SO, YOU'RE READY TO TURN YOUR CRAFT INTO A BUSINESS by dipping a toe into the craft show waters. There are lots of questions confronting you, right off the bat: What do show organizers look for when selecting their vendors? What should YOU look for in the dozens--if not hundreds--of sales opportunities that present themselves? Once you've landed a show, how can you ensure success? Read on, and I'll walk you through all this and more.
FINDING THE RIGHT SHOW FOR YOU
In case you haven't noticed, opportunities to buy & sell handmade goods abound for practically every taste--from the traditional country craft fair, to the contemporary fine craft showcase, to the alternative "craftster" show put on by your local indie DIYers. So how do you find them, and which is for you?
To start, check out craft show guides online & in print. I've listed a smattering below. Then, check show websites and talk to organizers to get a feel for their aesthetic and audience. Once you make a list of those you find most interesting, sign up for the show mailing list(s) if available. You may want to create a calendar of application deadlines and/or show dates to start planning a tentative schedule. Then finalize your prospects using the following guidelines.
First, understand that there are two basic kinds of shows. One is the juried craft show -- all applicants are selected by judges. The other is the non-juried show -- an open show -- where applicants are accepted purely on a first come, first served basis. Both have their pros and cons, especially for the budding craft artiste.
Open shows can be a low-stress way to test the waters and build your confidence--in your wares and, no less importantly, your salesmanship. Some drawbacks to this kind of show: other vendors may be reselling cheap imports & mass produced goods rather than handmade crafts; product quality may vary wildly; there may be oversaturation in your category; and the show audience may be a poor fit for your business.
Juried shows typically have more applicants than available spots, because it is judged you can't firm your plans until you've gotten the nod. They may also require an application fee which isn't refunded if you're rejected. On the plus side, juries typically pay close attention to vendor quality, and shoppers respond well to a high-quality show. In addition, the jury presumably understands the show's audience and chooses vendors accordingly--so if you do get in, you're more likely to be successful. Finally, juries also typically restrict the number of spots allotted for each craft category (e.g., jewelry), so you face less danger of over-saturation in your niche.
Later, I'll give you some tips to help your chances in the jury process, but first let's run down some other things to consider when evaluating show opportunities.
Once you've identified your top show picks, you're ready to apply. But how can you put your best foot forward in your application?
APPLYING FOR YOUR DREAM SHOW
The pointers below stem from my own experience organizing and jurying craft shows. Remember that my preferences may not be the same as another juror's, and that shows vary widely in what they're looking for and expect of their vendors. If in doubt, ask a veteran vendor or a show organizer for suggestions.
If you aren't chosen in the first round of picks, and you're still interested in vending at a given show, ask to be put on the waitlist; but be sure to tell the organizers how much advance notice you will need to attend.
Assuming your dream show has accepted you as a vendor, now comes the fun part—prepping for and selling at the show itself. Through my own experience vending at shows and based on feedback from other vendors, I've developed a basic checklist to keep in mind for both stages.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Now you're ready for the final step! Your actual craft show debut!
THE BIG DAY
On the day of the show you are, in essence, a small, self-contained retail store. So, think like a store and make sure you have the key elements lined up.
Of course, a full "how to be successful at craft shows" spiel would take a whole book (and yes, books have actually been written on the subject)—much more space than I have here! Check out the resources below to learn more, or feel free to drop me a line at Crafty Planet. Above all—smile and have fun with it!
Related event information:
Field Trip, an annual day-long arts celebration jointly presented by mnartists.org and Silverwood Park, is this Saturday, September 21, 2013 from 11 am to 5 pm at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony, a suburb of the Twin Cities. New to the event this year is an al fresco, Field Trip iteration of the hugely popular winter craft fair, No-Coast Craft-O-Rama. Find out more about the Summer No-Coast Craft O Rama here: http://nocoastcraft.com/nocoast/summer-nocoast/
This article was originally published in March 2008 on mnartists.org.
A SHORT INDEX OF CRAFT RESOURCES
Craft show directories
ACE Guide: Predominantly "traditional" craft fairs; good commentary on the included shows (fees, what price ranges sell best, etc).
FestivalNet: A bit more comprehensive, but full access requires a subscription.
Midwest Art Fairs: Focused exclusively on the Midwest region; quite comprehensive. Full access requires a subscription, but your local library may carry the print version.
Indie Craft Shows: Specifically limited to listings of "indie"/alternative craft fairs.
Sunshine Artist Magazine Directory: In addition to the listings, there's a nice archive of articles on topics of interest to craft vendors.
Local indie craft shows
These are my favorites, but of course there are lots of other opportunities locally and regionally:
No Coast Craft-o-rama (annually in December and, as of 2013, in September)
Craftstravaganza in April, in St. Paul and Craft'za, in Minneapolis in November)
Craft business information & networking
The Switchboards: forum for "creative women" to discuss all kinds of business and creative topics.
American Crafts Council: An association promoting fine and contemporary craft.
Crafts Report: a trade journal targeted to the fine craft artisan, but chockfull of business tips and information
Ilasco, Meg Mateo. Craft, Inc.: Turn Your Creative Hobby into a Business. Chronicle Books, 2007.
Brabec, Barbara. The Crafts Business Answer Book: Starting, Marketing, and Managing a Home-based Art, Crafts, or Design Business. M. Evans, 2006.
Kadubec, Phil. Crafts and Craft Shows: How to Make Money. Allworth Press, 2000.