How to Sell Your Art at Craft Fairs

 

Learn about applications, fees, booth planning and setup, and lots more!

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Thinking about trying your hand at the craft fair circuit? Not sure what’s involved, or if it’s even the right move for you?

I’m here to help!

A few years ago I had all the same questions. I was completely new to selling my own products and was just beginning to figure out where and how to get them in front of people. Craft fairs and markets seemed so daunting—a bit like a secret society I didn’t really know how to break into.

But, just like with every initially scary new thing in life, I figured it out! I’ve experienced some great shows, and have also had some major flops. I’ve tweaked and simplified my set up, learned how to better talk about myself and my work, figured out which shows are worth my time and energy (‘cause they really do take a lot of those things!), and made some friends along the way.

Hopefully the lessons I’ve learned and advice I can share will help you feel more confident and ready to nail your first show!

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FINDING SHOWS

So…how do you even find craft fairs to apply to in the first place?

Welp, step one, as usual, is to ask our friend google! Search for “craft fairs” or “markets” or “pop ups” in your local area. The major ones will typically show up on there, or if you get lucky, someone might have even compiled a list for you already!

Step two is to scour Instagram and Facebook. Follow artists who live in your area, and then check out what kinds of events they’ve been participating in. If you find someone who you admire who seems really tapped into your local scene, DM or email them and ask if they’d be willing to clue you in. Also, make sure to ask what people’s favorite shows are, and be sure to prioritize those.

Step three, search local event sites (a good one for Austin is Do512) or whatever publications your community may have where people share local goings-on.

Once you get into your first fair or two, you’ll be able to ask your booth neighbors what other shows they like and start making a list of those.

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APPLYING

Once you’ve found a show you want to apply to, you’ll need to do some online searching to find out what their application process is.

Most of the time, there will be a website which will have an online application you can submit. The application usually requires you to answer several questions such as:

1) What do you sell & what kinds of materials to you use?

2) What’s your website? The bigger the show, the more established they expect their vendors to be. If you have at least an Etsy shop to share, that’s a great start, and most fairs will be content with that. If you have a professional looking website with an online shop in it, that’s even better.

3) What are your social media channels / handles? You don’t have to have a ton of followers, but markets like to see you’re trying to put yourself out there.

4) Have you done any shows before / what are the last 3 shows you participated in? Don’t freak out if you don’t have any shows under your belt yet. When I first started and answered this question, I admitted it was my first show I was applying to, but that I had already planned out my booth in detail and had a good handle on how shows are run—they accepted me!.

5) Do you need electricity? Most shows don’t offer electrical outlets, or they have a limited number available. You should definitely make your set up self-sustainable and expect little to no resources beyond what you bring yourself. If you want to include lights in your booth (not usually necessary), or a personal fan (might be nice if you’re outside), choose something that’s battery powered.

6) If you’re waitlisted and we have a drop out, how much lead time do you need to be able to participate? This is simply asking you how much advanced warning you need from them, should a spot open up last minute. Maybe all your products are all produced and ready to go all the time, in which case you’d need little to no advanced warning. On the other hand, If you hand-make every item and don’t keep any inventory, you might need more like a month to prep for a fair.

7) Why do you want to participate in this show? Make sure to do your research and at least read their about page and FAQs. Let them know you get them and understand why they’re putting the fair together, and show them how you can be an asset!

*Note: Most applications also include an application fee from $5 all the way to the entire cost of the booth. Small application fees are often non-refundable. When you’re asked for a bigger fee, you’re usually making a deposit of some or all of the cost of renting the booth space for the fair. If you don’t make it into the show, you’ll (hopefully) be refunded (make sure you’re clear on this before you apply). Renegade Craft Fair, for example, asks for the entire cost of your booth fee with your application (and it’s not cheap…like $600ish or more, depending on what size booth you’re applying for). If you don’t make it in, they refund you. It’s definitely not the standard to take the full fee up front, but it happens.


BOOTH FEES

Speaking of fees, let’s touch on how much it costs to rent space at a craft fair.

Most shows charge a flat fee in return for a set amount space. Once you pay that fee, any sales you make are your own.

Flat fees range, depending on booth size, prominence of the show, and length of the show. I’ve paid a flat fee of $25 for a really tiny fair, on up to $600 for Renegade (which, I should mention, lasts 2 days). The typical cost I’ve encountered is usually between $85-$200 for anywhere from a 6x6’ to 12x12’ space. Also remember, I’m talking local craft fairs here, not giant trade shows or anything like that. Trade show booth space is in the thousands.

One of my favorite shows in Austin, Blue Genie Art Bazaar, has a very different structure. Blue Genie lasts for the entire month before Christmas, and artists don’t man their booths (which is really unusual). Instead, they bring in staff to monitor the whole room and help customers check out. Because they do so much to manage the show, and it goes on for so long, they take a percentage of every maker’s sales. Percentages vary, depending on how much you sell (the more you sell, the less % you pay).

Me, at my very first craft fair. Such innocence!

Me, at my very first craft fair. Such innocence!

BOOTH SET UP

Alright, you’re in! You’ve paid up! Congrats!!! Now it’s time to start planning your set up.

Other than designing and producing your products (which we won’t discuss in this article because it’s a whole separate beast), designing your booth and figuring out logistics of how to transport and assemble it is the most difficult part of participating in craft shows. The upside is, once you figure it out for one show, you have a good template to replicate for the rest.

There are few things to note about how craft fair booths work…

1) You typically get a certain amount of space that’s measured out in feet. 6x6’ is a common booth size. So is 8x8’ or 12x12’. Very often, that space comes with NOTHING in it. I mean nothing. It might just be a taped off, empty square. A few shows do offer a table and chairs (some charge if you want to rent those), but it’s less common.

2) You might be inside or outside. Make sure you clarify! Truthfully, unless it’s a completely covered area, I HATE being outside. Even if it’s covered, wind, dust, heat, and rain are still not a fun mix with paper goods. If you’re in an uncovered, outside area, you’ll likely need a tent. It’s probably even required that you bring one. I’ve never wanted to mess with that, but I know a lot of folks who aren’t bothered by it. Just make sure you get a tent that’s quick and easy to assemble if you’re gonna go that route.

When you’re planning your set up, start by measuring it out with painter’s tape on the floor to get a feel for the size. Then, decide what it is you need to best display your products. You’ll almost certainly need a table or shelves. If you’ve got cards, you’ll probably need a card display rack. If you have big posters, you’ll need a poster display rack, or a big background wall you can tack them on to. Once you’ve figured out what you need, start playing around with layout and placement.

You’ll also want to consider how customers will interact with your display. Are your products within their reach? Are your best selling items being highlighted? Is anyone going to be able to see the tiny sign you’re hanging on the wall behind you? You don’t have to get this perfect right away—just watch how people respond to your layout and adjust from there.

Finally, you’ll need to think about transporting and assembling your display. Can you fit everything in your car? Can you lift everything and put it all together by yourself if you need to? Can you assemble the full booth in the set up time you’ve been given? (Often, you’ll get 1-2 hours).

Overall, my best advice for new craft show vendors is: You don’t have to get completely innovative with your display ideas when you’re first starting. Spend your time making your products amazing, and let your display quietly complement them. Work within your parameters, be smart, and be nice to your future self by making it simple. And practice your set up!

Planning out my untraditional, unmanned booth for Blue Genie

Planning out my untraditional, unmanned booth for Blue Genie

The final product!

The final product!

DAY OF: WHAT YOU NEED TO BRING

Your point-of-contact person will tell you when and how you need to load in on the day of the event. Often, load in starts several hours before the fair opens to the public, and can be staggered depending on how many vendors need to set up. You’re responsible for doing everything for yourself. It’s not unusual to never interact with the people who are putting on the show, as they’re obviously super busy. But it is a good idea to introduce yourself if you can and at least send them a thank you email after the show.

Here are some things you’ll want to remember to have with you on the day of…

1. Your sales tax permit: All states are different, so you’ll have to google “sales tax permit [your state]” to understand what you need for your specific location. Here’s some info for you Texans out there.

2. Cash and coins for change, plus a card reader (like Square) for accepting payments by credit card: Probably 80% of my my customer transactions are by card. I usually bring a variety of bills and coins—$5’s and $1’s are going to be most important. Don’t forget to add whatever sales tax is applicable in your location!

3. Snacks and water: You’re going to be at your booth for hours. Don’t get hangry!

4. Your products: At first, it’s tough to decide how much inventory to bring. I usually have at least 3-4 of each of my posters and small prints, and 6-8 of each card. I don’t always bring every art print and card I have. I’ll often take a selection of my top sellers, plus some back ups. You just have to figure out what’s best for you as you go! I store extra inventory and supplies under my table.

5. Extra tools and supplies: You never know what’s going to happen at a craft show. Bring some sticky tack or clamps to fight against windy days. Tape and scissors are always great to have on hand.

6. Business cards / Mailing List Sign Up Sheet: Don’t forget, this is a chance to make real, personal connections!

7. Price tags / signs: Some people tag every item and some list out prices. Whatever your preference, don’t forget to let people know what your products cost.

8. Bags / packaging: This depends on what you’re selling. I give my customers recycled kraft paper bags that I stamp with my logo if they ask for something to carry their purchase home in.


FINAL TIPS

Maybe you’re like me and you’re not super comfortable with selling your work? Welp, let me just tell ya, craft fairs are going to make you feel a little funky. But remember, people are there shopping because they want to be! They’re likely very interested in how and why you make your art, and would be excited to hear you talk about it. Try to approach it from that angle vs. the “Step right up! Two for a dolla!” selling strategy. Much more authentic.

Also—make friends with your neighbors! You’re all going through this together, and you’re all makers…so you have a ton in common. The more people you know, the more you’ll hear about other opportunities, and the more fun you’ll have.


I hope this helps you face your first show with lots of confidence!

Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips & tricks to add, or if you’ve had any craft fair experiences you think others would find valuable!

 
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Katie JohnsonComment