Although my day job is drawing things for clientele and for personal projects, I also manage an Etsy shop and on periodic weekends, pop up a sales table and put on my Craft Fair Vendor hat at various shows in and around the Ottawa, ON area. I’ve been doing craft fairs since mid-2014, and pet events/comic conventions before that. I’m no stranger to showing customers my work at events, but I haven’t always been good at it.
Oh, the mistakes I’ve made. Being a craft fair vendor ain’t easy.
I’ve had displays where you couldn’t tell up from down. Products everywhere. Poorly-written signage. No room for me to be at the table with my stuff. Mismatched colours. You name it, I’ve done it. I’m STILL making mistakes. I need to not talk customers ears off when they’re only mildly interested in what I’m saying. I need to come up with better inventory transportation solutions. I need to remember to iron my damn table coverings (see photo, from Cheerfully Made Spring Market on May 8th).
And thus, believe me when I say this post is not a holier-than-thou advice column – it’s legitimate advice based on things I have done or am doing, or that I have experienced through other vendors. I hope this helps you on your own craft fair journey.
How To Be An Awesome Vendor
Be A Shopper, First
Before you ever consider being a craft fair vendor, you should definitely be attending craft shows! It’s one of the best ways to research how to start. Walk around. Check out tables. Take note of the tables that really catch your eye in a positive way, and what specifically draws your eye. Check out the busy tables. What makes them popular?
Talk to the vendors. Be honest – tell them you’re a new crafter, and learning the ropes. Crafters are, for the most part, super friendly folks. Many are willing to ask questions and guide you in the right direction (just be aware of their time, they’re at the show to make sales after all.)
Bring A Friend
So… I’m guilty of NOT doing this one. Often. And every time I go it alone, I’m the walking dead by the end of the day. Bringing a friend has a bunch of benefits. Extra help with setup and takedown, someone to watch your table and chat up customers while you take a bathroom, food or browsing break, and they keep you company! You might be lucky enough to have a good friend or family member to do it for free, or at the very least supplying them with hot coffee and lunch on you.
Meet Other Vendors
In the craft fair scene, fellow vendors become a strong support network. Make friends! Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to fellow vendors. Share experiences! Talk about your creative processes and vending stories. Add each other on social media after the show. You can help one another when it comes to telling each other about new shows to apply to, product updates, and other things. As mentioned before, though, don’t bug them when they have customers and don’t ignore your own. At every show I’ve attended, it goes without saying that it’s perfectly appropriate to halt a conversation vendor-to-vendor to attend to a customer!
You’re at a craft fair with your rocking table setup. You’ve maybe had 20 people visit your table. One sale. Two hours ago. Vendors around you are starting to complain that this was a waste of time. You’re feeling tired and frustrated. What do you do?
Try not to take the negative road, despite its temptation. Bad shows happen to everyone. I’ve vended at shows with fantastic organizers and a great venue that happen to have horrid attendance due to construction nearby (for example). Bad shows happen. Be positive. Greet customers warmly. Try to be positive towards your other vendors – often, it’s contagious! And if a vendor is seeking to keep the attitude low, just keep on being your awesome self. You may not make a lot of sales (or any), but your attitude is a huge part of your reputation. Rock it.
After the show, speak to the organizers and take away what you’ve learned from a quiet show. There’s always something to learn!
Take Credit Cards
Use Square or another form of credit card reader at your table. Most folks come to shows prepared with cash, but these days many vendors are accepting credit cards. Customers often expect me to have my Square reader at the ready. They’re also super-handy for tracking both cash and card sales, and tracking your sales throughout the day.
Learn Every Time
Did you have a great craft fair? An okay craft fair? An absolutely garbage craft fair experience?
I try to take time after every show to list what I liked and didn’t like about the show. This can include:
- the show’s organization and/or how the organizers managed the event
- how busy/not busy the show was, and how busy/not busy -I- was
- things people noticed the most at my table, and things people barely noticed/commented on
- how many people were interested in my custom artwork commissions (important for me, may not apply to others)
Taking stock of the good and the bad is important – you may decide not to vend with those show organizers again, or you may decide to change your table design a little. You may decide to follow everything this organizer does because you had your best sales day ever! Do a recap and take notes. It’s worth it.
How To Be A Not So Great Vendor
Pack Up Early
If there’s one thing that gets my goat more than anything else at craft fairs, it’s vendors calling it quits before the scheduled end time and packing up their table. Yes, even if the show is dead. It tells your fellow vendors that you don’t care about their success. Sound harsh? It’s true. Your packing up sends a message to customers that the show is over, thus potentially ruining a last sale or two for another vendor.
What’s another fifteen minutes, anyway? Don’t be That Person. Stay at your table and wait. If you feel you really must start to pack up some smaller items, do so discreetly.
Don’t Pay Attention
You’re at your table. The show is kind of quiet. You decide to check Facebook on your phone. You look up again and someone is glancing at your table while walking away.
There goes a potential sale!
Looking inattentive at your table is a surefire way to have low sales. Keep your head up. Keep a good posture. Smile at passersby. Greet those who stop to look at your wares. When speaking to customers or to your vendor neighbours, keep one eye out for new visitors and be ready to greet them. Look interested in the show and the people attending it! That will make them interested in you.
I’ve done craft fairs where morning setup gets a bit hiccupy, and many vendors are quick to start snipping and shouting. Those shows usually tend to have a little negative storm cloud above them for the rest of the day, and frankly, it sucks. Negativity is contagious.
Things get crappy sometimes. Try not to complain. Have some patience. Try to help those trying to help others. Smile. Laugh. Shrug. We’re all here for the same reasons, let’s keep positive and have fun.
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are so many things to think about when becoming a craft fair vendor and even then, you WILL screw up. We all do. I still do. And that’s okay. Do research, plan, do your best, learn from mistakes, be humble, and the rest will follow you.