10 things to consider when applying to handmade markets and craft fairs
Posted on October 4, 2019
Market season is coming up quick, ya’ll! For some of us, it’s already begun! This is another post in my Handmade Markets 101 series to help you have a successful market season, whether that’s this year or if you just getting a head start on scouting out spots for 2020! Like I mentioned in my first post in the series on how to find handmade markets and craft fairs near you, not all markets/craft fairs are created equal and sometimes it takes some trial and error to find the ones that are the right fit for you and your business! Over my 6+ years of selling locally and in person I’ve compiled quite the list of what to look for and what to avoid in picking an event to sell at! Here’s 10 things I specifically look for in choosing which events to apply to, and some things you might like to consider in looking for events that might be a good match for your business!
How to pick a “good” craft fair or handmade market to sell at:
1.. Frequency of event?
Is it annual event, like perhaps a holiday fair? Weekly? Monthly? Seasonal, like a farmers market? Well established in the community? I sell at a variety of events, including local farmer’s markets, pop-ups in local businesses, and holiday-type events. It’s always a good idea to consider the frequency of the event for a couple reasons! One of those being that a brand new, first year, one time event, unless it has an amazing advertising budget and team, isn’t likely to draw much of a crowd. I prioritize events that are established in the community, be it a year or weekly thing, I want there to be a base of people that already know about it! I especially like events that take place the same date/weekend every year, like a Small Business Saturday event. It’s always going to be the Saturday after Thanksgiving! A lot of people will remember that and come back! Weekly/month events can draw a similar repeat crowd!
Is it in the middle of nowhere? A frequented, busy area? Good street traffic? If there are signs, are they going to be seen by a lot of people? When I was first starting out I did a lot of events at high schools. We were in a new state due to my husband being military and I was not at all familiar with the area. I ended up signing up for events that were literally on back roads in the far reaches of nowhere. No one was just-so-happening to drive by and get lured in. There was a sign out, but it wasn’t a main road. Thankfully I learned my lesson and now I look for events that are either in very apparent places, or at least very well established! There are definitely exceptions to this rule- one of my very favorites is the largest farmer’s market in my state. It runs every Sunday (for the past 15 years!), May-October, and attendance is in the thousands! But its literally on a back road on a historical property in the middle of nowhere. You’d never just happen upon it. But because it has loyal followers who have been coming for years, attendance is great!
3.. Correspondence with event coordinator?
You can learn a lot about how an event is going to be run just by the correspondence prior to your application. Did they seek you out? Email is definitely a lot more professional than sliding into someone’s DMs. Did you find them? Does their site/event page have an easy way for you to get in touch/apply? Do they respond to emails? Do they “speak” professionally in the emails, or like a quick talk-to-text while they were driving? You can usually tell if they’ve run an event before and how things are being handled administratively. I have some horror stories of lost payments, people ghosting, false promises as far as advertising and attendance…I could go on! If you’re getting bad vibes in the initial correspondence before you’ve committed or paid any fees- (politely) bail!!!
4.. Indoor or Outdoors?
This one is kind of obvious. Is it inside or outside? Will it be weather dependent? If it’s rain or shine, can your product/set up handle that? I only do events in the fall and winter, so weather is always a gamble! It can be 90 degrees in September, so no one wants a hat, or events can get snowed out in the winter, even if indoors! Another thing to consider is will there be electricity? I don’t use any in my booth, but will you have access to it if you need it in yours? Will you have to haul your set up a long distance, up stairs, etc?
What time of day does the event occur? Will it be clashing with people’s working hours? Is it really early and unlikely to draw a crowd? Does it span multiple days? Also consider travel time for you to get there, as well as being there for the entire duration. I don’t know if I really have a preference on a time of day or length, but I definitely only do events that occur day time on weekends! Just something else to think about!
Events can have a huge range in cost, from free to hundreds! I personally don’t generally do any events over $100, but that’s just because I have found some not-costly ones that I have been really successful at! But no matter what the price is, you should consider why the price is what it is, and what it’s going toward. Even if an event is very costly, but they have a great advertising scheme and draw a huge crowd that is your perfect target audience, it may be worth it for you! Definitely keep in mind that you traveling there, eating, lodging, etc are all part of the cost too!
As another personal general rule, I shy away from “fundraiser” type events, unless it is a cause that I am personally familiar and comfortable with. I have seen a couple varieties of fundraising through events: sometimes it’s a portion of your vendor fee, sometimes there are tiers of vendor fees ( like a sponsorship), sometimes you are donating items to a raffle of some kind, sometimes a set portion of your profits go toward the cause, and sometimes its a percentage of your profits. That last one makes me the most uncomfortable, for a few reasons! Say if its “10% of your sales” – I don’t like that it’s a variable, and that some vendors will be donating a lot more than others, but no one really is sure of what those numbers will look like going into it. And if you don’t have a particularly good day of sales you may end up donating and not making any profits! Of course, if its a charity or cause that you are passionate about, go for it! But definitely something you need to think over before you commit!
7. Good advertising?
Advertising is KEY for a good event! Especially with the popularity of social media! Does the event have a good social presence? Do they post about it and promote/tag the vendors? Do they have a facebook event page? Is their signage locally leading up to the event? Unfortunately the “add in the paper/newletter” type events aren’t the ones drawing the huge crowds of shoppers who appreciate artisans! Also, if you commit to being a vendor you can do your part by making sure you promote the event to your audience on facebook/instagram/your website! Good advertising is a make or break for a successful event!
8. What types of vendors?
Definitely consider what other sort of vendors will be at this event. If you can’t find that information on their website/application, I recommend reaching out to the event coordinator to find out. I’ve made the decision for my business to only do events that take handmade/artisan goods, and preferable a limited number of each type/niche (ex: not 10 people who all sell soap). Occasionally, I will participate in events that take multiple crochet vendors, but only if that business has a completely different ascetic than mine, for example someone selling amigurumi or baby blankets isn’t really going to create awkward competition for my adult women’s cozy wearables! I also avoid anything with a tag sale/bake sale type description, as people attending those will typically be looking for bargains, not fairly-priced, quality, artisan goods. Personally, I also choose to not take part in events that accept multi-level marketing/direct sales vendors, such as Tupperware, Mary Kay or LulaRoe. I want to be at an event that exclusively accepts and appreciates handmade items, and that will be drawing a customer base that will be ready to shop for that type of items!
9. Have you been?
Obviously it’s not possible to attend every event in your area to scout it out, but if at all possible, check out the ones your interested in prior to applying! I talk more about this in a previous post, but I like to go in a take notes about the crowds they are drawing, layout, what other types of vendors they take, and the overall feel of the event.
Since you can’t possibly attend every event, another great way to get some feedback is to join some local facebook groups with other vendors and get some helpful reviews there. I get so much valuable feedback from the Nutmeg Collective– a Connecticut artisan group I belong to, but I am also part of several facebook vendor groups, where people post upcoming events and often give honest reviews of their experiences. Try searching your state/area and keywords like “craft vendors” or “craft fairs” to find some groups that might be helpful to you!
10. Will your target customers be there?
Most important for any event, is will YOUR target customer be there!? Regardless of size, location, crowds and everything else, if your people- the people who will love and buy your product without complaint- will be there, then it’s worth your time! It’s always a good idea to reach out to your prior customers, be it in a newsletter, on your social media, or even with a printed flyer of where to find you, to draw a crowd of loyals who already love you, but definitely seek out those events who draw folks who will be ready to buy from you! For me, like I’ve already mentioned, that means people (for me, that’s usually women in the 25-35ish range, usually with a kid or two, with excess income to spend on themselves and their families, who appreciate handmade, small, local business!) who are ready to shop for vibrant, high-end, top-quality crochet goods. Not the bargain hunters, not people who say “oh I/so and so could make that,” not the people who say “I could buy that at walmart for $6.” If you sell handmade, you know the types to avoid!
Hopefully some of these tips prove helpful in your hunt for the perfect event to sell your handmade items at! Next week I will be talking about displays and how I set up my booth/tables at my events (fingers crossed, there will be a VIDEO!)! Happy market season, makers!