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Craft Fair Survival Guide - Part 1

Have you been playing around with the idea of becoming a vendor at a craft fair? Our experience has shown us that one of the best ways to sell our product is to show at craft fairs! When people can see, feel, and handle our products, our customers quickly see their quality and value. We have also discovered the benefit of listening to our customers and hearing their take on our items. So after three years in business, craft fairs have quickly become a staple for our market and our market research.

But for us, there was a huge learning curve to being successful at craft fairs. We found that there is a huge difference from being a carefree customer to a dedicated vendor. So we wanted use our next blog entry to share a few things we have learned. Because there is so much to share, Bruce and I have split this topic into two parts, preparation and presentation.

Part 1 - Preparation

  1. Get there early to set up - at least one hour early!!! It looks really unprofessional to show up late, and you might get lost or get stuck in traffic, (or there might be a large bus parked in your booth spot and you have to advocate for it to be moved so you can start setting up) so the earlier you leave, the better!!!! Sadly, we have seen people show up at the very last minute, only to find out that their space had been taken and they had to set up in a corner that offered almost no foot traffic. If you want to be taken seriously, don’t be late! Keep in mind that once you arrive at the location, it will also take some time to figure out the best layout for the new space. It helps to plan your layout ahead of time, maybe even set up what it will look like before hand at home. But even if you have thought it out, when you set up in a new area, you still might need to play with your table, shelves, and other furniture to get it right. So leave early.

  2. Read the craft fair instructions carefully! Lots of times the association organizing the craft fair is working with a town or venue to ensure their fair has a professional and respectful atmosphere. By the way, this often is reflected in the attendance fee. Sometimes the fair isn’t worth the fee, but most of the time, the higher the fee, the higher the pay off. We have found that the more rules presented, the better quality of fair we experience! So follow the rules!

  3. Plan your 10’ x 10’ space carefully - Really think about your display and layout. Some things to consider:

  4. How will you display your product? Tables, shelves, racks, cloth, lights or mirrors...How will people move through your space? Expect children, dogs, and wobbly people. We found that tables making a U shape was OK at times, but really didn’t work at other times because people wanted to talk to Bruce about the quality and craftsmanship of the product. Then if we had one or two talkers, other potential customers would simply bypass our booth because it was too crowded. So try to plan room enough for some people to shop while others talk. Eventually we started buying two booth spaces. Making more room for both product and customers worked for us, but we weren’t ready for this at the start of our craft fair career. Other options would be to make a box with your tables so you can stand in the middle and customers can walk around your products. If you can, visit a craft fair beforehand and scope out how other experienced vendors are laying out their wares.

  5. Where will you ring out your customers and store your cash box, bags, and papers? What will that process look like?

  6. Are you prepared for the elements? What will you do if the fair is outside and it rains? Or if it is super windy? (Q: What will you do if it is on a blacktopped parking lot on a humid 96° F summer day for 8 hours? A: Drink lots and lots of water.)

  7. How you will label your product? On every product, we label the product name, types of wood used, size of board, and price. But how our price tags look has definitely evolved. We started out by printing our logo on stock paper, cutting them out, and hand writing all of the information. Then we moved to handwriting the information on the back of business cards. This worked really well, except as we increased our production, I was having a hard time keeping up with handwriting each tag! Now we buy price tags that have our business information as well as a list of woods that we can check off, so we can make our tags much more quickly. We also started to write the price on small removable tags so our customer could remove the price if it was a gift. When we became Maine Made certified, we started to include that separate tag on every board as well. (Becoming Maine Made certified is definitely worth the effort, by the way.)

  1. How will you price your product? You need to consider the value of your raw materials as well as the value of your time and talent. Pricing our products was really hard for us in the beginning. We wanted to be reasonable, but we ended up selling ourselves short. Every piece of advice we read and researched encouraged us to stand up for ourselves and honor the value of our craftsmanship.

  2. How will you pack and transport your product? We use totes and thin rags to protect our boards as they move around. Other vendors use bubble wrap, or paper. We also found that paying for the really expensive totes is well worth the investment, especially if your product is heavy wood. I wish we had bought all the totes at the same time so that they fit within each other when the are empty. I also wish that I had bought three different color of rags and cut them into sizes according to color because sometimes you don’t need a giant cloth to pack a mini board. While this might seem nitpicky, when you pack and repack and repack, you look for ways to make the process faster and less of a hassle.

Packing List - the ESSENTIALS:

  1. Folding Tables

  2. Folding chairs - actually folding stools are best so that you are more visible to the customer.

  3. Shelves - we bring wire metal racks that can be broken down. These are a huge hassle, but they add height to our display. We have plans from another vendor to make wooden collapsible shelves. It’s on Bruce’s To Do List.

  4. Table cloths (Check out this link to go to Amazon for table clothes that fit - they are worth the money!) And make sure to wash and de-wrinkle them before the day of the fair.

  5. 10 x 10 canopy tent (Amazon link) and attachable side walls for the tent for bad weather (Amazon link).

  6. Weights for tent legs - you will need these even in good weather. (Link to Amazon)

  7. Business sign - This is a biggy and definitely another thing that has evolved as Sider’s Woodcrafting as grown. The sign represents your brand and your professionalism. See Pictures below.

  1. Office box: pens, notepad, scissors, clear tape, black zip ties, shims or pieces of wood for leveling tables (especially if your on the grass), business cards and card holder, bags to hold product, bag for trash, Thank you letters/ Product care sheets, receipt book.

  2. Money Box, cash and coin to make change, credit card reader like Square (We love Square!)

  3. Food - Especially drinks, but plan on not moving from your spot until at least hour after the fair is over. By the way, it is best if you can bring a partner to the craft fair. It is really hard to take a bathroom break without one!

  4. Boxes if your inventory is light; Heavy Duty Totes if your product is heavy.

  5. Hand cart or some other type of rolling cart. Sometimes you have quite a walk from your vehicle to your outside space.

Time to Boost your Inventory!

Ok, now that you have thought out the layout and the materials you need to have on hand, you actually need to prepare for the fair! First and most importantly - Do you have enough product on hand? This was tricky for us in the beginning. We made as many boards as we possibly could starting three weeks out from the fair (This meant lots and lots of late nights and early mornings for Bruce). It still is always a massive push to get ready the week before the fair. Each time. Our products have to be sanded, oiled and waxed, tied and tagged, photographed and inventoried, and then packed. So plan your own product creation time line carefully.

Day Before the Fair

Clear your calendar! Hire a babysitter! The last minute details will take you all day (and often late into the night). Finish tagging, inventorying, packing, and loading the truck. (Fun Fact: Bruce drove to his first few craft fairs in his Prius. And wow, though he can pack like a pro, he is soooo happy that we were able to upgrade to a truck!)

Day of the Fair

So now you have packed the car the night before, you know what you are going to wear, your money box is ready, you have the directions and your alarm clock is set. You drive to the fair, talk with who is in charge to find your 10 x 10 spot, and set up. This always takes us over an hour to lug all our materials and product to our spot, unpack and set up. This is again, why arriving early is sooo important!

After you finish setting up, go outside and do a walk by. Look your space over carefully. Can you can see your business sign clearly? Is each part of your space appealing? Also, is your product displayed at several levels to make the most of your space? Are your items stable and secure? Be prepared for people to pick up and handle your products.

At first, we had trouble making sure our products don’t tip over like giant dominoes, but we have found sturdy display racks (originally for dinner plates) to do the trick. Also, Bruce used the left-over pieces of wood to serve as single-item displays. These turned out really well! With each show you will adapt and improve your set up and display, but now that you've read our tips you will definitely know how to plan and how to prepare.

So now your preparation and set up are complete! Great work! Your hard work will definately pay off! Now it is time to turn your attention to the most important part of this whole event - the customer!

Stay tuned for our Craft Fair Survival Guide Part 2 - Presentation!

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