Selling at Craft Shows is Easy
Earning Money at it is a Bit Harder
Doing it Without Breaking a Sweat May Be Impossible
IT’S EASY TO SELL STUFF AT CRAFT SHOWS
Craft shows span the spectrum from the elementary school fundraiser to the High Brow Art Faire. From the 2 hour church bazaar to the hip pop-up shop in the old hat factory. From the corporate office employee-only “farmers market” to the Crafty / Craftin’ / Handmade / Rebel / Outlaw / Misc. Profanity / Etc. Indie Art Show.
In more than four years of business I haven’t set up toy shop at every type of show, but I’ve done most of them. I’ve been out in the baking sun, in back hallways where the scant crowd didn’t even know I was there, out in the cold spring day that unexpectedly turned rain-storm, and at those beautiful shows where people are almost throwing money at me.
I’ve sold at some 100 events and except for the odd-ball February farmers market (where fresh bread was about all the dozen people who showed up bought) I’ve always made at least one sale. But, like I said, selling stuff at a craft show is easy.
Now, turning a profit over material costs and show participation fees?
THAT’S A BIT HARDER.
I’ll say that I’ve turned a profit on this basis at about 90% of my shows.
The other 10%?
There was that farmers market that I paid 10 bucks to set up at, and then didn’t sell a thing. I think I had two or three of those markets – this was back when I thought it was possible to make a real living selling at craft shows. If only I could unlock the magical Free-Mason like formula to success (more on this later).
Early on in this SFCHDMSMP thing, there was the second-to-last high-school craft show I ever did. It had a vendor fee of probably 30 dollars, give or take (this was before I knew to be leery of such a low fee). I had one whopping sale that day – six bucks! And it was from a vendor across the aisle from me. Thank you kind lady.
There are a few other odd-ball events, fund-raisers mostly. The specifics have happily faded from my easy-memory. If I thought about it, I could pull the details from the recess of my mind, but I don’t care to.
There is one event, however, that I will never forget.
The Grand-Daddy of them all! A three day post-Thanksgiving mega-show (plus a fourth set-up day). The direct expenses involved just to sell at the show were close to 500 dollars. At the time it was a major expense for me. I made (I looked this up) $187.50. Not even 10 dollars in sales per hour. Thirteen customers over three days!
Sometimes show sales pay the bills, other times they pay dues.
Still, 90% of the time has turned the most basic of profits.
Now . . .
TURING A PROFIT WHEN YOU TALLY UP THE PILE OF ACTUAL EXPENSES?
Expenses like credit card processing fees, travel costs, lunch, packing and unpacking time, setup and tear down time, and all the time you’re on your feet selling?
For a six hour local event there’s easily six hours of preparation and set-up time (not including the time to make product) and another four hours of tear-down and unpacking at home. And this is now that I’ve figured out how to streamline the whole process!
And how about all the wear on your body?
Turning a profit after you factor all that in is much harder.
So much harder that if I figured up a minimum hourly wage, factored in overhead, taxes, retirement savings, etc. I may have only turned a true profit a handful of times. And I’m looking right at you Crafty Supermarket. A seven hour local amazing show where shoppers arrive in droves and carry fistfuls of cash. An annual event that accounts for 1.5% or 2% of my yearly income!
Seven hours can create 2% of my yearly income!
BUT MAKING THIS KIND OF MONEY WAS A LONG TIME COMING.
It took about a dozen shows over the course of a year before I could rely on reaching three figure sales (read: $100 or more).
And I’ve never sold $1,000. And even if I did, with all the sweating and labor? Whew! How is it sustainable when I’m 50 to do that 40 weekends a year?
Selling this relatively low amount, I should have done one of three things:
- Move up to top-tier Regional and National shows that pull in HUGE crowds.
- Sell something different that generates more revenue.
All three have been considered. The third was discussed for the first few year, but never considered seriously. The first involves a host of expenses and additional risk and I only feel would be successful in conjunction with the second (which is in the works and will certainly be a future SFCHDMSMP article).
Plus I have kids that I enjoy spending time with. That time away is really tough. Then the time back is tough too! I spend a lot of time preparing for the next show, or resting from the previous.
And a lot of the good money-making shows for me are around the holidays. This really limits those happy family-memory times. Working a regular SFCHDMSMP business workweek, then selling all day on a Saturday. Come Sunday I’m tired, a bit sore, and occasionally grumpy. So it doesn’t always turn out to be the memories I want my kids to have.
So this last year I dropped all but the most lucrative shows in favor of less money, but more time spent with the family.
THE MAGICAL FREE-MASON-LIKE FORMULA TO SUCCESS
When I started this business, I didn’t really know what I was doing (read more here). So just about everyone looked successful to me. I didn’t even understand direct sell companies – I thought they had a really sharp setup!
I talked to the other sellers. They were having GREAT shows. I has just having OKAY shows. I wondered if I should buy some
old vintage suitcases and a pennant company-name flag.
I thought it was possible to craft a living from this. This is why I sold at farmers markets and a number of small / oddball events. I thought there was a secret.
I was wrong . . .
AND HERE’S THE PART WHERE I COMPLAIN.
This is the section I’ve rewritten a half-dozen times. Essentially it’s revolved around sellers who under-price their work, people who use trademark and copyrighted material, and the rare instances of outright idea theft.
But I could never pull off explaining my point without sounding like a jerk. And these people aren’t my competition, just a big gripe I have, so I will just say:
Don’t base the price of your handmade good on what a Big Box store charges and Don’t steal others intellectual property.
And now we’ll move onto:
Exposure! Few words can so stir the soul of the trying-to-make-it artist.
Some highlights of exposure:
I did a show when I made $300 in sales. Ehh. I met some cool people. It wasn’t hot. It didn’t rain. But one customer from that day has since purchased something like three times that amount from me (thank you kind customer). That’s good financial exposure!
I’ve picked up a few wholesale accounts. Nice!
A magazine featured a product of mine. Full page picture!
I’ve had many customers buy from me again – both at shows and online.
All of this is real. All tremendous. But for me, while there are bonuses and opportunities beyond the show-selling-window, they’re not enough to offset the $200 in sales for the day.
The clincher? All of the exposure business happens online too (more on this in another SFCHDMSMP article).
YEAH, SO ABOUT THIS BUSINESS OF MAKING A LIVING?
There may be some people out there who can do so. I’ve heard rumor of this. I also heard that Samwise Gamgee built a boat and sailed to the Undying Lands (he was a ring-bearer too).
Shows can be loads of fun! There’s so many cool, interesting, and nice people to meet. (it’s hard to stress just how many great people there are to meet) And there is a significant amount of money to make.
I don’t think there is a living to be made selling exclusively at shows. Last year I cut back drastically on how many shows I participated in, and I did just fine.
There’s some fine-artists that probably can make a go on the show circuit, but they’re certainly not SFCHDMSMP businesses. They’re legitimate, no-qualifications-needed, Artists. I suppose there might be some high-end niche jewelry makers that you would definitely consider SFCHDMSMP businesses that pull in some serious money at shows. But are they only selling in person?
Okay, point is.
If the money isn’t selling at shows, it must be selling online. Right? The internet! That’s where the real cash is! It must be!
Sorry to make this a cliffhanger, but check back next month where we explain just how lucrative e-selling is.