Tips for Successful Selling at Craft Shows

I’m fairly new to selling my handmade wares online, and I think I might finally have a groove on how Etsy works, but I have been selling my art and crafts at farmers markets and craft shows consistently for a little over 4 years. I actually really love to be set up and selling somewhere in person. It might be the many years I worked in retail that are coming through here, but I enjoy sharing what I create with people stopping by and taking them through the steps of what I do if they’re curious. Making sales online is awesome, but getting to interact in person with the folks who are taking your work home is also special!

I think I brought a lot of my retail experience and direct sales knowledge into the craft show arena when I first started. I am also a bit of a perfectionist, and always try my best to convey that I really am building a business with my craft and want to let customers and potential customers know that I am a professional who can be trusted. All that said, here are my top tips for selling successfully at your next, or first, craft show.

Don’t lounge at your table

What I mean is, if you’re sitting back in your chair looking bored or exhausted, people are not generally going to want to stop and see what’s happening at your table or booth. This is the time to have a positive attitude, an eager energy and to draw people into your space. Honestly, would you rather stop at a table where someone looks happy that you’re there, or where the vendor looks like they could care less? Don’t put on a cheesy or fake persona, just be your own happy self. Smile at people as they go by, offer a “good morning” or “how are you?” just for the sake of being friendly. You will be amazed at how many folks will stop and take a second look at your work. Another good idea is to stand up in your space. This gives a sense of readiness that potential customers will appreciate. I understand that the days can get long, and if you need to take a small break and have a seat, then by all means do so- especially when there is a lull in the crowd. But as soon as someone approaches your space, stand up and show appreciation that they are at there and interested in what you have created.

Don’t be busy with something else

It makes me kinda crazy when I see crafters working at their tables during an event. The time for making is on pause right now, because during a show or market, you should have your sales cap on. I have heard people say that it can draw a crowd if you are working on your creations while at an event; that it will peak curiosity in potential customers. I disagree. The only time I have witnessed this to be an effective tactic is with glass blowers, because come on guys, that is impressive to watch! In these scenarios, there is always someone who is attending to customers while the artist works. In any other case though, you being busy with something other than connecting with customers is going to keep those customers walking. This includes fidgeting with your cell phone, eating, or talking with other vendors. When you ignore people, they are going to ignore you and if you are knee deep in knitting supplies or nachos, they are innately not going to want to bother you and walk right on by.

Don’t sell like a used car salesman

So yes, I am telling you to pay close attention to the people passing by your table and to engage as much as possible in a positive way. But I am also going to suggest that you don’t scare them away. No one likes to be attacked by a seller shouting out what’s on their tables, or what sort of discounts they might be offering that day. Shouting at people to call them over to your booth is tacky and annoying to other vendors, but buyers do not like to be pressured, so think more along the lines of attracting your customers rather than attacking them. My best advice is to be yourself, whether you’re shy or silly, calm or energetic, introverted or a little extra. People enjoy genuine engagement and will appreciate you for that. This is also not the time to share your life’s woes and struggles in the hopes of making pity sales- I have seen people try this and seriously, just don’t. It will only create an awkward and uncomfortable atmosphere and doesn’t usually lead to many sales. Just relax and keep things positive.

Don’t expect people to understand what you do

When you live, breathe and eat creating things it’s really easy to forget that not everyone on the planet possesses artsy/craftsy skills. Don’t be afraid to share your process with people who are checking out your work. Potential buyers love to learn about what makes your handmade items unique, what inspires you, the media you work with and some of the steps of crafting your pieces. This isn’t a 20 min tutorial I’m talking about here, simply sharing some of your creative story. For example, when I notice someone examining my seashell necklaces, I explain that my mom, daughter and I collect the shells at Atlantic beach every year while we’re on vacation. With so many shells at home, I started using resin to make them into jewelry. This is something that they can relate to, and now they have a little story to share themselves when someone admires their new necklace. Offer people a conversation starter about your work. Handmade buyers love the originality and skill set that’s required for one of a kind treasures, so be confident about your own skills and share your process.

Don’t leave early

One of my biggest pet peeves at any event is when people start packing up before the end of the show. If you have committed to being there from 9am-4pm, then don’t start tearing down your table until 4pm. This is one of those monkey see, monkey do situations; one vendor is ready to throw in the towel an hour early and suddenly the rest start one by one packing up early as well. Just no. There have been many times where I have hauled in some amazing sales during the last  hour of a market or show when the first several hours of the day were slow. In my opinion it’s also rude to pack up early. It creates a disruption to your fellow vendors, causes confusion for customers who are still walking around checking things out and becomes awkward for the show coordinators. Maybe you had a slow day, but next year might be better and if you boogie out early, these show coordinators may not invite you back as quickly as others who showed more commitment. Obviously if there is a legitimate emergency, or if the event is outside and the weather takes a horrid turn, there are exceptions to this. If you do absolutely have to leave early, take a moment to explain the situation to the head of the event, and do your best to leave without creating a disturbance for others.

Play nice with other vendors

Craft shows and markets are such a fun environment to sell in, partly because you get to be around a bunch of other creative people. So play nice with your fellow vendors and make friends rather than trying to size them up as the competition. No matter what you create, more than likely there will be at least one other person there selling something in the same genre, especially at large events. As a handmade jewelry seller, I always meet several others who are selling jewelry as well, and I make it a point to introduce myself if we are set up close to each other. I’m not being weird or sneaky, I seriously just want to break the ice and let everyone know that I’m not going to be catty. No two hands create the same way and no two people share the exact same vision, so don’t feel threatened by anyone else’s work. If everyone is working from a genuine place it will come through. And seriously guys, there are billions of people on the planet- enough for everyone to sell plenty and have success. Craft shows and farmers markets are a great place to learn about upcoming shows you might not know about, stores looking for handmade items, or just to make some new creative friends. So put away the snarls and defenses and just have fun!

For a more detailed guide to selling your handmade items in person, take a look at my book available on Amazon:

Your Handmade Business: A Guide to Craft Show Success, by Sandra M. Belz                      Available in ebook and paperback

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