Looking for advice on selling goods at a popular art/craft fair.
October 8, 2006 3:05 PM   Subscribe

I am going to be selling my wares at an outdoor arts and crafts show in a couple of weeks. This show usually gets a turnout of anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 people, depending on the weather. I am looking for suggestions on making this a success.

I make soy candles, and will be one of three candle sellers at the fair. There are going to be 70 artisans total. I have my tent, my knuckle-bustin' credit card swiper, a cash box, about 300 candles (still making more) bookmarks, flyers, a banner with my company name, tables, tablecloths, acrylic risers and a few other odds and ends.

Although I sell my candles at stores in the St. Louis area and through my web site, this will be the first time that I will be selling at an arts and crafts fair.

I am looking for input from people who have sold goods at such shows in the past. What else should I bring? What problems should I anticipate? Any other general advice?

Also, for those who enjoy attending such shows, what draws you into an artisan's booth? What entices you to buy?
posted by Ostara to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I'm at a show like that, I generally get a business card with website info from every artisan I like. Make a lot of these, and make sure your website is working. If you need to jot a note for anyone during the fair, jot it on your card and give it to them.

Will you have bags (paper or plastic) to give people to carry their loot away?

Are some of your candles pre-giftwrapped, or do you have a convenient way to put a ribbon and cellophane on them? Depending how much space you have, having a display with some sets-of-three shown as Lovely Gifts would be good. (Christmas is coming, people will be looking in mercenary fashion for low-cost gifts. Candles work well as gifts for people one doesn't know very well. I think the gift-set angle would work for you.) If you're doing gift sets, be sure you've got a little gift tag with a pretty picture on the front, your name and the website on the back, and blank space for the giver to write a note on the inside. You could include a little paper description of your operation, what's good about soy, etc, inside each set, too.

Put a sign *on your table* at eye-level or just below that saying Ostara's Soy Candles - Great Gift, Love the Planet (or whatever your slogan is). Having a banner is great, but depending how crowded the venue is, people may not be able to see it. People will be cruising along rows of booths, looking only at table-top or eye level. Redundant signage is wise, as is having nice-looking product up front. Make your sign readable from either direction that people can approach you from. If your prices are low, post them prominently. If you give deals like "Buy 3, get 10% off", post them prominently too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:24 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

You need bags to put people's purchased candles in! Additionally, you could pre-stock each bag with a business card or flyer inside, or stamp the name of your business on the outside of a paper bag.

As a shopper, I am drawn to nicely laid-out booths arranged with placement ideas, holders under the candles, etc. If you can't light any candles to show how they glow, then maybe make a really nice color photographic enlargement of the candles set up and lit beautifully.
posted by xo at 3:25 PM on October 8, 2006

Also: bring folding chairs for yourself and anyone else who's working your booth. Bring a thermos, a hat, mittens, and a couple of blankets if it's outside.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:27 PM on October 8, 2006

Bring enough small change, too. Remember people will be paying with an endless stream of $20s. Decide now whether you can take checks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:30 PM on October 8, 2006

Don't forget the shiny.

Seriously, people walking by booths at large craft fairs need "OOooohhhh! Shineyyyy!" stuff to get them to stop, and stop their groups, to look at your stuff. Hokey stuff is good, too, particularly if stalls beside you have superlative "OOooohhh! Shineyyy!" things of their own.

Sometimes it's as simple as standing up front in your booth, and saying "Hi!" two hundred times a day to strangers. But keep thinking to yourself "Before they can reach for their money, then have to stop."
posted by paulsc at 3:39 PM on October 8, 2006

I've organized an outdoor festival with vendors for several years in a row. I don't know how much space or how many tables you have, but make sure to maximize the circulation space that your customers have.

Just like the other comments, nice layouts make a difference, and make sure your table looks really full! Pile up candles (your risers should help with this), use baskets, etc.

I am a sucker for pretty packaging... even something cheap like using a stamp on a brown paper bag, tied with raffia, makes me feel happy.

It might also help drive sales if you have a little bonus... like buy 6 votives, get one free. You can always see how sales go during the day, and then do something like that toward the end of the day.

If you have a website, and would like to build a mailing list, have a sign-up sheet. Even better, have a little raffle for a gift set... and ask for name/e-mail (or phone number) to contact the winner.
posted by kimdog at 3:43 PM on October 8, 2006

Presentation, except xo already said that much better. I notice from your website that you have a lot of glass in your products. I would suggest perhaps plenty of (biodegradable/recyclable) butcher's paper (white wrapping paper) for protecting your customers' purchases.
posted by b33j at 3:46 PM on October 8, 2006

Best answer: You need to check out Craftster. They have a whole section in their forum for Tips on Participating in Craft Fairs. Booth design, stock, managing money, they've discussed it all.

Make sure you know what kind of people go to this fair. Are they looking for a bargain? Or are they expecting high prices and amazing one-of-a-kind stuff? You need to prepare accordingly.
posted by heatherann at 4:03 PM on October 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Having just looked at your page, I have a lame thought: your jarred candles look like they might be food. If I were walking by the booth, I would need strong visual clues (pictures of lit candles, signs spelling "candles" in uppercase letters so I don't mistakenly think you're selling candies) to know what's up. Put your votives with pretty holders out front!
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:08 PM on October 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers - keep 'em coming! I do have have bags - both brown kraft paper bags with handles and smaller plasic bags. I have tissue paper as well for wrapping the candles.
posted by Ostara at 4:16 PM on October 8, 2006

Make it as easy and quick as possible for people to give you money. Consider practicing counting out change and making out receipts/credit slips. Make sure you have plenty of credit slips, enough to sell all your wares, and make sure you have plenty of cash and coin for makingchange.
posted by Good Brain at 4:35 PM on October 8, 2006

You have a banner - do you have (or are you allowed) something more like a flag, that would stick out from the side to be visible from a distance? The St. James Art Fair just finished here, and I saw a few of these. It made it easy to find places you wanted to come back to later.

Probably goes without saying, but make sure your displays are easy to take down and pack up (and put back up), particularly if the show is several days or if you anticipate storms that could make you want to close up fast.

Have you checked parking for show exhibitors, and do you have an easy way (dolly or cart) to get your stuff from the place you can park to your booth? And do you have someone who can cover for you during bathroom and food runs, or have you got a plan for those?
posted by dilettante at 4:41 PM on October 8, 2006

I don't know if this can be translated candle-making, but I always bring some hand-sewing or crocheting with me to work on at shows - something easily portable that shows off what I do. Seeing the crafter actually craft right there seems to draw people in. (Also gives you something to do while people browse, so you aren't giving them that terrible hopeful-puppy-dog stare. That freaks me out.)
posted by hilatron at 5:50 PM on October 8, 2006

Less about the tradeshow, but regarding your product line, I couldn't tell if you sold a few of your candles with an "unscented" option. I love the candles, and love the organic aspect of them, but I'm pretty allergic to scents, so I wouldn't be able to buy any. Specially since you are all natural etc., the unscented option would really appeal to some buyers i think. Or me at least.
posted by extrabox at 6:10 PM on October 8, 2006

Please don't be absent from your booth any longer than necessary and don't be so chatty with your neighbor that I can't get your attention if I have a question. And make sure things are clearly marked as to price. I have walked away from booths when I couldn't find the owner or when they were so unattentive that they appeared not to care if I spent my money there. Be friendly, but don't hover. Unscented candles -- yes, please! And I do like the idea of a distinctive banner so I can find you again. Good luck - it sounds like fun!
posted by Lockjaw at 6:57 PM on October 8, 2006

You said you were accepting credit cards – I would make sure to have a small sign showing visa/mastercard/whatever logos. In my experience a lot of vendors at craft show don’t accept plastic and the sign may make you stand out to people not carrying much cash.

Also – plenty of water/drinks and easy to eat snacks. I have forgotten this stuff a couple times and kicked myself all day long.
posted by randex8 at 7:50 PM on October 8, 2006

What entices me to buy? The product first and foremost. Presentation is everything. Set up your booth with clean tablecloths or a nice clean table. Light some of the candles. Maybe set up table scapes with garlands, greenery, chargers, etc. to show what can be done with your candles. If any of your candles can be used for holiday table settings, I would definitely showcase that this time of the year. Good luck with your show.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:45 PM on October 8, 2006

A word about lighting the candles: if they're scented, and you light them, people may be drawn by the scent (good). But others may be repelled by it if they have allergies etc (bad). And more importantly, people who are browsing your stuff won't be able to smell the other candles to decide which they like (bad). So I think it's a judgment call whether to light any during the event.

You could group some together in little groups marked "Great Holiday Scents" or "Relaxing and Refreshing" or "Good Enough to Eat" or whatever.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:15 PM on October 8, 2006

Figure out how much change you think you'll need and bring twice that amount. It's so much better to have too much than too little. It's stressful to make a sale and then have to ask them if they have exact change or run around to other booths and ask them for change. That was what I learned at my first craft show.

Good luck on your first show. I have not been in the business for about 10 years but I am thinking of doing it again. I enjoyed doing craft fairs a lot.
posted by Melsky at 6:29 AM on October 9, 2006

A big second on what hilatron said about having something to do while folks browse. Nothing makes me leave a display faster than a vendor hopefully watching while I examine the wares.

The booths I spend the most time in have the artisan working on something – anything, really, but if it’s related to your craft and makes me want to watch, even better – and will greet me with a cheerful “Hi, welcome to my store, just holler if you have any questions.” No pressure means I can really look at your stuff without wanting to leave just to avoid your stare.
posted by ohcanireally at 8:40 AM on October 9, 2006

As a customer, I am more attracted to the vendors who are friendly and smiling and available to answer questions. The ones who don't seem interested in my business won't get my business. However, don't hover too much. :) Don't overprice your stuff; see what the others are selling their candles for. Sometimes buyers want to bargain; decide upfront if you're willing to do that.

If you are doing wrapping and stuff, do it as fast as is possible; there is nothing more annoying than waiting ten minutes in line to buy a votive because the person in front of you has decided to buy the entire line and needs them all wrapped in tissue paper so they won't break.
posted by cass at 10:04 AM on October 9, 2006

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