So you think you can craft show? Well, it’s not for the faint of heart. Here’s what you’re going to want to know and need.
First off, picking a craft show to attend is almost as important as preparing for the show itself. Before you even think about attending a craft show, take a minute and read the show’s description online. Decide whether the show itself fits your products. Consider this analogy: selling a fine oil painting for $2,298.56 at a show where most vendors are selling beaded toe rings for five bucks apiece is going to be tricky.
Another point to consider: ask the good folks in charge of the event how many people with your skills are going to be in attendance. After all, it might be hard for customers to pick out your “unique” brand of nature-inspired watercolor paintings when they find themselves in the midst of fifty other people selling the exact same product at different price points.
Before you hand over your registration fee, try to choose a show or convention in which your products will both fit in and sell easily.
Getting Down to Business
Now that you have a venue, it’s time to get your act together for the big day. Start early, since you don’t want to be scrambling to create products or plan on packaging solutions the night before.
A lot of online resources offer craft show checklists that, while worth skimming through, either won’t cover all of your business’s individual needs or will suggest you bring way more supplies than you need for a single show. The ideal craft show checklist is very personal, but is broken down into four main categories. Almost each category has a range of prices that can be applied to certain corresponding setup options. For instance, buying a curtain at Ross and hanging it on PVC pipe will be less costly than buying an outdoor tent to surround your booth or, even more expensive, investing in temporary display walls for your booth space.
Simplified Show/Convention List
- Business-y Stuff
The booth setup includes items used to display your work, lighting and any barrier or tent you have that separates your booth space from the surrounding booth spaces. I currently use a craft show tent as my barrier. On the inside of my tent, I have a folding table and a sleek black tablecloth. On the table, I have a box to hold my art prints and a case to pin my handmade bookmarks and greeting cards in.
I also have a metal rack on wheels that I drape in black curtains. I use one of the shelves to display my smaller framed art and cover the rest of the shelves from the front with the black curtains, hanging large framed works on the large open faces using black fishing line, clasping lure hooks and curtain hooks. The shelves are handy because my cashier behind the counter can easily access new products, packaging materials or our toolbox from the back of the rack, which is not covered by curtains.
The front of my rack is pretty. The back of my rack is functional. My beautiful metal shelving system is the ideal display case for my craft shows.
Let these guidelines be the rule of thumb as you think about constructing your booth display. Each piece should be both attractive and functional with minimal clutter.
In addition to your booth display, you have to bring along any tools you used at home to make a mock up of your booth and package your products (i.e., product bags and backing board, needle-nose pliers and other small tools, a cutting knife and/or straight cutter, hooks to hang artwork, etc. These items will be unique to your situation and setup).
As far as lighting goes, I am still in the experimental stage. If I come to any epiphanies after my first show on Oct. 7th, I will be sure to let you know in part 3 of this blog series.
You aren’t ready for your craft show if you don’t have enough inventory. The rule of thumb that I’ve heard is to bring twice or even three times the amount of inventory you plan on needing at the show. This is essential for rotating inventory during the show or replacing sold items.
How do you determine how much inventory is enough? That’s an excellent question, and one I struggled with myself as I prepared for my first show. A neat way measure I used involved figuring out the overall expenses of the show, the prices you will offer for your products and your ideal return on investment (ROI) for the show.
As an example, imagine that you spend $300 preparing for the show (that includes every little expense for booth, packaging, materials, etc.) and plan to sell art prints at $10 per. From there you would create a goal for the show: “I need to break even” or “I want to make double what I spent on the show” or “I want to make enough to go to another show!” Let’s say you plan on breaking even. From there you determine that you need to sell at least 30 art prints in order to make back the $300 you spent on the show. Following the rule that you should bring double or triple the amount of inventory you plan on needing, you will need to bring 60-90 art prints in order to restock, rotate and replace products as needed.
On the subject of inventory, another good idea might be to offer a commission form so that customers can custom order some fan art or a portrait or anything else their heart desires from your business. Be sure to include general guidelines and pricing details in your forms so customers know what they can request and what to expect throughout the course of the transaction (I myself only accept commissions that are rated G or upper PG in order to avoid having to turn down customers. I also have constraints on commissions that involve fan art. These are clearly indicated on the commission form I give out at shows).
One last note before we away from this discussion on products. When making inventory, try to design a suite of products. For example, for my first show, I did a certain number of graphite drawings in an 8×10 size, a certain number of ink and Prismacolor drawings that were 5×7, a number of watercolor paintings using the same limited palate of colors that were 5×7, and I also created watercolor bookmarks among other things. Each category of product represents a distinguishable part of my inventory and gives my customers some consistency for the variety of skills and products I have represented at my booth. It also gives them a good view of what I can do in various mediums.
When it comes to packaging, quality is king. For all the great deals you can get on what you need, I wouldn’t advise going cheap in product assembly and packaging. Luckily for your business, most of the materials you will be using to securely and professionally package and ship your art are paper and plastic products, which can be ordered at a discount in bulk once you decide to get serious about marketing your art or craft. If you already are serious about branding yourself and your products, go ahead and buy bulk. You will spend lots but save in truckloads. Some things to think about are the costs of materials to create your products, acid-free plastic bags and backing board for flat artwork or some sort of other logical container to act as packaging or your crafts, secure shipping materials such as bubble wrap if you plan to ship items, paper bags or goodie bags for customers to tote your work around in, labels or stickers that act as price tags or display your company logo or name, business cards and other promotional materials to act as informational “freebies” to go along with a sale.
Something I agonized over for a long time before my first show was how I was going to price my artwork. Something I did that helped was look at sellers online and at craft shows who were selling similar items and price from there. Also, I created an hourly rate for myself that I can modify based on the skill required for an item being produced. After you total up the cost of your materials for a piece, you can be sure to incorporate that into the overall cost. Also, you best take state and local taxes into consideration as you price your items. This can be as easy as adding a tax charge at the tail end of your purchase or adding it to the cost of your item.
In addition to pricing, be sure to know have a digital means of taking payments, such as a card reader, on hand at the show. Nowadays, this item is just as important as a cash box and will save you a lot of heartache if you had to turn a potential customer away. Sources for card readers vary, but some of the most popular include Square and PayPal. Additionally, if you bank with a large corporation, you could try asking them about card reader options that might work for your business. These sources will exact a percent of your income for every charge made using their magnetic or chip readers, but I believe it is well worth the cost of usage. Oh, and many card reader companies offer supplemental dashboards or applications that allow you to manage a suite of products making checkout easier, send receipts, sell securely through your own website and more.
No one wants to get entangled in a mess of broken laws and unreported funds simply because they didn’t spend the month before the craft show getting their state and federal ducks in a row. Business-y stuff that you need to consider will differ from state to state and from country to country, but the general goal is to (1) form a legal business entity, (2) legally collect revenue and tax payments under the banner of that entity and (3) handle your finances in some logical way.
The first two goals are accomplished in conjunction with communication with the government in your area and learning about what you need to legally run a business where you are. If it applies to you, ask the right entities about online selling and selling across state and national lines.
For the third goal, understand and make a plan for how you will manage and spend the money associated with your business. This includes deciding how you will keep your money that you devote to your business safe, how you will keep track of your taxes and how you will total up your business expenses and revenues every time you make a transaction of any kind under the banner of your creative business.
If you don’t know whether or not you want to form a business with your craft, research laws about practicing art as a hobby within your state or province. some states exempt business owners from sales tax if they make less than a certain amount annually. Do an internet search and find out which laws apply to your unique situation as a creator.
Your challenge for today: think about developing your artistic brand, if not through a craft/art show or convention, then maybe on social media or on an online sales site such as Etsy. If you’re set on doing a show or convention, start creating a suite of products based on the guidelines above and get familiar with the craft shows in your area.
Part 3 will have me talking about my first show after the date. I’ll identify some areas of improvement and let you know how I fare!