100 Craft Shows

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Craft shows & art festivals are important to my business and I meticulously track them. My very first show was Indie Craft Parade in 2011. Doing that show changed everything for me. It's hard to believe I just did my 100th event, but the spreadsheet doesn’t lie.

My craft show spreadsheet turned out to be a great evaluation tool. I track everything - expenses, sales, and the ever so important column “Would I come back?” There were shows when I made a grand total of $80, there were shows when I made a whopping $14,000. Some of these events I only did once (for good reason), but the others I’ve been doing for years and look forward to every time. There were years when shows accounted for nearly half of my total income, which felt awesome at the time, but now that I look back, I realize that may have been a foolish business model.

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The purpose of this post is not to share tips and tricks for successful craft shows (but here’s an older post if you’re interested - scroll to the bottom of the post for 10 tips). Today I want to look at the big picture and share 3 reasons why craft shows have been amazing for my business growth, and issue 3 warnings about relying on them too heavily (because I’m 100% guilty of that).

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3 reasons you should do as many shows as you can (at least in the beginning)

1. You will undoubtedly find your target customer.

Pay attention to who’s buying and if they’re purchasing for themselves or as gifts. Study them, not in a creepy way, but notice how they dress, their life stage, and what else they’ve purchased. This info isn’t always available when you do the majority of your sales online, but it’s literally right there in front of you at a craft show.

2. This is a major marketing opportunity.

Yes, you’ll sell a lot at in-person events, but you’ll also give out tons of business cards. You’ll never hear from most of these people again, but a surprising number will pop back into your life at the holidays or when they’re ready to move forward with that commission they were asking about. Marketing in person can double or triple your craft show sales if you’re patient.

3. Real life feedback.

If you sell online, you don’t know what customers are thinking when they’re browsing. However, in person, you’ll likely hear verbal comments about your prices, sizes, and styles, and you may also notice people asking the same questions, so even though the answers may seem obvious to you, there’s a good chance it’s unclear to your customers. Find a way to communicate these things better and take that knowledge and apply it to your website or adjust your product if necessary.

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3 warnings about leaning too heavily on craft shows (if you want a sustainable business)

1. Shows come and go.

One year, the show is huge and everyone is making a killing. The next year, there’s no sign of the event. And that’s fine. Nobody owes you a craft show. Real people are behind these events, they take an incredible amount of time & money to produce, so sometimes the plug gets pulled. Established shows usually stick around, but even good shows can change their model, dates, or location, and that can make or break the whole event. Don’t count on them always being there or being the same as previous years.

2. Bad things can and will happen.

You could get a terrible booth location, a blizzard or hurricane may blow in, or you could get sick the night before. A few shows require you to apply for multiple categories if you work in different mediums, and they may only accept you for one and not the other, dictating what you can and can’t bring. The show may have an astronomical entry fee for shoppers and hardly anyone attends because of it. Do you really want to tie the vast majority of your livelihood to these things that are completely out of your control?

3. The burnout is real.

If you travel out of state for shows all year long, the exhaustion will eventually catch up with you (unless you’re young or super energetic, in which case - ignore all this). Depending on the type of work you do, all that time on the road away from the studio may mean you fall behind on other orders. As soon as you catch up, you’re back on the road again. It’s a tough cycle if you work alone, and the physical & mental exhaustion can affect other areas of your life. Having experienced this burnout year after year, I’ve gotten extremely picky about how far I’m willing to travel now, and how many shows I’m prepared to do in a season.

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You know what they say about putting all your eggs in one basket…don’t do it!

If you’re considering trying craft shows, just jump in, even if you’re not 100% ready. You’ll get a lot out of them even if it’s only for a few seasons. In 2013, I decided to sign up for every craft show that came my way. There were some really bad ones, but there were some gems in there too - ones that didn’t sound all that good on paper, or were not yet established, but turned out to be fantastic events that I still enthusiastically participate in years later.

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If you’ve been doing shows awhile and notice you’re planning your year around them and relying on them to make your numbers each quarter (that’s me, up until last year!) please be careful. Consider having some other income streams like online sales, commissions, or wholesale. These may be more steady in the end, which is important when you’re earning a living. If you do this Maker thing long enough, you’ll probably have an off year eventually, and if you put all your eggs in one basket, whether that’s the craft show basket or something else, that might be enough to put you out of business. However, if you’ve diversified your income streams well, a bad year will just be a little dip on your sales bar graph and nothing more.

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Indie Craft Parade 2016 Recap

What a weekend. The 7th annual Indie Craft Parade took place this past weekend, and it was, as always, one of the best weekends of the whole year. This festival of all things handmade takes place every September, and it’s extremely competitive to get a spot as a vendor, but it’s a total blast once you’re in.

It’s also a LOT of hard work. I spend every minute of the summer preparing for this show, and when the weekend is over and the dust has settled, it feels like I’ve just accomplished something big, something that’s been months in the making. Today, as I write this, everything is sore: my face (from smiling non-stop for 3 days), my feet (from standing for the better part of 18 hours), my back (from load in load out), and my brain (from keeping track of sales and trying my best to remember names), but I’m beaming with joy. I met so many wonderful customers and fellow artists, and I got to share my work with 7,000 people. There’s something really thrilling about that!

This year was another record breaker, and I’m so thankful for everyone who came by my booth. I absolutely love to see people coming over to shop who are wearing jewelry they purchased from me years ago.

I did lots of shopping as well, and these are my 2016 purchases. 

1. Bird cup from   Moonbird Pottery   2. Necklaces from   Twenty Two West   3. Ceramic ring cone from   Paper&Clay   4. Screen print on wood from  Bone and Ink • Drawings by Jennifer Janeiro Allen  5. Painted ornament from  Origin Tale  6. Print from  METHANE STUDIOS  7. Metal bunny bowl from  January Jewelry  8. Large woven wall hanging from  WARP & WEFT  9. Angry cukes, Little Rock Caviar, and Drunken Tomatoes from  Doux South  10. Bible verse cards & holder from  Thimblepress  11. Push-pop Confetti from  Thimblepress

1. Bird cup from Moonbird Pottery
2. Necklaces from Twenty Two West
3. Ceramic ring cone from Paper&Clay
4. Screen print on wood from Bone and Ink • Drawings by Jennifer Janeiro Allen
5. Painted ornament from Origin Tale
6. Print from METHANE STUDIOS
7. Metal bunny bowl from January Jewelry
8. Large woven wall hanging from WARP & WEFT
9. Angry cukes, Little Rock Caviar, and Drunken Tomatoes from Doux South
10. Bible verse cards & holder from Thimblepress
11. Push-pop Confetti from Thimblepress

As in years past, I’m sharing some show stats, mostly because this event is fun to track from year to year. I sold less items than I did last year, but I earned more, and I also noticed I didn’t do as well on Sunday as I usually do, but I did almost double my usual sales during the Friday night VIP gala. You just never know how things will shake out!

In addition to stats, I thought I’d share a few practical tips and tricks that have worked well for me over the years. These things might be useful to anyone considering doing a craft show, or even the craft show veterans out there.

  1. If you’re going to sit down at any point during the show, bring a director’s chair or taller stool so you’re still able to chat with customers and handle transactions without being hidden behind your display. It will feel more natural to talk to customers when you’re eye level with them, even if you’re going to sit. I know some pros say you should never sit (or eat, or be on your phone, etc.) but let’s get real here - you will probably need to do all three at some point!

  2. If you know you’re going to be standing for the majority of the show (either because you’re in the “never sit down camp” or because it’s going to be a busy show and sitting isn't an option) bring one of those comfort mats to stand on. Half the time I’m standing barefoot on one of those things and it really helps keep my legs from tiring out over the course of the show (and nobody can see it anyway!).

  3. You can never have too many business cards, bags, or dollar bills on hand at a show. Every stinkin year, I think I have more than enough for Indie Craft Parade, and I’m wrong. This year I packed over 400 bags, nearly double what I packed the year before, and darn it, I still ran out. I also took 100 bucks worth of one dollar bills and ran out by the end of the day Saturday. Be prepared, or better yet, be beyond prepared! I have never run out of business cards as of yet (thankfully) but I have seen plenty of vendors who did, and I just hate to see them losing potential follow-up business because their customers have no way of finding them after the show.

  4. Pack lots of food and water. If a show is really busy, you may not be able to leave your booth for a meal, and only a handful of shows offer lunch deliveries. Also - when you’re thinking through what food to pack, I find it a lot easier to eat things with a fork (no sandwiches or pizza, etc.), so you can sneak in a quick bite here and there, then get back to your customers after minimal chewing without having to worry about leaving to wash your hands, food in teeth situations, or having to take a long break to eat something big & messy in one shot.

  5. Be prepared for 60 through 90 degree temperatures, because both are possible and you have no way of knowing which. I’ve done shows where the AC was so extreme my fingers went numb and I shivered the whole time, and I’ve also had shows where I was a sweaty mess when the AC wasn’t at it’s best, so dress & pack for both extremes, no matter what time of year it is.

  6. Rethink your packaging for busy shows (or prepare it ahead of time). Unless you sell really high end or fragile items, I’d say the simpler the better. I always feel really awkward when I’ve made a purchase and I have to stand there while the artist makes fancy ribbon curls. I know not everyone agrees on this, but I wanted to put it on this list as something to encourage you to think through ahead of time.

  7. Bring back up devices for accepting credit card payments, extra battery backup, and all the chargers in the world. You don’t want any technology mishap to shut you down.

  8. Pay attention to the questions your customers ask (or keep a list, if that helps), because you’ll catch on to some repeat questions after a while which is a clue you may have something that needs to be addressed. For example, when I first started selling my Curious Cameo pendants, people were always asking if I had longer chains. I never even thought of that until people kept asking about them, so now I keep extra chains if people would like to upgrade to a longer one. Easy solution!

  9. HAVE A SIGN.

  10. Consider taking custom orders during the show. For the longest time, people would ask for a custom item and I’d give them a business card and send them to my Etsy shop, and never hear from them again. Now, I offer to take their order right then and there, and I’ll even apply any show specials I have going on, so that I’m not leaving this possible future order up to chance. I also make things easy by bringing a color chart to the show so customers can see all the available options and choose exactly what they want.

Behind the Scenes: Artisphere 2015

Greenville, SC is home to one of the top ranked fine art festivals in the nation, drawing a crowd of over 75,000 people every year. This event showcases top notch art, craftsman demonstrations, and a wide range of performances. Artisphere is a big deal all around. To be a part of it as an artist...well, that’s a HUGE deal.

Nearly 1000 artists applied for 121 spots this year, so it was an honor to be selected. Being my first time exhibiting at Artisphere, I was certain it would be a great opportunity, if only for the exposure, but I truly underestimated things. It was a record breaking show as far as sales go, and to top that off, I won the People’s Choice Award. Thanks again to everyone who voted for me!

Preparing for Artisphere took months of hard work, and by the first week of May, I had more inventory than ever before. Although I’d originally applied for both jewelry and fiber art, I was only accepted for jewelry this time, but it ended up being a good thing. Focusing on jewelry alone stretched me to learn new techniques and expand my collection. I was also secretly glad to get a break from felting - it’s one of those things that’s enjoyable to do, but for the prices I’m able to charge vs. time involved, it’s barely worthwhile. Felting is fun for me, but bad for business.

As with every show, there’s highs and lows. This time, there were extremes of both.

High: winning the People’s Choice Award. It was an unexpected surprise, and we’ll be using the prize money for a nice weekend away for our 10th anniversary in June. I can’t remember the last time I had a day off and I’m really looking forward to it!

Low: pulling up Friday morning and realizing I forgot to rent a tent. I’m an over planner, an over packer, and generally lose sleep over the possibility of forgetting things, so to discover I omitted something pretty darn important, just hours before the festival opened, was a humbling & stressful experience that left me with a 14 hour migraine. Special thanks to the rental place that raced over within the hour and set up a tent, and to Carrie Braun, one of the organizers, for keeping me from bursting into an ugly cry.

As with past shows, I geeked out on stats. Here’s a breakdown of the successful weekend in numbers:


Curious what happens behind the scenes, before the festival officially begins? It goes something like this...

Being a part of a show like Artisphere is an incredible opportunity to meet customers in person and earn a nice lump sum paycheck, but it's also a chance to invest in some pretty amazing original art. At every show we participate in, we allow ourselves to spend up to 10% of sales supporting other artists. It's easy to do, there's so much talent out there! Whether we're from different states or the same town, we're all a part of this creative community. I want to contribute to this very special economy, not just profit from it. If I'm going to be posting #buyhandmade or #shoplocal, I need to put my money where my mouth is, especially in my own community. But really, all of that aside, it's a total delight to buy original art right from the source. I know I'll treasure each and every one of these pieces, not just because they're beautiful, but because I met the person who created it. 

Full list of artists below:

1. Tiny vase by Tara Underwood http://www.taraunderwoodpottery.com/

2. Original painting by Janina Tukarski Ellis http://www.janinaellis.com/

3. “Joyce” Sculpted donkey head by Julie Kradel http://www.fatponystudios.com/

4. Pair of green pots by John Herbon http://johnherbonpottery.com/ 

5. Fox & Rabbit reproduction on canvas by Phillip Singer www.psingerart.com

6. Bunny tile by Julie Kradel http://www.fatponystudios.com/

7. Original painting by Joseph Bradley http://josephbradleystudio.com/

8. Bowl by Amelia Stamps www.ameliastamps.com

9. 2 Mixed media pieces by Michelle Prahler www.planetprahler.com

10. Original woodblock print "Night on the Island" by Kent Ambler www.kentambler.net

11. Sterling silver necklace by Leandra Hill http://www.leandrahillmetalworks.com/

12. Original woodblock print "Psalm 108" by Kreg Yingst www.kregyingst.com