20 Oct 2008

The mystery of the craft fair

I’ve been very lucky thus far; I haven’t done a craft fair or market where I didn’t make back my stall fee. Yet. I’m sure that day will come at some time.

I’ve been doing craft fairs for very many years in different guises – the first were when I had a craft and sewing shop and I did a few local ones with shop wares. Then I started making my own photo greetings cards and did more events with my cards, then more recently with my hand crafted jewellery. I still always take my cards along too – they’ve always sold consistently.
Craft fairs can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and I’ve yet to figure out which format would suit my products and price range best. I have perceived no obvious pattern.

I did a small local one in a community centre as a very last minute decision last Christmas because there was a note on the posters that due to cancellations they had a couple of vacancies. I awoke that morning to horrendous weather – it was howling a gale and lashing down. But everyone dutifully turned up and set up stall. It was 2 Saturdays before Christmas and we found ourselves in a ghost town. Literally.

The weather was so bad that there wasn’t a soul on the streets of the town. The nearby market was deserted and for about the first time I can recall, the high street was totally devoid of Christmas shoppers. We had 5 people actually open the door and come in – 4 of those were family members to stall holders bringing them refreshments or popping in to show support. One genuine-ish punter – looking for some respite from the weather before they walked home from work.

But I still did pretty well, almost all the other stall holders did some Christmas shopping with me – and I think that’s due to some of my own personal rules for craft fair conduct, as follows:

  • No matter how grim it appears, never moan. Your fellow stall holders are also potential customers. Everyone in the room is, so treat them that way. Would you buy from a whiner? I wouldn’t.

  • And certainly never, but never, moan within earshot of any potential customers. Put on an act if you have to – remain cheerful, upbeat and engage anyone who passes or pauses.
  • Never ask a potential customer, who pauses to look at your goodies, a question to which they could simply answer ‘no’. A well meaning attempt to engage someone can quickly come to a halt if you ask “can I help you?” Even if I’m sitting making something, I try and start a subtle conversation, just to let them know that I’m happy to be interrupted and available to ask something of – “has the queue gone down at the donut stall yet, the smell is making my tummy rumble”, “did you manage to get parked okay or are you local?” etc. etc. As soon as they touch an item it gets much easier “please feel free to try it on”, “I can easily adjust the sizes of those”, “those stones are aventurine, pretty colour isn’t it?” etc. etc.
  • I always make jewellery as I sit at the stall – this serves several functions – it’s a good conversation piece in both directions. Men often ask questions about tools or technique as their partners browse. This is good, if they’re talking to you, they’re not chivvying their lady on to something they might find more interesting.

    You demonstrate that you do actually make the pieces yourself and that you can potentially alter pieces or make something new while they wait. It also looks a whole lot better than sitting there bored, or reading. At the last but one market I did, I sold 2 pairs of earrings I just made, purely because they saw me making them.

    I’ve made at least one new pair of earrings to match something at every fair I’ve done – securing 2 sales in that move, the piece they originally saw and the new matching item. Last Saturday, it was a pair of earrings to match a polymer clay brooch. A £14 sale for just having my tools and some basic materials with me. Likewise with alterations – if something isn’t the right length, why lose a sale for the sake of being able to shorten a chain or make another longer one. I take all my chain stock and clasps with me, as well as a good selection of pre-made ones. I alter a couple of pieces at every event. Sales potentially lost otherwise.

  • Never pack up early. Once one starts, all stall holders tend to make moves to themselves. This kills the event for anyone new who looks in “Oh, it’s finished, they’re packing up now, we missed it”. I’ve made several sales when others have been packing up. Often to those stall holders who have already packed away!

  • Know your product and be prepared to talk about them. Know your materials, technique or manufacturing processes. People are genuinely interested to hear about how fire polished glass is made and who makes the best crystal, seed beads or where your pearls come from. People are interested to hear how a pendant of polymer clay with a pattern is made – if I’ve used mokume gane, mica shift, or swirled techniques.

    When they hear just how many stages are involved in making the pattern, curing, sanding it to a gloss, buffing and varnishing, your price tag suddenly looks far more reasonable. And people genuinely like to hear that you made something yourself and that it’s unique and the care you’ve taken putting it together. They’re often surprised to hear that they’re not bought components.

  • Engage children or bored husbands. There’s always something about a child you can start a conversation with – at my last one, most had been to the face painter and my husband was very keen on getting a Spiderman done himself. He usually comes to fairs with me and makes a good baby wrangler. If you talk to their children, or partners, the ladies – who are predominantly my customers – feel they’ve got a few minutes to browse with impunity if the party they’re with is being entertained.

    When I had a sewing shop I had a large box of toys that I added to frequently and Mums had trouble dragging kids away sometimes and they were happy to come in the shop if they knew they’d get to play with the toys.

    Taking my photo greetings cards has benefits too – men will often browse through those and ask about photography and cameras. Men often choose a couple of cards while their partners look at bling.

  • Be prepared to make an offer to secure a sale. I’ve turned several contemplated sales into real ones by offering complimentary earrings with a necklace, or rounding the price down, or a discount for multiple purchases. Whilst I’m not prepared to compromise my pricing and believe it to be fair, nor am I daft enough to lose a necklace or bracelet sale for the cost price of some earring components or a modest discount.

    I price my pieces the same in every venue – mail order items incur site and payment fees and post and packing, craft fairs have table fees, travel, parking and display materials – so I see equality in all venues. But a modest hit on price may allow you to clear older stock, create some goodwill and have another customer walk away with your contact details. I would consider a discount to be marketing expenditure.

So, thankfully, I’ve done pretty well at all the events I’ve done to date. But it’s also true to say that they’re an unpredictable beast and there doesn’t appear to be much of a pattern to help you prepare. My average sale value may vary a little from one to the next, but I’ve yet to predict what might sell well at any venue.

And don’t even get me started on the constant battle to find efficient ways to combine display and storage to make setting up quicker and easier – yet keep good control of my stock and know where everything is – that’s a whole ‘nother blog.

Please also see my later blog on what to take with you when doing a craft fair.

6 thoughts on “The mystery of the craft fair

  1. this is great information. i so regreted not having some pieces to work on at the fair i did at the weekend! will always have some beads and findings with me from now on

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