Craft Fair Secrets – What if I don’t sell anything? How to feel more confident before your first craft fair

How to feel more confident before your first craft fair

A lack of confidence is often the reason that crafters don’t take the plunge! When we introduced the Craft Fair Secrets series, Nichola from Folksy shop Miss Frekkles left us a comment saying she was completely daunted by the idea of selling at a craft fair. We asked her what her major concerns were…

“The thing that worries me about doing a craft fair are the initial cost versus how much I would sell. I knit so I wouldn’t want to make too many items, or too little, also finding the right fair for my product – should I go for locally organised or professional, over a weekend or just one day. Going it alone is also scary, I’m quite shy and find it hard to be bold (If you know what I mean?)”

There’s so much to consider and worry about when you are thinking about taking on a craft stall at a fair, regardless of the size of the fair.

Featured image: Wilful North and other stallholders at the Weekend of the Maker market we ran with Crafty Fox Market photographed by Kayti Peschke

Oakwood Soaperie, Restful Slumber soap, handmade soap

Restful Slumber soap by Oakwood Soaparie

This week we’ll be looking at Nichola’s worry about a lack of sales on the day. The fear of returning home to your family and having to explain that you sold nothing at all or didn’t cover your costs can give many crafters sleepless nights on the run up to their first fair (or any fair!). Should a first time craft fair be all about sales or are we worrying unnecessarily? Shelley Dukes, from Folksy shop Lady Jukes who has been attending fairs for many years thinks we are.

“Fairs are as much about meeting people and spreading the word as they are about selling. I’ve been at fairs where I have sold virtually nothing and it is disheartening, but at the same fair I’ve been approached by a boutique wanting to sell my stuff, so in the long run I probably sold more. For me, going to a show is great fun, so enjoy the atmosphere and check out the other stalls and try not to stress about what’s selling.”

This is a really common response from all of the experienced crafters that we have been talking to. The idea that you have to come home with a cash box bursting and no stock left in order to have had a successful craft fair seems to be very far removed from many crafter’s goals.  Selling well at fairs is something to be worked on through experience. For a first timer, concentrating on the other beneficial aspects of a craft show may allow you to stop fretting about ‘What if I don’t sell anything’ and take the plunge.

If you are worried about not selling anything, or if you’ve come back from a craft fair disappointed by your sales, read our post Not Sold Much? Here’s Why and What to Do, which has lots of practical tips for identifying possible issues and diagnosing what went wrong at a craft fair. 

I must admit that I don’t get nervous at all now doing shows but I certainly did in the early days. The truth is that you’ve really got no guarantee as to whether you’re going to do well or not at any event. I can remember preparing for fairs and feeling quite apprehensive in the run up to the event. I would make lists and create new items and really go overboard in my preparations. And no matter what, I always ended up sitting up until late into the night packing things and finishing bits and pieces off. This meant that I usually felt very tired setting off for the event and needed matchsticks to prop my eyelids open during the day. Fiona – Silk and Art

So what can you gain from a fair to make it financially worth your while, especially if people don’t buy on the day!

  • Networking – Networking with other crafts people is a great way of finding out about other fairs, almost all the sellers we have spoken to say this is the best way of finding a fair that is right for your market. So using the day as an opportunity to pick up email addresses and chat to fellow crafters in your local area is a great use of your time.
  • Local Advertising – Craft fairs are often attended by boutiques and independent gift shops looking for local talent. Make sure you have a professional looking card to give to these scouts. You can also use a fair to update your mailing list and hand out cards or flyers for discounts when people shop online.
  • Feedback – Sometimes not selling can be a sign that you need to rethink your stock, your stall design or your pricing. Chatting to customers and stall holders will give you insights into how to improve things, what to change, what to let go of and as Fiona also told us  “Not selling anything is not failure. See the bigger picture and take it in your stride. Evaluate and move on.”

Even really experienced sellers still get stage fright! I asked Aileen from Aileen Clarke Crafts if she still got any before show nerves, and how she manages to keep calm.

I really get butterflies before fairs no matter if it’s one I’ve been doing for years or a new one. It’s the anticipation of taking your work out to the public mixed with the excitement of selling and the anxiety of wondering if your stall will look good enough. It’s always nerve wracking wondering if you will be well placed within the venue, who will be next to you, will it be busy, will the customers like what you make, have you made enough of one particular thing! The list is endless. The best way to deal with it is to be confident in your work. Don’t worry about things that are outwith your control. There’s one fair I do every year and I used to stress so much about what table I’d be given. I’ve had a different one every year now and I make the same amount of money each time so it makes no difference. All you can do is turn up, set out your stall, smile and see what happens. I do use Bach Rescue Remedy though, and try and get set up in time to relax with a cup of something hot before the crowds pour in.

So if you make nothing at your first fair you have to try to remember that the experience and new contacts or friends you have gained were probably worth the cost of the stall. Getting over the hurdle of your first fair whether it’s profitable or not is a giant step into growing your business. Be professional about it and try to analyse where your weak points are from the feedback you receive on the day.  If you think it’s your selling technique that’s letting you down then take a look at this post all about “What to say to potential customers?“.

As always we really enjoy hearing your comments. Whether you are a regular craft fair seller or like Nichola from Miss Frekkles you are daunted by it all and just looking for answers. I hope that we have convinced a few of you to give it a go!

This article is one of a series of articles from Folksy featuring tips and advice on how to sell at craft fairs – the images used are taken from items for sale at www.folksy.com Click images for more details. Email hilary@folksy.co.uk if you have an idea for a future article.
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19 Comments

  • June 7, 2010

    Shaz from OddSox

    Good advice again. I like the idea of taking discount vouchers along to encourage on-line sales later. x

  • I think fairs are a really good way of getting feedback from people that you are not related to or friends with, who let’s face it are more likely to be ‘kind’ about your creations. I know its a bit like selling your ‘children’ (:-)) but if you are to grow as a designer and maker you need to be producing things that people want to buy. It’s also much easier to talk to people when you’re actually at a fair, as you can just make a comment on how you made the item, what you made it from etc. Sometimes people will respond and other times they won’t! Just make sure you take lots of business cards or flyers, you might not make a sale there and then, but if people can contact you when they want something, you’re more likely to get something out of it in the long run!

  • June 7, 2010

    Hilary

    I was at a very small fair, just a spur of the moment browse on the weekend in Cambridge and saw an excellent jewellery stall – I didn’t even have time to talk to the stall holder so they would have no idea that I was interested, I just took a card. I have now checked out their website and will more than likely be making a few purchases from them!

  • June 7, 2010

    Deb

    Great post! I have done only one fair in my life so far, and I didn’t sell anything, but in a way I didn’t mind, even though a sale or two would have been nice of course!

    I was just so relieved to get my first craft fair over and done with, that I really didn’t mind not selling! I did make some good contacts and received some good and very interesting and valuable feedback about my items (I was amazed that one person thought they were too cheap!) – and found out about several other fairs happening this year that I most likely wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

    The hall the fair was in was very quiet, I think we must have only had about 20 people in over the whole day – but it was just great practice, setting up the stall, speaking to the (very rare) people when they came to the stall, and all that.

    I got into such a state before this fair, I was beyond nervous, stressing about every tiny thing – hopefully now that first fair is out of the way I won’t get into such a state next time!

  • June 7, 2010

    Leanne

    Great post. Craft fairs really can be so hit and miss, as everyone says whether it’s your very first fair or you’ve been doing them for years , you can just never be too sure how they’re going to turn out for.

    Doing anythng for the first time will always make people nervous, best to treat that first fair like a band-aid, grab it by the corner and rip it off quickly. Sure you might not sell anything the first time out, but I know I felt so much better just to have that first fair under my belt. That in itself was worth the outlay and I felt much more confident after that.

  • June 7, 2010

    Victoria

    Great post I’ve been worried about selling anything at an upcoming craft fair I’m attending. I’d love to hear any tips that other blog readers might have on how to design your stall and how best to create an attractive stand.

  • June 7, 2010

    mr folkart

    i have done three fairs,
    the first two were a total disaster. purely down to poor organisation. not one table made their table money. poor advertising was the main problem. no one new it was on so no one came in except by accident when they saw a postage stamp sign on the gate to the hall it was being held in. therefore the clientele were merely looking out of curiosity .i.e. something to do to fill the time. so check the organisation out first. my third was a general fair in a marina so not crafty inclined but we did make our table and coffee money. no rolls royce but no spite..

    alan

  • June 7, 2010

    mr folkart

    i have done three fairs,
    the first two were a total disaster. purely down to poor organisation. not one table made their table money. poor advertising was the main problem. no one knew it was on so no one came in except by accident when they saw a postage stamp sign on the gate to the hall it was being held in. therefore the clientele were merely looking out of curiosity .i.e. something to do to fill the time. so check the organisation out first. my third was a general fair in a marina so not crafty inclined but we did make our table and coffee money. no rolls royce but no spite..

    alan

  • I have done a few fairs this year and only had one really bad one so far. However, I learnt that it was me who had picked the wrong fair and learnt from this mistake. I am a little scared at maybe doing some of the bigger ones. I have just received information for ones that cost £200+ and that just made me go eeek! That might be the next milestone I have to get my head around.

  • i had the same problem when i first done a craft fair so many people were selling their jewellery and hand mades so we were all in competition with each other, i decided that the only way to make money was to sell small items at a pound each, such as mobile charms, keyrings and small earrings, this worked for me and i still do it now.

  • Great advice again. Before getting uptight about selling at craft fairs/not making any money at craft fairs, have a clear idea of what you’d like to gain from taking part. Of course, we’d all like to make our million (!!) but there’s so much more to get out of a craft event than straight forward dollar, dollar bills (y’all). Create a fabulous, engaging display for your products, come armed with tester products, marketing materials and a smiley face and you are bound to come away with riches – of one sort or another! :)

  • June 7, 2010

    SallyF

    Another tip is to be ready to take credit card payments. Chances are you’ll be the only stall that does and of course not everyone has all the cash on them they’d like to spend. This has definitely worked in my favour before. 2 main options…

    1. If you’re super efficient you can take your laptop and process payments via paypal or even through your folksy shop, though this can take a bit of tie and relies on charged laptop / access to socket / good wifi or dongle signal etc

    2. What I do – take a paper form that people can fill out with their credit card details (I know in this day and age it sounds peroquial and scary but it really works and people don’t mind at all). Check paypal first to see what details you will need, then you can enter all the info via paypal later, which also means your customer gets emailed a receipt automatically so they feel safer (be sure to tell them this at the time) And then SHRED the forms.

    Also take a receipt book in case people want to take advantage of their company / freelance expenses… no receipt = no sale.

    Basically just make it as easy as you can for people to pay however they want to.

  • June 7, 2010

    Deb

    That’s a good tip regarding credit card payments – I might try that.

  • I think one interesting thing is that no matter whether we have been selling at fairs for years or are just starting out, everyone has had a day where they simply can’t sell anything. It’s really not a nice experience but don’t beat yourself up about it, it isn’t a reflection on you or your work; it’s just that ‘your’ customers weren’t there that day. Just one of those things.

  • June 7, 2010

    Hilary

    You might find this interesting – http://www.handmadenews.org/article/index.php?id=4760
    the article is all about how to take payments via paypal using your mobile phone – you just hand over the phone to the customer – sounds really good, has anyone used it? My gut feeling is that customers would be worried about the security of it, but then if I was at a fair I would pay using this method ?

  • June 8, 2010

    Fiona: crafted

    Not sure about the phone thing, but I had a stall at a craft fair on Sat.,lots of people interested and cards taken-order came thro’ by email yesterday for 2 custom cushions and I sent the customer a paypal invoice which she paid right away.

  • […] What if I don’t sell anything at the craft fair!? […]

  • January 27, 2011

    jill

    we have set up an initiative here at back to basics of having pop-up shops where we take commission rather than charge for a pitch. It is a great way for vendor’s to gain exposure and network with other artists without taking a financial risk of paying for a stall.

    We want to help new designers who are starting out as we understand how daunting it can be to pay for a pitch whenr you are first starting out.

  • July 30, 2011

    snorkus

    I did one terrible fair last Christmas –
    They had not bothered with any flyers or posters and was full of kids going to Santas very creepy grotty (grotto), none of the stall holders made a sale! and we were all freezing to death. Never again! I always check out the organisers first.