Morning you guys! I’m happy to be back with my next addition of Creative Tenacity! Thanks to everyone who read my first post and commented, emailed me, or just said “thank you.” I do hope that this series is resonating with people. Writing it is also eye-opening and expanding for me, as it gets me reflecting on my own way of handling things, and how I might be able to do things better with Tangleweeds in the future.
I decided to move into arts and crafts fairs with this next post as it’s an area I have a lot of background with. Long before I started Tangleweeds I had a small handmade jewelry business called Designs By A Hummingbird. I also sold at craft fairs under my first business, and while it was also jewelry, it was a very different type of jewelry. I feel like these two different businesses helps to give me a well-rounded perspective on events. (With all of that said, this is of course all from my perspective and my perspective alone and is in no way an exhaustive, all encompassing account of everything you need to know about craft fairs!)
There is also SO MUCH to cover in this arena! I’m only going to cover a section of topics related to craft fairs in this post. More will come in later posts in this series.
Choosing An Event
Choosing your events can be much like a game of chance. It’s pretty much impossible to know if an event is going to be a good fit for you until you try it. Yes, you can ask fellow artists and vendors for their experiences, yes you can walk the event and get the lay of the land before you apply (for the following year or season), yes you can google the shit out of the event and look at an endless array of photos from the event, analyzing and picking apart if you think your brand will be a “good fit.” Ultimately all of this will only give you a relative idea if the event will be profitable for you.
I have done events that should have been hugely successful only to find that my sales were mediocre, and I have done events that were small and new and in a weird location and done fairly well. My advice on choosing events basically boils down to this: If you want to try out an event, do your homework and look into it by all means, but you really need to DO IT in order to know anything about it. You of course will need to assess the risk factors: How much does the event cost? Is there travel involved? Will you be okay if the event is a complete bust and you don’t even make back your booth fee? These are important questions to ask yourself and should always inform your decision to do an event or not.
As an aside - initially, in the beginning, you will need to be prepared to do events and not make a profit. You will be in the initial “figuring it all out” stage and you will be learning a lot. Sure, there are brands and products that do amazingly well from day one, but you should be prepared for the possibility that this is not how it will go. (Enter: the day job or side job!) The more you set yourself up to be okay with taking risks the more room you are going to have to grow with your handmade work and your business. An example: in general I find that while it may be scary to put down $300+ for an event, these are typically the events that make the most money for me. I know this sort of craft fair price tag is a bitter pill to swallow in the beginning, but oftentimes, the more expensive events are the ones that really bring in the buyers and sales. There are EXCELLENT smaller and less expensive events as well, nothing is absolute!
As far as finding out about events goes, there are many ways. One of the easiest is to join your local Etsy team and ask others in your group about events they would recommend. Also, one way that I will search for events online is to simply Google the name of a particular city I would like to do an event in along with the words “holiday craft fair” or “summer arts and crafts fair” or something similar. This is a good way to expose yourself to new events that you haven’t heard of, and it’s always a positive to try a new locale, especially if you feel like the locales you have tried have not responded that well to your work.
Attitude, Mind Set and Unsolicited Advice
This is an area that I really wanted to cover, as I think it’s one of the most important and possibly the most elusive when you’re first getting started selling your work, and especially at in-person events like craft fairs or other pop-ups.
In general, craft fairs and other shows are A LOT of work and can be both physically and mentally draining. But there are things you can do to alleviate some of the stress and make for a more fulfilling experience, regardless of how the event goes sales-wise.
Before I talk about attitude, a bit about my experience selling at events: When I first got started selling at events I felt so incredibly awkward. Everything from the load-in, to creating the display to talking to customers about my work was stressful and anxiety producing. It was all too easy tolet how I did financially at an event affect how I felt about myself. That is a terrible spot to be in.
But I kept at it for months and then years until I go to the point where it all started to fall into place and at times even feel effortless. I am now at a place in my life where I can sincerely say I LOVE doing events. That love has come from years of culling together knowledge from my lived experiences.
Basically my point: if you’ve had a few terrible events, try to learn from it. I bet there are ways you can make events in the future more fulfilling and worth your time. In the meantime, here are some of my suggestions for doing just that. . .
1. This bit has served me very well over the years. Treat everyone who comes into your booth or up to your table at an event as if it does not matter if they buy something. In other words: treat them with respect, act genuinely interested in connecting with them, and be nice! Now, obviously it helps to WANT to do these things. Because if you’re being nice just to be nice or following this advice because you think you should that’s all going to come through and you’re going to come across as fake and kind of plastic-y.
For me, I look at events as a way to connect with people. I truly enjoy this part about events. Yes, some folks are going to be not so nice, or say slightly rude things, but this is true in every aspect of life. You shouldn’t let it scare you away form craft fairs. I’ve met some wonderful people at events, and I don’t honestly think I would be able to connect with folks in the same way if all I saw when they walked into my booth was a giant dollar sign above their head (or two or three dollar signs =)
2. This next part is going to happen to you at least once in a while and can be a tricky topic to navigate: the unsolicited advice. (insert dramatic, tense music here) Yes, there are going to be customers who think they know what your next product should be, how much something should cost, how you should display things differently, and so on and so forth. In the beginning I think this kind of advice would rankle my nerves so much because I was filled with a lot of self-doubt about what I was doing. It was easy for me to see other people, having what they thought was a better idea about how I should be doing things, as a threat.
Now, when someone has advice for me while I’m at an event I try to respond politely but in a way that makes it clear that I know what’s best for me/Tangleweeds. (Because at this point in my trajectory I do!) I will say something like “I hadn’t thought of that, I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.” I think it’s important to clarify something here: it’s not about placating someone, but rather remembering that most everyone means well. When I used to work in coffee shops and had to deal with problem customers, I tried to remind myself that everyone is doing the best that they can at any given moment. Sometimes someone’s best is going to rub us the wrong way. In the end, just remember that it’s you making the decisions about your product and your biz at the end of the day, and let the suggestions and advice roll off you like water on a duck’s back.
3. Which brings me to my last section about attitude and mind-set and that’s talking about your work/product. This is where listening to your customers, even the ones who don’t buy anything, and taking in that well meaning “advice” as graciously as you can is really going to pay off.
When I first started selling at events, I was super nervous talking about my work. I usually didn’t try to strike up a conversation with a customer unless they initiated one first. As you can imagine, my sales weren’t that great at many of my early events. Over time though, as I listened to the people who would come into my booth and paid attention to how they were describing my work as they spoke to me or to there friend/shopping buddy, I started to see my work through the customers’ eyes, which started to illuminate the talking points for me.
Obviously you’re going to want to filter out the outliers and the bits of feedback that are idiosyncratic to one person and one person only. But over time you will notice over-arching themes that you can begin to incorporate into how you talk about your item.
As an example: One thing that I started to notice when my customers would try on my earrings was how many people commented in a complimentary way about how lightweight they were. I quickly came to realize that this was a huge selling point as many women (myself included) don’t want heavy earrings weighing down their ears. I was so close to the work that I didn’t realize that something I was intentionally doing (making earrings that were by design lightweight) was an important talking point with my customers. . . at least I didn’t realize it until they made me see it!
If you’re really wanting some initial talking points though, and don’t want to go into your first event with nothing to say, my recommendation is to start with the obvious and remember that customers most likely know little or nothing about your work when they walk up. Saying something as simple as “I make all of this (jewelry, ceramics, pillows, etc.) myself in my home studio in San Francisco” opens many doors for conversation. You’ve just clarified for your customer that yes, your product is handmade and (if the event is in the SF bay area) you are local as well. Other good talking points:
- point out your current favorite design and why (the back story) OR point out your newest designs
- talk very briefly about why you started making what you make (keep it simple because you don’t want to overwhelm the customer)
- tell the customer that they’re welcome to try anything on/pick anything up to have a closer look
- mention any sales or promotions that you may be having
- and always remember to say “hi” or “good morning” or something else simple when they walk into your booth/up to your table. Acknowledging their presence is a HUGE plus and amazingly something that many vendors simply don’t do.
If you can keep some of the above points in mind, I think you will find events to be a fulfilling and rewarding experience, even if they don’t start out initially as profitable as you might like. I do acknowledge that craft fairs and other events of this ilk will not be a good fit for everyone’s brand and product, but I do think that you have to give events everything you’ve got before you can safely say that retail events are not right for your biz.
On that note, I’ll wrap this post up! I know we’re moving back into fair season for many of us soon. Mine really starts to get underway in April, although I’ll have a couple of events in March. I’d love to hear what anyone else might have to say about how they keep a good attitude when they’re at a selling event. Feel free to leave a comment (or a question!) below.