Four tips for your first craft show

Prints of Johnny Cash and James Baldwin

After spending the past few months cranking out prints, greeting cards, baby onesies, and t-shirts, I finally felt ready for the next phase in Suffragette Studios' evolution: A craft show! Time to choke back my reservations about late-stage capitalism and bust out that Square reader!

Having survived my first craft show this holiday season, here are some tips for craft show vendor virgins:

Find your people

If you're #blessed enough to live in an area with an abundance of craft shows, find the right craft show. Connect with people who will buy what you're hawking.

I figured our target audience was, narcissistically, people like me: Young-ish urbanites who shared a love for pop culture, a progressive worldview, and a specifically weird sense of humor. I also suspected I'd encounter a solid concentration of these folks at Girl Gang Craft's Oakland holiday market.

Girl Gang Craft had curated a hip, feminist, Millennial Pink flavor via a barrage of boob-themed art, an unlimited supply of succulents, and a prominent Topo Chico sponsorship. If this craft fair was any more millennial, attendees would have received avocado toast face masks. The Oakland craft scene was definitely the right place to get in front of "our" audience. What craft fairs would connect you to yours?

Figure out how you'll measure success

Before you even apply to exhibit in a craft fair, determine how you'll measure success: The number of customers who purchase your merchandise? Interactions with potential wholesale buyers? The number of fair attendees who sign up for your eNews or take your business card? The sweet, cold cash you take home?

At Girl Gang Craft, my goals were a) find out which of our products sparked a positive reaction and b) if people liked those products enough to purchase them.

Like some sort of millennial anthropologist, I keenly observed customers' behavior. About half of the passersby giggled at our Hipster Baby and Techie Baby onesies: A victory! Hundreds of people thought something I created was funny. IS THIS HOW KATE MCKINNON FEELS ALL THE TIME? I also studied how the placement of certain products affected traffic flow: The onesies pulled in customers, who then purchased baby clothes, prints, and cards. I also discovered folks are (understandably) hesitant to buy shirts as gifts when they're unsure of friends or family members' sizes, and took note that prints may be a better option for future shows. Ultimately, I sold a couple hundred bucks worth of merchandise...not too shabby for a newbie.

DIY your displays to cut costs

Craft shows require a substantial investment of money, time, or, in this case, both. Exhibiting in Girl Gang Craft wasn't cheap; the entry fee was $150, and I had to rent a car to transport the goods across the Bay. I also knew I'd have to assemble a semi-professional craft show booth to project the illusion I knew I what the hell I was doing. After the show, however, I didn't want the booth to turn into extra clutter. I cut corners by:

  • Ordering a minimal number of shirts and onesies to display, and offering free shipping for additional sizes.
  • Utilizing my own printer and cropping and framing prints myself: If you're making cards or prints, investing in a solid paper cutter and your own printer (I'm obsessed with my $200, four-year-old Canon Pixma) will absolutely save you money in the long run. I also found affordable frames at IKEA.
  • To display shirts and baby onesies, I purchased two clothes racks from IKEA. I can repurpose the racks at future craft shows or, hey, in my closet.
  • To showcase prints and cards, I repurposed my home furniture, a shibori-dyed wall hanging, and clipboards.
Display at Girl Gang craft: Featuring baby onesies and t-shirts and prints

Do a trial run

My friend Krishna, a veteran of many stationary shows, offered this sage advice: Set up your entire display at home a few weeks prior to the craft show. You can reconfigure a flexible display to spotlight your most popular crafts (and you may be surprised by what those are!). A trial run also lets you know how long it will take to assemble your booth the day of the show.

Pretend you're a prospective customer: What do you want the experience of buying your merchandise to be like? If and when someone decides to purchase your merchandise (yay!), do you have the right-sized bags or packaging for that purchase to travel safely with them? What do customers need to make purchases: a price list, change, a Square reader? What's your backup plan for processing payments if the internet goes down? What happens if you run out of a popular product? A trial run helps you prepare for the worst- and best-case scenarios.

So...should you exhibit at a craft show?

Absolutely! Just be sure to find a craft show that will put your work in front of people who will appreciate it, establish your goals, and mind your budget. Have a blast, you radiant unicorn!

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