Lessons learned at my first craft fair

My sister and I participated in our first local craft fair this past November. It was held at a high school outside of Columbus, Ohio. We spent three months preparing for the show. You can read all about our craft fair preparation in this previous post. We learned a lot at our first craft fair and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the lessons learned at my first craft fair so that you don’t make the same mistakes.

The notebook where I recorded my reflections on my first craft fair.
The notebook where I recorded my reflections on my first craft fair.

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Lesson #1: The importance of location

Our first craft fair did not go as well as we had hoped. After doing some additional research and speaking with nearby vendors, we think that it was in large part due to our location in the venue. Our table was located in an alcove off of a long hallway and there were several nearby empty tables of vendors that did not show. As a result, many people kept walking down the hallway and opted not to detour into our out-of-the-way alcove. 

Because we signed up for our sale only three months in advance, we did not have a choice in terms of our table location. We had to take what was available as there were only a few spaces left. It didn’t help that the table positioned between us and this busier hallway had a large shelving display on their table that largely blocked most sightlines to our table, but that was obviously completely out of our control. 

Our table in the alcove off of the main hallway.
Our table in the alcove off of the main hallway. Note the large shelving unit on our neighboring vendor’s table.

Lesson #2: The importance of researching the show

I think the most important lesson we learned was the importance of researching the craft fair before you sign up. At this sale in particular, they allowed booths that were just reselling items (like the table next to us reselling TY Beanie Boos or the table that just had a random pile of knock-off PopSockets on their table). They also had numerous tables of consumer-direct sales (e.g. multilevel marketing companies like Avon, Watkins, and Tupperware). We were told by other vendors that this sale is a “grandma sale” (no offense to all of the lovely grandmothers out there) and that more traditional items like quilting and crocheting tend to be more popular. I would say that the average age of the shoppers at this sale was over 50.

I’m not sure the best way to determine if a craft fair is going to be a good fit for you. In my experience attending craft fairs, it seems like some of the better organized shows list the vendors attending on their website. This show did not do that. If they had, we might have had a better understanding of the types of items available at this sale from other vendors.

The craft fair we participated in.
The local highs school craft fair we participated in.

The sale was also not well attended (and certainly not as well attended as advertised). While I would believe that there were around 800 people in attendance on the first day, I doubt there were more than 500 on the second day. I would estimate fewer than 150 people walked past our table on the second day. It is likely that attendance was negatively affected by the pandemic, but it was still disappointing to have so few people see all the hard work that you put into your items and display.

We are hopeful that if we participate in a different sale in the future that focuses exclusively on unique, handmade items we might be a bit more successful. I think a juried sale (where vendors are screened by event organizers) might be a better fit. But I guess we won’t know until we try. Those sales are also rumored to be more expensive to participate in. 

Lesson #3: You can over-prepare

Some of the items on my to-do list for this sale probably weren’t as crucial as I felt like they were. For instance, I spent quite a bit of time setting up Venmo and PayPal accounts with the appropriate branding and tax information on multiple devices. No one at the sale used these payment methods. About half of our sales were cash and the other half were credit cards.

I also learned that you did not have to have a vendor’s license or a sales tax license to participate in this show. Although I wanted to have these items so that my business was operating legally, they absolutely could have been done at a later time.

Lesson #4: You can under-prepare

The evening before the show we were allowed to enter the venue to set up our display. As we had never set up our combined display before, we thought this was very important. Once we got everything set up, we headed home. I was able to relax for the rest of the evening, but that wasn’t the case for my sister. She ended up staying up until 3am finishing her items and making price tags. Unfortunately, this meant that we ended up spending the first 30 minutes of the show adding price tags to her items instead of attending to shoppers. This caused all of us to be very stressed and frazzled.

I also think it is incredibly important to have business cards with you at any craft show. You can purchase nice, inexpensive business cards from Vistaprint. (You can use this link to get 20% off of your first order plus free shipping on $50+.) I had business cards but my sister did not. This was unfortunate as several people asked for her business card.

I also think it would have been helpful if we had set up our respective online shops prior to the sale. That way, shoppers could potentially visit our sites to make purchases in the future. Neither of us got this done before the show. My sister has her site up now (check it out at vernarae.com) and I am working on creating an Etsy shop (I will share a link when I have it all set up). My sister also hoped to take custom orders, but did not have time to put together information about her available materials or to create custom order forms. I feel confident that we will have all of these items completed for any future craft shows.

The price tags I created for the craft fair.
The price tags I created for the craft fair.

Lesson #5: Make a preparation schedule

We had three months to prepare for this sale. It would have been helpful to have outlined a to-do list with a specific schedule as to what needed to be done each week. There were several times I experienced mostly unnecessary anxiety because I didn’t have a clear idea of when I was going to complete each task on my to-do list. Although I got everything done in the end, having a clear plan would have likely helped to eliminate some of that anxiety. 

Alternatively, in the case of my sister, having a clear plan might have helped her complete more inventory. She lost at least a couple of weeks of preparation time exploring different patterns and designs of items instead of deciding on specific items and focusing exclusively on them.

Lesson #6: Be mindful of your pricing and overall cost per item

This is something to consider based on the specific sale you are attending. Some sales tend to have higher priced items available and seem to attract people willing to spend more money for high quality goods. This was not that type of sale. My sister decided to purchase special-order, limited-edition Disney fabrics for most of the items she brought to the sale. She also purchased high-end hardware. As a result, her items were priced as high as $60 each. The fabric is beautiful and the pieces are very high quality, but even at this price, my sister didn’t make a significant profit. She did, however, sell several of her lower-priced wallets at the sale.

I think it might be better (especially when just starting out) to focus on less expensive materials and patterns/designs that could be executed more quickly. Unfortunately, many people at the sale looked at and admired the gorgeous Disney-themed bags but walked away when they saw the cost. Of course, this might not be the case at every sale. If we had been at a sale with more high-end items, customers might have been willing to pay for this level of work.

A close-up of our table and display.
A close-up of our table and display taken at the craft fair.

Lesson #7: Make the most of the experience

One thing we did get out of this sale was photos. Because my sister and I live about 2.5 hours away from each other and were stressed about preparing for the sale, we didn’t have an opportunity to do a trial run of our display. This sale allowed us to get a number of photos of our items and our display. We hope to be able to use those photos when applying for future juried sales which often require photos of your booth set up. They are also great for social media.

We also had the opportunity to meet several other vendors and chat with them about their experiences and advice. And despite being a bit disappointed with our sales, it was truly rewarding to interact with people and see them purchase our items. I imagine we will participate in more craft fairs in the future, but I think we will take a bit of a break before signing up for another one.

Takeaways

I ultimately decided to create an Etsy shop so that I can sell my upcycled candles and vases and vintage finds online. Please check out my Jack + Bax Etsy shop to see what I currently have available!

Also be sure to check out my sister’s website, vernarae.com, to see her awesome hand-crafted bags and wallets made from upcycled and custom Disney-themed materials.

Have you ever sold items at a craft fair? Please share any advice you might have in the comments!

If you are looking for some crafty inspiration, check out my posts on how to make a custom facemask chain or custom bulletin boards.

I am so glad you visited us at Jack and Bax. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter (sign up available either on the right sidebar or at the bottom of the page). And please follow me on Instagram and Facebook so that you don’t miss any of my upcoming projects!

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