Shopping at craft shows makes for a memorable day but, participating in a craft show from the other side of the table is a whole new experience.
My husband and I moved out to the country away from our lifelong suburban lifestyle in the summer of 2017. The physical move to a place I always dreamed of living inspired me to make very conscious changes to the rest of my life too.
Part of those conscious changes was focusing on what brings me joy and building the rest of my life around that concept. I find joy in being surrounded by nature, learning new things and inspiring others.
I am happy. Functional Rustic provides me the opportunity to intentionally live the life I want to live – a peaceful life. Peace and serenity, though they feel good, do not pay the bills.
Enter the Craft Show.
I love shopping at craft shows. As a shopper it is exciting to see booth after booth of handmade crafts. Each booth is different and I never know what I will find. Also, most of the people selling the craft actually made the craft themselves. In what other context do you have the chance to meet face-to-face with the person that built what you’re buying?
As a social person that enjoys learning, attending a craft fair is the perfect day for me. A craft fair affords me the opportunity to engage with people about something for which they have a passion. Every crafter has a story to tell; how they did it, why they did it. Seeing their passion as they share their story inspires me to seek the same for myself.
Also, anything bought at a craft fair immediately becomes a conversation piece. “Check out this unique table I bought at the craft show last weekend”. “Remember that day at the annual craft show when we bought that salvaged barn wood sign?” “Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen anything like that before!” “Such a clever way to repurpose those items”.
In addition to the stories behind each item I create, there is also a story behind how each of those items got before the customers eyes. This is the story of how I went from craft show shopper to craft show merchant in pursuit of the life I always dreamed of living.
How I signed up for the Craft Show
I created an online store on the Functional Rustic website as well as an Etsy store. However, craft shows are the most effective place to sell crafts, especially when just starting out.
A friend of my sister, Tina, is also a creator and heard about what I was doing. Honestly, I do not recall if I initially reached out to her or if she reached out to me. What I do know is the universe worked it’s magic to put us in each other’s lives.
Tina shared that she was being pressured by friends and family to sell her art at the Berkley Days Craft Fair. Knowing that I too was entering the crafting scene and needed a venue to sell my goods, she invited me to join her.
Craft show booths need to be signed up for in advance. Most craft shows have their booths rented months in advance of the actual show. So, if you want to participate in craft shows you need to plan ahead and book early.
We agreed to split the cost of the booth. From my initial research you can expect to pay between $100 and $400 to rent a booth at a craft show for a weekend. The booth size was large so it was no problem to combine our items into the same space. Also, both of us generally work alone. If I did not pair up with her I would be by myself for the entire weekend and so would she.
As far as the actual sign up, Tina handled all of that. As I understand she just emailed the coordinator and said we wanted a booth. Since it is a juried show we included some pictures of our items as well as a brief description of what we sell. Once we were approved payment was sent. The whole process was actually very easy.
Juried craft shows mean that the venue wants to preview what you are selling. This enables them to do quality control up front to ensure that items being sold are appropriate for the venue. For example: Selling nude sculptures at a children’s craft fair would be inappropriate.
Preparing for the Craft Show
I did not have to worry about creating a bunch of items specifically to sell at the craft show because I already had an inventory on hand for my online store. Instead of creating new products I focused on building my business presence online in order to later promote the craft show.
Although I was not actively working on tasks for the show itself I was always thinking about it. I can’t even count the number of times I walked past the shelves I built and tried to imagine how I could show them off in my display. I also drew out blue prints for the various ways the booth could be set up. (As it turns out I did not actually use any of the designs I thought of before hand. Ha.)
I wanted to make sure that the set up encouraged people to engage with the merchandise and had a natural flow to it. This is an easy thing to say but much harder to actually create. Having spent years attending shows though, I had an idea of what kind of set up I enjoy interacting with and tried to replicate that.
Below you can watch Prodigy, Muscovy Duckling of Functional Rustic, helping me prepare.
I also had to figure out how to actually display my items. I create furniture and home décor. Specifically I was selling shelves, signs and candle holders. The shelves were great at displaying the candles but when I sell the shelf I have no where to display the rest of my products. Also, how do I display my signs?
In my head I worked out elaborate tables and displays I could build out of pallet wood. It was gorgeous. As I was creating the display in my mind I was provided the opportunity to participate in a yard sale. The yard sale provided me the perfect chance to field test my display ideas. Read about my first yard sale here.
I learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t work through selling at the yard sale. Building off of that knowledge I felt better prepared to actually start the build process for my craft show display.
Making the Craft Show Display
Making a craft show display is no different than making an in-store or window display. Catching the attention of those walking by is critical. I agonized over this. I researched and re-researched effective display techniques.
I had a display all worked out in my mind …. and then I read the guidelines for the show. I didn’t even know there were rules. Ha. Some of the rules were having table cloths down to the floor, covering all your tables at the end of the night and bringing your own fire extinguisher. Theses were understandable requests but I had to make some major tweaks to the table design with my new found information.
Be sure to read all of the guidelines associated with a show before signing up. Every show has their own set of rules and requirements. It can be frustrating to have to look for a fire extinguisher or change a table display at the last minute. Also, the size of your the booths vary from show to show so make sure your display fits in your assigned space.
The yard sale let me work out the kinks in displaying my shelves and candle holders so the actual table where I display my signs and ornaments was the priority.
In order to capture attention I wanted to make sure I had color contrast. I achieved this by draping brown burlap over the sides of the table and placing a stunning, hand woven white table cloth across the top.
I still needed a way to display my signs though. I chose the burlap to play off of the rustic theme of Functional Rustic and I decided to use chicken wire to hang the signs off the side of the table.
I drilled holes in the side of the table so that I could attach the chicken wire with bolts. The combination of the burlap, chicken fencing and hand made table cloth really encompassed the look I was going for.
This look also provided a lot of texture and dimension. I’m sure there is a psychology behind why texture is effective – all I know is it works. Soft fabric table cloth, rough fabric burlap, cold metal fencing, warm wooden shelves and brightly hand painted wooden décor. Everything about it says “touch me” which is the look I was going for.
Related to providing dimension – I needed to add varying heights too. To accomplish this I built display stands to hang my signs on. (These stands are also great for displaying jewelry and to be used as a phone charging station.) The stands were colored with either white or red deck stain so in addition to height on the table I also had color contrast.
Colors are important in a good display. If I’m being honest, I continue to struggle with this. For this craft show at least, I relied on the contrasting colors of my shelves the different colors of the candle holders to provide pops of color to my display. The key with properly utilizing color in your display is to capture the attention of whoever is walking past. Contrast draws people’s attention.
Setting Up for the Craft Show
The first day of the show was a Friday evening. They allowed the merchants to come set up starting in the early afternoon. I arrived as early as possible. I needed every minute of the set up time so I’m glad I arrived early. It takes quite a bit of time to carry items from the drop off zone all the way to the booth. I did not account for carrying time when I scheduled my set up.
The biggest hinderance for setting up my display was the items themselves. The shelves are not light or fun to move long distances alone. I still want to sell them but in the future I will likely only try to sell one or two at a time instead of six of them.
When creating your display remember that you will have to set up your display, then take down and carry out your display out a few days later. And, you have limited time to set up so, a very elaborate display may not be recommended. My shelves may look great but, logistically I need another approach.
What I found most surprising was how different the space looked than I had envisioned. I staged my items at home many times before actually arriving at the show. However, when everything was set up and the back drop of all the other booths was there – it looked a lot different than I thought it would.
Let the Show Begin
It is 5 pm on Friday and the doors are officially open. My display is set up but I continue to fuss with it. Move this over an inch and swap that sign for this one.
I was actually expecting a flood of people to pour into the show as soon as the clock hit 5. (This was an indoor craft show.) That didn’t happen. The experienced crafters said that the turn out this year was very low. Apparently this is usually a profitable venue but, for whatever reason, the people just weren’t coming in the door this year.
Having very little foot traffic provided me the opportunity to get to know Tina better. We had crossed paths a few times before but never actually had a real conversation until that day. Needless to say, I really like her and I understand why my sister became her friend. Also, I love her work.
Where as I repurpose items with the intention of giving them a new function, Tina repurposes with the intention of saving items from landfill. She turns miscellaneous items into impressive works of art and jewelry. Our crafts really compliment each other.
Despite not having the foot traffic I was hoping for, I still had the opportunity to engage with a lot of people. I also sold enough to make back my booth rental fee plus a couple bucks. I’m proud and consider it a success.
People watching is fun. People watching as a merchant at a craft fair is more fun. My instinct when I encounter someone is to look them in the eye and smile. In my day to day life this is a good quality. It’s actually a good quality in sales too but, the responses it gets when I’m in the merchant role are amusing.
Don’t get me wrong, many people smile back and/or say hello. However, people ignore vendors in a lot of different ways. Most people just do the “eyes down on the products never make eye contact” approach. Others accidently make eye contact but play it off as something across the room that has them so distracted they cannot see or hear anything else. And a shocking number of people suddenly need to examine the entire contents of their purse or pocket after making eye contact with a merchant. Did you know that making eye contact with a smiling person selling something causes the person to suddenly notice all the lint on their clothes? Ha. My favorite is, in response to a simple smile and a Hi, “uh, I’m just looking.” and then they literally turn their back to me and continue to admire the merchandise. It’s fascinating.
I don’t take it personally. I’ve done all of these things at some point in my life. I get it. People don’t want to be sold something. I know I don’t. That’s why I don’t try to get people to buy things. Of course, an argument could be made that me not trying to sell things is why people are not buying them. Hmmm…..
People did buy things though. And many more provided unprompted praise for the craftsmanship and creativity. My ego loved it.
However, I still had doubts about the prices due to so few sales so far that weekend. So, on the last day of the show when a customer asked the price for an item I provided the listed price and added “or whatever you think – make me an offer.”
He immediately and sternly responded, “No. Your price is your price. This is the price you want for it and that’s what I will pay.” He then said he would be back later to buy it. I felt great about what he said but assumed I would never see him again after he left. Well, not only did he return he also bought TWO signs at full price. Apparently I’m doing something right!
Another ego boost came when a couple stopped by and asked if I sold my shelves in the art gallery down the street. Don’t get me wrong, I like the shelf and think it’s pretty and very functional, but art? What an amazing compliment to receive. An art gallery is for “real” artists. Especially for someone just entering the arts/crafts scene hearing feedback like that is incredible.
As much as participating in the craft show is about selling my creations and making money, it is also about introducing my brand and spreading awareness for the Functional Rustic website. This is where I had the most fun.
A frequent ice breaker I used with shoppers was to ask if they do Do-It-Yourself projects. If they say yes then I ask about what they create. This approach enabled me to see many pictures of impressive projects from tiki bars to decorative soap to ball gowns.
Every single person that shared their DIY story did so with a huge smile & sense of pride. For a few minutes I got to share that moment with them. I smiled with them when they discussed overcoming this obstacle or gifting that craft to their loved one. Then I encourage them to go to my website if they are looking for ideas for new projects or I send them to DIY Projects of Facebook where they can share pictures and stories from their DIY endeavors.
For the shoppers that report not being a DIYer I ask what is something they always wanted to try. Generally I get to know them and their interests. At some point I will have the opportunity to naturally transition the conversation to telling them about Functional Rustic Tutorials. “Never did a do-it-yourself project? Now you can with a tutorial from Functional Rustic.” Promoting the craft tutorials is huge for parents of young kids. They can’t take my card fast enough when I say I have free easy crafts to do. Ha.
Not only did I get to meet many dynamic and interesting people I was also able to promote the website in a way that addressed their personal interests. Instead of just saying “check out my website” I can refer them to a particular blog post or a specific video of the Muscovy ducks.
End of the Show
I spent the weekend at the craft fair working my booth. For that reason, I was unable to shop at the craft fair or really talk to any of the other crafters. My biggest regret from the show was not connecting with other merchants more.
For some reason I thought that when the show was over I was going to have a chance to chat up some of the other people participating in the show. I don’t know why I thought that. The show is over. I’m tired. I’m far from home. I want to go and so does everyone else.
TIP: Network during the show when things are slow instead of after when everyone is busy trying to leave.
Packing everything up to go home was actually pretty straight forward. So much quicker to take apart the display than to set it up. It was also a treat to watch how seasoned craft show people take apart their displays. In a matter of minutes they have everything packed up into plastic totes and are ready to load into the car. This is not their first rodeo!
Overall, I am very happy about how my first craft show. I met interesting people, learned helpful feedback for my business and made a profit! I thought participating in a craft show as a shopper was interesting but, being on the other side of the table is an even more exciting experience!
Written by Sarah Palmer – Owner, Functional Rustic
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