

Develop different ways to set up depending on the space and location of your booth.  No two shows are the same so you will need to be flexible in your setup and display.  Take pictures of every show setup you do for future reference.  Try doing a mock setup at home so you can explore different merchandising ideas.

Show slow?  Don’t fall back into the tuned out trap:  Instead of reading or gabbing with your friend, use your time wisely.  Here are some ideas:

  • Work on a project.  Customers love to see your products actually being made.  I take crochet with me to every show.  It's a great way to show off your skills and make additional inventory.  

  • Network.  Since you can’t always craft at a show, make some new friends.  Get to know the other vendors around you.  This is a great way to get new ideas and find new shows.  

  • Walk the show.  Don’t leave your booth unattended but if you brought a friend, you could take turns looking around the show during slow periods to get new ideas on merchandising and make more new friends.

Selling crafts is a business treat it as such.  Put some planning and thought into what you are doing, the items you are selling and how to present them to the public.  Even if you only do a few shows a year for some extra Christmas money, you still need to consider this a business.  Here are some business things to consider.

Money - Be sure you have change for cash sales.  Decide if you are willing to take personal checks.  Having the ability to take credit cards at a show is a must!  I have seen lots of vendors lose sales because they didn’t do this.  It is so easy with today’s technology.  Check out Square or PayPal Here.  These services supply you with a reader that you can use to swipe cards into an app that you have on your phone or tablet.  The both charge around 2.9% of the sale plus a small fee (visit their web sites for full details).  Losing a little to fees is better than losing the entire sale.

Business Cards - Do you have a business card?  If not get one!  Only a small percentage of the people who stop at your booth will purchase.  A business card can get you sales after the show. Have a pile on the your table and put one in every bag with a sale.  Vistaprint is a low cost, easy to use online service that ships very quickly.  You can use one of their available templates, create your own, or I can create one for you.  You can typically get 250 cards for around $10.00.  You can find other printing options online or locally. While a self printed card that you whipped up in word is better than nothing, if you are going to keep doing shows, having them professionally printed is worth the investment.  

Keep Records - Make sure you keep track of what you sell at each show both in dollars and items sold.  Add information on how much your booth fee was and contact information so you can participate again next year.  Makes notes on what went well and how you set up.

Branding - Do you have a logo, a business name, a tagline?  This is all a part of branding.  It identifies you and your business.  Put some thought in what you make, how you make it, or what is special about your business for ideas on branding or seek out the help of a professional.  It can be a very simple design but it adds an identity to your business.  This is another item that is worth the investment to create if you are selling your items regularly, especially on line.  

Pricing - Know your costs and retail pricing.  Are you willing to bargain?  If so down to what price.  Are there other vendors who sell items similar to yours? What to they charge?  Can your items to grouped together for "packages"?  Does it make sense to offer a better price for the purchase of multiples (i.e. 2/$5)? There is always someone who wants a deal.  This is something to consider before you agree to barter with another vendor too.  Make sure your pricing fits the market.  Do your research!  

Be Prepared - Something will happen at a show.  Be prepared with extra pricing signs, pens, paper, calculator, tape, paper clips, etc.  Be sure to have an emergency kit that has repair items for your display too.  Don’t forget that portable charger to keep your electronics at full power.  

Legal/Taxes - Know your state or county laws as well as the requirements of the show regarding being a vendor.  You may be required to have a vendor license or register with the state for taxes.

Promote - Use your social media contacts to promote the show and your participation in it.

See how many of these tips you can implement the next time you have a show.  It’s a great way to make some extra dollars or build your business.

Need help with branding or with tracking forms?  Check out my Crafting 1-2-3 package including a professional business card, excel sales tracking worksheet, and forms package.  


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