If you have, or wish to have, a home craft business, sooner or later you will want to do a craft show. Craft shows can range from the tiny (small-town celebration, six booths, outdoors) to the enormous (large city, 500 booths, convention center). 

Juried versus Non-Juried Shows

There are many different categories of crafts shows, but it all boils down to two types: juried and non-juried shows.

What’s the difference? Very simply, juried shows are pickier about the quality of the crafts they allow in than non-juried shows.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with non-juried shows. In fact, they can be nicer, because they’re less expensive and often more local. The diversity of products offered for sale can be wider than in a juried show. (This can be a good thing or a bad thing.)

For a juried show, you will be asked to send in a craft application along with photos of your product. Send photos and descriptions of all the different types of items that you sell. The craft coordinator will determine who is accepted to the show based on the quality of the product, the professionalism of the booth, and the compatibility of the product with the theme of the show. He may also limit the number of vendors with similar products – for example, too many jewelry applicants.

Booth Fees and What They Get You

Let’s say that you wish to do a small, local, non-juried craft show. The booth fee is $100. Is this reasonable? Probably not.

Booth fees are – or should be – based on show quality. A small show that is not juried, that will attract fewer customers, and has a limited number of booths should not be charging such a high booth fee.

What makes a high booth fee worth it? Look for high-quality vendors with most or all of their products hand-crafted; look for excellent and broad advertising; and find out the anticipated attendance. If a show attracts 70,000 people, a $1,000 booth fee may be worth it. If a show is expected to attract a maximum of 500 people, make sure the booth fee is low.

How Far in Advance Do You Apply?

It depends on the show. Some shows are so popular that you need to apply literally years in advance and get on a waiting list. Others are so relaxed that you can call the craft coordinator a week ahead and get it, though this tells you something about the show’s quality and money-making potential.

The only advice is to contact the show producers and ask. Most juried shows have application deadlines a few months in advance so that they can jury the applicants. Have a selection of photos handy so that you can apply with ease. Always make copies of any applications or other paperwork, including checks, to keep for your records. Always bring acceptance letters and copies of cashed checks with you to the show. Sometimes, paperwork glitches occur, and you may need to prove you were accepted and have paid for your booth space.

Follow the Rules

It seems obvious, but you need to follow the rules of the show.

Some shows are themed. If a costume is required, wear a costume. If plastic pop-up booths are not permitted, don’t think you can get away with using one.

Whatever the rules of the craft show may be, it is your duty and responsibility to follow them. The rules should be clearly laid out in the paperwork. Be aware that the shows themselves often must follow rules and laws (such as requiring booths to be treated with a flame retardant), laws that you also must obey. If you don’t comply, the craft coordinator must shut you down or risk shutting down the entire venue. These laws include fire safety codes, health department codes, guy wires, public safety, etc. Be sensible and comply.

Other rules to follow: Be on time. Sell only what was juried in. Don’t set up late or tear down early. Get your vehicle off the show site as soon as possible.

Make sure you understand that the published opening time of the event is not when you show up, ready to construct your booth. The opening time means you are ready to open for business: your vehicle is parked off-site, your hand truck is put away, your stock is displayed neatly and professionally, you are dressed appropriately, and you have a big smile on your face for the early browsers.

Sales Psychology

Okay, you’re at the show. Now what? How do you bring customers into your booth?

It goes without saying that your booth is attractive and not sloppy. You are wearing appropriate clothing that is neat and professional. You have a nice, friendly smile.

Selling takes a certain psychology, as any good salesperson will tell you. When customers are browsing, the last thing they want is to feel pressured. Don’t act like the stereotypical used car salesman, talking constantly and trying to force a sale.

Offer a browser a friendly, but neutral, greeting (“Good morning!”). You’ve acknowledged the customer’s presence without making any additional demands. Don’t start peppering them with unwanted or unasked-for information. If you do that, I can almost guarantee that the customer will back-peddle out of your booth with a mumbled excuse about meeting Cousin Bob somewhere else.

Naturally, you’ll be available to answer specific questions about your product, but answer in such a way that does not imply that you now expect them to buy something (“That knick-knack is made out of solid walnut…so, can I wrap it up for you?”). A little humor sprinkled in makes the customer feel more comfortable. But don’t talk too much; customers generally want to be left alone to make up their minds.

It’s a fine balance. Being friendly with your customers improves your chances of making a sale, but trying to make them your best friend by nagging them will damage sales.

And, of course, most people will walk into a booth, and then walk out again. Most won’t buy anything – at least, not yet. It’s up to you to make their brief browsing experience so pleasant and unpressured that they’ll feel free to come back later and buy.

Booth Layout

Booth layout is difficult to discuss, because every product is different. Some items need to be behind glass with bright lights shining on them (such as jewelry). Some items need to be dangled from above. Some items need to be displayed on tables.

But, in every case, the key ingredient is visibility. It may seem obvious, but if the customer doesn’t see the product, and see it quickly, then it doesn’t exist.

Consider the power of a vertical display. Items that are displayed where the eye can sweep over them at a glance – and see the entire selection – are far more likely to result in higher sales.

Keep your shelves full. It’s a strange element of show psychology, but customers who see half-empty shelves are not impressed by how well your product has been selling. Instead, they will glance at your nearly vacant display, and walk on. It doesn’t matter how many pieces you still have on display. Half-empty shelves equal “no selection” in the eyes of a potential customer.

So, if you sell one piece, replace it with another piece. If you run out of replacement stock, then either reduce the number of shelving or display units you have available, or have something on hand to act as “fillers” for empty displays (silk flowers, driftwood, roadkill; anything is better than nothing).

Miscellaneous Tips

•     Bring a friend. Always try to work a booth with another person. Not only is this helpful during bathroom breaks, but it’s important to help deter shoplifting.

•     Do a dress rehearsal. If you are going to an event with your own booth, make sure you have assembled it at least once, in advance, at home, preferably blindfolded and standing on one leg in a rainstorm in the dead of night, to reproduce all the difficulties you’ll no doubt encounter at one time or another. It’s called a dress rehearsal, and theater or dance companies do them for good reason.

•     Keep a sense of humor. Cultivate a sense of humor. Display a sense of humor. Humor relaxes people, it makes you seem less “predatory,” and it creates an instant bond.

•     Sometimes you’ll get a person in your booth who looks and looks and looks, and then leaves without buying anything. This person is valuable to you. To a passing browser, there is safety in numbers. People are more likely to enter a booth when someone else is there ahead of them. So don’t lose patience with the person who spends a lot of time looking and then leaves without buying; they’ve provided you with a service by attracting other customers to your booth.

•     Know in advance what the show producers will provide. Some shows supply booth, tables, skirting, and signage (these are usually the more expensive shows). Others provide nothing but a square of grass. Be clear in advance what you’ll need to bring so you won’t be caught with your pants (metaphorically) down.

•     Never, ever leave a vacant chair available in your booth. A vacant chair means you’re a captive audience to anyone who wants to sit down and relate Great Aunt Martha’s gall bladder surgery.

Love the Life

Selling at craft fairs should be – and often is – fun. You’ll meet new people, see new places, and hopefully make some money.

But, craft shows can be frustrating, as well. Despite the best preparation, you never know how much – or if – you’ll make enough money to make it worthwhile. It’s important to understand that a show could be a bomb. That’s why, hopefully, the information in this article will help steer you in the right direction.