Turn Your Craftiness Into a Profit at Craft Shows

Two years ago, my friend Dawn and I came up with a brilliant plan to make extra money: We should do craft shows!

Dawn had recently taught herself to crochet and was adept at counted cross-stitch and making bizarrely fashionable outfits on her sewing machine. I had experience with craft shows, having spent a year on the local circuit selling ceramics for my husband’s aunt. I could paint and beaded jewelry looked like fun.

Besides, I come from a long-line of crafters. My grandmother and aunt make everything from hand-knitted baby afghans to Christmas tree decorations. My mother is a quilter.

How hard could it be to turn our hobbies into cash?

Right. Now, you have the picture. We were way too overconfident.

We were certain people would want to pay top dollar for our creations. All we had to do was find a craft show, throw our stuff on a table and people would be anxious to give us their hard-earned cash.

So, our first craft show was a bit of a disappointment.

It was supposed to be one of the best craft shows around, an annual Christmas holiday event at the local college. The crafts I made, some beaded earrings, Christmas pins and jingle bell necklaces had all been stellar sellers for my grandmother, just a year ago at a show in Michigan. Dawn’s hats were adorable.

I think, by the end of the weekend, we may have made enough to pay for the table. Maybe. We certainly didn’t make any extra money. No reimbursement for the food we ate, money we spent on other crafts or even the supplies we used to make our crafts, much less our time.

One lovely lady, an experienced professional crafter, suggested it was our display and that perhaps our prices were too low. People, especially at this event, she said, weren’t looking for a bargain. They assumed the price reflected the quality.

Our display was rather ramshackle. There was no flash to draw people over and a lot of small things for people to look at.
Dawn’s hats, while warm and well-crafted and good-looking, were four times as much as the same thing purchased at Wal-Mart. Now, $10 for a hand-crafted hat isn’t much, but people didn’t seem to appreciate the difference between her work and something made in Bangladesh.

This was also the show where we learned that attitude is everything. This is not real estate, but location matters. And, we learned, know your audience.

Here’s how you can benefit from our mistakes:

1) Know your audience. Dawn’s hats were all the rage with the college crowd. Men and women alike wanted the skull caps, maybe in a favorite color, but plain was fine. But the college crowd, especially near the end of the semester is cheap. If they could buy the same thing at Wal-Mart with no discernable difference, they would.

And, this particular craft show, while held at the college, was not geared toward college students. It was more aimed at staff and faculty and the community, people who had money to spend and would spend it, if the product were right.

For that audience, $3 hand-beaded earrings held little appeal because I forgot to label them as sterling silver. Dawn’s hats were too plain and she didn’t have enough variety in the university’s colors and the local high school team’s colors.

That show, though labeled as the annual holiday arts and crafts show, was actually more geared toward fine arts. The vendors who did really well were the local art studios with hand-blown glass ornaments and framed, traditional artwork. Not crafters. Especially not crafters who failed to display things well.

2) Location matters. Both the location of the show and your location within it are important to your sales. Our second show was a holiday show in the suburbs near St. Louis. It should have been a wonderful show. There were dozens of vendors with gorgeous displays. We were set up near an entrance and we were the only one with hand-crocheted hats. The other vendors said our prices and our display were excellent.

The problem is the only people who saw it were the other vendors. The show was set up in a community center attached to a local hotel. People had to drive to the show to get there. It was not surrounded by food or other shopping opportunities. And, on top of that, the local regulations prohibited putting up temporary signs on the road to attract some of the hundreds of thousands of people driving by of their way to the mall. All day long, we saw less than 20 people who were not also there bemoaning the fact that they had spent the money and time (two weeks before Christmas) to set up for a show that no one came to see.

At that show, we were lucky enough to have a good location within the show, but no customers. at other shows, we have not been so lucky. At our first show, the display area is split into two levels. We were on the upper level. The lower level had double the traffic the upper level had. Location, location, location! Sometimes, organizers charge an additional fee to be in a certain part of the show. Most often, they do so because they know where the people are. Unless the fee is outrageous, it’s better to go for it.

3) Attitude is everything. Dawn and I are not particularly sales oriented. We are both friendly-enough, but we are not the type to shout hello and strike up a conversation with everyone who passes by. This is death to a crafter!

At one show, two little old ladies were set up next to us with homemade gift baskets. The baskets were nothing special. They looked okay, but the contents were predictable and boring. The display was too busy and didn’t give people room to see anything. But those ladies made out like bandits. By the afternoon of the show, their display was much less busy because they had sold so much of their merchandise.


Well, that’s what we wanted to know. So we watched and learned. They struck up conversations with passing people, asking about something the customer had bought elsewhere or even about the weather. Then, once they had people engaged, they pointed out the advantages of having a gift basket on hand, for an unexpected or last minute gift. They had their sales pitch down pat, asking people is they needed a five dollar gift for a co-worker or child’s teacher. They worked hard and rarely sat down. And, they made money because of it.

Dawn and I have learned more lessons as time passed, including the all important: Shoo away your friends. They scare off customers.

Crafting can be a very profitable business. We finally found the way to make it so, but taking a few tips from the pros around you never hurts. Thankfully, while we over-confident, we were not proud and took all these lesson to heart.

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