Selling your handmade products at in-person shows can be a great way to gain exposure for your creative business and meet potential customers if you are willing to invest the time and money. After years of participating in craft shows, trade shows, and home trunk shows, here are five beginner tips to help you get started.
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1. Bring water
You might as well be hitting up the gym for a good cardio routine and some quality time in the sauna with the amount you are likely to sweat, especially at a summer show. Craft shows are physically demanding. Vendors arrive at a show hours before it starts up to haul everything out of their cars, wrestle with their tents, and meticulously set up their displays, only to take it down at the end of the day and start anew at the next show.
Don’t worry, you’ll look at good as this guy at the end of the day. Image by Nacim Bouchtia.
It’s a long day, friend. A six-hour show typically means about 10 hours on your feet, carrying equipment; setting up and taking down your tent, weights, and displays; talking to customers and answering questions. Be prepared to collapse on your couch at the end of the day.
It’s important to stay hydrated and well-fed (you’re gonna have a hard time selling anything if you’re hangry!)
Newbie tip: Bring several bottles of water, snacks, deodorant, and perhaps an extra change of clothes.
2. Be friendly to your neighbors
Over the years, I have met some amazing fellow crafters at shows. They have offered invaluable advice, assisted me with moving heavy items when I was pregnant, and kept an eye on my booth during multiple bathroom trips. We check on each other to see how the day is going and offer each other moral support.
Over time, you start to see the same people and may even become friends with them. We check on each other to see how the day is going and offer moral support. As a solopreneur, it’s really nice to come to a show and see a friendly face who understands this world.
Newbie tip: Be friendly and play nice. Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Offer to help them set up their tent if you see them struggling and to keep an eye on their booth while they grab a bite to eat. Also, while I don’t necessarily recommend offering a discount, many crafters offer discounts to their fellow show participants. It’s a great read to build up good-will with your fellow makers and to support each other’s businesses.
3. Stay positive, or fake it
I have had shows where the person next to me barely has time to sit she’s making so many sales. Meanwhile, it’s crickets in my booth and I’m praying I’ll at least make back the fee for the day.
Then I have days where I will sell a piece before the show has even officially begun.
You never know what the day will bring.
Image by Phillipe Put
Yes, days can be incredibly slow and make you want to pull your hair out, but there are also (hopefully) more successful days to balance it out.
And no one is going to buy from you if you’re sitting there pouting.
Instead of throwing yourself a pity party, look at those shows as a lesson in how to do things differently. Switch up your booth display, change out some products. You have nothing to lose! Think about what you can do to improve your selling experience.
Newbie tip: Go into each day with a positive attitude and a smile on your face. Even if you are having a slow sales day, just suck it up and plaster on a big, fake smile and know that the next one is a brand new day. Look at each show as an opportunity to learn and grow. Again, talk to your neighbors and see what words of wisdom they can offer, especially if the have been doing this longer than you. And if all else fails, give yourself bury your sorrows in a mountain of trip chocolate ice cream dripping with hot fudge at the end of the day.
4. Get people to sign up for your newsletter
Though I’m not very good at pushing it, I always make sure to have a newsletter sign-up sheet. I have steadily increased the number of newsletter subscribers I have this way and have been able to get some repeat customers this way as well as form a connection with some of them.
I have people who waited years to buy jewelry from me, but because they were on my newseltter, I stayed on their radar.
Newbie tip: Have an incentive to encourage potential customers to sign up for your newsletter. It can be a credit to your shop or an opportunity for people to win something you sell. I switched to ConvertKit years ago, You can create a newsletter for free up to 2,000 subscribers with
5. do a practice run of your setup
The day of a show is a scramble, You have a set window of time to unload everything from your car, park your car, and set up your booth. In short, you have about 1-3 hours to create a pop-up shop.
Practice setting up your tent and all of your displays before the big day. And if you have no idea where to begin, go on Pinterest and type “Craft Show Booth” for some ideas to help you get started.
Newbie tip: Take pictures of your setup so you have a reference point when you arrive. If you make any changes, take photos so you have them for next time.