by Lisa Coen, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Artisan shows and craft fairs are great venues to display your talents, meet customers and make money! With the holidays behind us, now's the perfect time to get ready for spring and summer fairs and bazaars. Shows are temporary settings to test the waters where you can reach your target audience. It's certainly less of a commitment than acquiring a permanent retail space and then deciding that venue isn't for you. Shows, fairs and bazaars are a wonderful place to interact with customers and other artists.

So, where will you find a show? Search online for art and craft show directories or organizations in your area. Check your local newspapers and craigslist.org online. Talk to other artists and colleagues about shows they have visited or events they've participated in.

Here are some great tips to prepare for shows. If you're a designer-artist who hasn't participated in this type of event before, you may want to ask yourself these questions:
  1. Am I passionate about making and selling my product?
  2. Do I have the time to create lots of product in anticipation of shows?
  3. Do I like people? That may sound funny, but it's a valid question. More specifically, can you speak with and sell to people all day long, offering friendly customer service the entire time? Good customer service is what the most successful artists offer. Any business owner will tell you one of the most important aspects of a successful business is customer service, and your products of course!
Here are a few things to keep in mind before you sign up:
  • Most shows are juried. Be prepared to submit photos or samples of your designs, and maybe a photo of how you set up your booth or display.
  • There may be discounts if you sign up early and/or sign-up online. Signing up early can also give you better options for booth locations for many shows.
  • Be sure to read all the fine print of the show agreement regarding booth rental, possible commissions for a show producer, sales taxes, set-up times and any additional costs such as electricity, Internet access, parking or table and chair rentals.
  • Depending on the location of your booth, you may need a canopy or siding like pegboards, grids or curtains.
  • Will there be security at the event? For a two-day show, a secured area is important: you don't want to haul everything away and set it up all over again the next day. If you do plan on an unsecured event for more than one day, take your product with you at the end of the day.

So, ready to sign up? Great! A few things to consider:
  • Many fairs are held indoors, but if you're participating in an outdoor show, you'll need to prepare for possible inclement weather with a canopy, umbrella, fan, a hat and sunscreen.
  • Show off your amazing handcrafted items! There's no formula that tells how much inventory you should bring, but when in doubt, bring lots. Store extra inventory under tables until you need to replenish.
  • Money: you'll want plenty of change in bills and coins. If you're tech savvy, offer credit card sales (easier than ever now with Smart Phone and Laptop Computer gadgets and applications). If you foresee many shows in your future, you might want to consider purchasing a credit card merchant machine.
  • A sure way to attract more customers to your booth is to hold a raffle or drawing. Have tickets for customers to fill out to win one of your designs at the end of the day. They'll check back in at your booth a second time--and it's another way to receive customers' contact information for future announcements.
  • There's safety in numbers: bring a friend or family member along to help. It may be difficult to take on an all-day event yourself. You'll want help with customers and the opportunity to take breaks. Better yet, if you have an artisan friend and your creations complement each other, split a booth--and the cost.
View this checklist to prepare important items for the big event:
  • Have your rental agreement, resale/tax license (if necessary) and proof of payment with you.
  • Bring tablecloths, lighting and displays. Pack everything into rolling totes and suitcases if you can. Most shows offer a set amount of tables and chairs for your booth. Be sure to confirm how many of each you'll need before you arrive.
  • Have plenty of marketing materials available such as business cards, brochures, custom order forms and samples. If you blog, or regularly send out business announcements by mail or email, set out a sign-up sheet or guest book to add customers to your mailing list.
  • Use signage: have a large sign so people can see your business name, smaller signs describing material items or design techniques used and personalized price tags for your items.
  • Bring a mirror for selling your jewelry. If you're displaying your jewelry, bring something to clean and polish it throughout the day as it will be admired by many hands.
  • Bring your design tools and materials to work on projects if you have any down time. Customers love to watch artists at work and it can help stimulate sales. You can even offer jewelry repairs at the show.
  • Bring a sweet. When shows allow it, many vendors will set out a plate of candy, cookies or other treats for customers--this pulls people in to look at your merchandise, and it's thoughtful. One of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' talented jewelry artists sets out a bowl of free "good luck beads" for customers!
A few last reminders:
  • Don't forget your cell phone and laptop, especially if you plan to accept credit cards for sales. It's a good idea to also bring along a few office supplies and tools: sales receipt book, extension cords, calculator, notepads and pens, scissors, tape, stapler, screwdriver, flashlight and a hammer and nails.
  • Determine ahead of time if there will be food and drink concessions or if you'll need to plan to bring your meals. At the very least you'll want to bring plenty of bottled water and snacks.
  • Wear comfortable shoes! And it helps to dress in layers.
One final thing to remember is to have fun. You get to set up your "own shop" within a few hours surrounded by a community of talented artisans and be visited by consumers who are going to buy your handcrafted items. What could be better?

Artisan Fair Materials: Resources:

Customer Comments

We would like to share some of the customer comments we received in response to the article, "Artisan Fairs: Ready, Set, Sell!," featured in the a newsletter. Please keep in mind that the comments expressed below are those of our customers and do not reflect the views of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.

"Wow! Thank you for many great ideas! I have sold in many venues over the last 25 years and the article had a lot of good suggestions."
- Sara

"Excellent article. Many good ideas that I can use in the future."
- Verva


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