Applying for your first ever craft show? We’ve got some important tips to help make your experience fun and successful, plus advice from seasoned craft show vendors and a free printable checklist of must-have items you should have with you.
Choose your show:
When I first started my business, Camp Smartypants, I applied to as many craft shows as possible. Some shows I was busy with customers and other shows I sat in an empty room with no one but other vendors. I recommend doing a bit of research about the event before applying for any show. Find out how many years the event has been running and what ways they promote the show. How many shoppers do they expect to attend? Is it indoor or outdoor? If they don’t seem to have much of a promotion plan, I’d say look for a better show. Without proper promotion, potential shoppers won’t know about the event and you’ll be sitting in your booth by yourself, bored all day.
It’s also a good idea to find out who the show’s past vendors are. Take a look at the event website and browse through their photo galleries (if they have them). Would your products fit in with the other types of vendors? It’s also great to see how people have set-up their booth displays for that particular show as well.
Applying for your first craft show:
Depending on what type of event you are applying too, you’ll need to fill out a detailed application. Make sure you follow their application instructions exactly and provide clear photographs to your work and a link to your website or Etsy shop. Some shows may even ask for a photograph of what your booth will look like so if this is your first craft fair, don’t wait until the last minute to apply as you may have to set up a mock booth to photograph for your application. Also be sure to read the F.A.Q. page on the event’s website. They will often explain further how to submit a good application.
Note: Some shows, like Crafty Wonderland here in Portland or Urban Craft Uprising in Seattle, are fairly competitive to get into, so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t accepted the first time you apply. Instead review your application and look at how you can improve it for the next time you apply and yes, you should definitely apply again!
Our first craft show was in Missoula, MT called the Missoula MADE fair. We were living in Spokane at the time, so it was the closest one to us. It was summer and held in an outdoor park downtown and it was very memorable! The day started out sunny and beautiful, but they’re known for quick sudden thunder storms to roll in. The wind picked up and it started hailing and raining for about the last hour of the show. People were packing up and leaving. We had lots of prints, cards, some tea towels and pillows, but were lucky enough to be towards the center area of the covered canopy they had, so our things didn’t get too wet, but still, it was pretty crazy. – Year Round Co.
How Much Product Should I Make?
As much as you possibly can. Bring everything you have, even if you don’t think you’ll sell all of it. You want your booth to look nice and full. You don’t want a big table with only a few items on it. I’ve always gone by the rule, the more you make, the more you’ll sell.
Designing Your Booth:
I always set up my entire booth at home before the show. That way I know exactly how things will be set up and I can take my time figuring out the best display for my products. Use a tape measure to mark off the exact dimensions of your booth space in your living room and start setting things up. Experiment with different arrangements of your products to find the most appealing setup. It’s good to display product at different levels so that the customer’s eye has multiple places to look when visiting your booth.
Our current display is made up of pallet wood that Scott put together and painted. Our display has to be durable enough to be taken apart multiple times a year while also fitting into our car and, of coarse, look good and able to hold all the product we carry, so a lot of thought went into the design and how it would break down. We seem to constantly be evolving how it looks or how our new products fit into it too. –Year Round Co.
• Table. Consider the size of your allotted booth space. Your booth display should fill your entire space. You don’t want a table that’s too big or too small.
• Tablecloth. When choosing a tablecloth (I like using a twin size flat sheet), consider the color and look of your products. You want a tablecloth color that will compliment your handmade goods and make them stand out. Usually neutral colors work best (unless your products are the same color). Avoid using patterned fabric for your tablecloth as this can potentially distract the viewer and make your booth look too busy.
• Banner. Make some sort of sign or banner with your shop name on it. I made my sign by hand-painting my shop logo onto canvas and sewing it into a banner I can hang in front of my table.
• Signage. All your products need to be clearly marked with a price. Consider making small signs or tags to attach to each item.
• Display Items. This is where you really have to be creative. Choose display items that are lightweight and easy to set up. You don’t have to break the bank; great places to find baskets, frames, containers, etc. are local thrift and vintage stores. Don’t be afraid to give an old crate or shelf a DIY facelift with a little cleaning or new paint job. You can also look at IKEA or a display fixture store in your area (like Portland Store Fixtures here in Portland, Oregon.) Lastly, when designing your booth, you can’t depend on having a wall behind you. Everything in your display needs to be free-standing.
I use wood crates, old tackle boxes and vintage glass collected from thrift stores to display my handmade jewelry and art. Some things I make sure to have with me at every craft show are: a lint roller, paper towels, coffee, and a mirror for customers to use when trying on my jewelry. –A Tea Leaf
The Day of the Show:
I like to arrive to any craft show 1-2 hours before the doors open. I don’t want to feel stressed or rushed about setting up plus I like to give myself time to run to the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee/tea, and get settled into my booth before the doors open.
It’s also a good idea to ask a friend or family member to help you load in and out for your event. Remember that you have to load your entire booth into the show space and you may have to carry things quite a distance. (If you have a hand truck or rolling cart, bring it).
In addition to bringing my entire booth display and all my products, I always bring the following items to any craft fair. It’s better to ‘be prepared’ than be freaking out about forgetting something or something going wrong. This checklist will help you have a stress-free, successful show! You can download it here and use it for your first show!
CRAFT SHOW CHECKLIST: (Free Printable)
- A chair. If it can fit behind your booth, you’re going to want it.
- Water bottle and food. You most likely will not be able to leave your booth during the event. Depending on how long the event lasts bring plenty of snacks or lunch so you don’t get hungry/cranky.
- Emergency tool kit: Pens, pencils, tape, hammer, pliers, box cutter, scissors, safety pins, tacks, twine, zip ties, extra price tags/stickers, band-aids, tampons, Ibuprofen, hand wipes, napkins.
- Change, cash box and calculator. make sure you have plenty of change (mainly $1 and $5). I usually get $100 in change for a show and that’s been plenty for me. I keep all my change in a metal cash box behind my booth. You could also wear an apron or fanny pack to keep all your change in.
- Square App. an essential tool for any craft show. The Square App allows you to take credit cards on your smartphone or tablet. You can order the Square Reader for free here. Before the show starts, set up your free account and do a test transaction (I usually charge $1) to make sure it’s ready and working. Make sure your device is fully charged and don’t use up your battery power on facebook or instagram during the event. Also- ask the event coordinator if they have wifi access for vendors.
- A notebook and pen to track sales. It’s good practice to write down every sale. That way you can review what items sold the best and how much money you made at the end of the day.
- Business cards. Business cards a SUPER important to have at a craft show. I order mine from Got Print. You can also look for local printers in your area. Make sure your business card includes your name, your shop name, your email and website/etsy shop. This way customers who aren’t looking to buy something the day of the show can find you again.
- Mailing list sign up sheet. So you can stay in touch with your customers.
- Tools of your craft. Especially good for last minute repairs. If show traffic is slowing down, I’ll usually get out my supplies for making my products and get to work. Customers love seeing you in action! It could spark conversation and questions about you and your work. Just make sure it’s something you can put down easily so you can continue to interact with customers and make sales.
- Packaging materials. You’ll need to bag or box up your product when someone makes a purchase. Make sure you have enough bags, tissue, etc. to properly package sold goods for customers.
- Wear comfortable shoes and layers. Keep in mind that you’ll most likely be on your feet most of the time so comfortable shoes are important. Also, you never know what the temperature of the room will be (or what the weather will be if you’re event is outdoors) so it’s best to have a few layers of clothing you can take on/off.
We keep a small box that holds all the nuts/bolts/screws we need, plus a screw driver, extra hooks, and tape. We always keep pens, lots of business cards, and sometimes even our wholesale info on hand too, you never know if a potential store owner will be stopping by. Snacks and water are never forgotten either! – Year Round Co.
A FEW FINAL TIPS:
• Show Etiquette. Tearing down your booth and/or loading out before the show ends is extremely bad show etiquette and disrupts the flow of any show. Even if you sold out of all your products, don’t tear down your booth (unless you have special permission from the event coordinator). If you tear down early, a lot of shows will put you on their ‘naughty’ list and won’t invite you back to do the show again. Also, be sure to leave your space as you found it and throw away any garbage.
• Exposure and feedback. Don’t be too upset if you don’t sell out or make a ton of money at your first show. Many of the shows I first attended I didn’t make much more than the cost of the booth fee. Exposure of you and your work and customer feedback are the best things you can gain at your first show. This is your chance to test out your products, interact with customers and receive instant feedback on your work. As a rule, if I at least make my booth fee back, I consider it a success.
• Outdoor shows. If you are planning to attend an outdoor show, I recommend using a pop-up canopy. They are quite an investment to buy, so ask the show coordinator of there’s someone you can borrow or share a canopy with. Also remember to prepare you booth for inclimate weather. You don’t want anything to fall or collapse due to a gust of wind and you don’t want your product to be ruined by rain or fade in the sunshine. Also- sunscreen and bug repellent are important.
• Network! A craft show is the perfect opportunity for you to meet other like-minded people! Talk to the other vendors. Tell them it’s your first show and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. I’ve made many new friends this way and it’s great to offer each other advice and support.
• Opportunities. Local shop owners might be attending the event on the look out for new handmade products for their shop! I’ve received many consignment opportunities with stores that first saw my work at a craft show.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: The Ultimate Craft Show Preparation Link List by Handmadeology