Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What I've Learned in My First Year of Craft Shows

Craft shows in North Carolina have been a bit tricky in my first year. There are busy periods of time that I had to decide which to choose and other times when there was none. My personal life keeps me from traveling to other metropolitan areas so my lessons are based on shows in the Raleigh-Durham area of NC.

Craft shows are seasonal. Many patrons of craft shows tend to visit during the spring and fall. Our summer weather is usually in the 90's, a temperature that keeps people inside or by a pool. Right after Christmas there is a 3 month lull that coincides with the winter weather. There is a lack of interest and of sheltered venues.

Between spring and fall, fall is the best season for craft shows for products like mine. Customers are interested in Holiday gifts. If you have garden related items such as yard art and birdhouses I would imagine that spring would be a stronger season for craft shows.

Advertising is everything. I remember being involved with a show that was the first show for a local group. The venue wasn't the best. We were in an environment that didn't have a lot of passerby traffic; some of us were inside and some were suppose to be outside. I decided to be outside so I could use a standard space of 10x10 instead of one 6' table. I also felt that being outside would draw more attention to the show and bring more customers to us all.

We barely had any traffic and by 1:00 I packed up.  On my way out, I looked for the signs that directed traffic to us. I was very disappointed when I saw how my application fee was applied. There were signs alright. Little 18x24 signs with curly Q lettering in pink. The signs looked like it was directing people to a private party for a little girl, not for a shop-worthy show.

You can advertise like crazy in local papers and social networks, but if you don't have signs that screams "here we are" all that previous talk is for naught. People who are interested in you will drive right pass if the sign is not an eye-catcher, especially when its a new show. Looking back I'm not sure if it would have been better if I had been more involved and educated about what steps the coordinators took or to stay away from start up shows and visit them instead for future shows.

Big shows don't necessarily mean better. Everyone who vends at craft shows has asked themselves at one time or another whether its better to choose a church or small town show or a larger city show. Many of the larger shows are juried which means you have to adhere to the category that they accept you in.

I applied to one that was a really large show that I knew would bring crowds. I was accepted in the Fiber Art Non-Wearable category only. For someone who likes to make what I like, this was a hard category to fill but I felt I was up to the task and was soon producing products that I thought would work. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irene had other ideas for that particular weekend. Subsequent shows proved that some of my items were on target, others were way off base. Interestingly the more popular items were the most wearable. My Kitty Cat Kindle Case is now widely regarded as a purse. And purses are considered outside of the category I was accepted in.

Would I apply to this show in the future? I’m not sure, honestly. It was a great learning experience as it was. It forced me to grow in ways I hadn’t thought of before. But the enforceable limitations makes me consider not applying again.

The alternative to this setting is working with shows in smaller towns and churches. These are usually associated with themes. Here in NC there are a lot of farm related theme shows and churches have shows associated with community yard sales and child-friendly events. You have a smaller amount of participants and potential customers. But, word of mouth is a great way to advertise.

People are excited about the opportunity of doing something outside the norm at their small town festivals. The church’s congregation is openly supportive and many times this support applies to extended family members and friends. I’m not sure how this venue would be for other types of craft but for me, it’s a wonderful way to meet new people who would never drive to the big city for the larger shows.

This coming year I will push the limits on the seasons. I want to involve myself with a farmers market. There are several in the area and they inherently run through the whole summer. This is one event that does bring people out in the summer and many close as the pavement heats up. I can successfully set dates in advance when other types of shows are in hiatus. It’s going to be a great year of growth and I’m really looking forward to it.

What have you learned? I'd love to hear from you if you have any advice you would like to pass along.


  1. It really is tough to find the best shows! You bring up a lot of good points. When you do find a show that works well for you, it's helpful to try and do that show each year (and be in the same spot if possible) so that returning customers can find you.
    It's a hard balance to find and I am trying to rely more on online sales and consignment/wholesale to other businesses so that I don't spend every weekend at a show, when I could be enjoying it with my family :)

  2. I never thought about the importance of having the same spot every year. That's a very good point, Erin. I will definitely keep that in mind.

  3. Interesting observations. I haven't delved into craft shows yet, so I'm always interested to hear feedback from those that have.

  4. Well thought out comments on shows -- I'm glad the craft shows are working out for you.

  5. Really good insights. Now take what you've learned this year to make next year even better:)

  6. I attend a Farmers Market here in a little town The Plains in Virginia. It's a privately owned place The Archwood Green Barns where the market is held in and outside an old horse barn. I have an indoor stall which is great since you are protected from the weather. We don't attract a huge crowd but people that find out about it keep coming back. I love it. I did it for 2 yrs then took a break last year due to family illnesses but I just started up again 3 weeks ago and doing pretty good business. They only started allowing arts and crafts to be part of this market a couple of years ago and I think it's worked out great. All the vendors have to grow or make their own stuff otherwise you are not allowed to sell. If you go to my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bits-of-Fiber/362067242764 you can see some photos of what all this place has to offer. Definitely worth doing I must say. I have thought about selling at galleries and stores like I used to when I lived in Australia but I'm glad I haven't and started doing the market again. I love the people contact and I always demonstrate how I felt while at the market which also makes a huge difference. When people see how things are made they realize how much time it takes and appreciate the prices you ask. CHeers, Chantal


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