It's Showtime

It's Showtime
by Stephanie Hintz

Courtesy of The Crafts Report

Show and fairs are always on the craft scene calendar. They can range in size from local, neighborhood events, to large-scale wholesale buying shows. Opportunities abound for sellers and buyers--and Handmade Business is your source for the top tips of the trade.

What Shows to Attend?

Where can I find show listings in my area? Which ones are right for me? What should I bring along? How can I save money? These are common questions you might ask when preparing to attend shows. As a seller, shows are a lot of work! Be prepared for long hours on your feet, very few respite breaks, down time when sales are sluggish, and dealing with people who just don't want to buy.

As a buyer, you might also encounter unpredictable weather situations that might slow you down. You too will spend all day on your feet, and will have to deal with aggressive sellers, and may even be flooded with offers that do not appeal to you.

First things first--you need to decide which shows and fairs you want to go to. Think about how far you are willing to travel and what kind of shows interest you. You can search for events online, seek out magazine ads and directories, check out your favorite crafter or supplier's website, and in today's world, there is always something new being advertised on social media.

Save Pennies; Earn Pennies
  • Think beyond your neighborhood, and save money. Does a friend or family member you haven't seen in a while live in an area where a show is being held? Offer to order a delivered meal in exchange for a warm bed and shower instead of reserving a hotel room. Just be sure to be a thoughtful guest.
  • Join a group of other vendors or buyers and split the cost of a double-queen hotel suite
  • Inquire about any show specials, or multi-night discounts
  • Ask about discounted parking for vendors or for buyers over the course of the show
  • Take advantage of any free marketing support available
  • Ask how many attendees usually come. A low booth fee in a non-juried show will save you money, but make sure expected attendance is not too low.
  • Save every expense receipt
  • Order show services early
  • Advertise your show schedule via social media; send out press releases

If you know someone who attended a recent show you are considering, ask them for some feedback on what they thought. Was it worth their while? Did they find what they were looking for?

Consider the timing of the shows. Are you looking to sell your handmade items wholesale or are you a retailer? Time shows around your needs and your customer's buying habits. Check out past and current exhibitor lists to see how many similar artisans have shown their work at the show you are contemplating.

If you sell hand-knit scarves and there are already a handful of like-minded craftspeople attending, you may not sell as much of your inventory as you like since that market is saturated. On the other hand, if you are a clothing or accessory buyer looking to fill up your racks, you might prefer a variety of vendors to buy from. Bring plenty of inventory along; you don't want to run low in the middle of the day. Even if you do not put out everything at once, refill your space as items sell.

How much does it cost to attend, both for general admission as well as for exhibitors? Can you rent more than one space? Also consider the value of items sold at the fairs and shows you are exploring. If you sell high-end art or furniture, then a cash and carry show might not yield strong results for you, but if the show caters to galleries, specialty retailers and designers, you may hit the proverbial jackpot. You need to sell at shows where your target audience is buying, and need to buy at shows that sell what you are looking for.

Sellers: One Booth Does Not Fit All

After you've selected a show you'd like to attend, you need to find out if there are booth spaces available that suit your needs. Do you need electricity, or need to be close to water? What is the flooring material, and can you bring your own temporary floor covering? If you sell wall art or d├ęcor items, are there permanent or temporary walls available to use, or must you provide your own fixtures? If the show is outside, be sure to bring a quality, sturdy tent covering, and consider the weight and nature of your products being shown and sold. You don't want anything to blow away or suffer substantial harm from a light mist.

Preparation Checklist for Exhibitors
__ List inventory to bring; focus on best sellers and new work

__ Sketch a booth/display design and create a materials list

__ Procure and file any necessary seller permits or licenses

__ Develop marketing materials such as business cards, brochures, catalogs, flyers, postcards, promo pens, and gifts

__ Make sure you have money to make change, calculator, receipt book, credit card processing system, and order forms
__ Bring disinfectant wipes, tissues, hand sanitizer, first aid kit, and lotion

__ Don't forget non-perishable snacks and water to keep you going

__ Also take scissors, tape, pens, string, safety pins, tool kit, trash bags, notebook for expenses, clipboard, and camera

__ Include packaging for sold items and bags to carry what you buy.

__ Bring a helper

__ Get plenty of sleep

Ask the show organizers about their policy for early and late set-up and if there is short-term parking near entrances for loading and unloading for exhibitors. The most important thing to keep in mind when exhibiting or selling at a fair or show is to follow the application/show guidelines and maintain and bolster the integrity of the event. If the show is notoriously difficult to get accepted into, make certain you put your best foot forward, keep your application simple and concise, and present the highest-quality images of the work you are representing.

Booth Displays--Woo Your Audience

Think of exhibiting at a show or fair like a courtship where you are trying to win over your guests one at a time. Make visitors feel welcome and acknowledge all who enter, even if you are serving someone else. A simple nod or a wave will let them know you care, and they will be more inclined to wait for your attention and ask questions.

Get creative with your displays. If you make and sell jewelry, wear it or employ a friend as a live model. Demonstrate the uniqueness and versatility of your designs. Establish a plan for traffic flow, and make the point-of-purchase or wholesale order area easy to find.

People love samples and giveaways. Conduct drawings for door prizes in exchange for email contact information; attach business cards to small samples of products. Some products that work well are small soaps, votive candles, individually wrapped candy, and small ornaments. Vouchers and coupons can also be handed out.

Tips of the Trade
  • Quality signage
  • Accent and mood lighting
  • Hand-written price tags
  • Place top sellers in front, but draw guests all the way to the back for more favorites
  • Don't overcrowd your booth. Abundance does not equate to clutter.
  • Don't stand in front of your booth or block your wares
  • Don't leave your booth unattended
  • If you are selling to retail customers, factor applicable taxes into the price for ease of purchasing and inform your customers
  • Thank buyers and visitors--they may be back!
  • If room and time permits, demonstrate your craft or work on a project to engage buyers
  • If dogs are allowed at an outdoor show, provide a watering station and increase your traffic--and sales
  • Feature buyer promotions to add value and increase sales