Saturday, August 21, 2010

Marketing Close to Home - A Primer for the Craft Fair Season

Before I jumped into the online marketplace our venues were local craft fairs. My husband and I have been doing 3-5 fairs annually for 20 years. They can be great marketing tools and learning experiences. I love the fact that people from all over the world are reading my blog and purchasing my work on line, but craft fairs are where we make a majority of our sales. The big plus is that we get to meet our customers face to face and have developed a following that comes back each season to shop with us. 

Dickens of a Crafts Faire ~ Santa Rosa, CA

I wanted to share what we've learned over the years, here are some things to think about:

1. Visit craft fairs in your area
2. Look at the venue, would you want to be there?
3. Has it been well advertised?
4. Is there too much of one thing ~ like jewelry?
5. How is the quality of the work?
6. How have vendors set up their tables? You can get great ideas about what to do and what not to do.
7. Talk to artisans, ask their opinions and how they're doing.
8. Enter only juried shows ~ this insures quality work and a variety of wares for shoppers.
9. Most of the fairs we do are fundraisers for community organizations. It's a way to pay it forward and something you might want to consider.

Displays ~ Do test set ups ~ Most venues have room for 6-8 foot tables. Get a couple of tables out at home and play with potential set ups to showcase your work. I have a black table cloth that covers tables and drapes down on all sides to hide my travel boxes. Displays don't have to cost you a lot of money. I found most of my display items at the flea market, second hand stores and Ross.

Test set up for my new display 

Photograph your work ~ Learn how to photograph your work. It's really important to have good photos not only for a website or online shop, but when applying to juried shows. Besides it's nice to have a "portfolio" of your work. Photoshop and Picasa have tutorials, bloggers and artisans on Etsy have writen detailed primers on how to get great photos.

Deco Bluebird Salad Servers ~ Chocolate Sundae Desk Set

Make a list and check it twice ~ Every fair is a little different. Some are indoors and some are outdoors, some provide tables and chairs and some don’t, some have power available and some don’t.  I have a list of everything that goes to each fair and I do mean everything: from displays to a $100 in change, receipt books to products, pens to gift boxes, table cloths to lighting, food and water.

We pack everything into a series of tote boxes for ease of storing and moving and check items off as they’re packed in the car. There is nothing worse than getting to your venue and finding you have left something behind. A simple Word document can be updated easily. Trust me, a little time spent up front will serve you well over the years. I also photograph my display and take an 8 x 10 with me so when I am unpacking I don't have to think about what goes where.

Business cards are a must ~ We do our local fairs as Sticks and Stones and my online shops and blog are Shelley Macdonald Designs. We keep business cards for both on the fair tables at all times to let shoppers know I have an online shop. I wear my jewelry a lot and we never go on a hike without taking a couple of my husband's walking sticks. Don't leave home without business cards in your purse or wallet. You never know when someone might ask how to get a hold of you. We were invited to do a craft show in the next county and I asked the organizer how he found us. He had purchased a cane from my husband at a fair three years prior and kept the business card. It's really easy to make your own, Word has templates and office supply stores carry packages of the blanks. You can also find great deals online for designing and printing cards.

Credit Cards ~ This is the first year we'll be taking credit cards. A number of vendors have told us that the ability to take credit cards increased their sales so we figured it was worth a try since we are now doing up to 10 shows a year. Do your homework, talk to fair vendors and then make an informed decision. We found a really good deal with Propay. If we're in an area with no wifi (as we often are at small town fairs) we can scan the cards on a hand held reader and enter information once we're home. Find out where the nearest ATM to your venue is located so you can let a customer know if they prefer not to use a credit card but are low on cash.

The dreaded inventory ~ No matter how much you hate the idea it's important to keep track of the cost of your materials and labor to come up with a fair price for your creations. A simple Excel spreadsheet can do the calculations for you. Check the forums on Etsy and other online venues, artisans have posted great templates. Never be afraid to ask questions.

So there it is ~ Hope you find some useful elements here. The fair circuit is hard work but a lot of fun. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or comments.